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Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Even though WaPo columnist George Will hints at potential long-term oil issues, he basically gets his facts wrong.
In 1971, a year before Texas output passed its peak, U.S. production was more than two-thirds of the nation's needs. Today the nation imports 54 percent of the oil it uses.

This number does demonstrate the U.S. trend for becoming more dependent on foreign oil, but it is off by a bit.

From the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Table 1 in a study called "Reforming the Federal Royalty Program for Oil and Gas", we get the real numbers. In 1998, it shows the U.S. production at 2,282 million barrels/year or 6.25 million barrels/day. This means that oil imports are closer to 70% than the 54% that Will quotes. And from the DOE, the combination of oil and natural gas liquids was 2,759 million barrels/year in 2002, which means we still import well above 60%.

From Stateline.org, extrapolating from the following numbers we get only 22% from U.S. production.
The hike in oil prices also affects the 29 states with stripper wells. An estimated 402,000 stripper wells produce only about 2.2 barrels a day each, but collectively account for 20 percent of total U.S. oil production, said C. Jeffrey Eshelman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), a Washington, D.C., trade group. That is about the same amount that the United States imports from Saudi Arabia each day, he said.

Only two barrels a day per well? When we get to look at it the numbers this way, these hardly constitute as gushers any longer. The low output per day also makes it apparent that these have a finite lifetime. Will does quote this interesting tidbit:
Russell Roberts, an economist, says: Imagine that you love pistachio nuts and are given a room filled 5 feet deep with them. But you must eat them in the room and must leave the shells. When will you have eaten them all? Never. Because as it becomes increasingly difficult to find nuts amid the shells, the cost of the nuts, in time and effort, will become too high. You will seek a substitute -- pistachios from a store, or another snack.

This oft-quoted phrase typifies the current U.S. situation:
Everyone talks about oil production as if it is like turning a tap on your water tank. In fact it is more like sucking water out of a sponge through a straw.

At some point your lungs start getting really tired.

(note to self) Bill Murray prefers Swill, the viscous mineral water dredged from Lake Erie.


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