Division of Professional Affairs


Division of Professional Affairs


News & Legislation

By Ben Hare, Ph.D.

Chairman, Committee on Resource Evaluation American Association of Petroleum Geologists


May 14, 2001
New Orleans, Louisiana
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Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Issues: A Need Balanced View

Thank you for the opportunity to provide the view of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists on oil and gas issues concerning the Outer Continental Shelf. I am Ben Hare, Chairman of the Committee on Resource Evaluation of the AAPG.

American Association of Petroleum Geologists

The AAPG was founded in 1917 in Tulsa, Oklahoma to advance the science of geology, especially as it relates to petroleum, natural gas, and energy mineral resources. Today AAPG has a membership of more than 30,000, with members in virtually every petroleum-producing province in the World. It is the largest professional geological society in the United States. The membership of AAPG is proud of the contributions it makes in supplying the world with reliable and inexpensive energy, in developing new ways to do that job better, and in the education of new geoscientists to carry on the tradition. The AAPG believes the nation’s resources can be explored and developed in an environmentally safe and sound manner.

Because much of the membership is engaged, either directly or indirectly, in the search for hydrocarbons and the economic development of hydrocarbon deposits, the AAPG is keenly interested in understanding the amount and geographic distribution of hydrocarbon reserves and resources. AAPG advocates a comprehensive national energy policy based on sound science and knowledge of the nation’s resources and reserves.

Committee on Resource Evaluation (CORE)

In 1993, the AAPG Executive Committee chartered the Committee on Resource Evaluation (CORE) to "provide input and facilitate U. S. Government agencies in performing assessments of U. S. hydrocarbon resources." The charter was amended in 1997 to include international assessments so CORE would have a worldwide view of hydrocarbon resources. In several instances, CORE has made individual AAPG members with specific knowledge of certain geological provinces available to various agencies.

The Committee membership consists of employees of major petroleum companies, independent geologists, two directors of state geological surveys, three past AAPG Presidents, a member of the Potential Gas Committee (Colorado School of Mines), the Canadian Potential Gas Committee (University of Calgary), and the USGS. Although the membership is diverse, all are very experienced professionals and have a great deal of expertise in the science and technology of reserve and resource estimation. At most of its meetings, CORE has invited guests from the USGS and MMS, as well as other experts who can contribute to our knowledge of the nature, amount, and geographic distribution of potential petroleum resources, and yet to be discovered resources. CORE does not restrict its interest to conventional hydrocarbons but includes coalbed methane, shale gas, basin-center gas in continuous reservoirs, and to some extent, gas hydrates.

Since its inception, CORE has reviewed the methodologies and scientific methods used for assessments by the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) and has monitored the studies carried out by the Minerals Management Service (MMS). CORE has reviewed the methodology utilized by the USGS in its 1995 National Assessment of United States Oil and Gas Resources, the 1999 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 1002 Area assessment, and the 2000 World Petroleum Assessment. For all of these, the Committee on Resource Evaluation has recommended the AAPG Executive Committee endorse the methodology and the AAPG Executive Committee has publicly done so. However, we have not endorsed any specific numbers for undiscovered oil and gas resources.

Our Reliance on Hydrocarbons

I would like to emphasize that fossil fuels supply fully 88% of the nation’s primary energy requirements. Today, the average U.S. citizen uses about 26 barrels of crude oil and 84 thousand cubic feet of natural gas per year. Thus, the U.S. with less than 5 percent of the world’s population consumes about 25 percent of the world’s petroleum production. Compare that with the Far East with 40 percent of the world’s population that has a per-capita consumption of crude oil of less than one barrel per year and natural-gas consumption that is too small to measure. The lifestyle we have runs on energy. To sustain that lifestyle in the future, our energy needs will only increase.

In its Annual Energy Outlook (2001) Report, the EIA made the following projections regarding energy supply and demand over the next 20 years (1999-2020):

The National Petroleum Council 1999 study forecasts 2010 demand to be 29 trillion cubic feet with only 25 trillion cubic feet of U.S. production. Increased use of natural gas to generate electricity is driving this increase.

While we overwhelmingly rely on hydrocarbon resources and see only increasing prospects of future demand, the country has seen significant decline in domestic production. The oil production has declined by 37% since 1973. Domestic gas production declined from 22.6 trillion cubic feet per year in 1973 to 15.8 trillion cubic feet in 1983. In the late 1980s, the industry increased drilling activities, propelled by rising commodity prices and the application of new technologies, and by 1997 gas production had increased to 19.4 trillion cubic feet. Since then, it has remained essentially constant. However, demand continued to rise to 22 trillion cubic feet in 1999. This increase in demand in excess of domestic production has been met with imports, largely from Canada.

Outer Continental Shelf as a Resource

The total area of the U.S. Federal offshore, to the 200 nautical mile limit, including Alaska, is about 2 billion acres. This is almost the same size as the entire landmass of the United States excluding Alaska. Only 2 percent has been leased. Today the country receives 26 percent of its natural gas and 15 percent of its oil from the OCS. As you heard from MMS recently, a mean undiscovered economically recoverable resource of 46 billion barrels of oil and 168 TCF of natural gas exists in the Federal OCS at commodity prices close to what exist today ($30/bbl for oil and $3.52/mcf for gas). This is more than seven times the proven offshore reserves for oil and more than four times the proven offshore reserves of gas.

Yet, by a 1998 presidential directive, there is presently a federal moratorium on any exploration of the Lower 48 OCS outside of the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico until 2012. As shown in Exhibit 1, the Atlantic OCS, the Pacific OCS and parts of the eastern Gulf are restricted from access. The Atlantic OCS area alone is almost 260 million acres, an area equal to one and one-half times the area of the state of Texas. The total OCS restricted area amounts to more than 400 million acres. This results in the U. S. spending billions of dollars for energy imports every year while foreclosing exploration and possible production from an area equal to one-fifth the land area of the 48 contiguous states.

Because of these restrictions, most of these areas have not been fully evaluated. The last round of exploration in the Atlantic OCS ended over 20 years ago. Very little of the Atlantic OCS, even the most prospective parts, have been covered with modern 3-dimensional seismic. Therefore, any resources assigned to these areas, may be conservative.

The mean technically recoverable resource in the restricted OCS areas amounts to more than 76 trillion cubic feet of gas and more than 16 billion barrels of oil as shown in the table below.

Table 1
Amount of U.S. Oil and Gas OCS Resources Subject to Restrictions (MMS, 2000)


(Billions of Barrels)*

(Trillions of Cubic Feet)*

Atlantic OCS



Eastern Gulf of Mexico



Pacific OCS






*Figures are estimated to be mean technically recoverable resources

In our previous testimony before this committee, we have demonstrated the amount of estimated resources tends to grow through time. Therefore, we believe that these numbers could similarly grow once exploration and development is permitted in these areas. The Gulf of Mexico serves as an excellent example. In a paper recently presented by Richard Nehring, an AAPG Member and a member of our Committee on Resource Evaluation, has done extensive research on Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) reserves, production, and rates of discovery for oil and gas. He has suggested that present OCS policy has forced the country to rely solely on the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico for offshore gas production. This reliance cannot last indefinitely. For the past three years gas production from the Gulf of Mexico has declined slightly. Although deepwater gas production is currently increasing, recent exploration activity has indicated the deepwater area is largely oil-prone and thus cannot be counted on for sustained high rates of gas production. AAPG concludes this information warrants considering leasing and exploring for the gas resources estimated for the Eastern Gulf and Atlantic OCS.

The Deep Offshore

In 1950, offshore production came from an average water depth of 40 ft and the maximum water depth for production was 200 ft. Today the average producing depth for production is 500 ft and maximum producing depths have exceeded 6,000 ft. Modern 3-D seismic, long-reach drilling, and floating and sub-sea production systems have made this possible. Almost every country with marine waters is promoting exploration in the OCS and attempting to attract investment in their offshore, including the deep and ultra-deep waters. The 1500-ft water depth for production was only reached 20 years ago; today almost 12% of worldwide reserves is located in these waters.

We believe that Canada, Great Britain, Norway, Brazil, India, and numerous other nations all rightly understand that oil and gas development are vital to their economic wellbeing and can be done with minimal environmental impact. That is why all of these countries are not only trying to explore the deepwater arena, they are competing in the world market for investment dollars for deepwater projects. Whether we like it or not, the world is exploring in deeper and deeper waters offshore, partly because our own needs demand it. In fact, almost $35 billion in investments is scheduled for deepwater projects outside the US through the year 2004. Given the right environment, a lot of these investment dollars could be spent in US waters, providing jobs, helping the balance of trade, and enhancing domestic supplies. By exploring in our own waters, we could protect the environment commensurate with our own standards.

Implications for Natural Gas

Natural gas is a North American regional commodity. The United States cannot depend on gas imports from OPEC to meet rising demand. The natural gas that we need must come from U.S. production supplemented by hemispheric imports. As much as 14% of our supply may be coming from Canada over the next 15 years. Mexico is not a likely source of supply in the foreseeable future. In fact, we are now exporting a small, but increasing, amount of natural gas to Mexico for the growing industrial development just south of our border. Gas demand is skyrocketing, particularly as a "clean" fuel for electric power generation. Thus, the OCS as a source of gas becomes even more crucial.

In the resource figures mentioned earlier, we have not included the potential of shallow gas hydrates on the Outer Continental Shelf. Although we do not presently have the technology to recover them, gas hydrates are another major future potential energy resource. In its 1995 assessment of gas hydrate resources for the Atlantic OCS, the USGS estimated a potential resource in the range of 6,000 to over 100,000 trillion cubic feet. These figures dwarf any of the conventional resource estimates.

The nation needs to realize that without developing our own OCS resources, we will be relying more and more on oil tankers to bring our oil and liquid natural gas tankers to import LNG. We will need to develop ports to handle all of this traffic and develop long pipeline routes to deliver the gas. It may be very difficult to find ports in the U.S. that will accept such shipping, given the crowded conditions of those facilities. The development of new commercial ports in the U.S. will be extremely difficult given the fact that about one-half of our citizens live within 50 miles of a coastline, and few are willing to accept larger ports and more tanker traffic. An ever-increasing fleet of tankers with the corresponding risk of more spills will be needed to deliver our petroleum needs. We need to have access to our own public lands, including the OCS, which are prospective for natural gas.

The Record of OCS Developments

With more than thirty fields with reserves of 1 trillion cubic feet or more, our own Gulf of Mexico is among the top twenty geologic provinces in the world. The coastal zone fisheries, tourism and marine environment have co-existed here with oil and gas development for over fifty years. Our own neighbors to the north, the Canadians, have successfully developed their portion of Lake Erie and have been producing natural gas there since the 1950’s. The US portion of Lake Erie has a thicker sedimentary section, and would likely be more productive. New Yorkers could use the gas. United States law, however, prohibits exploration in the Great Lakes.

Since 1967 in excess of 300 exploratory wells have been drilled within the offshore outer continental shelf waters of the Canadian Atlantic. As shown in Exhibit 1, to date, at least 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 2 billion barrels of oil have been discovered. These discoveries have been off the Scotian Shelf, the Grand Banks and the Labrador Sea. The Hibernia platform, 150 miles off the east coast of Newfoundland, is now producing more than 125,000 barrels of oil per day from a large platform on the prolific fishing grounds of the Grand Banks. Natural-gas production began at the end of last year from the Sable Offshore Energy Project, off the coast of Nova Scotia, just a few hundred miles north of Boston. Currently, 400 million cubic feet of gas per day is coming into the New England market from these offshore production platforms via the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline.

Assessments to date of the Eastern Canadian offshore indicate that the region contains in excess of 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 10 billion barrels of oil. All of this is being accomplished within the prime commercial fishing waters and the pristine tourist coastlines of Eastern Canada. In fact, for more than thirty years offshore exploration and production calmly have co-existed with tourism and commercial fishing for the betterment of all concerned. Canada has demonstrated that gas exploration and production can be compatible with other coastal uses, including tourism

There is a major new Jurassic-Age deep carbonate-reef discovery offshore Nova Scotia called the Panuke Deep Gas Field. If successfully delineated, this new field alone could add an additional 400 million cubic feet of gas production per day. This is enough to heat over one million homes in New England that presently rely on heating oil. Petroleum geologists believe that the same types of oil and gas accumulations that exist in the Eastern Canadian offshore, may extend south along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, from George’s Banks to the Carolina Trough, a distance of almost 1,000 miles. In fact, the carbonate-reef discovery mentioned suggests to many that similar potential may extend even as far as the Atlantic coast of Florida. A discovery made in 1978 off the New Jersey coast further supports the likelihood of these accumulations. This discovery, estimated to contain over 200 billion cubic feet of natural gas, was not developed at the time of discovery for economic reasons.

Similar potential exists in the Eastern Gulf. For example, a 1.3 to 1.9 TCF dry gas discovery has been made offshore Florida. This giant gas field has not been able to contribute to the nation’s needs because of federal and Florida State restrictions. It is difficult to understand why we cannot develop these fields, especially since offshore natural gas development poses little threat to any coastline.

New technologies now permit oil and gas development in a way that minimizes onshore surface disruption in environmentally sensitive areas. The British, for example, who are very protective of open spaces, agreed to develop the giant Wytch Farm Oil Field under Poole Harbour, which is in the middle of the most heavily visited coastal zone of the South of England. At the Wytch Farm development, long-reach deviated wells are drilled in a radial pattern from a camouflaged central well pad onshore, to locations up to seven miles out into scenic Poole Bay. Opponents of petroleum development cite old operating practices, and prior environmental abuses. The modern practices are much improved. Just like Canada, Great Britain, Brazil, Norway, Qatar, Thailand, Australia, and many other petroleum producing nations, America likewise can develop its offshore and onshore energy resources in environmentally sensitive areas in a safe and rational manner.

The concern over oil spills has been consistently overstated. Except for two incidents over the last 50 years, one off the coast of California over three decades ago and the other off Mexico in the 1980s, both of which could have been prevented, all major spills have come from tanker accidents. For the year 1998, the OCS produced more almost 500 million barrels of oil. The total volume reported spilled for the year, in incidents where more than 50 barrels was spilled, was 500 barrels. That is one barrel out of every million produced. Most of these spills were cleaned up on the platforms and never reached the ocean.


How important is producing domestic crude oil and natural gas? Is it important enough to permit access to prospective public-lands for exploration and development? Is it important enough to provide appropriate economic incentives for that development? Conversely, should we discourage the development of our domestic resources and increase our dependency upon other countries to supply our future petroleum needs? I need not remind you of the trauma faced by this country in our one experience with an energy crisis in spite of the fact that during that time we lost only 5 percent of our crude oil supply, the amount supplied by the Arab OPEC countries. If a 5 percent decline could cause the problems that we had then, think of what would happen today if we lost those same imports.

The nation has attempted to reduce the supply/demand imbalance by promoting alternative energy, conservation, increased efficiency, and by increased imports. After billions of dollars in federally supported research, alternative energy only accounts for less than 1% of the total energy needs. We have made significant progress in efficiency. Compared to 1960, it takes almost 50% less oil and gas energy to generate one dollar of Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, most of the shortfall has been taken up by increased imports. Imports now account for 56% of our needs.

In order to maintain our lifestyle, the country needs energy supply. Sources alternative to hydrocarbons are not sufficient to meet demand. Conservation and enhanced efficiency are only part of the answer.

Resource assessments indicate a sizable resource is present in currently restricted areas of the OCS. For those resources to be delineated and converted to reserves and ultimately to "supply", exploration must take place. Both the Eastern Gulf and the Atlantic OCS are known to have generated and trapped natural gas. AAPG believes all potential sources of energy and increased conservation of hydrocarbons should be mainstays of the national energy policy. AAPG believes full exploration of the OCS, while safeguarding the environment, must also be an important piece of that policy.