Posted by: Peter Black | August 12, 2008

Where is Our Offshore Oil?

U.S. Offshore Oil Reserves

America consumes 20.7 Million Barrels of Oil per day.

21% of our offshore oil is in Congressional Moratorium Areas



Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that the debate over offshore drilling has intensified over the past few months. That got me asking the question: where exactly are the resources? How much of it is in moratorium areas as opposed to areas where drilling is currently allowed?

So I went to the US Department of Mineral Management, website: the folks who manage our offshore resources on the OCS, to see if I could find some facts on this issue.

Here’s what I found:

– There’s an estimated 86 Billion Barrels of Oil (BBO) that has yet to be discovered offshore.

– Of that, 18 BB0 are in the Congressional Moratorium Areas (21%)

– 68 BBO are in planning areas where it’s already ok to drill (79%)

We Americans consume 20.7 Million Barrels of Oil each and every day.

Therefore, the total offshore supply equates to 11.4 years worth of oil at current rates of consumption. The supply in the moratorium areas equals 2.4 years.

Most of the oil exists in the Gulf of Mexico, and offshore in Alaska.

Given these facts and the map, what is your take on the current political fight?



  1. Hi Peter,
    These maps are great, as is most of this blog – nice work! Your point is clear – even opening all the offshore areas currently under a drilling moratorium would only increase the likely reserves in US waters by 25%. I think it’s also important to expand the context a bit. If we decided to drill for oil in the currently-protected areas, the oil does spurt out of the ocean floor and into our gastanks for free. It is part of the world oil market, not just part of US oil usage. It is important to view the production from these oil fields in light of the world market.

    The US Energy Information Administration tells us that current world oil production is about 82 million barrels per day (BPD). It also expects that even if all the OCS is opened to drilling, it is unlikely to be leased until 2012, and unlikely to produce any oil until 2017. If those 18 billion barrels are exploited, the EIA estimates that even by 2030 they would only increase oil production by 200,000 barrels of oil per day. This is an increase of 0.24% in total world oil output. Yes, that’s one quarter of one percent!

    How much do you think that amount of additional oil supply will reduce world oil prices? And gasoline prices at the US pump?

  2. Thanks Cody!

    Your point is well taken. It all comes down to whether you think it’s worth it or not to potentially compromise some of our nation’s best beaches, fisheries, and tourist areas for the sake of 18 billion barrels of oil (as I stated in my post…about 2 1/2 years worth of American energy independence at current rates of consumption).

    I think this issue is being used very well to divide Americans into choosing sides. While I understand why that is, I don’t think it should be done without the best facts at our disposal…

  3. Peter, to be clear, I don’t think we’re weighing the value of beaches, fisheries, etc against “2 1/2 years worth of American energy independence.” There is no way that all the oil in those fields could be extracted in a period of two years for oil independence. I’m not trying to make a nitpicking technical argument, but a framing one: We’re weighing the value of fisheries, beaches, and tourist destinations against one quarter of one percent of world oil supply.

    This potential supply must be viewed as part of the world oil market, not as a U.S. energy independence nest-egg. And as part of that market, it’s awfully small.

  4. Either way, I come to the same conclusion…unless we were to find a field with 100BBO or greater offshore…

  5. Peter I saw your blog linked from I have shamelessly posted 1.5 of your maps with lots of links at I hope this falls under fair use. Keep up the great work. I gave up on GIS when I realized I couldn’t do the programming, but these maps really help to communicate important information in new ways.

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