This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

July 30, 2008

U.S. Agencies Look to Oil Shale and the Arctic for Petroleum

With world oil prices near record levels, the United States is investigating ways to increase domestic petroleum production. According to DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States currently consumes 24% of the world's oil but produces only 10% of it, causing us to import about 60% of the oil we consume. One potential new source of domestic petroleum is oil shale, a fine-grained sedimentary rock containing organic matter from which oil can be produced. The largest known deposits are located in a 16,000-square-mile area covering parts of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, of which about 72% is on federal lands. Last week the Bureau of Land Management published proposed regulations for establishing a commercial shale oil program. Commercial development is not expected for several years, but the U.S. Department of Interior estimates that Western oil shale potentially holds 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The United States consumed about 20.7 million barrels per day in 2006, so that's more than a century of current U.S. oil consumption. See the Interior Department press release and the EIA's "Energy in Brief" on U.S. oil consumption.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has completed its assessment of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas that exists north of the Arctic Circle, an area that includes the northern one-third of Alaska. According to the USGS, about 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil lie north of the Arctic Circle, including about 30 billion barrels of oil in the "Arctic Alaska" region, which extends to the north, east, and west of Alaska. That sounds like a lot, but it's barely four years of U.S. oil consumption. With a decreasing amount of sea ice in the Arctic, many Northern nations are now considering the future possibility of offshore oil exploration in the Arctic Circle. See the USGS " Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal."

Of course, other options available in the United States are increased drilling of conventional resources and reduced petroleum demand. According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), domestic oil and gas drilling is already up, with 50% more exploratory well drilled in the second quarter of 2008 than in the corresponding period a year ago. While most of that drilling is targeting natural gas, an estimated 5,219 oil wells were completed in the second quarter, marking the highest number of second-quarter oil well completions since 1986. The API also notes that U.S. oil demand was down significantly for the first half of 2008, with deliveries of all oil products down by 3%, for an average demand of 20.08 million barrels per day. As a result, U.S. oil imports sank to their lowest first-half level since 2003, at less than 13 million barrels per day. See the API press releases on the drilling activity and the petroleum demand.