On December 6 the US Department of the Interior announced the the discovery of the largest deposit of undiscovered, recoverable oil and gas resources in US history. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the reserve contains 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.
The reserve is called the Wolfcamp Shale and overlying Bone Spring Formation , and it is located in west Texas and southeast New Mexico.
By contrast, the Bakken formation in the Williston Basin of North Dakota will ultimately produce an estimated 7.4 billion barrels of oil according to a 2013 USGS estimate. Note the difference in estimates between what is “technically recoverable” in the Wolfcamp Shale and what will ultimately be produced in the Bakken. The Wolfcamp Shale may not actually produce 46 billion barrels of oil, but it is huge.
“Christmas came a few weeks early this year,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “American strength flows from American energy, and as it turns out, we have a lot of American energy. Before this assessment came down, I was bullish on oil and gas production in the United States. Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.”
Zinke’s reaction cuts to the heart of the critical challenge we face today. The announcement of this new reserve comes just two weeks after the release of the National Climate Assessment by the Trump Administration. This scientific assessment says we must act now to fight climate change or we face hundreds of billions of dollars in public health costs and a huge decline in our economy.
So we have one branch of the government telling us that it is a scientific fact that human-based climate change will cause huge damage if we don’t do something about it, and another branch jumping up and down by the Christmas tree like a kid who just got 46 billion barrels of candy and intends to eat it all before sundown.
Here’s the truth: we can’t take all that oil and gas out of the ground or we’re going to pay a far higher long-term price than the short-term financial benefit.
Ryan Zinke needs to be dragged away from his Christmas presents and replaced by a responsible adult who can balance the critical choices we have to face right now.