Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Much Oil in Alaska?

*Note: my spring semester is over, so I will be publishing at a much greater frequency.

My goal is to dispel the falsehoods spread by talk show hosts and politicians. Last night an acquaintance said he had heard from several sources that there is about 60 years of oil for the U.S. in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge ANWR. I told him that what I had heard was that, given our current oil consumption rate, it was more like a two year supply (if it was our only source of oil).  To last 60 years the ANWR would have to contain more oil than Saudi Arabia ever had, and that gave him pause.

The problem is that people listen to talk-show hosts and believe everything they say. The talk-show host is not an expert on the subject, and what he says may be totally unreasonable, but many people accept his statements uncritically, and don't make an effort to find out for themselves.

When I got home that night, I looked up the statistics. According to Wikipedia ( "the total production from ANWR would be between 0.4 and 1.2 percent of total world oil consumption in 2030. Consequently, ANWR oil production is not projected to have a large impact on world oil prices..[24] … In 1998, the USGS estimated that between 5.7 and 16.0 billion barrels (2.54×109 m3) 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 barrels (1.65×109 m3), of which 7.7 billion barrels (1.22×109 m3) lie within the Federal portion of the ANWR 1002 Area.[17] … In 2007, the United States consumed 20.68 m bbls of petroleum products per day."

Using the mean estimate of 10.4 billion barrels, and an annual consumption rate of 20.68E6*365=7.54E9 barrels per year, it would take only 10.4E9/7.54E9=1.38 years to consume all of the oil. For the upper limit of 16 billion barrels we would have 16E9/7.54E9=2.1 years. Considering our rate of consumption of oil is continuously increasing, an estimate of two years supply is a reasonable upper limit.  So regardless of what Sarah Palin says, no, we don't have enough oil in Alaska to solve our energy problem.  In addition, if we do open the ANWR up to drilling, it would not contribute significantly to domestic crude oil production until 2018 (Wikipedia).

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