The numbers on offshore oil drilling

by Kevin Godby

When John McCain announced he wanted to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling, I started hearing all sorts of numbers being thrown around. I set out to find out just how much oil existed offshore and how long it would last.

According to McCain, there are “21 billion barrels of proven oil reserves” offshore.

The next question is: how long will 21 billion barrels last? According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States consumes over 20 million barrels per day.

US oil consumption rates (in millions of barrels per day)
2008 2009 2010 2011
20.90 20.71 20.99 21.20

Okay, now that we’ve collected the numbers, let’s do a little math.

Year Math! Oil consumed Remaining
2008 20.90M barrels/day × 187 days* 3.91B barrels 17.09B barrels
2009 20.71M barrels/day × 365 days 7.55B barrels 9.54B barrels
2010 20.99M barrels/day × 365 days 7.66B barrels 1.88B barrels
2011 21.20M barrels/day × 365 days 7.74B barrels −5.86B barrels
* Days remaining in 2008 at the time of writing.

If we were to use only the oil from the offshore oil reserves, then that oil would be entirely used up in less than three years. (We run out of offshore oil 30 March 2011, according to these figures.)