Conventional Crude Oil Resources in the US
Below are the major U.S. locations of conventional oil, both onshore and offshore. We’ll discuss the arguments for and against drilling in each. The statistics, unless otherwise noted, come from the EIA.
Where: Oil fields in Texas are concentrated in the central-western and northwestern area of the state, but below the rectangular panhandle.
How much: More than 5.1 billion barrels of proved reserves as of 2007.
Current status, reported in February 2009: About 1.7 billion barrels crude oil were produced in Texas in 2007.
Potential plans: Texas’s oil fields on land and offshore have been enthusiastically explored and tapped.
Arguments for drilling: There’s still a lot there, and the infrastructure is already set up. Texas already has offshore platforms, refineries, onshore drilling sites and a network of pipelines and other transportation methods.
Arguments against drilling: Companies must consider how much more oil can be extracted before it becomes cost-ineffective to do so. The East Texas Oil Field, for example, originally contained more than 7 billion barrels. It has since produced more than 5.2 billion barrels.
Gulf of Mexico
Where: The Gulf of Mexico is broken up into two categories for data collection and other purposes. The Gulf of Mexico-Texas and Gulf of Mexico-Louisiana.
How much: 3.32 billion barrels of proved reserves in Gulf of Mexico-Louisiana during 2007; 144 million in Gulf of Mexico-Texas. Total: 3,464,000,000 barrels of proved reserves as of 2007.
Current status, as of May 2009: Oil that is extracted from “Federal Offshore” areas just implies oil from waters controlled by the U.S. 372 millions barrels were produced in Gulf of Mexico-Louisiana in 2007. 42 million in Gulf of Mexico-Texas. Total: 414 million barrels of produced in 2007.
Potential plans: As noted above, the Interior Department recently began auctioning leases in the Gulf of Mexico that includes 4.2 million acres that had been off limits since 1988.
Arguments for drilling: In American waters where drilling has been allowed, deepwater discoveries and advances in technology which made deepwater drilling feasible have turned the Gulf of Mexico the biggest source of growth in domestic oil production since the 1990s. As a result, estimated reserves in the Gulf of Mexico have grown sevenfold in the last 30 years, according to the Times article.
Arguments against drilling: Oil spills – though rare and normally by tanker – can severely damage marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Deepwater drilling and the ever-pressing need for advanced extraction techniques can be prohibitively expensive. Severe hurricanes that make their way through the Gulf can be destructive to both platforms and coastal refineries.
Off West Coast
Where: Mostly offshore California. This continental shelf gets deep quickly, so expensive, deepwater drilling would be necessary.
How much: Estimates are inconclusive and will require further exploration with more recent technology. The Department of the Interior estimates that 10.5 billion barrels of oil exist under waters off the West Coast. Oil executives argue that number is bigger. On land, there are more than 414 million barrels of proved reserves, as of 2007. California, exclusively, has 209 million barrels.
Current status, as of May 2009: Currently, the entire stretch of offshore waters on the West Coast – from Seattle to San Diego – is off-limits to oil drilling. However, the West Coast land-based oil fields produced 25 million barrels of oil in 2007. California, exclusively, produced 15 million barrels that year.
Potential plans: Department of Interior is still assessing the sensibility of opening up the Pacific Coast to oil exploration and development.
Arguments for drilling: Out of the three coastal areas currently blocked to oil drilling, the Pacific offshore is estimated to hold the most oil reserves.
Arguments against drilling: You know that Jack Johnson song where he sings that their “feet are all covered in tar balls?” He’s talking about a beach in Santa Barbara. Some of it comes from natural seeps in the ocean floor, but tar balls also come from oil leaks, even minor ones that accompany normal operations.
Off East Coast
Where: Coasts of New Jersey (50-100 miles offshore); Virginia; North Carolina.
How much: The Department of the Interior estimates there are 3.8 billion barrels of oil off the Atlantic Coast, but some estimates are much higher.
Current status, as of May 2009: These areas are currently off-limits to oil drilling, but perhaps not for long.
Potential plans: New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s energy master plan calls for the state to produce 30% of its energy through renewable resources by 2020. That will most likely include wind farms off the coast. When Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Atlantic City in April for a public hearing on the prospect of drilling off the Jersey Shore, a vocal majority – including State Representative Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.) – opposed it, fearing it would hurt tourism, NJ’s most crucial moneymaker.
Arguments for drilling: It could inject billions of dollars of much-needed revenue into the government and create jobs. Oil companies are also touting a much-improved safety record. According to an analysis of federal data by Securing America’s Future Energy, the offshore industry produced 10.2 billion barrels of oil between 1985 and 2007 with a spill rate of .001%. Additionally, New Jersey is already home to many oil refineries, so crude would not have to be transported far.
Arguments against drilling: There is massive public opposition, and the amount proved oil reserves is relatively small compared to the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. Wind projects are also popular, especially in the liberal-leaning Northeast. In Massachusetts, the massive Cape Wind Project – which is underway after years of back-and-forth debate – is an example New Jersey might aspire to follow. While the scale of wind energy production is nowhere as high as oil production, oil wells dry up and become defunct after they’ve been tapped, where as wind turbines last indefinitely.