Monday, May 19, 2008

If This Is True, Man Am I Going To Be Pissed In 20 Years!

New study points to vast, untapped oil resources
May 19, 2008
TULSA – Broken Arrow energy analyst Rafael Sandrea rolls his eyes when he considers today’s $120 oil futures, much less forecasts of $150 or more.
As energy traders and government leaders fear existing reserves and production may no longer meet rising demand from China, India and other emerging nations, much less the U.S., Sandrea offers a radical reminder – more than 11 trillion barrels of identified light, sweet crude still remain untapped in the ground, ready and waiting.
That’s enough to last more than 400 years at current world oil production levels, said the longtime oil executive – and it comes on top of the all the shale oil, heavier sours and other plentiful reserves of lesser-quality crude scattered around the world.
Instead of allocating more and more exploration and production dollars to tapping new discoveries, where pent-up geological pressure eases getting the crude out of the ground, Sandrea said energy companies should begin employing enhanced oil recovery methods to further drain existing, identified fields.
“In the U.S., two-thirds of the oil is still in the ground,” he said. In Oklahoma, he estimated about 85 percent of the 100 billion discovered barrels remains in the earth.
The University of Tulsa-trained Sandrea draws from more than 30 years of experience in the oil and gas field, having sold his Caracas, Venezuela, company in 2004 to settle in Broken Arrow, launching IPC Petroleum Consultants. Rather than face retirement, he makes his living as a researcher, leading two to three industry workshops each year around the world. These now focus on enhanced oil recovery, or EOR.
This month, he released a study of world oil reserves through the Oil & Gas Journal Research Center, a subsidiary of PennEnergy of Tulsa, that suggests EOR could have a dramatic impact on today’s oil demand. He will present the report next month at the International Energy Agency’s Paris gathering, having made a similar talk earlier this month at a Society of Petroleum Engineers meeting in Houston.
Sandrea said today’s tight energy supplies result in part from relatively flat production levels since 2004. Rising demand across the globe made price pressure inevitable.
“In the 1960s we were discovering 35 billion barrels of oil a year and we were consuming just 11 billion barrels of oil a year,” he said. “Today we are discovering 10 billion a year and, with growing demand in China and India, we consume 26 billion.”
But he does not adhere to the “peak oil” theories now entering into some price calculations and long-term doomsday reports. Instead, he sees today’s market scenario as a simple example where the energy industry no longer finds itself with the production cushion it enjoyed for decades.
“We’ve approached it just from one end until now, finding new reserves instead of extending old ones,” he said.
Since production companies skim the top of those reserves until declining basin pressures make new discoveries more cost-effective, Sandrea said they have effectively tapped only 9 percent of the discovered reserves. He suggested EOR technologies could unlock 70 percent or more of that remaining oil.
Although now at use in about 300 projects around the world, Sandrea said enhanced oil recovery technologies only account for 3 percent of present world production, even though those techniques do not add significantly to production costs at today’s prices. Since EOR usage has come primarily in the U.S., China, Venezuela and Canada, he said its potential for unlocking Middle East, North Sea and other reserves remains quite promising.
“If we can increase that just 1 percent, that’s 100 billion barrels of oil,” Sandrea said of EOR usage. That would equal results from 10 years of new discoveries at the current rate, or four years of world oil production at current levels.
That boost would require capital spending of $200 billion to $400 billion, he said, compared to today’s global exploration and development spending of about $260 billion a year.
His report estimates that EOR could add reserves at a capital expenditure of $2 to $4 per barrel, compared with $4 to $6 for deepwater development, $13 for acquisitions and more than $14 for global finding and development costs.
Sandrea suggested governments adopt more incentives to spur increasing use of EOR techniques.
“Instead of taking windfall profit taxes, the practical thing to do would be to leave that in the industry and incentivize that into EOR,” he said. Such a “shadow tax” would help encourage more enhanced oil methods and return more production to U.S. shores.
The researcher sees his report as providing a supply model for future production planning – one that would help the natural gas industry as much as the oil sector.
“They’re like Siamese twins,” he said of the two industries. “They nurture each other. You can’t look at one without the other.”

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