Saturday, June 21, 2008

Domestic Oil Limits

In an apparently knee-jerk reaction to the rising price of oil, politicians and others are pushing for all-out development of domestic (U.S.) resources, including deep sea drilling off the coast and mining the huge Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves. The Bush Administration is also moving to relax environmental regulations, ostensibly to enable this development, which in the case of oil shale has the potential to threaten air, water, and wildlife habitat.

Using historical numbers for oil consumption, domestic production, and reserves, I’ve calculated depletion if the United States relied entirely on its domestic supply of oil if multiples of it became available in the future (assuming new supplies were as economical as existing ones). I estimate that without any additions, the domestic supply would last three years; and with the oil shale reserves, equivalent in size to more than 1.6 times the world’s current proven reserves, our oil supply would be exhausted (again, if we were the only country consuming it) in only144 years.

Of course, reality is likely to be much different. The U.S. will almost certainly put any new oil on the world market if a profit can be made (the oil can be extracted efficiently). If extracting and using the oil could be done without adverse effects on the environment (pollution of water and air, especially with the latter’s impact on global warming), the new supply would last less time with more people using it; but since it will inevitably contribute to population loss, it may actually last much longer (fewer people will be able to use it).

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