Oil and gas prices continue to run high, and dependence on foreign oil is sticking in the collective American craw. How humiliating, to not be able to pull the country up by its own oil and gas bootstraps. How awful, to be at the mercy of other countries that don’t always fall under our control, in order to supply our energy needs.
If only those pesky environmentalists would let us have a crack at offshore oil and gas fields in Alaska, one argument goes, America would be able to stand on its own two feet.
“Alaska Can Meet U.S. Energy Needs,” asserts the headline from an Oct. 1 Wall Street Journal editorial from Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell.
His figures sound promising. If the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, lays off and lets oil and gas companies get at our state’s offshore energy resources, then “an estimated 27 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas” lies in wait to provide Americans with domestically-extracted and produced energy.
Whew. What a relief. That sounds like a lot of oil and gas. What are we waiting for? Drill, baby, drill!
Hold on. Just for curiosity’s sake, let’s pencil this one out. For how long will Alaska be able to “meet U.S. energy needs” with it’s offshore energy resources? Of course, it takes some energy to extract energy, so the net energy gain from drilling in Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf will be somewhat less than the total extracted. And, some of that natural gas, as anyone who’s cracked open a newspaper over the last few years is aware, might be applied not to U.S. energy needs, but sent to Canada. Finally, getting all that black gold out of the ground takes time. We can’t suck it up and have it all at one go.
But let’s pretend, for a moment, that we can. Imagine an idealized hypothetical scenario, where it doesn’t cost energy to get those reserves out of the ground, all of it goes to American consumers, and we could have it all at once. How long, at our nation’s current rate of consumption, would 27 billion barrels of oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, last us?
Let’s start with the oil. The CIA World Factbook puts U.S. oil consumption at 19.5 million barrels of oil per day.
So, if we divide 27,000,000,000 barrels of oil, by the 19,500,000 barrels we slurp down each day, that’s a grand total of 1,384.61 days, to be exact, or 3.79 years.
Oh. Well that doesn’t do much for our overall dependence on foreign oil problem. Maybe we should revise that claim to say, “Alaska can meet U.S. total energy needs for almost as long as it takes a college student entering as a freshman this year, to graduate and enter the job market as a productive member of an economy that is once again plagued by dependence on foreign oil.”
But hold on now. What about natural gas? Maybe our offshore oil reserves aren’t going to save us, but 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could.
The CIA World Factbook puts U.S. consumption of natural gas at a grand total of 657.2 billion cubic meters in 2008. If we take Parnell’s figure and convert it into cubic meters, we’ve got 39.62 trillion cubic meters of natural gas to work with. Divide that by current use according to the Factbook’s most recent data, and you’ve got almost 60 years of natural gas at current usage rates.
Well, that’s better.
Now all we have to do, for Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf to meet U.S. energy needs, is not to increase our current rate of natural gas consumption, get it all out of the ground with minimal use of energy, and keep it out of the hands of those pesky Canadians.