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How Much Oil Can California Produce? Much Less Than We Thought

Gas is flared from the Monterey Shale formation on March 22, near Buttonwillow, California
Gas is flared from the Monterey Shale formation on March 22, near Buttonwillow, CaliforniaPhotograph by David McNew/Getty Images

Fracking California’s Monterey Shale was always going to be politically difficult. Now it looks as if it’s physically impossible. This week, the Energy Information Agency cut its estimates for the amount of recoverable oil in the Monterey Shale by 96 percent, from 13.7 billion barrels to 600 million.

The key word here is recoverable. Those 13 billion barrels didn’t disappear; it’s just that the EIA has decided that getting to them is a lot harder than it first thought. This is the second time in two years that the EIA has cut its estimate for the amount of oil it thinks can be produced from the Monterrey Shale. In 2012, it cut its forecast from 15.4 billion barrels.