Fossil fuel resources of the United States

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service (March, 2011), “U.S. proved reserves of oil total 22.3 billion barrels, and reserves of natural gas total 283.9 trillion cubic feet. Undiscovered technically recoverable oil in the United States is 134.5 billion barrels, and undiscovered technically recoverable natural gas is 1,176.2 trillion cubic feet. The demonstrated reserve base for coal is 486 billion short tons, of which 261 billion short tons are considered technically recoverable.”

This should be enough for the U.S. to be independent of middle-eastern and other unfriendly sources. However, a large part of these resources are unavailable due to government regulations. For instance, most of the off-shore component of these resources is unavailable due to the de facto moratorium on exploration (see Obama’s April Fools Joke.) Many prime on-shore areas are blocked due to various government regulations such as application of the Antiquities Act.

The resources reported above are just part of the potential ultimate resource. The graph below (from the Congressional report) shows the situation for Oil, but the pyramid structure holds true for all mineral resources.

 The “Reserves” category is that portion of the resource that has been proven and measured according to strict rules and reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission as bankable assets.

 The “Undiscovered technically recoverable” category also has a strict meaning. This category consists of those areas that have geological characteristics similar to those of producing areas. These estimates are made by the U.S. Geological Survey for on-shore resources and by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service) for off-shore resources.

The bottom and largest resource category is the “Discovered and Undiscovered sub-economic resources.” These deposits may be currently sub-economic because of the state of technology, the state of supply and demand, or the state of regulation. Shale gas was in this category until very recently. Methane hydrates are still in this category.

When I first began working as a geologist, oxide copper deposits were in the bottom category because there was no economic way to exploit this resource on a large scale. However, with development and widespread use of solvent-extraction/electro-winning technology, these deposits because economic and are now responsible for a significant part of our copper production.

Human ingenuity produces the technological innovations and human ignorance or ideology produce the regulatory impediments. With a more rational energy policy the U.S. could have more jobs and more secure sources of the natural resources we depend upon.

See also:

Obama Clueless on Energy – Part 1

Obama Clueless on Energy – Part 2

Obama administration still clueless on energy

Obama says Drill Baby Drill just not in the United States

Gasoline Prices and the Obama Energy Policy

Clean Coal: Boon or Boondoggle?



  1. Energy demands across the country would be greatly reduced if people replaced the incandescent bulbs in their homes with LED as they burned out.  Unfortunately the prices on LED replacement bulb for home use are still being artificially elevated.  A local store that was selling the LED 60 watt replacements at under $9 has increased the price to $18.  This wasn’t a sale price, or special advertised price.  Did these suddenly become much more expensive to produce?  I bought a couple of them at $9 and they actually lit the room brighter than the 60 watt, and used only 6 watts.  The actual cost of production is only slightly more than a florescent replacement bulb.  Why no investigative reporting exposing this fraud?  Is it that advertising income and lobbying pressure far outweighs eco-conscience?  When the industry pretended that LCD TVs or monitors cost more to produce than CRT even though even from the beginning the components of a CRT TV or monitor cost many times those of an LCD it was no surprise due to their wishing to exhaust the massive supplies before conversion.  If manufacturers had stopped stockpiling materials for producing incandescent bulbs a few years ago when comparable LEDs began to be cheap to produce, and converted to LED production, they would have still been able to sell out of current stockpiles due to price differences even if the prices were dropped to a few dollars each as is reasonable.

    1. The price rise in LED and CFL bulbs is due in part to the fact that China is restricting  the supply of rare-earth elements which are used as the phosphors in these bulbs. This is yet another reason to develop our domestic mineral resources.

Comments are closed.