Analysis: Flow of oil assured?
By Andrea R. Mihailescu
Some industry experts argue new technologies can maximize oil usage with the discovery of more oil fields and extract more oil from current and future fields, while others debate the feasibility of technology saving "peak oil."
The United States, the world's largest oil and gas importer, produces some 8 percent of the world's oil, but consumes some 25 percent, of which it imports nearly 60 percent from foreign nations, according to studies. That figure is expected to continue to climb from some 25 million barrels per day in 2005 to nearly 33 million bpd in 2025, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., is expected to testify as a lead witness Wednesday at a congressional hearing to address the inevitable challenges of peak oil.
Some half of the world's oil will be consumed in the next 10 to 30 years, after which reserves will begin to dwindle.
Bartlett said in a statement there is an "urgency of the U.S. government responding to the threats to the U.S. economy and national security posed by global peak oil."
"It's unlikely that new technology will find larger oil fields," Bartlett told United Press International in a telephone interview.
Oil is a finite commodity. "There's only so much you can get," Bartlett added. "In the grand scheme of things, new discoveries aren't going to matter that much."
A number of industry experts have expressed their views that oil has reached its peak.
President George W. Bush's former energy adviser, Matt Simmons, is one of those experts. He has also been arguing that Saudi Arabia overstated its oil reserves for years and its major oil fields are shrinking.
It seems that industry experts are unable to come to consensus on this debate.
As the debate over peak oil mounts, some experts believe technology has the potential to discover more oil and to increase recovery factors, while others continue to argue that not much more oil remains to be discovered.
Manouchehr Takin, senior petroleum upstream analyst at the Centre for Global Energy Studies, has examined the role of technology in discovering and extracting more oil in a forthcoming CGES study.
The first school of thought asserts technological improvements will continue to result in significant reductions to the cost of exploration and production operations. Cost reduction allows exploration operations in areas that are currently considered too expensive and also allows the development of fields that are currently considered to be not economically viable.
The second school of thought argues the impact of technology in the past has been partly exaggerated because in most cases the claimed increase in recovery factors is due to the official estimate of reserves announced at the state of the field's life. Higher reserve figures are gradually released on selected occasions during the life of a field. Thus, the increase in a field's reserves should not be taken as the contribution of technology.
While both groups have reasonable arguments to support their views, the topic has sparked lively discussion for a number in the industry. Some of the discussion has also descended into pure rhetoric.
Takin argues an impartial view would find the arguments of the first group to be more convincing.
While examining the history of the oil industry, technological improvements have made a great contribution to more oil discoveries around the globe and to recovering more oil from the subsurface.
For those who are not directly involved in the daily technical operations of the oil industry, the impact has not been properly presented, Takin explains.
Although Daniel Yergin's best-selling book, "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power," provides a comprehensive account of the oil industry from the discovery of oil to the present, the subtitle of the book suggests the quest for oil has been more of an "epic quest for money and power." Bold decision-making, power, and politics also played into Yergin's oil story.
Thousands, if not millions, of improvements in equipment led to advancements in exploration, development and production operations. Technology has also led to the growth in supplies of other non-conventional hydrocarbons, such as the growth of Canada's oil tar sand production and other fossil fuels. Technology continues to advance and is not expected to reach maturity any time soon, but oil's peak is ultimately inevitable. Unbelievable technical achievements led the world to have a "century of oil."
But is that century now over?
Oil, like other fossil fuels, is a finite commodity and will eventually run out. When oil does run out will be determined by the efficient technologies companies use in extracting fossil fuels, policymakers encouraging conservation, and by consumers who choose to conserve or consume more than they need.
Oil companies are currently searching for low-cost, low-risk prospects in known basins. This will begin to change sooner or later as more prospectivity will grow in unstable parts of the world or other issues come into play. Since technology alone cannot supply more oil, the global oil industry will face a number of challenges in securing more supplies.
As long as the United States and others continues to diversify supplies wisely, they will ameliorate the effects of peak oil, when it will peak, if it has not peaked already.
Since oil companies are mostly driven by profits, they will have no choice but to find alternative ways of making profits when oil begins to run out.
Chevron launched a commercial, which acknowledges experts' arguments that the world already consumed about half the world's available oil. BP has been moving "beyond petroleum" since the 1970s with a number of solar projects in Asia.
Technology application in securing more oil production will still depend on finance, bold decision-making, power and politics. But diversifying supply will be key to assuring that increasing demand will be met, as oil companies are just beginning to actively seek alternative sources to meet increasing energy demands around the globe.