Fact Check-Meme touting the Permian Basin as quick fix for U.S. domestic oil needs oversimplifies the economics and structure of the oil industry

A widely shared meme suggests the Permian Basin, the largest shale oil field in the United States, has “enough oil to fuel” the country “for the next 200 years.” Social media users commenting on and sharing the content appear to suggest that because of these potential reserves, the United States does not need to engage with other countries in the oil market.

Estimates of oil resources are not fixed and can change over time. Experts contacted by Reuters said that setting a date for how long the estimated resources of a specific region (like the Permian Basin) could “fuel” a country was complicated by multiple variables such as technological improvement and consumption, which vary over time.

They also said the meme failed to show other elements that come into play, such as the economic feasibility of recovering oil from a certain area, as well as it being a globally traded commodity.

The meme includes a map highlighting the Permian Basin in gray, between Texas and New Mexico. With a yellow dotted line, it marks two areas within the Permian, the Delaware and Midland basins (here).

“This small area has enough oil to fuel America for the next 200 years,” the memes say.

Reuters found the same map viewable on a website ( here), which makes no mention of the quantities of oil in the basin.

Numerous examples are viewable on Facebook (here) (here) (here) (here) (here) (here) (here). The post was also shared by a Texas politician. This post garnered over 131,540 shares on Facebook as of the writing of this article (here).

It gained traction online as U.S. President Joe Biden visited top oil exporter Saudi Arabia in July 2022, hoping to convince the country to boost oil production to tame crude prices (here) (here) (here).

“We have oil pockets in lots of locations that could be for our use, but we keep giving it away to countries that could care less if we live or die,” one user commented. Another said, “Yet Joe is willing to support other countries to lower gasoline prices for us! He is crashing the economy of this country!”


The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) explains that resource estimates for oil and natural gas are not fixed and change over time (here). It lists four categories when referring to such estimates: 1) remaining oil and gas in-place, 2) technically recoverable resources, 3) economically recoverable resources and 4) proved reserves (here).

The broader the definition and higher the estimated volume, the EIA notes, the more uncertain it is. For instance, the category of “remaining oil and gas in-place” considers the “original” volume within a formation minus the existing production (here).

The “proved reserves” category considers resources that have a probability of recovery of 90% or greater “under existing economic and operating conditions.” Variations in price and cost of production will affect the size of this estimate.

The meme does not specify which category of resources it is referring to.


The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that all over the United States there are 373.1 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude oil resources (here) (see table 1). Such a definition would include the crude oil that can be produced using currently available technology and industry practices regardless of economic or accessibility conditions (here). When only considering proved reserves, the figure decreases to 47.1 billion barrels.

For the Southwest region specifically, where the Permian Basin is located, the USGS estimates there are 147 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude oil resources and 17.8 billion barrels of proved reserves.

The Tight Oil Resource Assessment group, a research consortium at the University of Texas at Austin ( projects that there are 75 billion barrels of crude oil that are technically recoverable from three specific productive areas of the Permian Basin – the Wolfcamp A, Wolfcamp B and 3rd Bone Spring sandstone.

A spokesperson for UT Austin’s Bureau of Geology told Reuters that analysis by the group of additional productive zones in the Permian Basin is ongoing. (see other plays within the Permian basin in Table 3 here )

Oslo-based consultancy Rystad Energy provided Reuters with an estimate, using a different definition, of the “economically recoverable” oil in the Permian Basin.

According to Rystad Energy’s research, there are about 90 billion barrels of economically recoverable crude oil in the Permian Basin, which means the portion of the technically recoverable resources which can be profitably produced (here) (see page 4 and 5). This increases to 125 billion barrels when also considering natural gas plant liquids or NGLs (here), which are excluded from the USGS estimates (see table 1 here)

Artem Abramov, head of global energy systems at Rystad Energy, told Reuters that this last figure – 125 billion barrels – could represent between 10-15% of the total technically recoverable oil in the Permian Basin.

This would exceed the technically recoverable crude oil resources estimated by EIA and the USGS, which Rystad Energy said may be conservative.

Abramov said the meme did not paint the whole picture.

“While the oil reserves in the Permian basin are huge, hypothesizing that this oil could satisfy total national demand ignores the complexity of crude production, refining and distribution,” he said.

“Although the [Permian] basin may have more technically recoverable oil, the technology and infrastructure to extract it is lacking. The basin’s infrastructure lacks the capacity to carry much higher than current volumes of oil out of the Permian, and many domestic refineries are not set up to handle the light crude produced in the basin.

“These infrastructure changes would require vast investment,” he said.


An overview of the processes and costs associated with oil extraction can be seen (here) (here) (here).

A spokesperson for the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) told Reuters that the figure of 373.1 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude oil resources for the entire country and not just the Permian Basin would last “about 50 years” at current consumption levels. (here)

They said that such estimates also “don’t factor in the economic feasibility of recovering those resources, so whatever company that tried to recover those resources could lose money producing that crude oil.”

Other factors that challenge setting an exact timeframe for how long oil reserves extracted from a certain area could last, as the meme suggests, include “How oil consumption would change over the next 200 years, how technology for oil extraction will advance, how USGS estimates could change,” the EIA said.

Harrison Fell, a Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA, told Reuters that the distinction between technically and economically recoverable oil is key.

“There is a lot of technically recoverable oil throughout the world, but under current technology, a good portion of that would be too expensive to recover,” he said.

Fell also said the meme’s “underlying sentiment”, that the U.S. government should not go abroad to request more oil production, is “somewhat at odds with a couple realities of the oil markets”.

Oil is globally traded and does not necessarily stay in the country where it was produced, so the United States is dependent upon global conditions of supply and demand, “even if we produce enough to cover our consumption.”

Reuters previously looked at how energy independence can be defined or measured as well as how domestic energy prices are affected by what happens in other countries (here).

Fell also pointed to another element: financial discipline in the oil and gas sector. “We don’t have a national oil company in the U.S. so the federal government is somewhat limited in its ability to incentivize more domestic production.”


Misleading. This meme ignores the complexities of calculating how long crude oil reserves in the Permian Basin could supply U.S. consumers. The meme also does not factor in the economics of extracting the oil, and the external market factors that would prevent this being a “quick fix” solution.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .