In 2011, IER released the first edition of the North American Energy Inventory. At the time, the U.S. energy situation looked far different than it does today. In 2011, the United States was the third largest oil producer behind Russia and Saudi Arabia and conventional wisdom held that we were running out of oil, natural gas, and even coal.

At the time, then President Obama echoed this sentiment in numerous speeches when he claimed that because the United States only had 2 or 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves we couldn’t “simply drill our way out of our energy problems.” President Obama, it seems, did not understand what is really meant by the term “oil reserves.” In reality, “oil reserves” represent only a fraction of the total oil resources available. Consequently, we successfully addressed many of our energy challenges by tapping into this broader pool of resources. Put another way, we did drill our way to energy security and more stable prices.

The first edition of the Inventory successfully challenged the myth of energy scarcity. We demonstrated that North America has vast energy resources—far more energy resources than people thought or believed at the time.

The Inventory was released when the shale revolution was beginning to pick up steam. Since 2005, oil production in the U.S. has increased by 149 percent and natural gas production has more than doubled. These massive increases, which have catapulted the U.S. to the world’s top producer of both oil and natural gas, were the result of a combination of hydraulic fracturing, precision drilling, and private ownership of the subsurface in key parts of the United States. The hydraulic fracturing revolution has spread to some federal lands, but due to more onerous federal regulations, the benefits of increased production have occurred largely on private lands.


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As the numbers below indicate, the United States and North America as a whole, has vast energy resources to continue producing the affordable and reliable energy that the world needs. Here are some highlights:

U.S. Oil Resources:

  • The U.S. has 1,657.5 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, which is 15 percent higher than estimated in IER’s 2011 Inventory.
  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports proved oil reserves of 44.4 billion barrels at the end of 2021, representing a 16 percent increase compared to the previous year’s estimate of 38.2 billion barrels.
  • At our current rate of consumption, the United States has 227 years of oil supply from technically recoverable oil resources.
  • Additionally, the U.S. has 5,388 billion barrels of in place oil, resulting in 369 years of supply at a 50 percent recovery rate and at our current rate of consumption. These resources include oil shale (kerogen) found primarily in the Green River Formation in parts of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

U.S. Natural Gas Resources:

  • The U.S. has 4,032 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas, which is a 47 percent increase from IER’s 2011 Inventory.
  • The EIA reports proved gas reserves of 625 trillion cubic feet at the end of 2021, representing a 32 percent increase compared to the previous year’s estimate of 473 trillion cubic feet.
  • At the current consumption rate, the United States has 20 years of natural gas supply from proved reserves and over 130 years from technically recoverable resources.
  • Additionally, there are over 65 quadrillion cubic feet of in place natural gas resources in the United States. If just half of that amount becomes recoverable, the U.S. has over 1,000 years of natural gas supply at 2022 consumption rates.

U.S. Coal Resources:

  • The U.S. possesses abundant coal resources, with 10.3 trillion short tons in place.
  • Technically recoverable coal resources amount to 470 billion short tons, while proved coal reserves stand at 250 billion short tons (slightly lower than 2011 estimates).
  • Despite having the largest coal reserves globally, the U.S. faces challenges due to federal and state regulations that limit coal usage.
  • In 2022, the U.S. consumed 515.5 million short tons of coal, a significant decrease from the 1,126 million short tons consumed in 2005.
  • The U.S. has 485 years of coal supply from proved reserves and 912 years from technically recoverable coal at 2022 consumption rates.

Canada’s Energy Resources:

While the United States has vast oil, natural gas, and coal resources, it also benefits from neighboring Canada where U.S. refiners get their largest quantity of oil imports. Canada has four times as much proved oil reserves as the United States, mostly composed of oil sands, and has the fourth-largest global quantity of oil reserves after Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. U.S. refiners retooled their facilities years before the shale revolution, relying upon the heavier oil that Canada provides. The Keystone XL pipeline would have provided a critical infrastructure link between the Canadian oil supplies and Midwest refiners. In one of the first acts of his presidency, however, President Biden revoked the permit for the completion of the pipeline, threatening these imports to the U.S. as Canada finds other avenues for their oil exports.

Due to technological advances, estimates of Canada’s technically recoverable natural gas resources have increased by 80 percent since 2011 and proved natural gas reserves are 40 percent higher. Canada’s natural gas market is heavily integrated with the United States largely because of the location of supply basins, demand centers, availability of transportation infrastructure, and existing Canada-U.S. trade agreements. These factors allow for consumers and distributors on either side of the border to freely access natural gas from the lowest cost supplier.

Mexico’s Energy Resources:

A review of Mexico’s energy resources is a reminder of how government decisions can impact a nation’s energy potential. In IER’s 2011 Inventory, Mexico was estimated to possess 10.5 billion barrels in proved oil reserves. Today, that figure has dwindled to 6.0 billion barrels. Additionally, Mexico’s recoverable natural gas reserves have declined from 12 trillion cubic feet in 2011 to the current 11 trillion cubic feet.

While the United States and Canada have been able to grow their proved reserves and increase production, Mexico has experienced decreasing production and decreasing reserves. Mexico’s energy sector has stagnated primarily due to policies of the López Obrador administration to roll back the 2013 reforms of
the Enrique Peña Nieto administration and restore the near monopoly of Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company.

Benefits of Domestic Oil Production:

Abundant and reliable energy: The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, which provides a secure and reliable supply of energy for the country. This has allowed families and businesses to plan with less worry about disruptions in energy supply.

Lower energy prices: Oil prices are lower and more stable today than they would be without the increase in domestic energy production.

Job creation: The oil and gas industry supports millions of jobs in the U.S., both directly and indirectly, that are often well-paying and provide good benefits.

Environmental benefits: The U.S. has made significant progress in reducing air pollution in recent years, even as energy production has increased.

Better geopolitical situation: Over the past 15 years, the growth in U.S. oil and natural gas production has significantly reshaped the nation’s geopolitical priorities. The historical reliance on Middle East- sourced oil has been supplanted by domestic production, largely driven by the shale revolution and expanded natural gas output. This shift allows the United States to exercise greater discretion in foreign interventions. For decades, U.S. foreign policy was shaped by concerns about oil scarcity and conflicts, leading to price volatility. However, the U.S. now faces fewer vulnerabilities due to the large scale production of its own energy resources.

Impediments to U.S. Energy Production:

The Biden administration has taken hundreds of actions to make it harder in the future to produce oil, natural gas, and coal in the United States. These actions include failing to hold lease sales, imposing a moratorium on new oil and gas leases, and issuing strict regulations on natural gas and coal production. As a result, coal production has fallen by 45 percent since 2009.

In addition to regulatory impediments, there are other challenges facing the oil, natural gas, and coal industries in the United States. These include difficulty raising capital due to the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing movement, anti-fossil fuel activism, and competition from more heavily subsidized renewable energy sources.

One Last Note About the Future:

If someone had asked us in 2011, “what would it take for the United States to become the largest oil and natural gas producer in the world,” we would probably have guessed it would be a combination of a dramatic increase in offshore drilling, opening more of Alaska’s onshore and offshore resources, and technological advancements with methane hydrates and oil shale (kerogen). None of these things happened. Instead, we got an energy revolution largely from technological advances—specifically hydraulic fracturing, directional drilling, and associated technologies—combined with our unique system of private property rights.

In the 2011 Inventory, we noted that hydraulic fracturing and direction drilling were responsible for huge increases in estimates of recoverable oil and natural gas, but we did not necessarily see the even bigger increases to come. The point we would make today is that we do not know what our energy future holds. However, we know it can be bright if people have access to our energy resources without excessive government intervention. We have enough affordable, reliable energy to last for generations so long as we have continued access to these energy resources.


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