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Deron Lovaas’s Blog

Drilling: U.S. Has Been There, Done That

Deron Lovaas

Posted March 9, 2011

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I like to ask people this question: How many producing oil wells are there in the United States? A few hundred? A few thousand? Ten or twenty thousand? If you listen to the folks who like to say “drill, baby, drill,” you would think that oil companies have been sitting on their hands instead of getting out there like James Dean in Giant and finding us some more oil. That couldn’t be further from the truth. No country on earth has had its oil resources more thoroughly explored and developed than the United States of America.

U.S. oil production peaked in about 1970, and has been on a downward slide ever since (interestingly Joe Romm notes that there’s been an uptick under President Obama). As oil industry veteran Leo Maugeri points out in his 2006 book, The Age of Oil, the decades-long decline of U.S. oil production has nothing to do with a lack of drilling – we do it better than anyone else on the planet.

Let’s look at the numbers. (These figures are from a 2009 Oil and Gas Journal database.)

Number of producing oil wells in the Middle East: 15,074

Number of producing oil wells in OPEC countries: 37,086

Number of producing oil wells in the United States:  525,998

That’s right. The United States is home to more than half a million producing oil wells – about 60 percent of all the producing oil wells in the world. We have more oil wells than all of the Middle East, thirty-five times over. We have 14 times as many wells as OPEC does.  We’ve blasted more oil wells into our soil and seas than all the countries in the world, put together. 

Drill, baby, drill? Been there. Done that.

And still, we consume 19 million barrels of oil a day, while producing less than half that.

We need to get off this roller coaster.

In the long run, we have two choices. We can go and beg OPEC to please produce some more oil to feed our habit, or we can start breaking our addiction.

How do we do that? We can’t kick the habit without rethinking surface transportation, because about half of the oil we consume goes into our gas tanks. In my next post, I’ll talk about how we can make our transportation sector more diverse and efficient, and less dependent on oil.

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William HammersteinMar 9 2011 04:55 PM

"How do we do that?" I thought you were going to follow with a way to change public opinion. It's not a well kept secret that there are a multitude of low and high tech technologies to get us there. The only problem is political will. How do we overcome that???

JillianMar 9 2011 05:37 PM

We are also leading in production of the dependence on our current transportation structure is obviously key. I live in a rural/suburban area of a smallish city (Asheville, NC) and am already suffering for the lack of alternatives. I have to go into the city for absolutely everything, and we don't have a single bus coming out my way...times millions of like situations across the country. How scary is that?

DeronMar 10 2011 03:06 PM

Thanks for writing. William, there's no short answer to the question of building the political will. It'll take sustained, organized pressure to get this done. That may seem like a tall order, and it is. But remember that this painful context of oil price hikes can be an ally -- a similar context prompted George W. Bush to admit we're "addicted to oil" in 2006 and to sign a remarkable energy bill in 2007, which boosted fuel economy for our car and truck fleet for the first time in decades. We need to strike while the iron is hot.

Jillian, more choices for us -- in vehicles, fuels, mobility -- is the name of the game. See my new post on that.

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