The US is squandering oil and gas reserves

Nov 11, 2004 01:00 AM

by Bob Krumm

I had the privilege of listening to a noted expert on energy use. Randy Udall raised some cautionary flags about energy use in the United States. Perhaps the most frightening statement he made was to say, "We are as dependent on oil and natural gas as the Sioux and Cheyenne were on the buffalo."
Udall presented some myths that we have been led to believe. One myth is that the well will never run dry; we will always have plenty of petroleum and natural gas. Another myth is that environmentalists are holding up development of oil and natural gas reserves in the Mountain West.

The stark fact is that the United States has already used up two thirds of its petroleum reserves and one half of its natural gas reserves. Our natural gas production has reached a plateau and is starting to decline. Up until now new drilling of natural gas wells has kept up with demand, but most of our wells are less than three years old and are rapidly being depleted. Last year natural gas production decreased by 3 %. According to Udall, the decrease in production will continue.
Natural gas has been the fuel of choice for many American households and over the past four decades the number of homes that were heated with natural gas increased markedly. Heating efficiency advances such as insulation, more efficient furnaces and better sealing allowed natural gas producers to keep up with the dramatic increase in usage.

Natural gas has become the fuel of choice for many electrical generating plants. It is also the stock for production of fertilizer. To run out of natural gas will severely impact the US economy. Still there are places such as the mid-East, Prudhoe Bay and offshore the west coast of Florida that contain reserves.
Udall said that Western states have been accused by Eastern states of being selfish with their natural gas reserves. The truth is that in the past 10 years thousands of natural gas wells have been drilled in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Ironically, while President Bush wants to push ahead with drilling more gas wells in the West, he hasn't derided his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, for declaring all of the Florida west coast offshore to be off-limits to drilling.
"The concept of multiple use of federal lands in the West is a mockery," Udall said. "Many of the lands are being used for only a single use: natural gas extraction."

Some of the wildlife species that are being impacted by the single use of multiple-use lands are pronghorn antelope, mule deer, sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse and many species of songbirds. The cattle rancher is being squeezed out, too.
There is a plan to construct a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Alberta where the pipeline could hook up with pipelines distributing gas throughout the United States. The pipeline would cost $ 22 bn and take 10 years to build.

Udall contended that the United States is very dependent on imports of foreign oil and natural gas. OPEC controls about 70 % of the world's oil reserves. There have been no major oil discoveries in the past 20 years. We will be getting our oil and natural gas from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela for many years to come.
The richest oil province in the United States is Texas. Production has dropped so much in the state that it now imports $ 6 bn worth of oil annually. Udall urged citizens to become more energy conscious and to press for the development of more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. He said that a large wind farm near Medicine Bow, Wyoming, could supply a large percentage of the electrical grid in the West.

It seems so ironic that, while we are looking at the highest prices for gasoline in the history of the United States, we condone gas guzzling SUVs, motorhomes and pickup trucks. Udall said that 53 % of energy wasted today is due to the automobile.
It's time to start thinking about developing alternative energy sources, more fuel-efficient vehicles and more use of muscle power rather the internal combustion engine. We are burning our grandchildren's energy supplies. Will they wonder why we squandered their future?

Bob Krumm, of Sheridan, is the Wyoming outdoor correspondent for The Billings Gazette. Contact him at

Source: Billings Gazette
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