FREE SPEECH ZONE | Bachmann mangles the facts on domestic oil production


We have generally become accustomed to Michele Bachmann’s careless use of facts on a number of issues, but her analysis of domestic oil reserves in the Tuesday, April 26 Star Tribune was beyond her normal exaggerations. Her facts, in fact, were highly distorted and unsupported by any reliable data.

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Bachmann noted potential United States oil reserves in our shale deposits and the deep water Gulf, but her focus was on the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). So, let’s first deal with her claim that in ANWR “30 to 50 years of oil may be available”.  This claim, by any reliable data available is so wildly exaggerated, it defies credibility. But first, a critical number that will affect all the data which follows.  The DOE reported that the United States consumption of crude oil and petroleum products has been about 7.55 billion barrels annually, for several years now.

Back to ANWR. There are varying estimates about reserves in that area, and also some discussion about how much of the Wildlife Reserve should be drilled on. But that aside, the amount of oil in ANWR has been studied for years. In 1998, the US Geological Survey estimated that between 5.7 and 16.0 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude oil and natural gas liquids are in the coastal plain area of ANWR, with a mean estimate of 10.4 billion barrel — of which 7.7 billion barrels lie within the Federal portion of the ANWR area. Moreover, as recently as 2008, the undiscovered estimates are categorized as “prospective” resources and therefore, not proved; and further, to reach full production could take many years. In fact, given the estimated reserves, the total production from ANWR would be between 0.4 and 1.2 percent of total world oil consumption in 2030. And more importantly would represent less than one year of United State’s oil consumption – not the 30 to 50 years purported by Bachmann.

Regarding Bachmann’s noting the sharp increase in gas prices from when Obama took office to today, it is totally disingenuous, because oil pricing (and gas prices) are complex and mostly out of the control of any president. In fact, opening of ANWR is essentially irrelevant to gas prices today – or even when in full production.  The Energy Information Administration does not feel ANWR will affect the global price of oil when past behaviors of the oil market are considered. It reported: “The opening of ANWR is projected to have its largest oil price reduction impacts as follows: a reduction in low-sulfur, light crude oil prices of $0.41 per barrel (2006 dollars) in 2026, $0.75 per barrel in 2025, and $1.44 per barrel in 2027. Assuming that world oil markets continue to work as they do today, OPEC could neutralize any potential price impact of ANWR oil production by reducing its oil exports by an equal amount.”

Turning to Bachmann’s reference to oil shale production, that is not a simple as she portrays either. The major most accessible shale reserves are in the Bakken field in the Williston Basin of Montana and North Dakota. Admittedly, there are wide fluctuations on reserve estimates, but using a geology-based assessment methodology; the U.S. Geological Survey estimated mean undiscovered volumes of 3.65 billion barrels of oil. (Note: other estimates may range far higher, but again the effect of all reserves must be measured against that 7.55 barrels of annual consumption in the U.S.). Bachmann is correct in pointing out the Rocky Mountain region also has large oil shale reserves. But again, this is not a simple solution to our fossil fuel needs. The extraction process requires massive amount of heat (fuel); and huge amount of cooling (waste water) for processing. A 2008 environmental impact statement issued by the US Bureau of Land Management stated that surface mining and retort operations produce 2 to 10 U.S. gallons of waste water per 1 short ton of processed oil shale. And it takes one ton of shale to produce only 40 gallons of oil. That in an area notoriously short of water.

As a brief comment on her assertion that drilling in the Gulf would meet our needs, the fact is that the dangers still lurk in this process, and the regulatory agencies have been acting exceptionally prudently, as they should. I am always amazed at the actions of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal when he urges a fast track on drilling… criticizes big government with vigor…then cannot get enough of it fast enough when crisis strikes. He, and Bachmann, should be careful what they ask for; the ecology of the region could easily be in peril again.

On top of all these caveats about the United States gaining oil independence, is the fact that The World Fact Book in 2010, while listing all the countries in the world with proven oil reserves, showed the United States as 14th, with about 19 Billion barrels of reserves, and currently producing just 1.37% of the total annual world oil production. While Bachmann may cite the problems with green energy, clearly the long range future of our nation and little Blue Planet does not rest with everlasting use of fossil fuels.

In short, Bachmann’s assertions are political, not a cogent discussion of our nation’s oil reserves; or a realistic look at our ability to achieve fossil fuel independence.  As is often the case with her discussions, on this issue her facts are mangled.