Should We Even Bother With Offshore Oil? A Look at the Numbers

One doesn’t need to look very far to find someone pondering the future of offshore drilling.  The recent catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is a stark reminder of the high-risk, high-payoff game the future could be.  You know the risks…loss of fishing and tourism revenue, human life, human health, declining ecosystem function, diminishing biodiversity, and overall environmental degradation.  But what of the payoff?  How much offshore oil is out there and how long will it sustain us?

According to Annual Energy Outlook (Table 10 pg 57) produced by the Energy Information Association and the Department of Energy in 2007,  59.09 billion barrels was technically recoverable in the U.S. offshore oil holdings.  40.92 billion barrels are in the Gulf of Mexico alone.  According to a 2008 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the federal government estimates the total reserve for our nation’s outer continental shelf at around 85.9 billion barrels.

How long will that oil last us?  At 7.56 billion barrels of oil per year.  Between 7.9-11.3 years.  That’s it.  We have quite possibly ruined the entire Gulf of Mexico for 11.3 years of oil.

What is the global offshore reserves?  350 billion barrels.  The global annual consumption of oil…31.2 billion barrels. That is just 11.2 years worth of oil at our current consumption rate.

Of course all of these are estimates and there is likely variance in any one of them.  However, our oil consumption is not likely to magically decrease by half and fairy dust will not make our reserves double.  But even if they were, would 16-24 years make you feel any better than 8-12?  It doesn’t for me.

These simple calculations demonstrate that oil cannot be our future.  I am not willing to gamble our oceans on a temporary fix from offshore drilling.

Dr. M (1720 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

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