Technology for a Sustainable Tomorrow
- Vik Rao (Halliburton)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- April 2007
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 36 - 38
- 2007. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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Editor’s note: This is the last installment in a yearlong series designed to stimulate discussion in research and development. The series is one of several actions taken by the SPE R&D Advisory Committee to encourage R&D development and discussion. Please send any questions, comments, or ideas to email@example.com. The Technology Tomorrow Series, comprising articles published in JPT during 2006 and 2007, is available as a collection on OnePetro (SPE-160929-JPT.
The oil and gas industry faces an interesting future, likely in unprecedented fashion. Peak-oil theorists have surfaced from time to time, so the current discussion of that topic is not new. But what is new is that we are in a demand environment driven by the economies of China and India, with sustained growth and no signs of letting up. Additionally, anthropogenic origins of global warming are acquiring currency to the point where all the major oil companies now state their support for curbing CO2 emissions. All these elements converge to paint a very different picture of the energy world than ever before, one in which serious consideration is given to potential sources of energy previously regarded as mere fanciful conjecture, such as transport liquids from grass. The debate is no longer about producing enough energy to meet demand, but about producing hydrocarbons and energy in a sustainable manner. At the same time, it is also about producing more environmentally friendly fluids for transportation and power.
Fig. 1 shows the Energyfiles estimate of future oil production, demonstrating the decline in conventional oil production with the shortfall made up by unconventional hydrocarbons and synthetic sources. Regardless of the accuracy of this estimate, it is clear that the industry will respond with a multipronged effort that will include the following elements.
Increasing Ultimate Recoveries. In his April 2006 “Technology Tomorrow” article in JPT, Nansen Saleri of Saudi Aramco estimated that a modest increase in ultimate recoveries would provide 1 trillion bbl of hydrocarbons. He also suggested that the road to this goal would be paved by advances in reservoir understanding, intelligent wells, and improved lift. The most intriguing of his proposals is that of advanced understanding of the physical and chemical processes at the pore throats, going so far as to suggest that the breakthroughs here could be akin to the promise of stem cell research in the study of curing human diseases. An effort such as that will need more active involvement from the scientific community. This call to scientific arms needs to be taken up by petroleum engineering departments everywhere, in particular by seeking collaboration with basic science departments. I anticipate lively debate on this topic at the SPE Research and Development (R&D) Conference on 26–27 April in San Antonio. Furthermore, the R&D Advisory Committee is organizing a session at the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) regional meeting to be dedicated to a discussion of the challenges facing our industry, with the objective of exciting the imagination of the basic scientists assembled. We hope that the deliberations will be of sufficient value to merit a report in the AAAS flagship journal Science. The AAAS meeting will be held 18–21 April at the U. of Houston Clear Lake campus.
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