Debunking the Myth That America Is Running Out of Energy

United States is actually rich in coal, oil, and natural gas.

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Daniel Kish is the senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.

One pervasive myth about domestic energy production is that America is running out of energy. We are told that we must use wildly expensive and unreliable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and biofuel because someday we could run out of coal, oil, or natural gas. The reality is that the United States has incredibly vast coal, oil, and natural gas resources as is documented in our recently released report.

 How vast are these resources? Here are some numbers:

Coal Resources

  • The United States has 486 billion short tons of recoverable coal. This is enough coal to provide 464 years of electricity at today's current rate of coal consumption.
  • While this is an incredible amount of coal, it is actually a very conservative estimate. This is because the estimate does not include Alaska's coal resources and Alaska holds more coal than then entire lower 48 combined. 
  • [See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

    Oil Resources

    • North America has nearly 1.8 trillion barrels of recoverable oil. That is twice as much as the combined reserves of all OPEC nations.  
    • In oil shale resources alone, the United States has 1 trillion barrels of oil. This is nearly four times as large as Saudi Arabia's proven oil reserves. But due to regulations, these resources are essentially locked up.
    • Natural Gas Resources

      • North America holds 4.2 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas. That is enough natural gas to satisfy the United State's current natural gas demand for 575 years.
      • This is more natural gas than the combined proved natural gas reserves of the next five nations (more than Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan combined).
      • [Read the U.S. News debate on fracking.]

        The United States, and North America as a whole, is not energy poor. Instead, we are abundantly rich in energy resources. But much of these resources are on federal lands, and the federal government is very stingy with energy production. Only 3 percent of all federal areas are leased for energy production. According to a recent study, we could create more than 1 million jobs if the federal government allowed greater access to these taxpayer-owned resources.

        On private and state lands, oil and natural gas production is growing, even as production on federal lands has decreased. Oil production on private and state lands in North Dakota has created an economic miracle. While much of the country muddles through tough economic times, unemployment in North Dakota is the lowest in the nation at 3.5 percent, and the state's GDP grew by a substantial 7.9 percent last year. This economic progress could be realized in many places around the country if the federal government allowed more energy production.

        For more information, as well as a complete explanation of the numbers and graphs presented above, check out our new report cataloging our North American oil, natural gas, and coal resources.

        • See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.
        • See a slide show of a reality check on U.S. energy sources.
        • Read the U.S. News debate on whether it is time to drill in the Arctic Refuge.