Sunday, October 26, 2008

Technosanity #14: Petroleum & Peak Oil 101

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Petroleum 101

Mr. Ken Verosub, Geology Professor, University of California, Davis


Specialist in paleomagnetism of sediments, the history of the geomagnetic field. He presents an introductory lecture in Petroleum Geology giving an overview of how geology & biology came together to create the gift of oil.

For the planet to create oil requires that a quantity of dead sea organisms get trapped beneath a sandy "reservoir rock" by a solid "cap rock". The decay of those sea organisms becomes oil. It takes special conditions to do this and geologists have pretty much mapped out the planet for these resources.

A salt dome is one common trap for oil to form in. And it's the easiest to find. Salt domes produce localized gravity or magnetic deviations and in some cases you can simply fly over them and see them.

Generally geologists study the subsurface conditions using "Reflector Seismology". The modern technique uses a 'thumper truck' which bang the ground real hard, and then "geophones" are used to pick up reflected sound. The pattern of reflections tells them a lot about subsurface conditions. A similar method is used at sea, with a ship towing geophones through the water.

They're able to gather 2-D and 3-D pictures of subsurface conditions which make for interesting maps of what had previously been mountain ranges, coastal planes, ocean floors, etc.

The history of an individual well is a play in three acts. Act one is the initial discovery, drilling, and development of the oil field. Act 2 is a long plateau of extracting oil. Act three is a diminishment with an inevitable decline in oil extraction.

The model behind peak oil comes from taking the production curves of a group of oil fields .. and summing them together. For example take all the fields in a given region or country, sum their production curves, and it comes close to a bell curve. M. King Hubbert put this model together.

Hubbert's prediction for U.S. oil production was made in 1956. He had the distinction of being very close to the actual results.

Discoveries lead production. Because it takes 10 or more years to develop an oil field into production, the rate of discoveries is a predictor for future oil availability. The rate of oil discoveries peaked in the early 1960's and new oil field discoveries has been in a decline ever since. If there are little or no new oil field discoveries then ultimately oil production has to decline as the existing fields peter out.

Newt Gingrich's "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" plan is shown as an example of poppycock solutions being pushed.

Finding or getting to the new oil is not easy or cheap. Offshore oil rigs cost over $1 billion apiece.

Finding big fields is unlikely. Oil company geologists have been all over the planet and their continual quest for new oil still hasn't reversed the decline in oil discoveries.

Even if new fields were to be drilled it takes 10-20 or more years to bring a field online. If we enter a decline in oil production soon, then new fields will only help in 2020 or further into the future.

The U.S. has 20 billion bbl of oil reserves. Total U.S. daily consumption in 2005 was 20.7 million per day, and we import 11.7 per day. That's approx 7 years of supply.

Major crisis due in 2015ish perhaps. 2008+7=2015. The U.S. oil production is going to be declining and the ratio of imports to usage will simply be ever-increasing. As the ratio becomes higher it makes the U.S. economy weaker and weaker, and the U.S. ever more desparate for oil.

But this guys presentation is only one set of figures. The USGS and others have different projections of future oil. They're claiming a peak further out into the future than ASPO projections say.

Another aspect is it isn't just a U.S. problem. Other countries are in on this. In particular the former-3rd-world countries which are industrializing mainly China and India are increasing their ratio of energy use. Globalization of production makes for higher transportation costs, and higher fuel usage. From that viewpoint also, in about 7 years demand for oil will exceed maximum total oil production.

What happens then?

Technosanity #14: Petroleum & Peak Oil 101

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