Often political candidates call for something that to most people seems sensible and even obvious: We don’t want to be dependent on foreign oil, so why not promote oil production right here in the good old USA?
If it really is that simple, if the United States really is, as Michele Bachmann so entertainingly puts it, “the Saudi Arabia of oil,” what’s stopping us? The blame is usually placed on restrictions are where we can drill: No extraction allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, for example, or off large parts of the coast.
In reality, the U.S. was one of the first countries to develop its oil reserves, and we still produce quite a lot domestically. In fact, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported, the number of working oil rigs in the U.S. is up about 60% in the last year alone. The number is the highest it’s been since at least 1987. While there aren’t a lot of good oil fields left, total production is up as well, though not as much, only about 5.9% in the last year. That’s still the highest level of domestic production in almost a decade.
Of course, if you’re a politician who wants to blame high gas prices on Obama, what counts isn’t facts but what you can get people to believe.
If you’d like to see a credible assessment of U.S. oil production potential, see the 2009 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on the potential of deep-sea drilling as well as this analysis of the implications. Basically, going all-on extracting off-shore oil would reduce gas prices not at all in the short run, and by just of few cents a gallon even a decade in the future. Opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling would have a similarly minimal impact on world production or the priced of gasoline.
The U.S. was one of the first countries to drill extensively for oil, and our petroleum geologists got very good at finding it. The result is that we’ve already used up the majority of it that can be extracted at an affordable cost.