Slick Argument

by Don Boudreaux on March 15, 2011

in Energy, Myths and Fallacies, Regulation

Roland Hwang is quoted in today’s edition of USA Today arguing that

America consumes roughly one-quarter of the world’s oil, yet we are home to less than 2% of the globe’s proven oil reserves.  So much for ‘drill, baby, drill.’  Even if we were to drill a hole everywhere in the country that has oil and drain every drop, we’d have enough to last us just about three years.

Whatever good arguments there might be for not easing restrictions on drilling, Hwang’s isn’t among them.  The reason is that the size of any nation’s proved oil reserves is in part an artifact of that nation’s policies on drilling.  Here’s how the Society of Petroleum Engineers defines “proved reserves”:

Proved reserves are those quantities of petroleum which, by analysis of geological and engineering data, can be estimated with reasonable certainty to be commercially recoverable, from a given date forward, from known reservoirs and under current economic conditions, operating methods, and government regulations.

So the very fact that Uncle Sam prohibits drilling on, say, ANWR keeps America’s proved reserves lower than they would be without this prohibition.  The current small size of proved petroleum reserves, therefore, cannot legitimately be cited as a reason not to ease drilling restrictions.

Also, as Greg Staff points out by e-mail, “volumes reported as ‘proved reserves’ will go up and down with the per barrel price of oil.”


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