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Email: "Oil Discovery...You Better Sit Down!!!"

November 25, 2009 10:30 am ET

The following email has been widely forwarded and has been reposted numerous times on conservative blogs.  Media Matters Action Network has written a response to the text below.  Please feel free to copy and paste it and send to your friends.  

Oil Discovery...You Better Sit Down!!!

[note - all mistakes below are original to the text]


Thanks for sending this along.  But that much oil seemed too good to be true, so I did Google it -- like the email suggests - and found out that the claims in this email are false.  Unfortunately, we are NOT sitting on enough oil to "fuel the American economy for 2041 years straight." is a highly respected, unbiased organization that looks at claims from far-left liberals, conservative Republicans, and everybody in between.  They examined this exact email and determined that it was false.

According to the folks at, "The Bakken Formation touted in a chain e-mail isn't the world's largest oil reserve. The amount of oil it contains, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, is less than one one-hundredth of the estimate cited in the e-mail." 

They go on to explain that the Bakken formation actually has somewhere between 3 and 4.3 billion gallons of oil - that's the real government estimate.  That amount is only equal to 9 months of US oil consumption or 1 month of global consumption.

I've copied the entire piece from below.  Hopefully, it will clear up your questions:


We've received this e-mail from our readers several dozen times, and a Google search for some of its claims turns up hundreds of results. Unfortunately, it is false. It combines and twists several different news stories and studies into a longer tale of sound and fury that ultimately signifies nothing (factually anyway).

The tale begins with an exhortation telling the reader to "go to the bottom of the page and click on the US Government link" for proof of the e-mail's veracity. Well, we did. And the link to a U.S. Geological Survey press release from April 2008 directly contradicts the e-mail's main assertion.

The e-mail says that the Bakken Formation oil reserve (which is located in the Dakotas and Montana) "has the potential to eliminate all American dependence on foreign oil" and is estimated to hold 503 billion barrels of oil. That's not true. It credits the USGS report from 2008 as the source of this information. It's not.

The glowing language and more optimistic estimates about Bakken quoted in the e-mail can be traced to a 2006 Wall Street Journal story reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. But the anonymous author of this e-mail omits an important caveat from that story, which said that "the lofty predictions remain unproven, and skeptics remain."

And there was an incomplete USGS draft study of the Bakken from 2000 that included estimates ranging up to 500 billion barrels. But the Energy Information Administration explained in 2006 that it was not peer-reviewed and cautioned readers to wait for the official USGS estimate:

EIA, 2006: A draft study by the late organic geochemist Leigh Price provides estimates ranging from 271 to 503 billion barrels (mean of 413 billion) of potential resources in place. The study represents Dr. Price's work as it stood at the time of his death in August 2000. It was conducted while he was working for the USGS, but it did not receive a complete scientific peer review by the USGS and was not published as a USGS product. A new assessment of the entire basin, due out in about a year, will provide an updated USGS estimate of the technically recoverable oil resources in the Bakken Formation.

The official estimate, contained in the USGS press release from last year, was a substantially smaller estimate of technically recoverable oil: 3 billion to 4.3 billion barrels.

The e-mail cites James Bartis as a "lead researcher of this study," but he was actually a RAND researcher who led a different, related study. Bartis wrote a 2006 report on oil shale development and resources in the United States that said "the midpoint in our estimate range, 800 billion barrels, is more than triple the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia." That's for the entire U.S., not Bakken alone. But Bartis also cautioned that the technology to extract oil from the fields was not yet commercially viable and said that even "under high growth assumptions, an oil shale production level of 1 million barrels per day is probably more than 20 years in the future, and 3 million barrels per day is probably more than 30 years into the future." Nowhere in his study did Bartis say that Bakken has "more than 2 trillion barrels," as the e-mail falsely claims. reviewed a similar mutation of this e-mail and traced the 2 trillion barrels of oil estimate to a tout sheet from the Stansberry Report Online, a group referenced in the e-mail. Snopes also noted that Stansberry is an investment newsletter trying to sell subscriptions. The Stansberry site appeared to be down when we tried to access it, but the tout sheet was reproduced here.

Snopes ultimatley ruled the e-mail to be a "mixture of true and false information." We agree. But we'd add that the email's implication that politicians, environmentalists and the media are preventing oil drilling in the Bakken is decidedly false. The Bakken has already seen drilling and was a principal cause of the recent increase in U.S. proven oil reserves, according to the EIA.

Talk to you soon.



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