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The Contribution of Technology: Creating Reserves?

in Peak Oil by

2nd International Workshop on Oil Depletion
Paris, France, May 26-27 2003
Organized by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas
The workshop was held at the Institut Francais du Pétrole, Rueil-Malmaison, Paris.

If information and other material from this proceeding are used the following reference should be given:

Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Oil Depletion, Paris, France, May 26-27 2003,
Edited by K. Aleklett, C. Campbell, and J. Meyer,

by Gérard Friès

The issue of the ultimate recoverable reserves is subject to ongoing debate. For several years, pessimists have warned that discoveries no longer cover the volumes of oil withdrawn. At regular intervals, they have predicted that world petroleum production will peak by about 2015 – in other words, imminently – before entering a decline.

The purpose of this presentation is to review the current reserve/resource situation, as well as the research and development options that the industry may explore to maintain and renew current reserves at an acceptable cost. The purpose of the presentation is also to try to quantify the contribution of these different technological alternatives.

New petroleum resources may be mobilized in different ways.

First, new accumulations may be discovered. Estimates concerning conventional oil remaining to be discovered in new fields vary widely, but they all indicate that the average undiscovered field will be smaller than in the past and that, to find new accumulations, it will be necessary to explore more complex areas (foothill zones, exploration at greater depths, exploration of infra saliferous zones, etc.). In the field of exploration, improved petroleum system assessment and characterization requires high-performance tools for data acquisition, analysis, and modeling. Furthermore, some possibilities have been opened up thanks to basin modeling and the steady progress made in seismic data acquisition, processing, and interpretation.

New resources may also be mobilized by recovering more of the volumes in place at the field. It is important to recall that, on average, only one-third of the oil in place is recovered. A quick calculation shows that improving the average rate of recovery by only one point for all known oil fields worldwide would make it possible to cover oil consumption for two additional years. Some solutions may be combined to boost the recovery rate for resources in place, as well as productivity, at an acceptable cost. These solutions are based on progress in reservoir characterization (improved knowledge and modeling of fracture networks, etc.), reservoir management (notably via 4D seismic), the optimization of well architectures, and the pursuit of research on the modeling of fluid flow during production.

Other possible oil resources, non-conventional petroleum — extra-heavy crude oil and tar sands — represent volumes in place amounting to an estimated 2,900 Gbbl. The possibility of developing and producing these resources should not be disregarded. To optimize the following operations, work would be necessary at every point of the supply chain: knowledge of reservoirs and fluids, production, transport, upgrading, etcetera.

Due consideration should also be given to the technologies used to produce petroleum products from other fossil resources. Gas-to-liquid technologies offer new possibilities for the exploitation of natural gas involving the production of high-grade petroleum products. Coal-to-liquid processes, which are technically feasible but more costly, may also be envisaged.

Finally, the focus will be on a way of “creating reserves” that is often forgotten: the technological progress contributing to maximize the energy efficiency from each barrel produced.

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