Carbon intensity (CI) of oil and gas production varies widely across global oil plays. Life cycle extraction in the Latin American Region (LAR) has some of the highest and lowest values of CI and holds many opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and improve national wealth. Flaring and venting of associated or non-associated natural gas dramatically increases CI.

This paper applies peer-reviewed processes across broad averages of oil and gas activity in major fields around the world and compares them with both Latin American and North American oil plays. Ways to lower the carbon intensity for high CI fields in the region are discussed. Unique opportunities exist to minimize carbon intensity in both areas.

We perform well-to-refinery calculations of CI for major unconventional oil plays in all major Latin American fields, the largest North American unconventional plays and other major producing countries. This approach accounts for emissions from exploration, drilling & completions, production, processing, and transportation. The analysis tool is an open-source engineering-based model called Oil Production Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimator (OPGEE). OPGEE makes estimates of emissions accounting using up to 50 parameters for each modeled field. This model was developed at Stanford University. Data sources include government sources, technical papers, satellite observations, and commercial databases.

Applied globally, OPGEE estimates show the highest values in areas with extensive flaring of natural gas and very heavy crude oils. Heavy oils require large energy inputs (e.g. steam flooding) and/or the use of light hydrocarbon diluents for transportation offset. OPGEE can be used to evaluate the CI impacts of public policy actions.

While both NA unconventional and LAR crudes will remain vital to regional and global supplies, unconventional production, especially from light tight oil is the most significant new source of fossil fuels in the last decade. Under a wide variety of carbon constraints, oil usage will continue for many decades and increase in the near term. Operators, governments and regulators need to be able to avoid "locking in" development of suboptimal resources and providing incentives for shale operators to manage resources sustainably. Oil producers must prepare by refraining from developing marginal projects, eliminating flaring, optimizing hydraulic fracture treatments, using improved recovery methods (e.g. enhanced oil recovery using anthropogenic CO2), reducing energy use, and eliminating unnecessary gas waste.

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