Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

US Pacific Northwest Offshore Oil and Gas: A Waste of Time, Ocean and Coast

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) estimates there is an even chance that 0.4 billion barrels of oil and 2.28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that are technically exploitable might be discovered under the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Oregon and Washington. At 2017 rates of consumption, this amount of oil and gas would fuel the United States for twenty and thirty-one days respectively, meaning the United States would convert to a carbon-free economy a month later than we otherwise will. Hundreds of times more fossil fuels could be saved through cost-effective conservation and efficiency measures mandated by state and local governments. More than twice as much fossil fuels could be saved by the Trump administration’s not reversing the Obama administration’s new fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-trucks. Yet the Trump administration proposes to lease the offshore Pacific Northwest in 2021. If BOEM’s oil and gas estimates that have a 95% confidence level are true, the Pacific Northwest offshore fossil fuels would supply the nation for zero and 2.5 days respectively.

  Coming to a coast near you if the Trump administration has its way.  Source: US Department of the Interior.

Coming to a coast near you if the Trump administration has its way. Source: US Department of the Interior.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is proposing to lease the Outer Continental Shelf off Oregon and Washington in 2021 for oil and gas exploitation. Of the twenty-seven US offshore “planning” areas, only one, the North Aleutian Islands, initially escaped Zinke’s drilling fervor. That’s because Republican former oilman and president George W. Bush placed it off limits. A week after making his announcement, Zinke said any leasing offshore Florida is “off the table” at the request of the state’s Republican governor.

In April 2017, President Trump reversed decisions by Democratic climateman and former president Obama that placed much of the American Arctic and Atlantic Oceans off-limits to oil and gas exploitation. Fortunately, Trump is being sued by a coalition of conservation organizations for the illegal action.

How Much Fossil Fuel Are We Talking About?

How much oil and natural gas might be exploitable offshore Oregon and Washington? No one knows. The US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) mean “projections” are 0.4 billion barrels of oil and 2.28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. If you combine the oil and gas numbers after converting the volume of gas into equivalent barrels of oil you get 0.81 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

These numbers are the mean of two BOEM projections, each with a 95-percent or 5-percent confidence level. According to BOEM there is a 95 percent probability that 0 barrels of technically exploitable oil will be discovered and a 5 percent probability that 1.14 billion barrels will be discovered; for gas, it is 0.03 and 5.80 trillion cubic feet respectively (Table 1).

If you were investing in an oil and/or gas play (Figure 1), would you bet on the 95 percent, the mean (50 percent) or the 5 percent confidence level? As Richard Charter, senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation, notes in an email to the author, the numbers are “highly inflated and not based on any real data” and are “just a potshot guess, or as they say in the industry, a SWAG (Smart Wild-Ass Guess).” 

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Efficiency Trumps Production

To put these numbers in perspective, at 2017 rates of consumption, there is a 50% chance there is an amount of oil and gas that would fuel the United States for 20 and 31 days respectively, meaning the United States would convert to a carbon-free economy less than a month later than we otherwise will. Hundreds of times more fossil fuels could be saved through cost-effective conservation and efficiency measures mandated by state and local governments. More than twice as much fossil fuels could be saved by the Trump administration’s not reversing the Obama administration’s new fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-trucks.

  Figure 1.  Geologic plays in the Pacific Region. Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Figure 1. Geologic plays in the Pacific Region. Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Below, in Harper’s Index form, are some very un-fun facts for your edification.

Un-fun facts: oil

• 2017 United States daily oil consumption in millions of barrels: 19.84

• Projected mean total of potentially exploitable oil from offshore Oregon and Washington in millions of barrels: 400

• Total number of days offshore Oregon and Washington oil would sustain current United States consumption: 20.2

Un-fun facts: gas

• 2017 United States daily consumption of “natural” (a.k.a. methane) gas in billion cubic feet: 74.04

• Projected mean total of potentially exploitable natural gas from offshore Oregon and Washington in billions of cubic feet: 2,280

• Total number of days exploiting Oregon and Washington offshore natural gas would sustain current United States consumption: 30.8

Un-fun facts: oil that could be replaced by conservation and efficiency measures mandated by state and local governments

If state and local governments were to mandate cost-effective conservation and efficiency measures for electricity (generated increasingly from natural gas), we’d save 538 times as much oil as might be had by drilling offshore Oregon and Washington.

• Amount of electricity that could be saved between 2016 and 2035 if state and local governments were to implement cost-effective energy efficiency improvements billion barrels of oil equivalent (BBOE): 436*

• Projected mean total of potentially exploitable barrels of oil equivalent offshore Oregon and Washington in BBOE: 0.81

• Number of offshore Oregon and Washington equivalents that could be saved from oil and gas despoliation by cost-effective energy efficiency measures mandated by state and local governments: 538

Un-fun facts: oil that could be replaced by keeping the new fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks

If the Trump administration were to leave the Obama administration’s medium- and heavy-duty truck fuel efficiency standards in place, we’d save 2.2 times as much oil as might be had by drilling offshore Oregon and Washington.

• Millions of barrels of oil that the Obama administration’s new medium- and heavy-duty truck US fuel efficiency rule (which the Trump administration is now trying to reverse) would save over the life of the new vehicles: 1,800

• Projected mean total of potentially exploitable barrels of oil equivalent offshore Oregon and Washington in BBOE: 0.81

• Number of offshore Oregon and Washington equivalents that could be saved from oil and gas despoliation if the Trump administration is blocked from undoing the Obama administration rule: 2.2

 

 

* The USDOE EERE Office estimate is 741,000 gigawatt hours. According to Google (‘bboe to gWh”), 1 gigawatt hour (gWh) of electricity is equivalent to 588.441 barrels of oil. 741,000*588.41=436,004,400 or 436 bboe.