Friday, January 08, 2010

Not So Fast, Peak Oil

Endless Oil
Technology, politics, and lower demand will yield a bumper crop of crude
"Only about 32% of the oil [in reserves] is produced," says Val Brock, Shell's head of business development for enhanced oil recovery. Shell estimates 300 billion barrels and maybe more might be squeezed out of existing fields, much of it once thought beyond retrieval. Peter Jackson, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates' London-based senior director for oil industry activity, has reviewed data from the world's biggest fields. His conclusion: 60% of their reserves remain available.

The fact that there's still oil for the taking is driving Shell and other majors to come up with new technologies, which are expensive to develop but worth it when crude is riding high. While the price has fallen considerably from the peak of $147 per barrel in 2008, it is still far above what many oilmen expected a few years ago. "You will see companies going into the deep water, going into the arctic, using the best technology," says Maugeri, who sees the oil industry as a dynamic system that responds rapidly to changes in the economic and political environment.

Even if the new technologies add just a few percentage points to the recovery rate, such gains add years to global supply and boost the industry's profits. So the technology of coaxing oil out of the ground is constantly improving. Heating up heavy oil, as at Schoonebeek, is one new trick. Companies can add heavy polymers to the water they blast into a production site to push more oil out; the polymers add weight to the water and increase the pressure on deposits. (Shell is trying such technology on the Marmul field in Oman.) Another tactic is to inject soap into the ground to break the surface tension that makes leftover oil cling to the rock.

Simple methods can help mature oil fields produce more and even uncover bigger reserves than imagined. A study of fields in Indonesia by IHS CERA found that it wasn't uncommon for them to produce more than double initial estimates. Petroleum engineers help the fields live longer just by drilling new wells or installing better pumps. "As a field ages, the operators learn more...that allows them to tweak their operations," explains Leta K. Smith, a Houston-based analyst for IHS CERA.

Sharp falls in production can be arrested. Output at Samotlor, Russia's largest field, was plummeting in the late 1990s. The field's owner, TNK-BP, formed in 2003, has since managed to boost production by a third. Adjusting the placement of the pumps in the wells yielded big gains, while three-dimensional seismic technology gave a better glimpse of the oil-bearing structures under the ground. _BusinessWeek

Squeezing more oil out of the ground

PDF Peak Oil Realities PDF

It takes time, work, intelligence, and an open-minded pursuit of truth, to break through the scams and the garbage to the most likely realities beneath. Most people are not equipped. But for those who are, some potential profit plays remain.

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