The claim: Parts of the Permian Basin have enough oil to fuel America for 200 years
This year, due to the increase in the price of crude oil and a shortage of refining capacity, gas prices rose dramatically. It has put financial pressure on consumers and political pressure the Biden administration to act accordingly to lower prices. As a result, the role America plays in the international oil market has become a top political issue.
“This small area has enough oil to fuel America for the next 200 years,” reads a a July 12 Facebook post that was shared more than 1,400 times in three days. The image in the post shows a map of Texas and New Mexico with a part greyed out to indicate the boundary of the Permian Basin, the U.S.’s most productive oil region. Within that greyed out section, two dotted yellow lines outline the Delaware and Midland Basins.
Other versions of the claim amassed thousands of additional shares on Facebook.
Estimates of how much oil is in the Delaware and Midland Basins can vary, but experts told USA TODAY even if the highest estimate were true, it would not be enough to meet Americans’ oil consumption needs for two centuries.
U.S. Geological Survey assessments show those two basins contain about 66 billion barrels of oil, which equates to about nine years of America’s oil consumption – not 200 years as the post claims.
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USA TODAY reached out to users who shared the claim for comment.
Permian Basin’s oil would not last two centuries, according to agency estimates
Ted Kury, director of Energy Studies for the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida, said estimates of the amount of oil in the Permian Basin, and the U.S. overall, vary because of different calculation models.
The U.S. Geological Survey in 2018 announced that the Delaware Basin contains an estimated mean of more than 46 billion barrels of continuous oil. And in 2016, the agency estimated the Midland Basin to contain a mean of about 20 billion barrels of continuous oil, totaling around 66 billion barrels.
Albuquerque-based KRQE News reported that Ryan Flynn, the executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association at the time, said the 2018 announcement meant the state could “meet the energy needs of the entire U.S. for decades to come.”
Kury said that number “certainly doesn’t agree” with all oil supply figures. He cited a January report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that said proved reserves of U.S. crude oil and lease condensate were at 38.2 billion barrels at the end of 2020. This includes reserves across the country, not just the Permian Basin.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, proved reserves are measurements “geological and engineering data demonstrate with reasonable certainty to be recoverable in future years from known reservoirs under existing economic and operating conditions.”
As a result, proved reserve estimates can change due to the production of existing reserves, changes in prices and new technologies, according to the agency. This explains the disparity between the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey estimates, which measure continuous oil “regardless of any economic or accessibility considerations,” its website explains.
No matter how much oil is actually in the Permian Basin, Kury said it wouldn’t necessarily reflect how much oil would or could be accessed.
“It may be in order to get to some of that oil we’re going to need technologies we don’t even have yet,” he said. “Just because it’s down there doesn’t mean we can physically extract it.”
More: USGS: Largest oil deposit ever found in U.S. discovered in Texas
And even if physical extraction were possible, Kury said it might not be economically viable to do so.
Hugh Daigle, an associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, cited the U.S. EIA report that the U.S. consumed an average of nearly 20 million barrels of petroleum per day in 2021, which equates to more than 7.2 billion barrels during the year.
He said if Americans’ rate of oil consumption remained the same, the country would need almost 1.5 trillion barrels of oil in a 200-year time span.
“None of the numbers I’ve seen in the Permian Basin come close to that,” Daigle said.
Using U.S. Energy Information Administration data on proved reserves in the U.S., Daigle estimated the Permian Basin contains about 15 billion barrels of crude oil.
Even if the 66 billion figure – the highest estimate of continuous oil in the Midland and Delaware Basins – were accurate and accessible, it would only be enough to meet Americans’ current oil consumption for about nine years.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim the Midland and Delaware Basins of the Permian Basin have enough oil to fuel America for 200 years. Assessments from the U.S. Geological Survey estimate the areas in question contain about 66 billion barrels – the amount of oil Americans consume in about nine years.
Our fact-check sources:
- Hugh Daigle, July 14, Interview with USA TODAY
- Ted Kury, July 14, Interview with USA TODAY
- Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed July 19, Natural Gas
- Texas Tribune, March 25, In Texas, calls to boost U.S. oil production after Russian invasion run into hard realities
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, March 9, How much oil is consumed in the United States?
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, Jan. 13, Proved Reserves of Crude Oil and Natural Gas in the United States, Year-End 2020
- Environmental Protection Agency, accessed July 18, Crude Oil
- KRQE News, Dec. 6, 2018, USGS: New Mexico’s Permian Basin contains 46 billion barrels of oil
- USGS, Nov. 28, 2018, USGS Identifies Largest Continuous Oil and Gas Resource Potential Ever
- USGS, Nov. 15, 2016, USGS Identifies Estimates 20 Billion Barrels of Oil in Texas’ Wolfcamp Shale
- USGS, Oct. 3, 2017, EarthWorld- Continuous Resources
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, Jan. 27, Proved reserves of U.S. crude oil and lease condensate declined by 19% during 2020
- Reuters, Dec. 6, 2018, Texas and New Mexico shale basins hold 49 years worth of oil: USGS
- USGS, accessed July 19, What are “technically recoverable” oil and gas resources?
- USGS, accessed July 19, What is the difference between assessed “resources” and “reserves”?
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