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By Robert Rapier on Apr 9, 2012 with 62 responses

Canada Rises and Saudi Slides: Top 15 Sources for U.S. Crude Oil Imports in 2011

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently published an article on 2011 U.S. crude oil imports. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at where the U.S. currently obtains its oil, and how that has changed over the past decade. The EIA story is: Nearly 69% of U.S. crude oil imports originated from five countries in 2011. I downloaded their data sources for 2011 import data, and then also went into the archives and pulled up 2001 import data to create the following table:


Canada is Our Most Important Supplier

Over the past decade, Canada became our top supplier of oil, largely due to increases in oil sands production. The EIA report noted that U.S. imports from Canada topped 2 million barrels per day for the first time ever in 2011, “because more oil is now being transported by rail.” This is one of the reasons that the Keystone XL pipeline protests may have the opposite effect of what the protestors intend. Lack of pipeline access isn’t going to slow the growth of the oil sands much (Canadian crude oil imports were up 12% in 2011), it just forces more oil onto more carbon intensive transport options (and perhaps to more distant destinations). Note that there is also greater risk from transporting oil via rail versus pipeline.

Saudi Arabia declined in importance as a supplier of oil to the U.S. over the decade, falling from the top supplier in 2001 to the third spot last year. Imports from Mexico were down 13% over the decade, but Mexico moved into the Number 2 position due to Saudi Arabia’s sharp drop. Countries that were in the Top 15 in 2001 that failed to make the Top 15 in 2011 were Norway (#8 in 2001), the U.K. (#10), Gabon (#12), Argentina (#14), and Trinidad and Tobago (#15). Replacing them in the Top 15 were Algeria, Brazil, Russia, and Cameroon.

Imports from OPEC nations decreased by 13% over the decade to 4.2 million barrels per day (bpd), and overall U.S. crude oil imports declined 4% to 8.9 million bpd. However, total imports had climbed to above 10 million bpd from 2004 through 2007, and have fallen by 12% from their high point in 2005.

Predictions for the Next Decade

What can we expect over the next decade? My crystal ball says that Canada will continue to be our most important supplier, and that Canadian imports are likely to rise from current levels. Mexico will probably continue to decline as a supplier of oil to the U.S., but imports from Iraq will likely rebound. Nigeria and Venezuela will probably remain in the Top 5, but politics in both countries will play a major factor. Brazil’s importance as a supplier to the U.S. will continue to increase, and Russia is poised to become a larger supplier to the U.S. as well (although they are already one of the top global suppliers of crude oil).

Link to Original Article: Top 15 Sources for U.S. Crude Oil Imports in 2011

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Dan on April 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I am curious if you have any data to back up the claim that ”there is also greater risk from transporting oil via rail versus pipeline.”  Intuitively it seems true, and I have found numerous sources that make the claim but I have yet to find any numbers that agree with the statement.  I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but at one point, I had some data that contradicted this when comparing barrel-miles to total barrels spilled for rail vs pipelines.

    P.S. I have finished the first 5 chapters of Power Plays and would recommend it to anyone interested in seriously thinking about how we use energy.

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    • By Robert Rapier on April 9, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      Intuitively it seems true, and I have found numerous sources that make the claim but I have yet to find any numbers that agree with the statement.

      Dan, I have also seen lots of sources that make the claim, but not sure I have ever seen a study. But here is what TransCanada recently said:

      TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said moving crude through pipelines are safer and cheaper than rail.“For every incident there is on a pipeline, there are 50 incidents involving rail,” he said. Pipelines also are more efficient and have lesser impacts on vehicle traffic, Howard said. “To ship 700,000 barrels a day, you would need a train 25 miles long every day,” he said.

      I would assume they could produce a study to back up that 50 to 1 claim because someone will call them on it.

      RR

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      • By Optimist on April 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm

        RR, it’s one of the ethanol issues that has mostly flown under the radar, but due to the fact that ethanol needs to be shipped by train and truck, there has been a lot of fires, and some of those are quite hard to put out. As described by The Truth about Cars: Pure ethanol can burn at a temperature as low as 55 degrees F (12.8 degrees C). Even when highly diluted in water ethanol remains flammable at higher temperatures. Since oceanic quantities of water would be required to extinguish a large ethanol fire, special retardant foams are generally used– but not readily available (= hours) to many fire departments. Even with that foam, a big ethanol fire can take days to extinguish; the holding tank often burns to the ground. (At least pure ethanol burns cleanly, leaving behind just water and carbon dioxide.)

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      • By Dan on April 10, 2012 at 11:20 am

        “I would assume they could produce a study to back up that 50 to 1 claim because someone will call them on it.”

        I don’t doubt there are 50 times as many incidents involving rail vs pipelines (although again, I have yet to ever see a study that shows this to be true) but the fact is a typical rail incident will release much less than a pipeline spill.

        I spent more time than I should have looking for the numbers that compared ton-miles (or barrel miles) to total barrels spilled but came up empty handed.

        I agree that pipelines are the most efficient and likely the safest (as measured in bbls spilled:bbl-miles transported) method of transporting oil.  Unfortunately, IMHO the lack of reasonably available data on pipeline locations, spills, etc is a major a hinderance to improving performance and establishing reasonable regulations for the industry.

        FWIW: A non-profit pipeline safety organization makes the claim that no data exists to confirm pipelines are the safest method of transporting petroleum:

        There are no studies that show that pipelines are the most environmentally safe way to transport petroleum. “Safety” statistics are based only on human death and injury statistics. 

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        • By Robert Rapier on April 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

          I don’t doubt there are 50 times as many incidents involving rail vs pipelines

          I woke up thinking about this (before I saw your comment) and thought “I bet they are primarily referring to vehicle/train accidents.”

          It doesn’t seem like it would be difficult to compare the number of gallons and type of chemical spilled from rail cars versus pipelines and see which one has the higher incident rate. But I also don’t recall seeing that number.

          RR

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          • By Herm on April 13, 2012 at 6:33 am

            I think spilling a million tons of semi-solid tar from a train derailment wont be hard to clean up.. it wont soak into the water table too quickly.

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      • By Tim Kerkhove on October 22, 2012 at 8:36 pm

        Of course TransCanada would make that claim. They don’t cite the study that they talk about. I’ve read all about oil industry corruption and if they don’t give the exact study from a reputable organization that has a history of unbiased reports, I won’t trust it. Has anyone called them on it yet? If not, it isn’t a viable statistic.

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    • By Robert Rapier on April 9, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      I have finished the first 5 chapters of Power Plays and would recommend it to anyone interested in seriously thinking about how we use energy.

      By the way, thanks for the comments. I think the second half of the book is better. In the first few chapters, I am providing a lot of background information. In the later chapters, I am exploring more controversial issues and making recommendations.

      RR

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  2. By Benny BND Cole on April 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    BTW, the much-ballyhooed Hubbert’s Peak looks a lot different had the USA absorbed Cananda and Mexico.  It become “Hubbert’s Plateau.”  Of late a rising plateau. despite Mexico’s chronic corruption and incompetence. 

    It is odd that Hubbert’s idea, based upon imaginary national boundaries that have little to do with geology, should captivate people so. 

     

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    • By Tom G. on April 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      Interesting posting – I had to Google Hubbert’s Plateau to find out who the guy was.  Even thou I once worked at a tank farm and took statistics in college I had never heard the name before [or don't remember the name].  Alas the old saying – we learn something new every day seems to apply.  

      Thank you

       

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    • By Optimist on April 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm

      Indeed, Benny.

      It is odd that Hubbert’s idea, based upon imaginary national boundaries that have little to do with geology, should captivate people so.

      I guess it works because many people want to be captivated.

      I just finished an excellent book, Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist. One of the points he makes is that pessimism sells (“we’re all gonna die!”), and makes you look like a wise sage. Optimists get dismissed as intellectual lightweights. Despite the inconvenient truth that for the last several centuries the optimists were right.

      Keep up the good work, Benny. Just try not to get too carried away…

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      • By Russ Finley on April 9, 2012 at 9:10 pm

        I just finished an excellent book, Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist.

        I realize this is a little off topic, but I wrote a really long review of that book:

        http://biodiversivist.blogspot.com/2011/01/book-review-rational-optimist-how.html

        Ridley is intensely pessimistic about many things, like corn ethanol. You are pessimistic about nuclear power.  In his book everybody falls into two camps, optimists (people he agrees with) and pessimists (those he does not). There is no mention of the ones in the middle, the realists.

        One of the points he makes is that pessimism sells (“we’re all gonna die!”),

        …the lay press treatment of nuclear power comes to mind.

        and makes you look like a wise sage. Optimists get dismissed as intellectual lightweights.

        We are all optimists, realists, and pessimists, as a matter of degree, depending on topic.

        Despite the inconvenient truth that for the last several centuries the optimists were right.

        The concept that humanity splits cleanly into optimists and pessimists is absurd. Optimism sank the Titanic. A quote from my review:

        Picture for a moment two bipedal hominids standing on a savanna. A lion is walking towards them. One is a pessimist. He shrugs his shoulders and awaits the inevitable. The other is an optimist (the one wearing the rose-colored glasses). He’s not worried. Things have always worked out before. But, where is the realist? That’s him up there, in the top of the nearest tree. Natural selection has, and for good reasons, put the brakes on optimism, or we would all be “optimists” by now (which is a relative term for we are all optimists to varying degrees depending on time and place). In all seriousness, misplaced optimism can and often does prove fatal, figuratively and literally.

         

         

        One of the points he makes is that pessimism sells (“we’re all gonna die!”), and makes you look like a wise sage. Optimists get dismissed as intellectual lightweights. Despite the inconvenient truth that for the last several centuries the optimists were right.

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        • By Optimist on April 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm

          Nice pic. The point is…

          We are all optimists, realists, and pessimists, as a matter of degree, depending on topic.

          True. But Paul Ehrlich would have to qualify, in general, as absurdly pessimistic. Just like Robert Malthus. Ridley, OTOH, is broadly speaking an optimist. Being pessimistic about corn ethanol would make him a realist, in my book.

          BTW, you can’t seriously be an admirer of Paul Ehrlich, can you?

          And it was NOT optimism that sank the Titanic: there is a difference between optimistic and foolhardy…

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        • By Robert Rapier on April 9, 2012 at 10:23 pm

          Ridley is intensely pessimistic about many things, like corn ethanol.

          I have read a couple of his books. I like the way he writes. My favorite (and I have not read his latest) was Genome. I really liked the way he told that story.

          RR

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      • By sort_of_knowledgeable on April 10, 2012 at 10:52 pm

        Pessimism sells to a certain group of people.  Optimism sells to a certain group of people.  Remember Dow 36,000.  The question is whether the optimism or pessimism is realistic.  The optimistic Jews in Germany in 1930′s who thought that Germany was a civilized country and stayed in Germany as Hitler consolidated his power didn’t survive.  The pessimists who thought the US and USSR would blow each other up and moved to a remote bunker in Montana probably had a miserable life.

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      • By Benny BND Cole on April 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm

        Optimist and Tom G–

        Thanks for responding to my comment.

        Yes, I am an optimist–even on energy matters. Or maybe especially.  Jeez, between natural gas and higher mpgs, and lithium batteries, we may soon come into a world of cheaper and cleaner energy and use. 

        If lithium batteries continue to improve at historic rates–about 8 percent a year–we can expect commercially viable batteries in perhaps 10 years.  Develop a good range-extending ICE that runs on LPG, and you don’t need any oil. Or, if the engine runs on methanol or even the dread ethanol.

        As usually, if the the sloth and stodginess of tradition and large organizations that prevents us from having a more prosperous and cleaner world.

        I see a day when cities outlaw the ICE.  Imagine clean air and quiet streets–and less money flowing out of the cities into oil thug nations. 

         

         

         

        Yes, 

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    • By armchair261 on April 10, 2012 at 3:17 am

      I believe that Hubbert’s unit of analysis was not a country but a sedimentary basin, for example the Gulf of Mexico or the San Joaquin Basin. This was based on the observation that for a given sedimentary basin, in which oil fields are geologically related (or there are subsets of similar fields), the sizes of the fields are lognormally distributed: a few large fields and many small ones. The large ones are typically discovered early in the life of a basin’s exploration, as large structures are typically easier to identify and will be drilled first.

      Hubbert didn’t consider a lot of things, like $100 oil, or 3D seismic, or horizontal drilling, or drilling in 10,000 feet of water. Every time a game changing parameter like these comes along, the shape of the curve will shift, but the overall concept – a finite supply of oil – I think is still valid, although it may become irrelevant if the peak is deferred long enough, and especially if long enough for fossil fuels to become practically obsolete. The peak will be accelerated if the earth isn’t cooperating, or prices stay low, or technologies aren’t improved. It will be delayed when prices increase (more fields become commercial, and more hostile frontiers become viable), new technologies drive costs and risks down, and innovative thinking leads to new development concepts, such as the Bakken.

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  3. By mac on April 9, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Word to the  Wise….

    Marry a Canadian girl……………..

    Just kidding……..

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    • By Robert Rapier on April 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Word to the  Wise….

      Marry a Canadian girl……………..

      Mac, you are quoted in NPR this morning. :) I was interviewed for a story this week on U.S. oil imports, and I told them that someone who commented on my blog this week said that maybe the message is to marry a Canadian girl. They omitted the part about “someone commented on my blog” but they did get the part in there about “Marry a Canadian.”

      http://www.npr.org/2012/04/11/150444802/where-does-america-get-oil-you-may-be-surprised


      RR

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  4. By mac on April 10, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Look Armchair and Optimist

     

    The days of “easy oil” are over.  Argue as you will,  but it’s like a man trying to argue his way out of hell.

    It’s over for OIL ONLY.

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    • By armchair261 on April 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      Mac,

      I don’t quite understand your comment. Yes, the days of “easy oil” are probably largely over (all though some might argue that Bakken and Eagle Ford et al are “easy oil”). That doesn’t mean we no longer need it. And yes, it’s over for “oil only,” and it has been for some time now (Hoover Dam was built in 1932? coal?), and in fact I don’t think it was ever “oil only.” Even though it’s going to take along time, we are slowly but surely migrating to renewables. What point are you making? Isn’t the distribution of oil at the global scale a technical argument having to do with geology and other disciplines as well as economics? But you seem to be making it into an ideological one. One’s best technical judgment on remaining reserves should have nothing to do with politics or preferred energy sources, wouldn’t you agree? I can assure you that the oil in the earth’s crust doesn’t care about such things. And I’m not making any judgment on this: I’m only pointing out the geological rationale behind Hubbert’s work.

      Anyway, the IEA is forecasting slowly declining but still significant oil demand out to 2035, at which time it estimates that oil will provide about 27% of global energy supply (as opposed to about 32% today). Have a look a their graphic “Net imports of oil” here. You might want to take your case up with these guys.

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    • By Optimist on April 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      The days of “easy oil” are over.

      And? Does it matter? I don’t think Joe Sixpack noticed, other than the irritating $4/gal…

      It’s over for OIL ONLY.

      Sit down. Take a deep breath. If you’re over 21: pour yourself a stiff drink.

      As Armchair pointed out, it never was OIL ONLY, outside your mind.

      Granted, we’ve become addicted to cheap oil, and use way too much of it. But the end of cheap oil will quickly fix that, as is already happening.

      And we seem to moving seemlessly on to Cheap Gas

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  5. By Joseph on April 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Anyway, the IEA is forecasting slowly declining but still significant oil demand out to 2035, at which time it estimates that oil will provide about 27% of global energy supply (as opposed to about 32% today).

    Hopefully that forecast will turn out to be wrong by a margin. Difficult to believe that in 23 years we can’t globally do better than 27%.

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  6. By ben on April 10, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    As for that clever Mr. Ridley, one is hard-pressed not to have some apprecaition for a fellow who invokes the sensibilities of Adam Ferguson from the very outset.  Ferguson, as some will recall from their hsistroy of the Scots, enjoyed the  considerable advantage of residing in a spot that placed him between the Gaelic of the Highlanders and the English of the Lowlanders; this combined with the added benefit of following David Hume while preceding Adam Smith.   Equally important as his temporal pursuits was time spent as chaplain to the Black Watch where he no doubt gained keen insights into the sublime elements of human character despite lapses of debauchery courtesy of the ever-present  ales–not to mention some decent scotch.  But let us not digress:)

    I’m not sure how rational the optimist may be here, but he does give a decent account for the future prospects of humanity.  On a personal note, that is of considerable encouragement.  I must confess that he plays to my own bias concerning farmers; agrarians being responsible, in his estimation, for establishing the basis of private property and wealth by virtue of productive surplus stimulating the logic (necessity) of trade.   That certainly rings true to this old farmer.

    In the end, Ridley is a bit the cheerleader for hisown species and that can hardly be held against the man.  I’m not convinced he has done all of his homework  here to offer an unqualified endorsement on the likelihood of solving the most intractable challenges of our times–civic disaffection/social balkanization chief among the maladies of contemporay life–that accompany the specialization that naturally flows out of such an ingenious (or is that disingenuous?) division of labor.

    I’m simply glad we have the honesty of a RR and a blog that resists the temptation to break ot the pom-poms and, rather, sticks to what we may call the good old “onions and liver” that may not be as palatable as we’d like, but tends to be a much better diet than high-fructose corn syrup (sorry to the corn farmers:)  

    Ben

     

     

      

     

     

     

     

     

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  7. By armchair261 on April 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Was just checking on something else and saw that North Dakota production exceeded our Iraqi imports as of October 2011, and as a source for crude would rank #6 if it were a separate country. As recently as 2004/2005, North Dakota was contributing somewhere between what we got last year from Russia and Congo.

    Those who argue that increased drilling in the US won’t decrease price (as if that were the only reason to do it) are missing some important points.

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  8. By Jim Takchess on April 11, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/256f583c-7a83-11e1-8ae6-00144feab49a.html#axzz1rlQNLKMr

    Unsure if you’ve commented on this before but you should check this out. About Refineries in the US.

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  9. By Optimist on April 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    In the end, Ridley is a bit the cheerleader for hisown species and that can hardly be held against the man.  I’m not convinced he has done all of his homework  here to offer an unqualified endorsement on the likelihood of solving the most intractable challenges of our times–civic disaffection/social balkanization chief among the maladies of contemporay life–that accompany the specialization that naturally flows out of such an ingenious (or is that disingenuous?) division of labor.

    Indeed, Ben.

    I would say Ridley’s point, and I agree, is that there is no fundamental reason why the future shouldn’t be better than the past, in spite of all the worry about Peak Oil, Peak Water, Peak Soil, Peak Whatever. So far we have always found the technologies needed to move beyond the end of some resource. It seems fatalistic to assume that this won’t happen with the next resource to run scarse, whatever it is.

    I also note how negative Ridley is about leadership (and religion), often lumping together “thieves, chiefs and priests”. Looking at American politics today, I’d have to admit, he is spot on. The biggest threat to America is Washington, DC.

    Then again, as the old cliché goes: you get the leadership you deserve (or allow). This would be doubly true in a democracy.

    So, in the end it is up to ordinary Americans to ensure that America gets some decent leadership…

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  10. By Joseph on April 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Those who argue that increased drilling in the US won’t decrease price (as if that were the only reason to do it) are missing some important points.

    Oil is a global commodity that goes to the highest bidder and ‘increased drilling in the US’ isn’t going to make any appreciable difference to the price.

     

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    • By armchair261 on April 11, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      I wasn’t claiming that drilling will lower price with certainty. In fact the point of the post was that drilling with a price target in mind ($2.50 gasoline, for example) is a fool’s errand. There is obviously a lot more in play than US production levels.

      However, suppose we took your statement at face value in, say, 1970. Certain groups might have used this argument against exploring for oil in Alaska. When Prudhoe was discovered in 1969, oil was going for about $3/bbl. By the late 1970′s/early 1980′s when it was onstream, oil was in the $30′s. Was the Alaskan exploration effort a failure, since prices increased by an order of magnitude between discovery and production? If reduction in price is the only goal, what do you think the price of oil would have got to in the 1980′s if we suddenly pulled 25% of US production (Prudhoe) off the market? 

      Moral of the story:

      1) the impact of of new drilling on price is likely to be small, but it may not be: it depends on how much is found;

      2) the question of impact on price is an incremental one, not an absolute one – we shouldn’t ask “will it reduce gas prices to $2.50?” but rather “where might prices go if we don’t drill?”

      Look to Prudhoe, Spindletop, and the Marcellus (in the case of natural gas) for guidance.

      Also, the fact that oil is a global commodity is irrelevant to the discussion. If a discovery of 100 billion barrels is made, it won’t matter much where it is as far as price is concerned. 

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      • By Joseph on April 11, 2012 at 7:02 pm

        However, suppose we took your statement at face value in, say, 1970.

        But my statement has nothing to do with Prudhoe.

        1) the impact of of new drilling on price is likely to be small, but it may not be: it depends on how much is found

        A giant find may affect share price but certainly not gasoline price.

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        • By armchair261 on April 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm

          Prudhoe shows your statement would have been wrong if uttered 40+ years ago, unless you believe subsequent removal of 25% of US production would have no price impact.

          “A giant find may affect share price but certainly not gasoline price”

          How big is “giant?” I guarantee you that a 1 trillion barrel discovery in the US would have a major impact on price. How could it not? A 100,000 barrel discovery would have no impact. Do you know precisely where the boundary is, and precisely how much oil lies unknown and undeveloped in the subsurface US? Please share it with us.

          The recent history of natural gas shows that your assumption (that’s what it is) is not necessarily true. So much natural gas has been discovered in the past few years that natural gas inventories are bulging, and price has collapsed from an average of around $6.50/MCF a few years ago to around $2.00 today. If you had made the same statement about natural gas a few years ago, you would have been proven wrong.

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          • By Joseph on April 11, 2012 at 10:25 pm

            Prudhoe shows your statement would have been wrong if uttered 40+ years ago

            Your opinion of Prudhoe 40+ years ago is irrelevant to my statement.

            I guarantee you that a 1 trillion barrel discovery in the US would have a major impact on price.

            First, I’m sorry but I don’t dabble in fantasy… Prudhoe Bay originally containing ~25 BILLION in reserves, is twice as large as the next largest find in the US.  Second, with global proven oil reserves of ~1,392,461,050,000 barrels you can do the math.

            If you had made the same statement about natural gas a few years ago, you would have been proven wrong.

            First off, I wouldn’t have made that statement. Second,  as everyone knows oil and natural gas markets have different dynamics. So I don’t know why you are bringing up  natural gas in reference to my simple statement…

            “Oil is a global commodity that goes to the highest bidder and ‘increased drilling in the US’ isn’t going to make any appreciable difference to the price.”

             

             

             

             

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          • By armchair261 on April 11, 2012 at 11:51 pm

            “Your opinion of Prudhoe 40+ years ago is irrelevant to my statement.”

             

            I don’t believe it is. No one knew how much oil would be found on the North Slope prior to drilling. It shows a real case where drilling DID impact price. Why can’t it happen again? The Bakken, Niobrara, Eagle Ford et al have combined to add close to a million barrels per day in the past few years. If a million barrels were taken off the market today, are you claiming it would have no price impact? 

             

            “First, I’m sorry but I don’t dabble in fantasy…”

             

            Obviously I reference extreme cases to show that unexpectedly large outcomes could occur, and could make a difference depending on how big. Very small outcomes would have no impact. An actual outcome would be somewhere in the middle, and neither of us knows for sure whether it would make a price difference or not. I don’t categorically say it will. You categorically say it won’t. I can’t agree with such certainty when we’re talking about unproven resources several miles below the surface in under explored areas.

             

            “Second, with global proven oil reserves of ~1,392,461,050,000 barrels you can do the math.”

             

            Accurate to 9 decimal places. Fantastic! :-)

             

            “So I don’t know why you are bringing up  natural gas in reference to my simple statement…”

             

            Obviously a case where supply investment has made a difference on commodity price. If it can happen with gas, or a number of other commodities, why not oil? The different dynamic is not too important: it’s simply a case where supply has increased to the point where price has fallen. 

             

            I really don’t understand why you single out oil and gasoline as the only commodities that are immune to large supply driven price drops. “It probably won’t change gas prices” and “It won’t change gas prices” are two different statements. And I would suggest to you that the large increases in western oil investment following the OPEC embargoes in the 1970′s had an important impact on new market supply and therefore prices in the 1980′s and 1990′s. Oil peaked in 1981, and didn’t reach that peak again in nominal terms for 23 more years. Without major investment in places like the North Sea, Alaska, and Gulf of Mexico shelf margin in the 1970′s and 1980′s, we would almost certainly have experienced much higher oil and gas prices than we did.

             

            Or consider the simple thought experiment. If the US had stopped drilling in 1960, what would US production be now? So I think it’s fair to say that drilling post 1960 HAS brought down global oil and US gasoline prices.

             

            History has shown repeatedly that the volume of oil yet to be produced has been consistently underestimated. New provinces, new technologies, and price have consistently led to reserve growth. You are underestimating it again.

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      • By Addoeh on April 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

        The Bakken formation has been known for over 60 years.  Prudhoe Bay for over 50 years.  The others for over 100 years.  The problem has always been with how we get the oil out.  I would say it is unlikely that a HUGE, “game changing”  undiscovered oil deposit exists out there.  But, if a company ever figures out how to take shale oil out of the Green River Formation in a way that is both environmentally sensible and economically viable, then that could send oil prices falling.  I just don’t that happening anytime soon, if ever.

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        • By armchair261 on April 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm

          I’d mostly agree with that – most of the upside probably has more to do with technologies and price rather than undiscovered accumulations. But there are still largely unexplored or under explored basins in US territory that could surprise us. 

          “I just don’t that happening anytime soon, if ever

          Perhaps. If I had to bet I would agree with you. But the same words were probably spoken 20 years ago about the Bakken, 30 years ago about ultra-deep water potential, and 50 years ago about Prudhoe (a Shell manager was famously quoted to have said he would drink all the commercial oil found on the North Slope). We tend to get complacent about viewing the world as we know it.

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  11. By Joseph on April 12, 2012 at 11:46 am

    I don’t believe it is.

    The facts are otherwise. The oil market today is very different.

    Obviously I reference extreme cases to show that unexpectedly large outcomes could occur.

    It isn’t an extreme case.  It is an impossible case… so it is utterly pointless.

    An actual outcome would be somewhere in the middle

    No it wouldn’t – at all!

    Accurate to 9 decimal places. Fantastic!

    I use FACTS… not fantasy.

    The different dynamic is not too important

    It is absolutely, fundamentally important.

    Or consider the simple thought experiment.

    Again, I don’t deal in fantasy. Anyone can come up with “thought experiments” that have no bearing on reality.

    You are underestimating it again.

    Dealing with facts is not ‘underestimating’ anything!

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    • By armchair261 on April 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      OK I see your issue. You are focusing on ideology and ignoring the possible. No further comments are necessary.

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      • By Joseph on April 12, 2012 at 9:54 pm

        Facts are facts… not ideology! And I never ignore the ‘possible’… just the impossible scenarios, such as drilling trillion barrel reserves in the US, that you present.  And that is why you cannot “comment” further.

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        • By armchair261 on April 13, 2012 at 1:57 am

          Anyone who believes that remaining global reserves can be expressed to 9 decimal places is not dealing with facts. Anyone who believes that taking the 1.4 million barrel per day oil production increase achieved by the US oil  industry since 2008 off the market would have no price effect is an ideologue.

          The trillion barrels was obviously an extreme case used for illustrative purposes, not a belief, not a forecast, not an expectation, not even a possibility. Your ideology didn’t allow you to process the obvious;instead you seize upon a pedantic point as if to prove something. Pick your own number for a volume that might impact prices (assuming 1.4 million per day is inadequate), then demonstrate why that’s impossible to achieve. 

          I think your belief is based on the assumption that any volume increases would not trickle down to gasoline price decreases, because oil companies just wouldn’t want this to happen, correct?

          I don’t think you have any geological expertise, correct?

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          • By Joseph on April 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm

            Anyone who believes that remaining global reserves can be expressed to 9 decimal places is not dealing with facts.

            First, you don’t know how to read numbers… there are no decimal places in the number I posted.  Second, that is a published number… a fact. I didn’t resort to improbable numbers like you do.

            Anyone who believes that taking the 1.4 million barrel per day oil production increase achieved by the US oil  industry since 2008 off the market would have no price effect is an ideologue.

            Your artificial construct is irrelevant on so many levels that you  resort to calling me an “ideologue”.

            The trillion barrels was obviously an extreme case used for illustrative purposes, not a belief, not a forecast, not an expectation, not even a possibility.

            After showing how absolutely silly your trillion barrel “ilustrative purpose” number is,  your back pedal position… “somewhere in the middle”, is just as improbable. Try just dealing in reality and not coming up with baseless numbers.

            I think your belief is based on the assumption that any volume increases would not trickle down to gasoline price decreases, because oil companies just wouldn’t want this to happen, correct?

            Correct?? Your “thinking” is wrong and, furthermore, has nothing, absolutely nothing, relevant to my original statement.

            I don’t think you have any geological expertise, correct?

            By your fantasy numbers and artificial constructs it certainly is obvious that you don’t. At least I base my position on facts.

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          • By armchair261 on April 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

            “First, you don’t know how to read numbers… there are no decimal places in the number I posted.”

            OK I meant significant digits. Obviously. LOL What are you going to do next, correct my spelling error?

            “Second, that is a published number… a fact.”

            LOL. Really. What a ludicrous statement to make.

            “Your artificial construct is irrelevant on so many level

            Artifical? Here is the data:

            http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MCRFPUS2&f=M

            You claim that gasoline prices won’t fall no matter what level of development is carried out. I showed over a million barrels per day has been added since the low point 4 years ago. If that’s not relevant to price, I don’t know what is. The US industry HAS succeeded in adding significant production which HAS had an impact on price. You have no argument to counter this, so why not claim it’s irrelevant? What else can you do?

            “After showing how absolutely silly your trillion barrel “ilustrative purpose” number is,  your back pedal position”

            Not backpedaling, jut explaining my original intent. Your inability to comprehend is not my backpedaling. Understand the difference?

            … “somewhere in the middle”, is just as improbable.”

            LOL So the actual volume that will be discovered in future years lies outside the range of 100,000 and 1 trillion barrels. Excellent information!

            “By your fantasy numbers and artificial constructs it certainly is obvious that you don’t.

            “I have an MA in geology and 35 years experience as a petroleum geologist, in about 20 countries and about 30 sedimentary basins. Your comments lack any substance, because you’re unqualified to rationally discuss a technical issue. Instead you resort the straw man approach (you claim I believe that 1 trillion barrels will be discovered), and the impressive “that’s irrelevant” strategy, without any supporting logic or data.

            Why do I bother getting into these kinds of discussions with such silly people?

             

             

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  12. By ben on April 12, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Optimist, unsurprisingly, signals his optimism that appears to place squarely in lap of technological progress.   I confess, I’m a little bit less chipper.   While I believe that we will  muddle along,  it’s likely to get a bit uncomfortable, if not downright ugly, in some places.  Energy supplies/costs offering a good  example.  

    I find Ridley sort of a Neo-Austrian (he invokes Hayek while citing the virtues of  free markets–as if they really do exist in practice), but his faith in “Human Action” falls prey to disbelief in the heritage of moral codes that have been, and remain, central to keeping free people, and institutions, free.  Like it or not, chiefs and priest have long been a part of  social dynamics.  Thieves, well, they are , too.   Washington, DC has it fair share of all three.  I should know, as few days out of each week, I peek out the window at the Capitol.   Fortunately, I don’t drink the water and the air filters remain permanently on “filtering.”

    The journey ahead will be rocky and many changes will be necessary if we hope to keep things on an even keel.   As for “rational optimism,” well, we could do much worse. 

    Everyone is, hopefully, purchasing RR’s book.  It’s worth the MSRP– not to mention the time well invested.

    Ben

               

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    • By Optimist on April 12, 2012 at 7:56 pm

      Optimist, unsurprisingly, signals his optimism that appears to place squarely in lap of technological progress.   I confess, I’m a little bit less chipper.

      You’re entitled to your opinion. The evidence of several hundred years is on my side, though. So again, fundamentally speaking, why should that change in the next few decades?

      Energy supplies/costs offering a good  example.

      Example of what? Certainly not suffering. As Andrew Holland pointed out, we complain about gas prices mainly without reason: we’re only spending $40/week on gas, and any increase expenditure, is NOT offset by savings anywhere else. So for all the wailing, it is STILL business as usual.

      The journey ahead will be rocky and many changes will be necessary if we hope to keep things on an even keel.

      It sounds true enough, but there is no data to support that statement. A decade from now we may just be complaining, without any real pain. As we are doing now.

      As for “rational optimism,” well, we could do much worse.

      I do believe that:

      1. Rationality = Optimism

      2. Optimism is required to do proper long term planning, or even to function properly.

      As for Mr. Ridley’s inconsistencies, I note that he is an optimistic Darwinist, which is a rare combination…

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  13. By Joseph on April 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    OK I meant significant digits.

    An engineer does not make that kind of mistake… and twice in the same thread!

    What a ludicrous statement to make.

    Its obvious now that you don’t like facts.

    Artifical?

    Yes, your construct is artificial it has nothing to do with my original statement.

    You claim that gasoline prices won’t fall no matter what level of development is carried out.

    No I did not claim any of the sort… please try to stop  inventing what I said or think.

    I showed over a million barrels per day has been added since the low point 4 years ago. If that’s not relevant to price, I don’t know what is. The US industry HAS succeeded in adding significant production which HAS had an impact on price. You have no argument to counter this, so why not claim it’s irrelevant? What else can you do?

    It is indeed irrelevant to my original statement which you keep running further and further away from…  “Oil is a global commodity that goes to the highest bidder and ‘increased drilling in the US’ isn’t going to make any appreciable difference to the price.”

    Not backpedaling, jut explaining my original intent.

    Retreating from an outlandish number to an equally outlandish number is indeed back pedaling.

    LOL So the actual volume that will be discovered in future years lies outside the range of 100,000 and 1 trillion barrels. Excellent information!

    Yet again, you veer off into invention. No where did I say that.

    I have an MA in geology and 35 years experience as a petroleum geologist, in about 20 countries and about 30 sedimentary basins.

    If that were true you wouldn’t have said… “Those who argue that increased drilling in the US won’t decrease price (as if that were the only reason to do it) are missing some important points.”

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    • By armchair261 on April 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      Whatever. You have no expertise, can’t follow a discussion, and continue to shoot nonsense from the hip. But whatever. Believe what you wish and interpret how you wish. Who cares what you think?

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      • By Joseph on April 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm

        Whatever.

        The response of someone unable to  support their assertion. When obfuscation and invention fail… just run away from the discussion.

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        • By Robert Rapier on April 13, 2012 at 7:34 pm

          I think it ceased being a productive discussion several posts back. At this point, it might be a good idea just to summarize key points, because arguing over decimal places versus significant figures isn’t really accomplishing anything.

          RR

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          • By Joseph on April 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm

            I agree with your post. I have tried to keep the discussion on track and have quoted the two opposing positions a couple of times in the hope that the posts would become focused:

            Armchair:  “Those who argue that increased drilling in the US won’t decrease price (as if that were the only reason to do it) are missing some important points.”

            Joseph:   “Oil is a global commodity that goes to the highest bidder and ‘increased drilling in the US’ isn’t going to make any appreciable difference to the price.”

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          • By armchair261 on April 13, 2012 at 9:14 pm

            I also agree. Which is why I played the “whatever” card. It was becoming a waste of time. 

            Key points I was trying to make:

            1. Reducing price is not the oily reason to drill. By “missing some important points”  I mean that there are other benefits to drilling: new production also creates jobs, decreases the trade deficit, and provides a source of tax revenues. I believe Joseph is misinterpreting “missing some important points” as “there are other important reasons to believe that   enough reserves will be found to reduce prices.” The latter is not my meaning. In fact I have said elsewhere, as in reply to Addoeh, that it’s not likely that huge new unknown sources of oil WILL be found in the US. 
            2. But a significant price effect is possible if enough reserves are developed. This was incorrectly morphed into “I believe a trillion barrels will be found”  because I referred to this in an end-member argument. I never said this would be discovered, but immediately the talk turned to wild scenarios I buy into. 
            3. I don’t believe anyone can say categorically that “prices won’t fall” regardless of how much is discovered. Fall relative to what?… is the point I was trying to make, and the point that Joseph seems not to grasp. The “price effect” is not necessarily a reduction in price, even though this is possible; rather  I refer to a price that would be lower than it otherwise would have without new reserves. 
            4. The increase in US production of about 1 million barrels per day over the last 4-5 years has almost certainly had a price effect. This is ignored or denied as an “artificial construct” but the figures are widely known. There is no reason this can’t be repeated. Maybe it won’t be, but I don’t think Joseph has the expertise to comment. He just says so, without any support.
            5. As a percentage of global supply, reserve volume is not the key, production volume is. Thus his reference to global reserves is not particularly relevant. Those 25 billion barrels at Prudhoe, despite being small relative to global reserves, represented 25% of US production in the late 1980′s. That’s significant. That was about 4% of global production at the time.
            6. The recent collapse of natural gas prices shows that increased exploration CAN result in lowering of product prices. Development of frontier oil reserves in the 1970′s and 1980′s also surely had an oil price impact (oil collapsed in 1986). Here we have two cases strongly supporting my initial comment. These cases are dismissed as “different,” as if the laws of supply and demand have been repealed lately.
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  14. By Joseph on April 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Key points I was trying to make:

    Look, my point cannot be simpler: Increased drilling in the US will not reduce prices because oil is a global commodity.

    You already concede “that it’s not likely that huge new unknown sources of oil WILL be found in the US”, so instead of going off on tangents please show how new US discoveries are going to decrease oil prices in light of global oil demand forecasts, particularly in China,  now the largest car market and with an economy projected to surpass the US economy by 2020.

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    • By mac on April 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      Canada ?????  , The  “attic” of the U.S. 

      Just our Little Brother to the North ?

      Uhhh,  err,  well……………… Maybe Not Just Exactly…………….

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  15. By mac on April 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Armchair,

    One of the greatest, single entries of all time on R-squared has to be your graph of the relative size and importance of Western International Oil Companies compared to the NOCs .

     

    But, then my friend. isn’t that the whole point  ???

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  16. By mac on April 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Oil stocks might be  a good stock-market  play in the near to mid-term.  We all know this.  This fact may represent a good investment strategy,  but not necessarily a good on-going energy policy.

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  17. By mac on April 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Why  Not ???

    Why can’t we compare the ROI or EROEI of oil and electricity.

    They are “Apples and Oranges”  comparisons some say.

    Wait a minute, with the advent of electric cars, this  may no longer  be a “mute point” or simply an “apples to oranges” comparison.

    What? 

    The Price is the Price.

    Electricity,  by the mile,  is already cheaper than gas/diesel from crude.   (and so is  is CNG)

    It has been this way for some time.

    Mac

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  18. By mac on April 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Robert.

    Please stop rationalizing the external costs of gasoline “Because We Need It” (and the world will collapse without it)

    The world got along just fine prior to about 1900 AD without oil and it will get along just fine without it in the future.

    “Mac, Mac, Mac you idiot, don’t you understand ??”

    Yup. I do understand.

    Society got by marvelously without oil for tens of thousands of years.

    “Yes. I actually DO understand, Robert”

    Mac

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    • By Robert Rapier on April 15, 2012 at 11:43 pm

      Please stop rationalizing the external costs of gasoline “Because We Need It” (and the world will collapse without it)

      Are you responding to the right post? That topic did not come up in this post.

      Society got by marvelously without oil for tens of thousands of years.

      Not modern society, and not 7 billion people.

      RR

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  19. By mac on April 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Robert,

    SORRY,

    I must offer an apology,  I forgot that our scientific endeavors into truth are muted by Mortgage Payments.

    Back to square one.

    Mac

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    • By Robert Rapier on April 15, 2012 at 11:44 pm

      I think you need to take your meds.

      RR

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  20. By mac on April 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Optimist said”

     

    I find Ridley sort of a Neo-Austrian (he invokes Hayek while citing the virtues of  free markets–as if they really do exist in practice),

    Free Markets do not exist in reality because they all assume “Infinite Supply”

     

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  21. By mac on April 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Sorry optimist,

    Mac said:

    Free Markets do not exist in reality because they all assume “Infinite Supply”


    Sorry,  I forgot to mention the oil market where there is obviously infinite supply…..

     


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  22. By mac on April 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Robert,

    In regard to NPR quoting the Canadian girls thing –

    Hey,  it was just a humorous lapse on my part.

    Thanks for mentioning this to me however. 

    R-squared has made me “famous”  (just kidding, of course)

    I read some excerpts from your book on Amazon.  Pretty good.  As one of the more even-handed commentators on the web,  I wish you success.

    mac

     

     

     

     

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  23. By mac on April 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    To Robert:

     

     

    Mac said;

    SORRY,

    I must offer an apology,  I forgot that our scientific endeavors into truth are muted by Mortgage Payments.

    Back to square one.

    Mac

    ——————————————————

    Comment:

    Almost everyone involved in so-called  “pure research” knows that the money and the paychecks and thereby the mortgage payments come from “somewhere”. 

     

    Take two aspirins and call me in the morning…..

     

     

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