A Free-Market Energy Blog

North America's Incredibly Expanding Resources (New study puts 'peak' oil, gas, and coal in some future century)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- December 7, 2011

“Human beings create more than they destroy.”

– Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, N.Y.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 580.

“People have since antiquity worried about running out of natural resources–flint, game animals, what-have-you. Yet, amazingly, all the historical evidence shows that raw materials–all of them–have become less scarce rather than more….  And there is no reason why this trend should not continue forever.”

– Julian Simon, “The State of Humanity: Steadily Improving,” Cato Policy Report, September/October 1995.

There is only one thing that is going up more than government subsidies for uneconomic wind and solar power: oil, gas, and coal reserves and resources in the United States, according to a new study released yesterday by the Institute for Energy Research (IER) assessing total North American inventory.

The U.S. is the world’s most endowed energy country, followed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China. At current consumption rates, we have hundreds of years of domestic oil and gas, and thousands of years of coal.

Stephen Hayward explains this and more in this video:


Hard Facts

IER’s inventory of the energy resources of North America found:

  • When combined with resources from Canada and Mexico, the total recoverable oil in North America exceeds 1.7 trillion barrels. That’s more than the entire world has used in 150 years, and sufficient to fuel the present needs in the United States for the next 250 years.
  • In the last 30 years, the United States produced 77 billion barrels of oil, which was more than 150 percent of the estimated reserves in 1980.
  • The total amount of recoverable natural gas in North America is approximately 4.2 quadrillion (4,244 trillion) cubic feet. That is enough natural gas in North America to last for the next 175 years at current rates of consumption.
  • There is more recoverable natural gas in North America, Canada, and Mexico than the combined proved reserves in Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan.
  • North America has more than 497 billion short tons of recoverable coal, or nearly three times as much as Russia, which has the world’s second largest reserves. In fact, North America’s recoverable coal resources are bigger than the five largest non-North American countries’ reserves combined (Russia, China, Australia, India, Ukraine.)
  • A scarcity of good policies, not a scarcity of energy, is responsible for U.S. energy insecurity.

Less Government, More Energy

“The current administration and its green energy allies in business and in Washington appear willing to drive up the price of energy for American consumers by limiting access to our vast resources. For the past several years, taxpayer dollars have been spent to fund unproven green energy pipe dreams, while Americans have been denied the opportunity to utilize the coal, oil, and natural gas that is literally under our feet,” said IER President Tom Pyle about the report.

“This energy report should change the conversation in Washington and promote policies that reproduce nationwide the energy boom in places like North Dakota, where unemployment is at now at 3.5 percent (the lowest in the nation) and domestic production on private lands has more than tripled in the last five years. The Institute for Energy Research is proud to release this report, the culmination of months of research and analysis by IER experts. We have drawn from a broad array of government, industry, and university data to present hard facts — not myths — about our energy future. The report presents a clearer picture than the anti-fracking, anti-drilling, and anti-exploring ideologues in Washington want the American people to see.”

The Ultimate Resource (Julian Simon Lives)!

Resources expand, not deplete, in free-market settings where the ultimate resource of human ingenuity reigns.

It is time to dismiss the false theories and facts of the “peak energy” school of thought and embrace an open-ended view of the resource-rich world. As Julian Simon explained in chapter 2 of his treatise, The Ultimate Resource 2:

Material-technical forecasts of resource exhaustion often go wrong for two reasons.

    1. No matter how closely defined, the physical quantity of a resource in the earth is not known at any time, because resources are sought and found only as they are needed; an example is the increase in the known supplies of such resources as copper, as shown in table 2-1 and figure 2-1.
    2. Even if the physical quantities of particular closely defined natural resources were known, such measurements would not be economically meaningful, because we have the capacity to develop additional ways to meet our needs – for example, by using fiber optics instead of copper wiring, by developing new ways to exploit low grades of copper ore previously thought not usable, and by developing new energy sources such as nuclear power to help produce copper, perhaps by extracting it from sea water.

Thus the existing “inventory” of natural resources is operationally misleading; physical measurements do not define what we will be able to use as future supplies.


  1. Tom Tanton  

    The only thing holding back a resurgent energy sector and macro economy is that in addition to expanding resources, there’s the universe of expanding yet counter-productive government intervention and chicken-littleness.


  2. Kermit  

    Looking at ancient interior seaways. we could end up with production platforms in the Great Lakes.


  3. Joel Riddle  

    The early parts of this posting reminded me of one of the best blog postings I can remember reading.



  4. Mark Heslep  

    Careful. Even Simon drew a distinction between materials which can be recycled and energy which, once used, is lost forever. Despite visible evidence, the Malthusians continual to grossly underestimate how ingenuity and technology *inevitably* find more ways to pull more fossil fuels from the ground, but that does not mean that there is an *infinite* supply to burn at the rate of 85 million bbls per day.


    • rbradley  


      Point taken. Only the future will know the extraction and consumption rates. But since government intervention around the world has generally postponed resource development, and technology is continuing to allow supply to outrace demand, I believe the carbon-based energy era is still young.

      I guess I see centuries where others see decades, that’s all.


  5. Resourceship Unbound (US oil output record in light of mineral-resource theory) - Master Resource  

    […] Julian Simon: ““People have since antiquity worried about running out of natural resources–flint, game animals, what-have-you. Yet, amazingly, all the historical evidence shows that raw materials–all of them–have become less scarce rather than more….  And there is no reason why this trend should not continue forever.” […]


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