There are more than 900,000 active oil and gas wells in the United States, and more than 130,000 have been drilled since 2010, according to Drillinginfo, a company that provides data and analysis to the drilling industry.

We’re familiar with oil-rich regions of Texas, but technological advances and new pipeline infrastructure have brought the ability to extract these resources to new parts of the country, injecting billions of dollars into local economies and spurring a modern-day gold rush.

Drilling for black gold in the Permian Basin

Many oil basins, the deep geologic formations that hold resources, have started to decline in production.

But some, like the ever-reliable Gulf of Mexico and the Permian Basin in western Texas and eastern New Mexico, show no signs of slowing down.

Oil production by geologic region

(millions of barrels per day)

Gulf of Mexico

Permian

Eagle Ford

2

2

2

1

1

1

0

0

0

Bakken

Alaska

Niobrara

2

2

2

1

1

1

0

Utica

Marcellus

Haynesville

1

1

1

0

0

0

Oil production by geologic region

(millions of barrels per day)

Gulf of

Mexico

Eagle

Ford

Permian

Bakken

Alaska

Niobrara

Utica

Haynesville

Marcellus

2

1

0

Oil production by geologic region

(millions of barrels per day)

Permian

Gulf of Mexico

Eagle Ford

Bakken

Alaska

Niobrara

Utica

Haynesville

Marcellus

2

1

0

The Permian has produced oil since the 1920s. Companies hit production peak in the 1970s, when they drilled vertically into reservoirs and the natural pressure immediately caused the oil to flow. Over the next 30 years, production declined throughout the United States.

Recently, companies have doubled down on the Permian, using a combination of sophisticated hydraulic fracturing and new horizontal drilling techniques to unlock massive untapped oil and gas resources sitting in layers of shale rock. This is commonly known as fracking.

Well date

2000 to

2010

After

2010

Prior to

2000

NEW

MEXICO

TEXAS

Lubbock

Roswell

Andrews

Carlsbad

Detail

below

Big Spring

Midland

Odessa

Pecos

San Angelo

Fort Stockton

Sonora

TEXAS

Rio

Grande

U.S.

Del Rio

50 MILES

MEX.

NEW

MEXICO

TEXAS

Lubbock

Roswell

Post

Hobbs

Snyder

Abilene

Carlsbad

Andrews

Detail

below

Big Spring

Midland

Odessa

San Angelo

Pecos

Fort Stockton

Ozona

Sonora

Alpine

TEXAS

Rio

Grande

U.S.

Del Rio

50 MILES

MEXICO

NEW

MEXICO

TEXAS

Lubbock

Roswell

Post

Artesia

Hobbs

Snyder

Abilene

Carlsbad

Andrews

Detail

below

Big Spring

Midland

Odessa

San Angelo

Pecos

Fort Stockton

Ozona

Sonora

Junction

Alpine

TEXAS

Rio

Grande

U.S.

Del Rio

MEXICO

50 MILES

In places like Andrews, Tex., within the Permian geologic formation — already in the middle of oil country — thousands of new wells were drilled in the last 10 years. The population in Andrews County has increased by more than 30 percent since 2005. Similar booms have occurred in other areas as well.

Oil and gas wells near Andrews, Tex. (USDA Farm Service Agency and Google Imagery)

A boom in natural gas in the Marcellus region

Natural gas production in the United States was traditionally a byproduct of oil production. Sometimes it was put into pipelines, but often it was simply flared, or burned off.

Most exploration companies searched for a porous and permeable rock called a “trap” that held oil and gas.

That changed in 2002.

In the Barnett shale, near Dallas, Mitchell Energy introduced a new method: drill horizontally into shale formations and shoot gas and liquid solutions into the rocks at high pressure, creating fractures that would unlock oil and gas that would flow into the drilling pipe.

Natural gas production by

geologic region

(trillions of cubic feet per year)

Alaska

Permian

Marcellus

20

20

20

10

0

0

0

Haynesville

Eagle Ford

Niobrara

20

20

20

10

0

0

0

Gulf of Mexico

Utica

Bakken

10

10

0

0

0

Natural gas production by geologic region

(trillions of cubic feet per year)

Eagle

Ford

Gulf of

Mexico

Marcellus

Alaska

Permian

Utica

Bakken

Haynesville

Niobrara

20

10

0

Natural gas production by geologic region

(trillions of cubic feet per year)

Haynesville

Eagle Ford

Niobrara

Alaska

Permian

Utica

Gulf of Mexico

Bakken

Marcellus

20

10

0

Fracking is what has driven the boom in the gas-rich Marcellus shale region, which stretches southwest from Lake Erie to West Virginia and Kentucky.

Fracking brought the ability to extract gas more efficiently, and subsequently, production picked up in 2010, ending years of minimal output.

For companies, about half of the gas a well produces comes within the first few years, and they must continually drill new wells to maintain production. Since 2010, there have been thousands of new wells drilled and hundreds of miles of pipelines installed in the region.

Well date

2000 to

2010

After

2010

Prior to

2000

Buffalo

CANADA

N.Y.

Erie

L. Erie

Detail below

Cleveland

PA.

Pittsburgh

OHIO

MD.

Columbus

Clarksburg

Athens

W. VA.

VA.

Charleston

KY.

NORTH

Pikeville

Richlands

50 MILES

Binghamton

Buffalo

Elmira

CANADA

NEW YORK

Scranton

NORTH

Erie

Lake Erie

Detail

below

State College

PENNSYLVANIA

Cleveland

Youngstown

Canton

Pittsburgh

MD.

Wheeling

OHIO

D.C.

Morgantown

Columbus

Clarksburg

Athens

WEST VIRGINIA

VIRGINIA

Charleston

Beckley

Roanoke

KENTUCKY

Pikeville

Irvine

Richlands

50 MILES

Binghamton

Buffalo

CANADA

Elmira

NEW YORK

Scranton

NORTH

Erie

Williamsport

Lake Erie

Detail

below

State College

Cleveland

PENNSYLVANIA

Youngstown

Akron

Johnstown

Pittsburgh

Canton

MD.

Cumberland

OHIO

Wheeling

D.C.

Morgantown

Zanesville

Columbus

Clarksburg

Parkersburg

Athens

WEST VIRGINIA

VIRGINIA

Portsmouth

Charleston

Huntington

Beckley

KENTUCKY

Roanoke

Mount Sterling

Pikeville

Wytheville

Irvine

Richlands

50 MILES

Hazard

The areas near the Allegheny National Forest in Forest County, Pa., experienced dramatic increases in the number of wells and an influx of economic activity from the drilling boom in the Marcellus shale.

Gas wells in Forest County, Pa. (USDA Farm Service Agency and Google Imagery)

The gas boom in Pennsylvania at the beginning of 2009 accounted for more than 23,000 new jobs and added $1.9 billion to the state economy.

Most of the income from natural gas royalties and leases went to mineral rights owners, a small proportion of the population, which can contribute to rising income inequality in the region.

Are vast reserves waiting to be drilled on federal lands?

A hallmark of President Trump’s “ America First Energy Plan” is the idea that federal lands contain oil and gas resources that should be harnessed.

The federal government owns about 28 percent of all land nationwide, most of which is out west. Four agencies — the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management in the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service — are responsible for 95 percent of federal lands.

Federal lands

Federal land ownership is heavily concentrated in 12 western states:

Federal lands

Percent federally owned

Wash.

29%

Mont.

29%

Ore.

53%

Idaho

Wyo.

62%

48%

Nev.

Federal land ownership is

heavily concentrated in

12 western states

85%

Utah

Colo.

65%

Calif.

36%

46%

Ariz.

N.M.

39%

35%

Alaska

62%

The U.S. Geological Survey assesses the amount of resources within oil and gas formations.

These vast reserves stretch from the Northern Plains to the Gulf Coast to the Appalachian Mountains. Some areas, like the Permian Basin in western Texas and the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, sit atop several stacked geologic formations rich in resources.

Oil assessments

less

more

Natural gas assessments

less

more

Oil assessments

Natural gas assessments

less

more

less

more

Oil assessments

Natural gas assessments

less

more

less

more

There isn’t much overlap in lands the government owns and the oil- and gas-rich geologic formations. The Bureau of Land Management, which holds about 247 million acres of land in the West, might be the most likely federal entity to allow more access for drilling. This is because the agency already leases some of it for oil and gas exploration.   

Oil on federal land

less

more

Natural gas on federal land

less

more

Oil on federal land

Natural gas on federal land

less

more

less

more

Oil on federal land

Natural gas on federal land

less

more

less

more

Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes

of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana

Allegheny National

Forest

Black Hills

National Forest

Fort Berthold Reservation

Mostly BLM

Osage Tribe,

Oklahoma

Tribal lands,

BLM land and

National Forests

BLM, Southern Ute Reservation,

Carson National Forest and

Jicarilla Apache Reservation

Monongahela

National Forest

Lower Rio Grande Valley

National Wildlife Refuge

 The oil and gas industry has a history of finding ways to extract oil from the ground, said Mark Nibbelink, co-founder and director of university outreach at DrillingInfo.

“Given that the USGS just attributed another 20 billion barrels to the Permian Basin, and up until 2002-03 — when exploration in the Barnett shale started — no one thought that shales could produce gas (much less oil),” he said, “I have no doubt that there’s a lot of oil remaining to be discovered and produced on public and private lands.”

While drilling is allowed in some cases on federal lands, there is minimal oil and gas production, most of which comes from areas in New Mexico and Wyoming.

But in federal waters, such as the Gulf of Mexico, oil and gas production has long been robust. However, the rise of fracking has made drilling for natural gas cheaper on land than in the water. Since 2003, natural gas production in the gulf has declined more than 70 percent.

Production on federal and

Indian lands

Oil

(millions of barrels per year)

600

Gulf of Mexico

500

400

300

200

North

Dakota

New

Mexico

Wyo.

Other

100

0

Natural gas

(billion cubic feet per year)

4,000

Gulf of

Mexico

3,000

2,000

Wyo.

New

Mexico

1,000

Other

Colo.

0

Production on federal and Indian lands

Oil

(millions of barrels per year)

Natural gas

(billion cubic feet per year)

600

4,000

Gulf of Mexico

500

Gulf of

Mexico

3,000

400

300

2,000

Wyoming

New

Mexico

200

1,000

North

Dakota

New

Mexico

Other

Other

Colo.

100

Wyo.

0

0

Production on federal and Indian lands

Oil

Natural gas

(millions of barrels per year)

(billion cubic feet per year)

600

4,000

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico

500

3,000

400

300

2,000

Wyoming

New

Mexico

200

1,000

Other

New

Mexico

North

Dakota

Other

Colorado

100

Wyoming

0

0

The offshore federal waters are divided into 26 planning areas.

Companies bid on leases that give them the rights to produce oil and gas. Currently, there are active leases in the Gulf of Mexico, off the southern California coast, and in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, north of Alaska. In the next five years, new leases will be sold only in the gulf and in Cook Inlet in Alaska.

As part of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, Congress restricted leasing in the majority of the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico until 2022.  

In 2016, President Barack Obama restricted drilling in the Atlantic Canyon areas off the outer continental shelf that stretches from Norfolk, Va., to the Gulf of Maine, as well as most of the areas north of Alaska in the Arctic Ocean. Viewing the offshore waters from a lens of recoverable resources, the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic hold the most potential for undiscovered oil and gas. Drilling off the coast of Alaska, however, has its own challenges — namely the short drilling season and frozen waters during the winter.

Status of offshore areas

Outer continental shelf planning areas

Potential leasing

areas 2017 to 2022

Areas withdrawn

Chukchi Sea

Beaufort

Sea

ALASKA

500 MILES

Cook Inlet

PACIFIC

ATLANTIC

GULF OF

MEXICO

500 MILES

Note: As of Feb. 9, 2017

Mean undiscovered technically

recoverable resources

 

Alaska

26.61

Pacific

Atlantic

10.2

4.59

Oil

Gulf of Mexico

48.46

in billions of barrels

Alaska

131.45

Atlantic

38.17

Natural

gas

Pacific

16.1

Gulf of Mexico

141.76

in trillions of cubic feet

Status of offshore areas

President Barack Obama ordered the closure of the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea areas and its estimated 24 billion barrels of oil from future leasing.

Chukchi Sea

Beaufort

Sea

ALASKA

Potential leasing

areas 2017 to 2022

Areas withdrawn

Cook Inlet

Outer continental shelf

planning areas

Note: As of Feb. 9, 2017

A moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico through 2022.

PACIFIC

ATLANTIC

1000 MILES

GULF OF MEXICO

Mean undiscovered technically recoverable resources

 

Alaska

Alaska

131.45

26.61

Pacific

Atlantic

Atlantic

Natural

gas

10.2

4.59

38.17

Oil

Pacific

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico

16.1

141.76

48.46

in billions of barrels

in trillions of cubic feet

Status of offshore areas

Chukchi

Sea

President Barack Obama ordered the closure of the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea areas and its estimated 24 billion barrels of oil from future leasing.

Beaufort

Sea

Norton Basin

North Aleutian

Basin

ALASKA

Mean undiscovered technically recoverable resources

 

Atlantic

Alaska

Alaska

131.45

4.59

26.61

Cook Inlet

Pacific

10.2

Atlantic

Natural

gas

Oil

38.17

Pacific

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico

16.1

141.76

48.46

Northeast Canyons

and Seamounts

Marine Nat’l Mon.

in billions of barrels

in trillions of cubic feet

PACIFIC

Potential leasing

areas 2017 to 2022

Areas withdrawn

Atlantic

Canyon

Outer continental shelf

planning areas

A moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico through 2022.

Note: As of Feb. 9, 2017

ATLANTIC

GULF OF MEXICO

500 MILES

Because of its proximity to the oil- and gas-rich fields of Texas as well as the plentiful offshore resources, much of the United States’ oil infrastructure exists along the western part of the gulf.

Refineries, crude oil terminals and natural gas processing plants dot the coastline along Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Oil companies bid on offshore leases offered by the federal government and ship their products via pipelines to the mainland, where they are refined or processed.

Well date

2000 to

2010

After

2010

Prior to

2000

MISS.

LOUISIANA

Baton Rouge

Biloxi

Lafayette

New Orleans

Offshore

platforms

Pipelines

GULF OF MEXICO

50 MILES

TEXAS

MISS.

LOUISIANA

Baton Rouge

Biloxi

Gulfport

Slidell

Lafayette

Lake Charles

New Orleans

Port Arthur

Location of

Deepwater

Horizon rig

in 2010

Offshore

platforms

GULF OF MEXICO

Pipelines

50 MILES

TEXAS

LOUISIANA

MISS.

Baton Rouge

Biloxi

Gulfport

Slidell

Lafayette

Lake Charles

Beaumont

New Orleans

Port Arthur

Location of

Deepwater

Horizon rig

in 2010

Offshore

platforms

GULF OF MEXICO

Pipelines

50 MILES

Visible from space

The petroleum industry employs more than 2.5 million American workers and tangentially affects millions more.

The industry is so large, its footprint can be seen from space with the help of NASA’s VIIRS satellite imagery. By isolating the wavelengths of natural gas flares, NOAA scientists identified areas where drilling rigs were burning excess gas

Occasionally, gas might be flared during the production of oil and gas because the area lacks adequate infrastructure to capture the gas.

This paints a picture of the world ablaze with light from oil and gas fields.

Natural gas flares detected

between 2012 and 2015

Marcellus

Alaska

Bakken

Eagle

Ford

Permian

Nighttime lights

Natural gas flares detected

between 2012 and 2015

Marcellus

Bakken

Alaska

Western Canada

sedimentary basin

Gulf of Mexico

Permian

Eagle Ford

Nighttime lights from urban areas

Natural gas flares detected

between 2012 and 2015

Marcellus

Alaska

Bakken

Western Canada

sedimentary basin

Gulf of Mexico

Permian

Eagle Ford

Nighttime lights from urban areas

Natural gas flares detected

between 2012 and 2015

Marcellus

Alaska

Bakken

Western Canada

sedimentary basin

Gulf of Mexico

Permian

Eagle Ford

Nighttime lights from urban areas

Natural gas flares detected

between 2012 and 2015

Marcellus

Alaska

Bakken

Western Canada

sedimentary basin

Gulf of Mexico

Permian

Eagle Ford

Nighttime lights from urban areas

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