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World Petroleum Assessment

The USGS World Energy Project conducts geologic studies that provide an understanding of the quantity, quality, and geologic distribution of world oil and gas resources. Our geologic studies are conducted in an impartial manner and are performed in collaboration and partnership with energy experts within and outside government. Through synthesis and improved understanding of global oil and gas data, we shall establish a geologic basis for predicting energy production trends, we shall discuss logical implications and consequences of energy occurrence for public policy, and we shall provide for the education of society about energy issues.

Energy is critical to the health and vitality of U.S. and world societies. Historically, prosperity has been directly correlated with energy use. However, energy resources are unevenly distributed throughout the world, and exploration and development of those energy resources is risky. Some have argued that conflicting needs for sources of energy have been the principal causes for major world conflicts in the twentieth century. The World Energy Project provides geologic information and resource assessments which help reduce some of the risks and may directly impact public policy.

Credible scientific information on the abundance and geologic distribution of energy is critically needed for two ongoing national struggles. The first struggle has been for U.S. energy self sufficiency, particularly for petroleum. The U.S. is currently highly dependent upon other nations for the oil that constitutes approximately 50%  of our energy use. The United States is an enormous producer of energy. We are currently the world's largest producer of oil, nuclear, and hydro power combined, and the second largest producer of natural gas and coal. However, the United States alone uses approximately one quarter of the world's supply of energy, but has only about 5% of the world’s population. As of early 2000, the U.S. consumes almost 12 million barrels daily more energy than we produce (in oil equivalent); the shortfall is made up by imported oil. Despite the most technologically advanced exploration and production systems in the world operating in a deregulated environment, U.S. oil and NGL reserves have decreased 30 percent from the high in 1970. The primary reason petroleum reserves have not fallen further is the technological advances in exploration and production that provide additional reserves through the phenomenon of reserve growth. According to the Energy Information Administration, over the past fifteen years an additional million barrels of oil per day has been required to meet world energy demands. Survival of the oil industry within the U.S. today is a story of increasing the life of old fields technologically or exploring in very expensive areas such as the deep Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic.

The second energy struggle is outside the U.S. This struggle is economic, political, and technological, and is waged on the field of uneven geologic distribution of energy resources. The ongoing struggle for energy has been manifested in a military conflict in the Middle East, political struggles in the Former Soviet Union, and financial struggles throughout the world. In order to maintain prosperity, the United States seeks to fill its growing demand for energy internationally. The risks in other energy-rich areas of the world are numerous. New political, financial, and technical risks are added to all the risks traditionally associated with exploration and production of energy. U.S. petroleum companies have increasingly chosen to take their risks internationally because they feel that the greater financial risk overseas is offset by the potential for greater financial rewards. The immense aggregate risks overseas compound the overall financial risk to the Nation of the increasing cost of importing oil. More dollars are spent on buying foreign oil than on buying foreign cars.

The USGS World Energy Project provides public information and analysis to companies, investors and policy makers alike. Basic information for petroleum resource assessment in foreign lands, if available, is difficult to obtain. In the past only large multinational companies have performed such surveys and then only for the benefit of the individual company. USGS products are available to the public; industry, private investors, and the government have already indicated considerable interest.

The essence of the argument for the study of petroleum resources worldwide was captured in the recent strategic plan for the USGS in the Year 2005, where it was determined that increasing emphasis on international mineral and energy studies will be matched by decreasing emphasis on domestic mineral and energy studies. Outside the USGS, as noted above, this change has already taken place. The USGS World Energy Project provides science-based, impartial, comprehensive information for decision makers, policy makers, and the scientific and industrial community to help ensure that the U.S. has a stable supply of energy for future economic and societal needs.

Christopher Schenk
Project Chief