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Obama to Open New Areas to Offshore Drilling

"Mean Probability" Estimates of Reserves in Affected Areas
Total of Mean Probability Estimates is 29 Billion Barrels of Oil, 145 Trillion Cubic Feet of Natural Gas
Area Oil
billion barrels
Years Imported
oil equivalent
Natural Gas
trillion cubic feet
Barrel Oil Equivalent
billion barrels
Mid-Atlantic 1.5 0.8 15.1 4.2
South Atlantic 0.4 0.2 3.9 1.1
Eastern Gulf 3.9 1.9 21.5 7.7
Alaska Chuchki 15.4 7.7 76.8 29.0
Alaska Beaufortufort Sea 8.2 4.1 27.6 13.1
All areas 29.4 14.7 144.9 55.2

Source: Data, Interior Department, Data analysis,

The chart above shows the "mean probability" of finding the specified amount of oil or natural gas in a given region. The Interior Department data set provides more detailed information, showing high and low probability figures for the amounts that could be found at different depths, but only totaled up the "mean probabilities," a term in statistic that basically means there is an even chance that the actual amount would be above or below the figure.

The third column, "Years Imported Oil Avoided," puts the information into context. The US imports about 2 billion barrels of oil a year. So, if the oil industry can actually find 29.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil then it would be same as forgoing 14.7 years of imported oil.

Carbon profile of Offshore oil

The EPA estimates there are 0.43 metric tons of CO2 per barrel of oil. Thus, if 29.4 billion barrels are recovered offshore and burned conventionally, this order would mean emitting 12.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

If you have comments or questions about this analysis, please e-mail me at

Recent News on Offshore Drilling

Maps of Areas Opened to Drilling

Original Announcement
Obama to Open New Areas to Offshore Drilling

President Obama announced March 31 that vast areas off the coast of the US would be opened to drilling for fossil fuels. The areas would be on the Atlantic from Delaware to Florida's east (but not west) coast, much of the Gulf of Mexico and some parts of Alaska. The order excluded the Pacific continental coast; Alaska's Bristol Bay lost its offshore drilling permits.

The move came as controversial climate and energy legislation work their way through Congress. Over the last few months, as prospects for tough climate laws from this Congress have faded, the White House and senators have proposed political sweeteners to skeptics of climate regulation. Obama has added nuclear power as part of a future energy mix; the offshore drilling announcement was a further step.

Offshore drilling was banned two decades ago after serious oil spills despoiled US coastlines. Environmentalists still warn of the potential impact on seafood, human health, water quality and tourism industries if vast areas off the US coasts are opened to oil and natural gas production.

The US Geological Survey estimates that billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lie beneath the ocean floors in the areas covered by the order. More news on offshore drilling