Read Eric's bio and previous columns
June 9, 2008
Oil from ANWR? Too Little, Too Late
got some numbers to throw at you – 10; 20; 675,000; 20 million; 3.3;
10.4 billion; 500; 50. Okay, now let’s start explaining. It has to do
with oil and ANWR.
is the rough number of years it would take, if Congress authorized
drilling in ANWR tomorrow, for oil to reach the market.
a decade? It takes time to build the necessary infrastructure –
regarding ANWR, through a hostile environment – and also for oil
companies to figure out the most profitable places and ways to drill and
pump. Because, like with everything else, it takes a while for
production to ramp up, it would take probably another decade for ANWR
oil recovery to hit its peak. That is, it’d be about two decades from
the day the president signs legislation authorizing it to the time when
it is expected to start having its most meaningful impact. Once it
reaches peak, according to the Energy Information Administration, about
675,000 barrels of oil would hit the U.S. market per day.
Demand for petroleum in the United States is currently about 20 million
barrels oil a day, which means that at peak production, oil from ANWR
would account for about 3.3 percent of demand.
There are estimated to be about 10.4 billion barrels of petroleum in the
reserve. Based on today’s rough estimate of demand that means by all
estimates there is in ANWR enough oil to satisfy America’s demand for
petroleum for about 500 days.
problem with that kind of math is that it doesn’t account for
diminishing returns. Typically, that is something that enters into the
picture when about 50 percent of the oil has been removed. After the
halfway mark, the question becomes, “at what point is there no profit to
do this?” Alternatively, “at what point are we expended more energy to
remove this oil than what we get from it.”
companies have been encouraged by high prices to use new technology to
reopen abandoned wells. Once the profits run out, the wells will be
recapped. So, you can cut the number of days’ worth of oil available in
half, and add a question mark.
can apply all of this to oil recovery from the nation’s coasts, too.
Although the specifics are different (there is more oil in deposits off
the Gulf Coast than in ANWR), the generalities remain the same – it’ll
take years for the oil to work its way to gas pumps.
closest ANWR came to being opened to exploration was in 1995, when Bill
Clinton vetoed legislation that would have done it. If he’d signed it,
we’d be getting about 3.3 percent of our oil from ANWR today, which
would have translated into a negligible impact on today’s price of
About the same time, a book came out that suggested that we could move
away from the internal combustion engine in 25 years, if we put our
minds to it. At the time, with the world glutted with oil, the idea was
laughed at, and the book’s author – Al Gore – was mocked right up
through the 2000 presidential election for it.
Today, the nation’s auto companies are racing to be the first to put the
first plug-and-drive electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars on the market,
what with demand for fuel economy for the first time since the early 80s
driving the market.
Numbers, because they’re mostly estimates, could easily change, but the
underlying reality is that it’ll take a very long time for ANWR oil to
hit the market, and won’t be more than a trickle for about two decades.
leave to the individual to sort out whether this is a smart, long-term
way to address transportation. But, I will suggest that by the time
production in ANWR is about to hit its peak, American motorists might no
longer care, having had their needs satisfied by forces today the
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column #
Request permission to publish here.