The United States has more oil and natural gas resources than previous estimates, according to a recent study by National Petroleum Council. The study also concluded that development of these resources will reduce but not eliminate dependence on imported energy and production, and delivery of these resources should be done in an environmentally responsible manner.
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The National Petroleum Council is a federally-charted but privately-funded organization set up after World War II to advise the government on issues pertaining to oil and gas matters.
The industry is well represented on the National Petroleum Council, with James Hackett, the CEO of Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC), Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) and Marvin Odum, the director for Upstream operations in the United States for Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A, RDS.B) as members. (For related reading, see Peak Oil: What To Do When The Wells Run Dry.)
The study's first conclusion is rather obvious given the recent media spotlight on domestic onshore natural gas development. The United States is the world's largest producer of natural gas and has an enormous natural gas resource base that can meet demand for generations if new basins are allowed to be developed.
Although this conclusion seems obvious to us now, just a few short years ago, many observers were climbing over themselves to come up with the direst predictions of falling natural gas supply in the United States. The conventional wisdom at that time was that the United States needed massive investment in liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities to provide for soaring future domestic demand for natural gas.
One finding that may surprise some investors and also strike some fear into peak oil advocates is the conclusion that crude oil is much more abundant in the United States than previously thought. This new supply is coming from a number of different areas, including tight oil areas where new technology has been applied to develop resources that were previously not economic to produce. In the long term, supply will come from offshore areas, the Arctic region and even shale oil deposits in Colorado. (For related reading, see Unearth Profits In Oil Exploration And Production.)
A recent report from an analyst at Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) predicts that the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia and Russia and becomes the world's largest oil producer by 2017. The firm expects United States production to reach 10.9 million barrels per day by 2017. This production figure includes natural gas liquids in the total.
This level of production is certainly doable given the current level of industry activity in the United States. The U.S. Energy Administration reported that the United States produced 8.95 million barrels per day of crude oil, natural gas liquids and other liquids in May 2011. The 10.9 million barrel projection implies total production growth of 21.8% over the next six years.
Despite the optimism on oil production, the United States will still be a net importer of this commodity even under an unconstrained development scenario under which production rises to approximately 22 million barrels per day by 2035.
Environmentally Responsible Development
The final conclusion was that the oil and gas resources need to be developed in a responsible manner to gain the trust of the public. The study also recommended educating the public on the risks of drilling and quoted a study from MIT that found only 43 gas well accidents out of nearly 20,000 wells drilled over the last decade.
The Bottom Line
The conventional wisdom on the amount of natural gas and oil resources in the United States appears to be incorrect, with the only question being whether we will allow these resources to be developed. (For related reading, see Oil: A Big Investment With Big Tax Breaks.)
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