Sunday, November 25, 2007

Peak Oil: Meet the TAO of Oil by Leonardo Maugeri

Only around 2,000 new field wildcats (wells made for exploring the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsoil) have been drilled in the entire Persian Gulf region since the inception of its oil activity, as against more than 1 million in the United States. TAO

Leonardo Maugeri's 2006 book, "The Age of Oil (TAO)," is an indispensable look at the past, present, and future of the role of petroleum. Written in two parts, TAO first looks at the human history of oil along with current events of oil. The second and final section of TAO looks at the question of whether the world is at or near "peak oil."
In April 1977, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) delivered a highly influential report stating that the growth of world oil demand would soon outpace production because of constraints on OPEC potential and the impending peak of Soviet Production. By the 1980s, the report argued, oil would be scarce and very expensive....
Maugeri points to three categories of reserves used when referring to future oil reserves.

  • Proven Reserves---defined as the amount of oil and gas in place in known reservoirs that can be estimated with "reasonable certainty" to be commercially recoverable under current economic conditions....profitable recovery of at least 90 percent.
  • Probable Reserves---the probability of profitable recovery falls to 50 percent
  • Possible Reserves---profitable probability of recovery no less than 10 percent.
Maugeri points out that:
During the last 25 years more than 70% of exploration has taken place in the United States and Canada, mature areas that probably hold only 3% of the world's reserves of crude. The Middle East, on the other hand, has been the scene of only 3% of global exploration, even though it harbors 70% of the earth's reserves. In the Persian Gulf, holding 65% of the region's reserves, fewer than 100 exploration wells were drilled between 1995 and 2004. During the same period, 15,700 such wells were drilled in the U.S. Forbes

Future advances in the technologies of production, and refinement--as well as improved efficiencies of utilisation--have the potential to move reserves from the "possible" and "probable" categories up to the "proven reserves" classification. Future advances in discovery technology have the potential to expand all reserves significantly.

A recent declaration by the International Energy Agency that world petroleum production had peaked in 2006--had passed "peak oil"--was based on an analysis of world petroleum production, without considering either world petroleum reserves or seriously considering the many reasons why world petroleum production might peak from time to time without signaling any type of "peak oil." (Like the IPCC, the part of the IEA that produces reports touching on politics, eg "peak oil," may well have been infiltrated by bureaucrats and contributors with a fixed agenda.)

Maugeri concludes his book with a look at "resource nationalism," the gloomy reality that most of the world's known conventional petroleum resources exist in territories controlled by dictators and autocrats--Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, etc. For this reason, oil prices are likely to remain quite high--unless market forces arising from new discoveries and production outside the autocratic zone force the dictators of oil to compete once again.

Remember, nationalised resources do not tend to attract the latest technology in discovery, production, and refinement. That means that a lot of resources remain in the ground.
Despite its long history as an oil producing region, the Persian Gulf is still relatively virgin in terms of exploration. Only around 2,000 new field wildcas (wells made for exploring the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsoil) have been drilled in the entire Persian Gulf region since the inception of its oil activity, as against more than 1 million in the United States. p. 221 TAO

More from Maugeri at National Geographic, Forbes, and Foreign Affairs.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Uranium from Seawater--Peak Uranium Most Unlikely for next 5,000 Years!

Brian Wang posted a promising look at the prospects of mining uranium oxide from seawater. How much uranium is in seawater compared to expected uranium reserves on land?
It is estimated that there is 4.7 million tonnes of uranium ore reserves (economically mineable) known to exist, while 35 million tonnes are classed as mineral resources (reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction).[32] An additional 4.6 billion tonnes of uranium are estimated to be in sea water (Japanese scientists in the 1980s proved that extraction of uranium from sea water using ion exchangers was feasible).[33][34]

Brian estimates that the value of uranium in seawater at today's prices may approach US $720 trillion!

Uranium oxide would be retrieved from seawater with irradiated polymer (eg polyethylene) woven into netting, and moored in seawater for app. 60 days to absorb uranium. The netting would be retrieved, the uranium would be removed from the netting, the netting replaced in the sea, with the polymer absorbent re-used multiple times similar to fish nets.

Methods for improved harvesting of uranium from seawater suggested by Brian:
1. Functionalize an algae bloom to concentrate Uranium
See the work of Matt Francis at Berkeley for functionalizing virus shells and microbes for anti-cancer or for solar power. Many others are trying to engineer microbes using synthetic biology.

The goal would be to increase the concentration of Uranium from 3 parts per billion to 300 parts per million. The higher concentration allows regular methods of Uranium mining to take over. It is an increase of 100,000 times....

2. Nanomembrane Filtering
Nanomembrane filtering is starting to be used for desalinization of water at 100,000 gallons per day using a 6 inch diameter membrane.
If one could filter 1 billion gallons per day then there would be $1.92 million/day worth of Uranium. (3 mg per ton of water. 1 billion gallons is 4 million tons. 12,000 kg of Uranium in 1 billion gallons) Ten thousand of the 6 inch diameter nanomembrane enabled filtration pipes would be needed.
Advanced Nanotechnology

Here is an abstract from one of the most active Japanese research groups:
The total amount of uranium dissolved in seawater at a uniform concentration of 3 mg U/m3 in the world's oceans is 4.5 billion tons. An adsorption method using polymeric adsorbents capable of specifically recovering uranium from seawater is reported to be economically feasible. A uranium-specific nonwoven fabric was used as the adsorbent packed in an adsorption cage 16 m2 in cross-sectional area and 16 cm in height. We submerged three adsorption cages in the Pacific Ocean at a depth of 20 m at 7 km offshore of Japan. The three adsorption cages consisted of stacks of 52 000 sheets of the uranium-specific non-woven fabric with a total mass of 350 kg. The total amount of uranium recovered by the nonwoven fabric was >1 kg in terms of yellow cake during a total submersion time of 240 days in the ocean.

More here.

Seawater contains many thousands of years worth of uranium at current usage. No one actually believes that human civilisation will still be based upon nuclear fission and fossil fuels one thousand years from now. Fossil fuels will still be around then, but will be considered too dirty, expensive, and valuable to burn for fuel. Nuclear fission will still be around if needed--certainly there is plenty of uranium and thorium--and may be used in particular applications where the fuel available makes clean fission more practical.

Most tech forecasters expect nuclear fusion to be widely available for large scale power generation within the next one thousand years--if not the next one hundred years. We will not need but a fraction of the available uranium and thorium over the long run.

Of course, that prediction is based upon the continuation of western civilisation--or perhaps other successor civilisations just as friendly to scientific/technological research and personal/economic freedoms currently guaranteed by the west. A surrender to reactionary religious fanatics or ideologues (luddites) would introduce a significant element of pessimism into the forecast.

Recent pessimistic "peak oil" pronouncements have been taken far too seriously by the many uninformed persons who attempt to follow trends. A recent declaration that peak oil occurred in 2006, was particularly ludicrous--since it was based upon selective production figures without taking into account reserves or various factors that could influence their production data. Too much peak oil "research"--like much of climate change research--is infested by ideologues who assume the result and carefully craft data to fit that result.

The important thing is to understand that it is resource prices--and how society reacts to price changes--that matter in the long run. It is natural for modern societies to begin to move from more expensive (particularly if dirtier like fossil fuels) to more economical and sustainable technologies. That is basic economics and will occur over time regardless of any "Kyoto" or other treaties or regulatory schemes.

For those of us interested in the next level, the singularity, or just a very promising future, it is always important to watch important trends, while always looking a little farther ahead.
Previously published at Al Fin.

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