The United States isn’t running out of oil, but you might think otherwise given the rate at which we are producing this valuable natural resource. This analysis takes a fresh look at the relation between oil supply, oil demand, and production levels by plotting world crude oil demand since 1970 against U.S. crude oil production. Demand, as everyone knows, is up. What’s stunning is that over that 40-year period, there’s been a negative correlation in the U.S. crude oil output relative to that increased demand. Stated more simply, when you plot U.S. crude production relative to worldwide demand, you get two lines moving in opposite directions.
Not only have U.S. crude oil output and world crude oil demand moved in opposite directions, but, the analysis shows, the U.S. is the only country – among the world’s top 29 oil producers — to show such a strong negative correlation between the two metrics. “No other country in the world,” it notes “—not even those suffering through revolutions and wars – has managed to sustain a pattern such as this for over four decades.”
In fact, while the study notes that different countries have many different approaches to controlling oil production – from defending a target price to pumping as much as is profitable to do so – only the U.S. has policies in place that effectively prevent us “from responding for increased demand for oil, or even put a serious dent in imports.” And, unlike other major oil-producing nations, the U.S. is not replenishing proven reserves. The study’s author Stephen Eule, VP of Climate and Technology at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, observes that this failure to adequately tap our existing reserves marks an important distinction between the way our national energy supply is often characterized and the reality of the situation: The U.S. is not running out of oil, but it is “running out of access” to that oil. The supply problems resulting from that policy seem all the more serious when viewed against other nations’ ability to adapt to increased oil demand.
Aside from recent curtailed production in some known oil-rich locations such as the Gulf of Mexico, the study notes that much of our oil lies in places that remain off limits to exploration and production, including an estimated 24.2 billion barrels of oil in offshore federal lands.
It also stresses that oil shale and oil sand resources, a relatively recent area of focus for oil producers, are estimated to exceed two trillion barrels. Estimates of such vast reserves in regions like Ohio’s Utica shale, which have been the focus of recent producer and investor interest, ought to be good news for our domestic energy policy and energy security. But as the two opposing lines of demand and production show, an abundance of reserves in and of itself says nothing about a country’s ability to use those reserves. While we ought to applaud the technological innovations that have allowed us to identify so much more oil and gas reserves in recent years, we must remember that those discoveries will do nothing for our national fuel supply, without the right policies in place.