Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey announced that the Wolfcamp shale area of West Texas holds the largest continuous oil and gas deposit ever found in the U.S. According to their estimates, the site contains much more than previously thought—a colossal 20 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Is it accessible?
The USGS believes all of the estimated oil and gas discovered at Wolfcamp is “technically” recoverable. However, unlike with other reserves that are confined to one place, the Wolfcamp deposit is spread out over a vast area and will need to be recovered through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”).
It is special recovery methods like these that make it possible to access oil once considered out of reach and get more from areas previously thought to be depleted. Walter Guidroz, program coordinator for the USGS Energy Resources Program, discussed the significance of this in a statement, saying:
“The fact that this is the largest assessment of continuous oil we have ever done just goes to show that, even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the potential to find billions more.
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.”
What are the economic implications?
The enormous Wolfcamp oil and gas deposit has the potential to dramatically boost the local economy in West Texas, as well as the wider domestic energy industry. Worth an estimated $900 billion, the discovery could bring with it thousands of jobs and help revive towns that have struggled as a result of falling oil prices.
On top of Wolfcamp’s potential economic benefits, experts believe that more deposits exist throughout the wider Permian Basin. Since the region is made up of several interlocking shales, only one of which is Wolfcamp, it’s likely that comparable reserves have yet to be discovered.