New Oil and Old Hopes – The Bakken Formation

I didn’t know about this one: The Bakken Formation in central USA.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report from April 10, 2008 documents the oil reserve in these rocks. Somewhere around 200 billion barrels that lie conveniently in the middle of the USA.

The USGS announced that there is about 25 times more oil to recover than previously thought. 25 times? That’s a big difference.

To put this quantity of oil into perspective, Saudi Arabia – the largest remaining reserves in the world – has about 200 billion barrels left, and Kuwait – where I am now – has about 50 billion barrels of oil left to go. [That’s about 70 years at current production rates ;o) ]

The Bakken however only has about 1%, or 2 billion barrels that is recoverable using current technologies.

Why so low?

The difference is that because of the poor flow charateritsics of oil in the shale formation (low porosity and low permeability). The Bakken oil doesn’t like to come out.

Still 2 billion barrels of oil is enough to drive the present US demand for about 1,000 days, or 2.7 years (at a consumption rate of roughly 20 million barrels per day).

Hardly seems worth it does it?

Then again, if you assume an oil price of USD 50 per barrel, 200 billion barrels is worth about 1 trillion USD dollars… Still a lot of bikkies, and hey! that’s similar to the amount of money recently used by the US government to bail out a few troubled banking and automotive companies.

So what if more could be extracted, using different techniques? You bet there are a lot of interested people looking at it right now.

By the by, I was close to a shale oil project in Queensland, Australia: the Stuart Shale Oil Project for Southern Pacific Petroleum (SPP were my clients when I was running a division of WorleyParsons).

These shale oil reserves – the Stuart and Rundel fields, a few billion barrels each I recall – are actually Kerogen: like the early stages of oil. It hasn’t had enough time, heat or pressure to become turn into liquid form. It’s hard crumbly black stuff. No oil at all!

That’s where man comes in: a retort is used to pyrolyze the oil shale turning it into a liquid form that can be refined using conventional oil refining processes.

Sounds messy doesn’t it.

It is.

And expensive.

CO2 emissions?? Wow! Don’t even go there.

I like the Swedish approach to oil: get off it all together! (They intend to by 2020).

Jeremiah Josey

Blog of Jeremiah Josey


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