[[ Check out my Wordpress blog Context/Earth for environmental and energy topics tied together in a semantic web framework ]]

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Dark Side of the Moon

From the Billmon thread, the commenter ~DS~ has a host of enteresting observations:
Interesting thread. Some points to ponder: About 80 % plus of global oil comes from less than two dozen large fields.
Oil in most major fields sits on top of water in sandy formations. When a well is established, one of the first tasks of the resovior engineers and managers is to determine the max production rate which will not over pull the well.

Over pulling happens when you basically pump too hard and suck water through the oil/sand. Once this happens, that well is ruined, and if done in just a few wells in a large field, the entire reservior can be compromised, forever, or at least on human time scales.
Understand this; the field will never give the performance it was capable of once it's been over pulled.

Note-the two main fields in Iraq, Rumulia and Kirkuk appear to have been ravaged in this manner. Saddam, likely esperate for cash, short of expertise and hardware, over pulled those fields and now they're essentially ruined. They can still produce some oil, but they will never produce the quantity promised by the Bush admin to pay for the invasion and reconstruction.
(You'd think an ex CEO of Haliburton and a multi-generational millionaire power family that ran Dresser Industry's would know that huh? And of course, they did, they simply lied about Iraqi oil producing capacity.)

The largest field in operation is Ghawar. It produces about 6% of world oil production. I believe the next largest is Awaz in Iran.
Both fields are being poorly managed. Partly because terrorist concderns have chased out much of the western expertise required for proper management.
My understanding is the 'water cut' in Ghawar is 30%, meaning 30% of the fluid coming up is water.

This is a bad sign, it means the field is watering out and could be over pulled already.
Ghawer is already pretty old. It will likely cease significant production within a decade. Same for Awaz, that's almost 10 % of global production. We currently have only a 3 % slack built in. Loosing 10 % would leave a deficit of 7 % which could be catastrophic. Although this would happen over a period of several years, so there might be time to bring other smaller fields online.

Now on top of watering out and [erhaps being over pulled already, the Saudi's plan to increase production to help Bush out. They will do this by...over pulling existing wells.
BAD idea.

This will result in a short term production increase and reduce price pressure, short term meaning over the next 6 months ... but down the road, it means major shortfalls and an earlier end to the largest most productive oil fields on earth.
It also means that at some point down the road, a large oil infrastructure production contractor will have to come in and try to salvage the field.

Combine this with the fact that global production is growing more slowly than consumption, and that these two lines will cross in the next ~10 years, and you have a recipe for absolute disaster.
Worse than the 70's.
The uniformed will tell you we have 4 trillion barrels of proven reserves in the Oronico Belt. And they'd be right, except that most of that reserve is road tar to viscuos to pump up a pipe and too deep to mine. It can produce at most 250,000 bbl/day.


In the long view, most petro-geologist feel oil will essentially run out in about 30-50 years or so. The timeline is highly logged to the industrial growth rates of China and India. As an example of how hard it is to extrapolate those rates, during SARS scare, Chinese gasoline consumption went up noticibly, because those who could afford cars bought them to avoid riding public transportation fearing infection.

Production in a field peaks when that field is about half emptied. That seems to already be happening, or near happening, in most major fields. It is estimated that global oil production will peak around 2020. And this assumes some kind of half decent resovior management. See my previous post.

If accurate, from 2020 on, global oil production will fall no. The consequences of this will be apocolyptic if measures are not taken now. A number of things could stave this off.
First, we could learn how to recover extremely viscous oil reserves such as the four trillion barrels in the Orinico Tar Belt. But we're talking about finding a way to move road tar up a thin pipe for miles. Current recovery techniques would produce perhaps 250,000 b/d.
Secondly, we could utilize more natural gas. NG is about 100 times as common as oil. It has a much larger temp/pressure window for formation, and we have a great deal of it in the Americas. We could conserve in a number of ways, mostly with more gas efficient cars in the US and western Europe. Our love affair with SUV's will likely be viewed with resentment in a few decades.
And of course there are alternative fuels, but there are no alternative even on the horizin. Just to give oyu an idea, to replace the portion of our power grid which uses fuel oil with nuclear plants would cost something like 10 trillion dollars. That's our entire GDP in this country for one year. It might take 40 years, and it might take 10 million workers.
Solar cells and fuel cells produce toxic by products in their manufacture. Hazardous waste which must be desposed of down injection wells. It would cost billions just to construct and maintian the injection wells to get rid of the waste from mass solar cell and mass fuel cell production.
Posted by: ~DS~ at June 4, 2004 12:45 PM

and in repsonse to my comment :
~DS~ you certainly describe with a good eye for detail.
This oil situation is actually a problem that a rational person can make headway with by just understanding the numbers. Howver, the problem that most people have with the numbers, is that they are beyond their reach. For example, how much does the world consume daily? About 80 million barrels. This is meaningless unless put into some context. This is like filling up a 1000 acre lake with several feet of water per day. True, this won't cause the world to spin off its axis, but it is a lot. Visualize, world-wide production draining this lake every day and perhaps transporting it halfway across the world. Kind of mind-boggling.

George Monbiot had an interesting article where he quoted industry excitement over the largest North Sea oil find in several years. Monbiot rightly pointed out that this new find would provide world-wide consumption for a little over 5 days. The peak oil theory is all about working these numbers out.

We worked the numbers out for peak oil in the USA back in the 50's to have it come true in the 70's. We may be seeing a peak in natural gas as the next problem in this country. Following Krugman's lead in understanding economic and other matters, we just have to look at the cold, hard numbers.

The big difference between peak oil and economics, is in the complexity of understanding. Economics gets into human behavior. And apparently theoretical economists hate Peak Oil theory, because it runs smack dab into their assumptions of unlimited supply and (in)elastic demand curves.
Posted by: Webster Hubble Telescope at June 5, 2004 01:41 AM



Agreed, and thank you for your response. Your own eye for detail is quite precise.
re: The North Sea Field due to come on line. It's meaningless to world oil production, at least in the sense that even with it, the UK will still be a net importer of oil.
There's a fellow who does a pretty good job of explaining the bleak oil forecast by the name of Glenn Morton. A search under that name and 'oil' will locate him.
I also agree on how difficult it is to extrapolate such a complex system as out digitl-financial-resource based culture with respect to any one variable.
I think it might be reasonable though that modeling any complex system as metastable, with regions of chaos, is the best for getting on a handle of how unpredictable the future end state of any perturbed system can be, no matter how small of course.

It's a reasonable assumption (I think) to assume a huge perturbation to a complex system, such as I've poorly outlined, would knock it into another metastate or even into fully chaotic behavior quickly.
But we can predict the exact nature of the monster that will be unleashed.
And necessity I think will feel the need as far as oil goes. People won't sit around and forget how to read and write and think, because oil becomes expensive.

It's almost better if this oil crash happens as early as possible in a global industrial culture, before it gets too complex, and thus has much further to 'fall' phase-space wise.
Posted by: ~DS~ at June 5, 2004 11:39 AM

Here is link to an oil crisis article by the Glenn Morton fellow. He seems to be a bit of a rennaisance man, both oil man and biologist, publishing a scientific article called “Random Worms: Evidence of Random and Nonrandom Processes in the Chromosomal Structure of Archaea, Bacteria and Eukaryotes”. Strangely, these articles appear in the journal "Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith". (I usually can't help but checking out credentials and curriculum vitae) Be that as it may, he does have the facts and a reference1 to Hubbert Curves for various nations, something I was just thinking of looking up.
  1. Richard C. Duncan and Walter Youngquist, "Encircling the Peak of World Oil Production, National Resources Research Vo. 8(1999):3:219-232.

added: ~DS~ says the christian science writings of Morton are a part of his anti-creationist viewpoint. Makes perfect sense upon reading his frequent mention of geological times on the order of millions of years.


Professor Blogger DarkSyde said...

TY Webster for your reposting of our discussion.
Note-my thoughts are of course highly speculative.

One correction, I said we can predict the exact nature of the beast that will be unleashed, referring to large perturbations. I meant of course we 'can't' predict ...

6:50 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

Speculation is always welcome.

Amy Goodman quote: "When some public official tells you 'That's ridiculous' after you present an idea, there is bound to be truth within the idea"

9:16 AM  
Professor Blogger DarkSyde said...

FYI-Glenn Morton was at one time a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). After getting a job in the oil biz, he began to notice discrepencies in the data he was reviewing, indicating an ancient earth, he began to question the YEC viewpoint, eventually dropping it and accepting mainstream science.
Glenn now combats Creationism, and that's why you see so much of his work up on evangelical Christian sites.
Effectively combatting creationism requires being profficient in any or all of biology, astronomy, geology, physics, and certain forms of of information theory.

7:20 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

Thanks for the Morton bio info, the original post was annotated. Creationists like the idea that oil is constantly being created in the bowels of the earth. Morton is much more the realist.

5:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

"Like strange bulldogs sniffing each other's butts, you could sense wariness from both sides"