A Free-Market Energy Blog

U.S. Has 60+ Times the Oil Reserves Claimed by Obama

By E. Calvin Beisner -- March 20, 2012

“With only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly address March 10. “Not when we consume 20% of the world’s oil.”

The claim is, if not blatantly false, at best grossly misleading. If the President didn’t know this, some advisors should be dismissed. If he did, he needs to accept the blame and formally correct it.

As Investors Business Daily explained,

… the figure Obama uses—proved oil reserves—vastly undercounts how much oil the U.S. actually contains. In fact, far from being oil-poor, the country is awash in vast quantities—enough to meet all the country’s oil needs for hundreds of years.

The U.S. has 22.3 billion barrels of proved reserves, a little less than 2% of the entire world’s proved reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration. But as the EIA explains, proved reserves “are a small subset of recoverable resources,” because they only count oil that companies are currently drilling for in existing fields.

How much recoverable oil does the U.S. have in addition to the 22.3 billion Obama had in mind? Start with the Green River Formation in Wyoming: 1.4 trillion barrels—sixty-two times as much as Obama counts.

After Green River, it’s almost embarrassing to count other sources: 86 billion on the outer continental shelf; 24 billion in the lower 48; 2 billion on Alaska’s north slope; 19 billion in Utah tar sands; 12 billion in ANWR. Then add in oil shale: 800 billion just in Wyoming and neighboring states. As IBD sums it up: “When you include oil shale, the U.S. has 1.4 trillion barrels of technically recoverable oil, according to the Institute for Energy Research, enough to meet all U.S. oil needs for about the next 200 years, without any imports.”

These estimates are almost sure to rise over time—to anywhere from three or four to twenty or twenty-five times as much. Those are the ranges of error on past official estimates of recoverable oil. Here is what Robert Bradley Jr. calculated back in 2000 for the carbon-based energies:

Proved oil reserves today are estimated to be fifteen times greater than the original 1948 estimate despite interim production of eleven times this amount.  World natural gas reserves in the last thirty years have increased almost five-fold despite interim production that has been 80 percent above the 1967 estimate. World coal reserves today are estimated to be over four times the amount calculated nearly a half-century ago. [1]

So, which is it, Mr. President? Did you know these facts? Or did your advisors mislead you? One way or the other, the outcome was that you misled the American people—not slightly, but grossly.

One of Obama’s Democratic predecessors, Harry Truman, famously kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office: “The buck stops here.”

Misinformed, or misinforming, either way, Mr. Obama is responsible. If he won’t embrace that responsibility, the American people should impose it on him.


 [1] Bradley, Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability (Washington: American Legislative Exchange Council, 2000), p. 31.


  1. Alex  

    The warmists/leftists/greentartds/watermelons keep on reminding us of peak oil, that oil will soon be finished etc etc.

    We have been mining gold and silver for millenia and we still are, successfully and at increasing rates of extraction. ASfter gold and silver came tin, copper, zinc, lead; then we had the iron age which gave us humans a technological quantum leap. We are still extracting these metals at our heart’s content. During all these times we dug for diamonds, jade, ruby and all the precious and semiprecious stones imaginable. We also commenced the commercial-scaleproduction of aluminum by way of the invention of electricity. Meanwhile we were mining coal, then discovered oil quite lately and methane and LPG.

    I have never heard or read anyone mentioning peak gold, or peak silver or peak iron or copper, these being minerals that we’ve been extracting for millenia. OTOH we’ve been extracting oil for only a century and a half and we are being led to believe that oil is finished.

    The truth isthat we have only just scratched the surface of this planet with regard to oil extraction. One only has to look at a world map, mark the spots where we are extracting oilnow or extracted in the past and see what area of theglobe that is in proportion to the surface area of the planet.
    So, when we are bombarded by the peak-oil propaganda campain just remember to have a look at the world map. That’s all it takes to realise that peak oil theory is peak stupidity.


  2. Ed Reid  

    These days, the “buck” stops at G. W. Bush.

    I remember Harry Truman. Barack Obama is no Harry Truman. (Apologies to Lloyd Bentsen)


  3. Kermit  

    Perhaps the political class prefers to follow the Venezuelan Model and have production decline by 35% per decade.

    It still does not make environmental sense to block replace high sulfur Venezuelan crude with low sulfur Canadian Syncrude at the deep conversion very complex refineries configured for such very heavy crude, in TX and LA.


  4. Lionell Griffith  

    What the alarmists refuse to recognize is the fact that free men using their minds create resources. Without the use of mind, there is no resource for man. Even picking up a fallen apple requires an act of objective identification of the mind that it is an apple, in condition to be eaten, and that it is good to eat. The same thing is true for fossil fuels or any other so called “limited” resource. The mind of man is without limit if left free.

    This is why every plan of the alarmists to “fix” the cause of their alarm consists of eliminating freedom and the possibility of man using his mind to serve his own interests. They resent the responsibility of being a human and will fight to the death anyone who does not. They fear the men who can solve the problems of living thereby eliminating the alarmists only reason to exist: raising alarms.

    See the ancient fable of “The Boy who cried Wolf” for instructive detail.


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