U.S. sits on locked pools of oil, gas

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The United States is sitting on vast locked up pools of oil and natural gas that are off limits because of environmental issues and other considerations, senior federal lands officials said Wednesday.

Source of this article – Ventura County Star, May 22, 2008

In releasing what they described as the nation’s first complete inventory of the nation’s remaining petrochemical reserves, Bureau of Land Management officials said 62 percent of the nation’s known oil deposits and 41 percent of its natural gas supplies are behind wilderness lines drawn by Congress or parks agencies. And a pool of it is under Ventura County.

0193“At a time that Americans take to the road this weekend facing dramatic gas price increases, it is important that they know what our resources are,” Assistant Interior Secretary C. Stephen Allred said in a telephone news conference from Washington. “America has abundant oil reserves, we simply choose not to use them.”

Environmentalists jumped on that assessment, saying the total amount of energy that could be squeezed out of wilderness areas was miniscule compared to existing known reserves.

“I think citizens know that this is a fantasy,” said Alan Sanders, environmental chairman for the local Sierra Club chapter.

Allred said the BLM for the first time did a precise estimate of unrecovered petroleum reserves on federal lands. The agency found that an estimated 31 billion barrels of oil and 231 trillion cubic feet of natural gas has been left untouched by congressional or executive order, most of it to protect wilderness.

The vast majority of the oil is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska, while most of the natural gas is under wilderness areas in Wyoming and adjacent states, Allred said.

Locally, the BLM study examined federally-owned land in the Ventura Basin, which it defined as the broad swath of oil-producing areas across most of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, from Fillmore on the east to Point Conception to the west. The region includes the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and northern Channel Islands.

The largest chunks of land that are off limits are rugged mountains north of Ojai, as well as Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands. Those areas are viewed in federal law as wilderness jewels, but the study says there is oil in those hills and under those islands.

The study found that 46 percent of the federally-owned land in the Ventura Basin is leased to oil exploration firms, which are allowed to recover an estimated 174 million barrels of oil and 252 billion cubic feet of natural gas. That represents 52 percent of the federal oil and 45 percent of the natural gas available for recovery in the basin.

But locked up under land controlled by the Department of Defense, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service is another 106 million barrels of oil and 200 billion cubic feet of natural gas, the BLM report estimated.

“We’re not here to give the solution but to begin the discussion,” Allred said. “Californians should look at this closely, since they are paying the highest prices in the nation for gasoline, and there are alternatives rather than continuing to see those energy prices go even higher.”