On American energy . . .

America’s energy policy is the subject of a great deal of current debate.  I wanted to take a good look at it, based on information freely available to the public.  I want to express my opinion on both long term and short term energy goals.  Therefore, this post.  Section I is a survey of oil, natural gas, and coal production, imports, consumption, and reserves.  It ends with a summary chart.  Section II is my analysis.

Section I.  Current Information:


The US imports petroleum and petroleum products from more than 70 countries.  In 2010, an estimated 4.3 billion barrels were imported from all sources.  The figures are composed of 1.78 billion from OPEC countries, and 2.5 billion from all other countries.  From the Persian Gulf countries, included in the OPEC numbers, 623 million (about 400 million from Saudi Arabia, 151 million from Iraq, 72 million from Kuwait.)  Within OPEC, Nigeria sold us about 374 million barrels, Saudi Arabia 399 million, and Venezuela 360 million  in 2010.

From non-OPEC countries, our two largest sources are Canada — 924 million, and Mexico – 467 million.  We imported a surprising 222 million barrels from Russia, 93 million from the United Kingdom, and 92 million from the US Virgin Islands.

US imports by country of origin

Domestic oil production was 1.75 billion barrels in 2009.  Assuming this carried over into 2010 as well, the total available oil was 6.06 billion barrels.  However, the US exported 15 million barrels of crude oil in 2010. 

Domestic oil consumption was about 18.7 million barrels a day in 2010, or about 6.83 billion barrels.  Source: Oil consumption 2010.  Note – there is a discrepancy in the calculated totals from indexmundi.com and the US Energy Administration,  (6.83 vs. 6.05). 

Domestic oil reserves:

There are two kinds of oil reserves: proven and potential.  Proven reserves are now about 21 billion barrels Wikipedia or about 11 years at current US production rates.  Potential reserves are enormous(Kipplinger article) but the costs of production are enormous for some forms of it.  Nevertheless, according to the Kipplinger article and other sources, the US could produce oil at current level (but greater cost) for some 300 years.

The more easily obtainable potential reserves are in the Bakken fields (Montana and Saskatchewan, Canada), the outer continental shelf, and Alaska.  But these fields take time to develop and  the president is currently restricting oil exploration. 

Natural gas:

It comes in two forms: wet, and dry.  Dry gas is extracted in gaseous form from wells; wet gas is dissolved gas, in oil or other liquids.  From the Wikipedia article

Contaminants in raw natural gas

Raw natural gas typically consists primarily of methane (CH4), the shortest and lightest hydrocarbon molecule. It also contains varying amounts of:

Natural gas production

Natural gas consumption

Natural gas reserves.


The United States has enormous coal "resources" and "recoverable reserves. 

The most recent figures available from the EIA, show that America’s estimated recoverable reserves of coal – stand at 275 billion tons, an amount that is greater than any other nation in the world, and are capable of meeting domestic demand for more than 250 years at current rates of consumption.

Coal production, consumption, and exports

US coal reserves

Figure 1.  US Fossil Fuel Summary (2010 estimated annual):

Product US Production Amt. Imported US Consumption Proven Reserves Extended Reserves Units
                   4 ,300                   6,830                        21 300 years* Billion barrels
Natural gas         26,868,000            3,737,000         24,133,000      272,509,000      1,451,000** Million cubic feet
Coal              808,659                  14,651               798,075      275,000,000 275 years* Thousand short tons

* at current rates of production.  Obviously, more expensive to produce.

**  It’s really rather unknown.  There seems to be lots of it in the US.  The amount shown is the smallest of 3 estimates

in the website given above.  It is 1,451 trillion cubic feet.


Section II.  My analysis.

Green energy vs. fossil fuels:

Environmentalists advocate  “green” energy sources and fight oil, natural gas, and coal tooth and nail.  Green energy sources include solar, wind, water, hydrogen, and geothermal technologies, none of which are currently capable of providing energy in quantities used by the American public, due to high costs of production. 

Solar power is most likely to (eventually) provide great quantities of power at reasonable cost.  Research on new materials for solar panels will eventually bring costs down, while boosting efficiency.  Assuming we could set aside vast wilderness areas in Arizona, Nevada,  and other western states, and cover them with solar panels or other solar devices, we will still need the ability to transport the generated electricity to other parts of the country.  We will also need the ability to store the power for later use.

Wind energy generators are expensive to build and maintain.  Again, the electricity generated must be transported and stored for use as needed. 

Hydro-electric power has probably reached peak production.  There just aren’t that many possible dam and lake sites left on the various rivers in the United States. 

The hydrogen cycle is touted as a technology of the future, but it is far from practical now.   It creates no new energy; it is a means of storing energy that probably costs more to produce than it releases.  Still, it could be valuable, and could be produced by wind or solar generators.  A brief description of the cycle: water is broken down electrically into hydrogen and oxygen.  The hydrogen is stored, and later burned to create heat and water.  There are no other products of combustion.  It can be used to power vehicles.  One difficulty is in finding a way to safely store it in vehicles, since it is very explosive. 

Geothermal energy is available in some areas.  There are engineering difficulties which so far may limit the lifetime of a given mine, and some questions on its long-term safety. 

Nuclear energy:

This is a subject of vast importance.  The disaster in Japan has brought up old fears about its safety.  I believe it’s the best alternative to fossil fuels currently available, and that it is safe to use, as well as non-polluting.

 What should our energy policy be?

First of all, we need to address the climate change question: should we allow the fear of climate change to dominate energy policy?  President Obama has said he wants gasoline to cost $5 a gallon, so we will use less of it.  He doesn’t like coal.  He has sharply restricted exploration and drilling of new oil and natural gas wells, even though natural gas burns much more cleanly than oil and its derivatives.

In spite of an apparent consensus among climate scientists, there are many who are quite skeptical about whether global warming is caused by man.  The Earth goes through long natural cycles of warming and cooling.  See my page “Climate Change”.

We now have many economic problems that are exacerbated by the Left’s energy policies, as enforced by Obama.  I believe we need to address them now, and “kick the can down the road” with respect to  sharply curtailing the emission of CO2.  Perhaps in a few years, the new energy technologies will arise to help us out there.  Right now, we have currency, unemployment, and inflation problems that must be addressed.

We should allow exploitation of oil, natural gas, and coal.  We should allow off-shore drilling.  Simply announcing that we will do so will affect “futures” prices, and immediately bring the costs down.  Jobs will be created when more wells are drilled and product is transported into the economy.  As the economy picks up, the annual federal tax deficit will be reduced. 

Drill, Baby, Drill.

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One Response to On American energy . . .

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