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Huge Dakota oil pool could change energy climate debate

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted April 14, 2008

Al Gore is launching a $300 million ad campaign to support the banning of fossil fuels. But our faith in man-made global warming will now be tested by news that up to 400 billion barrels of light, sweet crude oil for America's future can be pumped from under Manitoba and North Dakota. That's more oil than Saudi Arabia and Russia put together.

This high-quality oil isn't controlled by Muslim zealots, or hidden under a federal wildlife refuge. Moreover, it can now be cost-effectively retrieved with computer-directed horizontal oil wells, probably at $20 to $40 per barrel.

The U.S. is blocking new coal-fired power plants. With no coal to burn, natural gas is becoming impossibly expensive. Biofuels are proving worse for the environment than gasoline. Nuclear is "dangerous." Erratic and expensive windmills have seemed the best the West could do.

But the Bakken Formation in the Great Plains holds a monster oil deposit. Estimates of its potential range as high as the U.S. Geological Survey's figure of more than 400 billion barrels. The Saudis have 260 billion barrels of proven reserves, the Russians just 60 billion.

Until recently, Bakken was thought too expensive to drill. But oil is now at $100 per barrel. Even more important, new computer-controlled drills can go sideways for hundreds of feet to suck the petroleum out of oil-bearing shale strata, instead of just punching short vertical holes through shallow rock layers.

At the higher end of its potential, Bakken could change the political economics of the world. One hundred billion barrels would be worth $9 trillion at today's prices. Will America turn its back? Will we give up our autos, airplanes and air conditioners if the oil to power them is affordable and "home-grown"?

Consider:

  • The net global warming since 1940 is a miniscule 0.2 degree C, even after 70 years of unprecedented human CO2 emissions.
  • Meanwhile the forcing power of additional CO2 has declined by perhaps three-fourths. There can't be much left.
  • Seven years ago, NASA discovered a huge cloud-controlled "heat vent" in the sky over the Pacific. It emitted enough heat during 1980-2000 to have dealt with a doubling of greenhouse gases.
  • The earth has not warmed since 1998, despite a continuing rise in atmospheric CO2.
  • NASA now admits the oceans "stopped warming" about 4-5 years ago. The end of the warming trend was documented by 3,000 high-tech Argo ocean-diving buoys.
  • The planet actually cooled in 2007, attested by three major temperature monitoring sites. The decline was apparently predicted by a downturn in sunspots that began in 2000.

The earth's recent warming seems to be part of the moderate natural 1,500-year climate cycle controlled by the sun—which was discovered in the Greenland ice cores in 1983. The three discoverers of the cycle won the Tyler Prize, the "environmental Nobel," in 1996.

Short-term, there's a strong 80 percent correlation with both the sunspots and the cycle in Pacific sea temperatures. Both now seem to be predicting a moderate 22.5-year decline in global temperatures. We had a similar decline from 1940 to 1975—also while CO2 levels were rising. Such "double sunspot cycles" factor heavily in our records of rainfall, droughts and monsoons, as well as in temperatures.

Bottom line: We now find massive man-made warming only in unverified computer models that have consistently predicted far more warming than we've gotten. With a downturn in temperatures—and lots of homegrown oil—Al Gore's anti-fossil ad campaign may not be fully persuasive. ESR

Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and is the Director for the Center for Global Food Issues. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 2442 or email to cgfi@hughes.net.


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