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Petroleum Supplies Through the 1970's—Summary of Department of Interior Symposium: Abstract
The United States Department of the Interior, Office of Oil and Gas, conducted a symposium in Washington on March 9-10, 1967. The title of this symposium was "Assessment of Factors Affecting Future Availability of U. S. Oil and Gas Supplies." Three significant papers were presented bearing directly on oil and gas. These were:
1. "The Effect of Advancing Technology—Geology," by Dean A. McGee.
2. "The Effect of Advancing Technology—Geophysics," by Milton B. Dobrin.
3. "The Possible Role of Some New Drilling and Production Technology in Maximizing Future Productive Capacity of Oil and Gas and Improving Recovery Efficiency," by Lloyd E. Elkins.
The speaker summarized these presentations and developed background and supporting information bearing on the following quotes taken from each of the three papers:
Quoting Mr. Dean A. McGee, "Now, what about the future? There are many relatively untested trends and other potential areas within the producing provinces that for various reasons have not been thoroughly prospected. There are obscure structural features lying at presently uneconomic depths in basins where the sediments are extraordinarily thick. Undoubtedly there are undiscovered stratigraphic accumulations, some of which can be large, in most of the producing basins. There are large areas on the Continental Shelf where attractive structural anomalies are known to be present, that have not been opened for leasing. The present geologic knowledge and exploration technology will continue to find many of these deposits and discoveries will continue to be made fortuitously by prospectors who encounter the unexpected.
"But there is doubt that oil and gas reserves discovered and developed with this present technology will be sufficient to meet the country's requirements through 1980. For this reason and since additional oil-bearing sedimentary basins cannot be created, the industry should be concentrating increasingly on the creation of new exploration technology. For, in this scientific and technological era the United States oil industry has not for some time been successful in adding significantly to its well advanced exploration technology."
Quoting Mr. Milton B. Dobrin, "To summarize, it is not likely that any presently predictable seismic method can detect stratigraphic traps with such great success as to lead to a major increase in our oil and gas supplies over the next decade or so. Does any other geophysical tool offer more promise for finding stratigraphic oil? There is reason to believe that with only moderate improvement electrical resistivity methods may be able to locate oil-bearing sands under proper environmental conditions.
"Although our prospects for developing an effective geophysical technique for finding stratigraphic oil are not too favorable we can expect continued improvement in our ability to discover new oil in structural traps, particularly at greater depths than before. We should look forward to a continual upgrading of seismic equipment now in the field. . . . Immediate benefits may come from extending the application of the more advanced techniques to a larger proportion of our geophysical field work. One of the most promising aspects of our digital and optical filtering procedures is that they can be applied to data recorded in the days before they were even developed. Reprocessing of old data with new tools has often brought to light drillable structures which were originally missed. In this and other ways the full impact of our existing technology on oil discovery may not be felt for some years to come.
"Often factors which limit exploration effort, and consequently the discovery of oil, are not so much technical as economic; and economic factors must be given particular consideration when there is concern about our dwindling oil and gas resources. The new developments which have been described have increased the effectiveness of geophysics as an oil-finding tool but they have also increased exploration expense greatly."
From Mr. L. E. Elkins' paper: "New developments in technology applied in drilling and production, since World War 2, have significantly enhanced crude oil reserves and productive capacity in the United States. A little more than two-fifths of the reserves added and a larger fraction of the approximately doubled productive capacity are attributable to new technology related to well completion and oil recovery methods.
"A number of new and improved recovery methods are still semiproven or in the experimental stage. These, and others yet to be discovered, will contribute to advancing the presently estimated cumulative recovery efficiency of 36 per cent to ultimately 50 or 60 per cent. An average annual increase rate of one-third to one-half per cent per year experienced since World War 2 has a good chance to continue at least through the 1970's. Thus, with the current 350 billion barrel volume of total oil in place discovered, it indicates that, considering the rate of improving recovery efficiency, there will be added 11/4 to 13/4 billion barrels annually to reserves from past discoveries. As additional oil is discovered this annual increment will increase.
"Well completion and well operating technology are well advanced. Therefore, productive capacity trends into the future should be mainly related to recoverable reserves and the nature of the recovery methods being applied in the various reservoirs.
"Drilling technology has contributed significantly to holding down the costs even though labor and material costs have steadily increased. Technology now in the semiproven or experimental stage should, in the future, continue minimizing cost increases. This new and evolving technology will have the greatest impact as drilling depths increase to explore and develop deeper formations.
"Offshore exploration drilling is now capable of locating oil and gas reservoirs in waters deeper than those in which production can be economically developed. Exploration capability will gradually extend to even deeper waters. New technology now semiproven or experimental and directed at installing and operating underwater wellheads, control systems, and well repair and workover systems holds the key to major increases in offshore, commercially attractive reserves of oil and gas. This type of offshore technology is commanding the attention of many major industrial concerns, including some in the aerospace industry.
"Much of the technology related to oil development also applies to natural gas. Nuclear explosion fracturing intended to aid in exploiting massive tight gas formations may open up new opportunities for gas development. However, the future supply of natural gas is primarily related to exploration effectiveness which depends more on profitable expectations than on technological developments.
"In brief, the overall picture suggests that, with appropriate profit incentives, there is considerable room for improving recovery efficiency and developing productive capacity in our crude oil and natural gas reservoirs through the 1970's. If this, coupled with exploration effectiveness, turns out to be less than desired, the industry is developing technology for providing crude oil and gas supplements from tar sands, oil shale, and coal."
Acknowledgments and Associated Footnotes
1 Pan American Research Center, Tulsa
Copyright © 2006 by the Tulsa Geological Society