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Bachmann the oil geologist

Rep. Michele Bachmann, a lawyer now turned petroleum geologist, announced to a South Carolina crowd recently, “Under President Bachmann you will see gasoline come down below $2 a gallon again. The day that President Obama became president,” she said,  “gasoline was $1.79 a gallon. Look what it is today.” 

Actually gasoline was $1.90 during President Obama’s inauguration week, a sharp drop from over $4 during the second Bush term. The drop was primarily caused by the major recession in the latter days of the Bush administration.

Bachmann also talked about U.S. oil reserves. “What Barack Obama has done is to lock up America’s energy reserves,” she said. “We’re the No. 1 energy-resource-rich nation in the world. We have more oil in three Western states in the form of shale oil than all the oil in Saudi Arabia.”

Oil companies have spent billions and several decades on the “vast shale oil deposits” in those three western states that she lists as exceeding Saudi Arabia’s reserves. So far that so-called shale oil has produced nothing because it isn’t oil. It’s a very low grade substance called kerogen which nature never got around to cooking into oil. All attempts to complete nature’s task have required lots of water and power. And the process for shale oil releases toxic material into ground water. As a minimum, any shale oil production would require oil prices well above $100/barrel.  That oil price equates to $4 a gallon gas, not exactly Bachmann’s announced target for her presidency. Success with western shale oil has been five years away for the past 60 years.

She also touts the Bakken oil field in North Dakota, Alaska’s ANWR, and drilling off our coasts as sources that could bring down world oil prices. The Bakken is a substantial resource which requires expensive horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracking. It is not economic with oil at prices which would allow gas below $2 a gallon. The best estimates of economically recoverable oil from Alaska’s ANWR range up to about 6 billion barrels. That’s one year U.S. usage, not 30 years as Bachmann suggested in a recent Star Tribune editorial.

As to off-shore drilling, more leases have already been awarded than the industry is prepared to drill. You don’t take a $400,000/day drill ship out to sea to poke random holes in the ocean floor. Good seismic data will take years. 

Her statement about Obama ‘locking up America’s energy reserves’ doesn’t jibe with recent production data. During Obama’s term, monthly U.S. oil production has risen from 157 million barrels to 175 million. Natural gas production has gone from 1.7 trillion cubic feet/month to 1.9 trillion during Obama’s term. Is the president responsible for this? No. Just as he is not responsible for fluctuations, up or down, in world oil and gasoline prices. Even with recent production increases, U.S. oil output is less than 7 percent of world output. The factors which affect the huge world oil market are beyond the control of even a President Bachmann.

There is one way she might bring down gasoline prices. That would be by implementing policies which repeat the severe recession of 2008/2009. Instead of that, I think she naively believes that she can affect world oil prices by flooding the market with American oil. This makes her just another politician who makes statements in an area where she has little knowledge.

ROLF E. WESTGARD is a professional member of the Geological Society of America who will teach the class this fall on Peak Oil and Peak Water for the University  of Minnesota Lifelong Learning program. A supporter of the DFL Party, he has residences in Deerwood and St. Paul. He is a member of the Brainerd Dispatch Advisory Board.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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