Drill, Baby Drill, Revisited

Steven Crowder has released a video where he makes fun of the current petrol prices and of the policies Obama has on it. And in it he makes a case for more drilling in the United States to lower oil prices.


This does sound a lot, 163 billion barrels of oil. But lets take a look at how they got this number.

The amount of proved reserves the United States has is mostly pegged around 20.6 billion barrels of oil. Crowder got the number of 163 billion barrels from the report “U.S. Fossil Fuel Resources: Terminology, Reporting, and Summary” released by the Congressional Research Service.

This report states a higher proved reserves of 28.4 billion barrels, than the more common 20.6 billion barrels. I’ll explain why in a moment. But most importantly, 134.5 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable resources. Which means that these resources haven’t been discovered yet, there is good reason to believe these resources might be out there. But it’s unknown where exactly this oil is. Which makes it hard to drill for it.

But there’s a even bigger whopper in this figure he stated. Remember the proved oil reserves of 28.4 billion barrels that is higher than my previously mentioned 20.6 billion? This is because they include barrels of oil equivalent in this figure. When you use barrels of oil equivalent it means you converted a different fossil fuel to it’s equivalent in oil, based on it’s heat contents. So it’s not oil at all, in this case it’s natural gas.

The exact same thing has been done for the previously mentioned 134 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable resources. As it includes over 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent natural gas.

Now I find this misleading to say the least. As most of the oil reserves he mentioned aren’t even found yet. Some of it not even being oil. And till these oil resources are found we can’t actually drill for them. Not to mention, depending on where you are drilling, it can take between 5 and 10 years to get an oil field producing. And then the oil field isn’t even producing at peak capacity. And all this is assuming there aren’t any legal and technical hurdles you need to overcome.

But there’s an even bigger problem with the drill baby drill plan on pushing prices down in the United States. Oil is a global market, and more drilling in the United States doesn’t mean your prices will go down. And any new production you can feasibly achieve for driving down prices is not big enough to truly affect prices. Projections put this around 3 cents per gallon, in 2030.

Combine this with the potential environmental damage of getting to these resources. The uncertainties in the market due to politics and unforeseen circumstances (natural disasters come to mind). And the very real problem of price shocks in the oil trade as it’s a dwindling resource, the industry itself has already said that the days of easy oil are gone. And there is currently a growing suspicion that global oil production has already peaked or is currently peaking.

Drilling for oil might relieve some of this in the short term. But there is no chance whatsoever that it will fix the United States dependency on foreign oil. If you want to drastic reduce this dependency you need to start using technologies that either replace, or reduce, the consumption of oil. Like electric cars and hybrids that have made enormous strides in the past few years. And start using renewable resources like wind and solar, which are already competitive with energy generated by fossil fuels in certain regions of the United States.

These technologies will only get better, more efficient and cheaper when production goes up. And these are just a few of methods that can actually reduce the dependency on foreign oil. It’s just not as catchy and easy to chant as drill baby drill.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.