Sunday, April 26, 2009
The Myth of the Oil Crisis by Robin M. Mills
In recent years, it has become the mantra among peak oil believers, the media, and even many industry professionals that "the age of easy oil is over". As William J Cummings, Exxon Mobil's spokesperson in Angola, said, "All the easy oil and gas in the world has pretty much been found. Now comes the harder work in finding and producing oil from more challenging environments and work areas".
This contention does not stand up to investigation. There has never been an age of easy oil, beginning with Colonel Drake's first well in Titusville, Pennsylvania (1859).
William Knox D'Arcy's 1908 discovery at Masjed-e Suleiman in Iran, the first find of oil in the Middle East, was a formidably difficult endeavor:
' At seven in the morning, the temperature was 110 degrees in the shade...and already five of the small band of Europeans, together with a Baghdad mechanic, ha been touched by the sun and one of them was dying. For the last six days grasshoppers swarmed across the country like locusts and devoured every trace of green pasture. The river was full of them and the water stank. Their bodies lay all over the camp and everywhere the men went they trod through a squelching mass of dead insects. Every half-hour they skimmed them from the water tanks. Small pox had broken out at Sekhuan, where they got their food and water. Their dwindling stock of firewood for the boiler was constantly being raided and then the boiler itself collapsed, its tubes corroded by the sulphorous waters. Letters from home, always the consolation of the exile, had failed to arrive because the carrier and his camel had died on route- and to cap it all, some idiot had just dropped a 14-lb. sledgehammer down the well.'
'The development of North Sea oil during the 1970's was the greatest technical challenge the industry ever faced. Entirely new technologies, backed by innovative financing, had to be devised to meet the vast cost of developments in this hostile environment. A series of disasters cost many lives: the sinking of the Sea Gem in 1965, with thirteen deaths, having just discovered the first offshore hydrocarbons in the U.K.; three sailors who died during the evacuation of the Hewett platform during the 1967 blowout; the collapse of the Alexander Kjelland rig in 1980, killing 123; and the fire and explosion on the Piper Alpha platform in 1998, in which 67 people died. Easy oil proponents should try telling a driller who worked the North Sea in the 1970's that this was easy oil- but keep a safe distance."
'The Soviet exploitation of the West Siberian oil fields involved the construction of million strong cities in some of the coldest areas of the planet, such as Novosbirsk (January temperature -19C)
The big Russian gas fields, brought on stream in the 1970's and 1980's, lie north of the limit of continuous permafrost, in which there are only two months per year when rivers are not frozen (and during those months, the area floods to a depth of 1.5-2 meters, a treeless region swept continuously by gale-force winds. Concrete had to be made with steam to prevent it from freezing."
Those who talk about easy oil lack a sense of perspective, because one's own problems tend to loom larger than others, particularly in the past. Alternatively, and in a more Machiavellian way, the industry likes the idea of the end of easy oil because in emphasizes the challenges they face. It also appeals to environmentalists because it promises an end to this nasty black stuff. However, although convenient, the idea of easy oil or an end to it is incorrect.