New York Times
A Push to Wrest More Oil From Land, but Most New Wells Are for Natural Gas

Sunday, August 03, 2008

With the advent of $4-a-gallon gasoline has come a bruising debate in Congress over whether to intensify efforts to drill on federal lands, including part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. But while those hoping to lower prices at the pump are clamoring for new oil, most of the new onshore drilling of the past seven years has produced natural gas, not oil.

The Bush administration, in its effort to expand energy production, has issued more than three times the number of well-drilling permits on Western lands as in the Clinton administration's last six years. But oil production in that region during the Bush years is 12 percent below average levels from the Clinton era, according to federal data.

"You have to start with the recognition that most wells drilled in the Rockies are not oil wells - they are gas wells," said Porter Bennett, the president and chief executive of Bentek Energy, one of the industry's largest research firms. "There would never be an expectation of huge returns on the oil side," he added.

"If you restrict drilling," said Mr. Bennett of Bentek, "you'll go from a situation where we're growing one billion cubic feet in production a day to a situation where you're flat or declining in two years" - as happened in the Powder River basin six years ago after environmental restrictions tightened.

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