USGS Finds Record Reserves Expected to Yield 46 Billion Barrels of Oil

The U.S. Geological Survey said oil and natural gas reserves straddling the New Mexico-Texas line amount to the largest such continuous energy field ever found in the region.

The find was assessed to harbor 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, according to USGS, which did not assess the financial cost-benefit analysis of tapping into the reserves.

“Christmas came a few weeks early this year,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement.

The previously undiscovered reserves are deemed to be technically recoverable using currently available drilling equipment and technology, and stretch across the Delaware Basin portion of Texas and New Mexico’s Permian Basin. Oil companies currently operate in the area using both traditional vertical drilling, horizontal drilling and fracking.

Continuous oil fields (USGS image)

“The Delaware Basin is the western subbasin of the Permian Basin Province and is separated from the eastern Midland Basin by the uplifted Central Basin Platform. The Delaware Basin is rimmed by carbonate platforms, including the Central Basin and Diablo Platforms and the Northwest Shelf. The Wolfcamp shale was deposited throughout the Permian Basin and consists of interbedded, organic-rich shales and carbonates in both the Midland and Delaware Basins; however, the Wolfcamp shale in the Delaware Basin is thicker, deeper, and more thermally mature than in the Midland Basin,” states the report. “The overlying Bone Spring consists of alternating sandstone, carbonate, and shale cycles and is time-equivalent to the Spraberry Formation in the Midland Basin.”

USGS Director Jim Reilly noted that during the 1980s the Permian “and similar mature basins were not considered viable for producing large new recoverable resources,” but advances in technology have been able to unlock the resource potential.

“The results of this most recent assessment and that of the Wolfcamp Formation in the Midland Basin in 2016 are our largest continuous oil and gas assessments ever released,” he said. “Knowing where these resources are located and how much exists is crucial to ensuring both our energy independence and energy dominance.”

Walter Guidroz, program coordinator of the USGS Energy Resources Program, said that fracking and directional drilling technologies have increased the scope of “undiscovered, technically recoverable continuous (i.e., unconventional) resources.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says the country consumed 7.28 billion barrels of petroleum products, including biofuels, last year.