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

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.