February 24, 2012 --- Vol. 18, No. 15February 2012

USGS publishes shale oil and gas assessment for North Slope

The U.S Geological Survey has published it assessment of potential shale oil and gas resources under Alaska’s North Slope. The agency says that there may be anywhere from zero to 2 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and zero to 80 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas recoverable from the region using currently available technology. The assessment does not evaluate the economic viability of developing and producing these resources.

“Better knowledge of the untapped resource potential found in all areas of the country will help us better make science-based decisions about how we continue to grow domestic energy production for America,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said today in announcing the publication of the assessment. “Alaska’s energy resources hold great promise and economic opportunity for the American people, and we will continue to expand our scientific understanding of existing resources as part of our commitment to an all-of-the-above energy approach that includes safe and responsible production of American oil and gas resources.”

USGS Director Marcia McNutt said that providing scientifically sound and publicly available assessments of untapped oil and gas resources in frontier areas forms the first step in weighing their potential contributions to energy supplies and in analyzing the potential impacts of recovering the resources.

“This information can help leaders from both government and industry make good decisions for the long term, anticipate environmental issues in advance of development, and guide wise investments,” McNutt said.

During a press briefing for the announcement USGS geologist Dave Houseknecht said that the wide ranges in the potential volumes of recoverable resources, with the possibility of zero resource recovery at the bottom ends of those ranges, reflects the fact that as yet no drilling has successfully demonstrated shale oil or shale gas production direct from North Slope source rocks. It is not possible to be sure that production will be viable until the rock formations are tested, Houseknecht said.

However, if viable production can be established from the North Slope source rocks, the North Slope shale oil resource could prove second in size of the various oil shale plays in the United States, with only the Bakken shale in North Dakota having a larger resource, Houseknecht said. As a gas resource, North Slope shale gas might take fourth place in the country, at about half the scale of the Marcellus shale gas resource in the Lower 48, he said.

—Alan Bailey

See story in March 4 issue, available online at 11 a.m., Friday, March 2 at

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