The U.S. Geological Survey says it has found the largest continuous oil and gas deposit ever discovered in the United States. A swath of West Texas known as the Wolfcamp shale contains 20 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which makes it nearly three times more petroleum than the agency found in North Dakota's Bakken shale in 2013.
The amount of oil in the Wolfcamp shale formation is nearly three times the amount of petroleum products used by the entire United States in a year.
The USGS says all 20 billion barrels of oil are technically recoverable, meaning the oil could be brought to the surface using currently available technology and industry practices. Oil companies now use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — and can have access to reserves that previously were out of reach.
Changes in technology and industry practices can have significant effects on what resources are technically recoverable, and that's why we continue to perform resource assessments throughout the United States and the world, said Walter Guidroz, a program coordinator for the USGS Energy Resources Program, in the USGS statement.
Even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the potential to find billions more, he said. Private companies have already been moving to extract the oil, which is estimated to be worth US$900 billion at current prices.
The company Pioneer Natural Resources, which has drilling rights for 785,000 acres in the Wolfcamp area, says on its website that it shut down its vertical drilling operation there in 2015, in favor of developing more horizontal drilling into the Wolfcamp shale.
ConocoPhillips, the world's largest independent oil producer by market value, increased its estimate for the size of its Wolfcamp holdings on Nov. 10 to 1.8 billion barrels from 1 billion last year. A day earlier, Concho Resources CEO Timothy Leach told investors and analysts that two recent wells it drilled in the Wolfcamp were pumping an average of 2,000 barrels a day each.
The economic effects of extracting the oil and gas from the Wolfcamp shale could be enormous. In North Dakota, a shale/driven oil boom has transformed the landscape and the economy in the past few years, attracting thousands of workers and contributing to falling oil prices.
The U.S. has produced more oil and natural gas than any other country every year since 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.