In the American west: An ocean of oil

In case you missed it – and you very well might have, since the media was too busy talking about gay marriage to be bothered – a rather remarkable thing happened in Washington this week. An auditor from the GAO testified before the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment on the subject of energy. But instead of hearing about how horrible things are, she calmly delivered something of a bombshell.

“The Green River Formation–an assemblage of over 1,000 feet of sedimentary rocks that lie beneath parts of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming–contains the world’s largest deposits of oil shale,”Anu K. Mittal, the GAO’s director of natural resources and environment said in written testimony submitted to the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

“USGS estimates that the Green River Formation contains about 3 trillion barrels of oil, and about half of this may be recoverable, depending on available technology and economic conditions,” Mittal testified.

“The Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, estimates that 30 to 60 percent of the oil shale in the Green River Formation can be recovered,” Mittal told the subcommittee. “At the midpoint of this estimate, almost half of the 3 trillion barrels of oil would be recoverable. This is an amount about equal to the entire world’s proven oil reserves.”

Read those last two sentences again and think about it for a moment. The largest remaining reserves of oil on the planet are not in Saudi Arabia or buried under the frozen steppes of the former Soviet Union. They’re here in the United States. Combined with the massive resources in western Canada, that means that North America is the King of Oil for the future. But what – if anything – will we do about it?

The vast majority of this supply is shale oil, a form which was essentially useless to us only a few decades ago, but now we know how to get it. And if you want to avoid ripping up the entire landscape, that means horizontal drilling and fracking. Unfortunately for us, this is one of those rare areas where the government actually can make a difference, for better or worse. The Obama administration continues to claim that they are pursuing an “all of the above” energy policy, but at the same time they are jumping in with new regulations regarding fracking.

If we move forward on this aggressively, the industry can safely access these resources which would significantly strengthen our hand on the international stage. But with the wrong approach, Washington could hog tie energy developers with excessive, expensive regulations or shut the entire process down by failing to issue permits to develop resources on these federal lands.

The public disclosure of these reserves is good news, but it’s only the beginning. And while I feel some trepidation in saying it, I’m afraid the ball is in Barack Obama’s court.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on February 02, 2023