NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Scientists Find More Oil In The Earth

May 29, 2002

There may be far more oil and gas within the earth than previously thought.

  • In 1995, the New York Times reported that geochemist Jean Whelan of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts had found evidence that oil was moving upward into reservoirs from somewhere far deeper.
  • On April 16, 2002, Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, published a startling report that old oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico are somehow being refilled.
  • Scientists, led by Mahlon Kennicutt of Texas A&M University, speculate that the new oil is surging upward from deposits well below those currently in production.

This raises new questions about the origins of oil and natural gas. It has commonly been thought that they are the decayed remains of long dead plants and animals. However, as hydrocarbons are found at extreme depths, this explanation becomes increasingly implausible.

Astronomer Thomas Gold of Cornell University argues that oil and gas are in fact the remains of methane left over from the earth's origin.

With growing improvements in technology that are making possible oil drilling at greater and greater depths, it may soon be economically feasible to explore and produce oil from these deep deposits.

Economist Julian Simon long made the point that the size of proven reserves cannot be divorced from the price of oil. At current price levels, only about 40 percent of oil can be extracted from existing fields; the remaining 60 percent cannot be produced economically and is therefore not included in proven reserve estimates.

As Bjorn Lomberg points out in his new book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist" (Cambridge University Press), $40 per barrel oil will immediately increase world reserves from a 40 years supply to 250 years because vast known oil shale deposits will become economically viable.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, May 29, 2002.

 

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