Alaska Not as Rich in Oil as Expected

Alaska’s North Slope is home to the U.S. National Petroleum Reserve.  The 23-million acres of land were assessed during the Bush Administration in 2002 and determined to be rich in natural oil and gas resources.  Unfortunately, the newest estimate puts the oil reserves at a mere 10% of the 2002 numbers, and natural gas reserves at 13%.  The new data raised questions about other areas in the U.S. where natural resource abundance may have been overestimated.  Additionally, the newest report casts some doubt as to whether or not regions like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge even merit oil and gas exploration.

The Wildlife Refuge spans 19-million acres of Alaska’s North Slope, and has been a point of contention between environmentalists and energy companies for decades.  The political battle over the decision to open the land to exploration is ongoing.  The newest report has strengthened the position of environmentalists who want the land to remain protected.

Director of the U.S. Geologic Survey, Marcia McNutt, said, “These new findings underscore the challenge of predicting whether oil or gas will be found in frontier areas.”  As new technology makes more data available, the overall petroleum potential of the land needs to be recalculated.

The most recent estimate of the oil content in the National Petroleum Reserve is 896 million barrels of undiscovered oil.  If this figure is accurate, it indicates that the Alaskan oil output has the potential to triple, but the resources are only great enough to support domestic oil usage for two years, and will not significantly reduce the nation’s need to import foreign oil.

The Reserve is also believed to house more than 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  Unfortunately, this resource is currently untapped due to the lack of pipelines or transmission lines that could carry the gas into a region of high demand.  The market in Alaska is simply not great enough to warrant natural gas exploration.

In light of this new report and the significant decline in oil and gas reserve estimates, Americans are forced to acknowledge that our fossil fuels are a limited resource and the reserves are being depleted.  Unless we push renewable energy efforts and fuel efficiency technology to make up the energy gap, the country will begin to rely more heavily on foreign imports.  When our domestic reserves dry up, we will lose any pull we have over setting the price of oil in the global market.