A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Oil Ad Distorts Supply Count

Q: Is there 60 years worth of oil for 60 million cars in the U.S.?

A: The oil industry claim is mathematically correct, but it accounts for about a quarter of the vehicles on the road in the U.S.


What is really confusing me now is Big Oil and Big Coal company ads. … One says if we can just drill in the out of bounds areas we will have oil for 60 years.


The claim our reader refers to comes from a television spot produced and paid for by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s trade association.

The full quote from the ad is that there is "enough untapped oil in the U.S. to fuel more than 60 million cars for the next 60 years." The statistic is included in a fact sheet put out by API that claims the U.S. has an "estimated 116.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil, enough to produce gasoline for more than 60 million cars and fuel oil for 3.2 million households for 60 years."

But 60 million cars account for only a quarter of all registered vehicles in the U.S. In 2006, according to the Federal Highway Administration, there were 135 million automobiles registered in the country, and adding buses, trucks and other motor vehicles increases that number to 244 million. It’s also worth noting that those other vehicles tend to guzzle even more fuel than cars do. So what the ad makes sound like a 60-year supply would in reality be less than a 15-year supply when all vehicles are taken into account.

–Justin Bank



American Petroleum Institute. "Exploring America’s Energy Future," accessed 23 June 2008.

Bureau of Land Management. "Inventory of Onshore Federal Oil and
Natural Gas Resources and Restrictions to Their Development
," June 2008.

Minerals Management Service. “Oil and Gas Resources in the OCS Areas Unavailable for Leasing and Development,” May 2007.