About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Who’s got the oil in the US?

Perhaps it’ll surprise you to learn that thirty-one states have at least a little oil production. That leaves 19 with none at all. In most states with no oil production, there’s also little or no oil potential, just because the rocks there lack the properties for generating and trapping oil.

From the list below of non-producing states, those with some potential include most of the southern Atlantic seaboard – Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Oil accumulations may exist in sedimentary troughs in those states, as well as offshore, but exploration to date is not encouraging, so we’d call the potential pretty low there.

Volcanic rocks cover much of Washington and Oregon. That doesn’t make oil pools impossible, but the likelihood declines greatly. Most of Minnesota and Wisconsin are underlain by ancient rocks, a billion years and more old, from a time when life was limited mostly to single-celled organisms. You need teeming life to make petroleum, and even though much oil derives from single-celled life like algae, the amount of life a billion years ago was not enough to make oil – or if it did, it has not survived collisions, subductions, and other traumas the earth has thrown at the older rocks of Wisconsin. The younger rocks there are relatively thin, another factor reducing the potential for commercial oil fields. You need to bury organic material deeply to naturally cook it into oil, but not so deep as to overcook it.

So 31 states are awash in oil, getting rich on production taxes and severance taxes. Well, not quite. Almost 80% of US oil production comes from just four states. For November 2009 (data from World Oil), the four leading states in descending order were Louisiana, Texas, Alaska, and California. The other 27 producing states together account for just over 22% of total US oil.

Here’s the list of 19 states with no oil production at all in November 2009:

Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The map below, from the US Geological Survey, shows most of the wells in the US – more than 500,000 producing oil wells (over half the oil wells on earth), plus gas wells and dry holes. Some estimates figure three to five million wells have been drilled in the US in the search for oil and gas.

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