Published March 21, 2012
In almost every energy speech, President Obama makes this statement: "We've got 2 percent of the world oil reserves. We use 20 percent."
But there's more to those numbers than meet the eye.
"It's accurate but extremely misleading," says Dan Kish of Institute for Energy Research, which is supported by the industry. "What he is talking about is oil we already have found."
Misleading, he argues, because the president is pointing to "proven" reserves, which is some 21 billion barrels, but the U.S. is sitting on vast reserves of untapped energy that are far greater.
One federal agency says there's 10 times more -- 219 billion barrels more --, in what is called "technically recoverable" energy.
Another agency in the Energy Department says there's 20 times that much, or 400 billion barrels more, and some in the industry claim there's 60 times that amount, meaning some 1.4 trillion barrels in untapped resources.
That's energy the government knows we have but that has not yet been drilled for. Industry experts argue it's there for the taking.
"The trillion-plus barrels of oil in this country, more oil than in Saudi Arabia, is not counted by the president, and I think that's misleading the American people," John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil, said.
But not everyone thinks we should be drilling more.
"We are addicted right now -- there's no question about that. But there's a question about how do we get off of that addiction," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said.
The president prefers to emphasize weaning ourselves off of oil, which reduces the urgency to drill. And Pica and many other environmentalists agree.
"I don't think that it is a good decision for this country or for the globe, realistically, to push for maximum drilling," Pica said. "The atmosphere just can't hold that much carbon dioxide anymore."
Obama refers to the more limited number of proven reserves as a way to argue it would be futile to drill for more oil -- because it could never be enough to meet our needs.
"As much as we're doing to increase oil production," Obama says, "we're not going to be able to just drill our way out of the problem of high gas prices."
"Some of us believe that the president is trying to suggest that we don't have adequate resource here in the United States, which is just not true," says Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, another industry group.
Analysts point out that proven reserves were 20 billion barrels back in 1944. But we've produced some 170 billion barrels since then, and proven reserves are still just over 20 billion.
In fact, one industry analyst says by tapping American oil along with Canadian resources and renewable energy, the U.S. could be self sufficient in just 12 years.