On the New USGS Assessment of the Wolfcamp Shale

IMG 1834
IMG 1834

I got a little irritated Thursday evening when a writer at the National Review Online claimed that the “feds” had “discovered” the largest oil and gas reserve in history, and responded on Twitter as follows:


I mean, c’mon, how hard is this to understand? The federal government had literally nothing to do with discovering the Wolfcamp Shale. That work has been done by teams of extremely smart geoscientists, engineers and other professionals at an array of companies in the nation’s oil and gas industry over the last decade.

But, as I noted in my tweet, the USGS does deserve credit for doing some analysis and math and producing yesterday’s amazing assessment that estimates the Wolfcamp Shale contains the following amazing volumes of technically recoverable resource:

  • 46.3 Billion barrels of crude oil;
  • 20 Billion barrels of natural gas liquids; and
  • 281 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

These numbers are almost incomprehensible to most people, so it helps to try to place them in some context:

  • The most prolific oil resource ever discovered in North America is the Prudhoe Bay field on the North Slope of Alaska.  Over the last 40+ years, Prudhoe Bay has produced about 14 billion barrels of crude oil.  USGS projects that the Wolfcamp will produce 3.3 times that over its life.
  • That 46.3 billion barrels of crude oil represents about 6.5 years of total U.S. consumption. From a single formation in a basin with a dozen different producing formations.
  • 281 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas represents 12 years of total U.S. consumption. From a single formation in a basin with a dozen different producing formations.
  • Put another way, this is enough natural gas to supply all of our nation’s gas-fired power plants for about 35 years.
  • 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids represents roughly 21 years of total U.S. consumption.

All of that from a single formation in the Permian Basin.

Now, here’s what else you need to understand about this assessment: It is extremely conservative. It is an estimate of how much oil, gas and NGLs can be produced from the Wolfcamp using current technology. If we know anything about the oil and gas industry, it is that technology used in that industry advances literally every day.

The assessment is also based on proven reserves that have been reported to the SEC by oil and gas companies to date. That is also an extremely conservative number based on the drilling that has taken place to date. The industry is in the very early stages of drilling in the Wolfcamp, and will be drilling more wells and proving more reserves there for decades to come.

So, as incomprehensible as those numbers are, know that they represent a fraction of the actual volumes in place that will ultimately be recovered from the Wolfcamp by the very smart people in the U.S. oil and gas industry.

That is all.




  1. The use of high volumes of fresh water to toxic water to injection well for earthquakes was fought by the industry, yet proven in the broken foundations of homes across Oklahoma and making it an earthquake zone. I have wells all around me and experience earthquakes at least once a week these days. My family has lived here since ’64 and never experienced an earthquake until ‘fracing’ came to town. The oil companies deliberately used the same term for their ‘new’ process to mislead many to believe it was similar to the ‘fracking’ done to create sub-terrain maps, looking for pools of oil since the early days of exploration. Deliberately misleading to create confusion about a much more dangerous method of drilling. If you think a plug in abandoned wells will hold those toxins out of the water table after a few earthquakes rattle them, I have some snake oil to sell you. For perspective, Oklahoma was one of the final candidates for the CERN facility in the 70’s. The major factor was Oklahoma’s lack of earthquakes or fault lines, it certainly wasn’t because it was known for its tornadoes. When we shut down the injection wells, and the earthquakes subsided (they didn’t stop,) the state of Oklahoma proved the relationship between their ‘new’ drilling and the ‘new’ fault line they found in Oklahoma,. This fact, along with the thousands of gallons each well uses a week, along with the dry area in which this basin is located, will place a practial limit, eventually limit the fracking technique as it is, on what the public will accept in environmental damage done to our infrastructure, and the scarcity of water it will cause. When the industry ends this part of its operational requirements for drilling with their ‘new’ technology,’ then I will whole-heartedly celebrate the energy boon this oil play promises.

  2. Fossil fuel haters hardest hit. And they don’t even think about the fact that almost 30% of all oil use in NON-FUEL.
    They think oil use will die due to electric cars, which themselves cause use of gas or coal for charging. They also don’t think about he fact that over 2 billion people in India and China are entering their own fossil fuel age and neither country gives a damn about CO2 emissions other than looking forward to creating a lot more of them.

    The good life brought to all of us by technology continues.

  3. So the Feds had nothing to do with the Hydraulic Fracturing technology? After all, that is what enables the production gains and drilling in shale formations.
    By the way who de-risked George Mitchell in the Barnett?
    Who did the Eastern Shale Gas Resources Evaluation?
    Mr. Blackmon may want to review energy research done by DOE from the Carter Administration to Present day.

  4. BUT the Liberals heads are exploding… This can’t be….

    “settled science” is political, not science – They only cite the supply side, not the demand side of CO2 (Plant food), They only talk about the affects on temperature from CO2 raise, never the affects on agriculture (Every greenhouse operator knows increased CO2 = increased crop yield.)

    There are two very simple facts the Liberals will not acknowledge:

    #1 This Earth can only sustain 2 billion people without burning fossil fuel – John Deere does not run on batteries… so, what to do with 5 billion dead bodies?

    #2 The “deal” Trump wisely backed us out of would have taxed USA and sent this money to the #1 and #4 producers of CO2 – Chairman Mao’s China, and India…

    Most importantly, the Earth can only sustain 2 billion people without burning fossil fuel, so what are they going to do with the 5 – 6 billion corpse ? John Deer doesn’t run on batteries.

    Then we have the MSM constantly quoting a NOAA Automated Weather Station’s “All time high temperature” as proof of climate change, without mentioning the simple fact NOAA moved that source of official temperature to a “Heat Island” like Waco Regional Airport, that did not exist before 1941, and has military and civilian jets emitting 400F exhaust gases near the AWS. – Hard to trust such information.

    Now, they have discovered 91 NEW volcanos under the ice in Antartica melting the ice.

  5. Fake News. … ManBearPig is infuriated. … So are the ethanol producers, the Chinese wind generator manufacturers, the California solar panel industry, and Tesla. (/sarc)

    Oil is falsely called a “fossil fuel” even though the deepest fossil ever found was at 8,000 feet. Oil drilling frequently goes down four times that depth. A Russian scientist determined that oil is a hydrocarbon compound produced by heat and pressure deep under the surface. Thus, many old “depleted” oil fields are being replenished, with some even back in production. Note that estimates of the newly discovered are extremely conservative. … We need to get rid of ethanol additives ASAP to stop ruining engines and lowering our gas mileages.


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