The oil and gas industry has grown notorious for its booms and busts in the past few decades, but it is experiencing the largest downturn since the 1990s. This is due, in large part, to the record oil production rates around the globe and within the United States, which have increased considerably in recent years due to improved drilling technologies, hydraulic fracking, and tight oil plays in oil-rich states.
The five most oil-rich states in America based on the most recent data available (2013) are:
- Texas (10.5 billion barrels in oil reserves)
- North Dakota (5.7 billion barrels in oil reserves)
- Alaska (2.9 billion barrels in oil reserves)
- California (2.9 billion barrels in oil reserves)
- New Mexico (1.2 billion barrels in oil reserves)
The oil productions in these five states alone created a considerable oversupply of oil, joining the United States with Saudi Arabia and Iran as countries that have seen recent upsurges in oil production – partly attributable to improved technologies and partly to international oil sanctions being lifted.
During this boom, the states with the biggest oil and gas fields enjoyed improvements to the local economy and decreased unemployment rates. These states differ from previously leading states in U.S. oil supply, since new methods of horizontal drilling unlocked fields that had been unavailable. The three biggest oil fields dominating U.S. oil production are:
#3: Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
Drilling for oil in Alaska caused heated debate for years among environmentalists, who voiced concern about the preservation of one of the last pristine wilderness areas on Earth – the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain in North Alaska. The Prudhoe Bay oil field held the Number 1 spot on the list of largest U.S. oil fields since 2009 but slipped behind two Texas oil fields in the wake of recent drilling innovations. The entire Greater Prudhoe Bay Unit had 79 million barrels of oil in its reserves as of 2013.
#2: Spraberry, Texas
This oil well was discovered in 1943, but it didn’t reach its full potential until recent horizontal drilling efforts optimized its oil production, using underground shale. Named the Spraberry Trend, this large oil field covers about 2,500 square miles in Texas and spreads across nine counties. New hydraulic fracturing and flooding methods unlocked the Spraberry oil reserves and catapulted it to Number 2 on the list, with 99 million barrels of reserves in 2013.
#1: Eagleville, Texas
Coming in at Number 1, the Eagleville oil field leads the race by a whopping 139 million barrels in 2013. This oil field lies below the ground of 14 Texas counties just south of San Antonio. The geological layer that produces shale oil and natural gas is known as the Eagle Ford. The full potential of this field was made available at the same time as the Spraberry field, with the advent of horizontal drilling methods.
Oil wasn’t the only industry that boomed in the last few years; natural gas production is up too, because the two are collected the same way. The top three natural gas fields in the U.S. have changed due to hydraulic fracturing, as landmen tap into natural gas reserves that were previously ineffective. In the 2015 EIA report (using information gathered in 2013), these are the top three natural gas fields in America:
#3: B-43 Area, Arkansas
Once again, the tale of drilling in Arkansas was dismal until horizontal drilling came into effect. Gas fields in Arkansas were discovered as early as 1902, and by 2000, the state’s reservoirs were all but depleted. With the Shale Boom, Arkansas reentered the natural gas arena, producing 1,025 billion cubic feet of natural gas production and landing the Number 3 spot on the list.
#2: Newark East, Texas
In 2006, the Newark East field was the largest producing gas field in Texas. The gas from this field is produced using Barnett Shale instead of conventional materials such as sandstone. In the past, Barnett Shale was classified as a tight gas reservoir, since the gas was difficult to extract. Now, however, the shale is successfully permeated with hydraulic fracturing and came in at 1,952 billion cubic feet in 2013.
#1: Marcellus Shale, Pennsylvania and West Virginia
The Marcellus Shale extends throughout much of the Appalachian Basin and is next to the high-demand markets along the East Coast – making it a target for energy development. The Marcellus natural gas trend encompasses 104,000 square miles. It is the largest source of natural gas in the United States now that landmen can access previously trapped gas within shale. It topped the charts with an impressive 2,836 billion cubic feet of production.