Once again, Sarah Palin writes a column saying that the secret to American energy independence is drilling for oil.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the fact that Palin claims energy issues as her particular sphere of expertise just amazes me, and similarly it amazes me that nobody important bothers to point out that, on her professed area of expertise, she is a goddamned idiot.
To be fair, for quite possibly the first time ever, Palin actually includes a few numbers in her screed: specifically, domestic American petroleum consumption. Unfortunately, this does not get her a cookie, because if you’re going to talk numbers about consumption and then say “well we gots to drill more of them wells you betcha,” you need to link it to that other number, which is production.
The United States has an estimated 21 billion barrels of remaining uncollected oil reserves.1 Were it all to become suddenly available tomorrow, the USA’s consumption rate of 19.5 million barrels per day wouldn’t allow it to last long. This is because a consumption rate of 19.5 million barrels per day is also a consumption rate of 7.1 billion barrels per year. So basically, the United States has nearly three years’ worth of oil reserves handy at its current consumption rate.
Of course, that figure isn’t really that meaningful either, because there is still no magic straw given to us by a friendly genie2 that gets all the oil out. Oil wells do not show up overnight. Even if the United States government expedited the leasing process, the oil companies still have to drill exploratory wells, develop a production plan from that exploration, and then install production wells. That’s a six-to-nine-year process to reach basic production.
And even when you reach basic production, you don’t reach peak production that quickly any more, because all the easily drilled oil deposits are now empty. Oil is sometimes in the ground in a big single pool; the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia, for example, was mostly a big-ass single pool. But the big-pool deposits are mostly gone, so you can’t just stick a well into the ground and get all the oil from a single field. What’s left in the ground at this point is the harder-to-reach stuff: far-offshore fields (which take more than six to nine years to successfully explore and drill, one might add) and land-based fields which are kind of like Styrofoam except instead of air pockets there are oil pockets. These do not produce oil at “traditional” production rates. It will be in the neighborhood of fifteen years before anybody sees more than a relative dribble.
And finally, unless Sarah Palin plans to nationalize the oil industry like some sort of socialist or something, that oil is just going to go onto the free market anyway, where all the other countries in the world – like, say, India and China – will compete for its purchase. And frankly, at this point they can more easily afford it than the United States can.
So to sum up: Sarah Palin’s “drill” plan involves ignoring how much oil is actually in the ground, how quickly it can be drilled, how easily it can be accessed, and the basic reality of the global oil market. And this is where she thinks she is an expert.
Dear Rachel Maddow: please, just take all of this, put your Rachel Maddow style on it, and do a five-minute segment. You can’t tell me you don’t want to make fun of Sarah Palin again. You would be lying if you said that.
- CIA World Factbook, following from World Oil and Oil and Gas Journal. British Petroleum’s most recent publicly available statistical analysis – in 2007 – puts it at 30 billion, but most consider that an outlier. [↩]
- Genies hate the Middle East for bottling them, so clearly they would be on America’s side. Well, if they existed, anyway. [↩]