August 29, 2007

PUMPING OIL FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE GULF:

Even better, a recent discovery by Chevron has signaled that soon there may be vastly more oil gushing out of the ultradeep seabeds — more than even the optimists were predicting four years ago. In 2004, the company penetrated a 60 million-year-old geological stratum known as the “lower tertiary trend” containing a monster oil patch that holds between 3 billion and 15 billion barrels of crude. Dubbed Jack, the field lies beneath waters nearly twice as deep as those covering Tahiti, and many in the industry dismissed the discovery as too remote to exploit. But last September, Chevron used the Cajun Express to probe the Jack field, proving that petroleum could flow from the lower tertiary at hearty commercial rates — fast enough to bring billions of dollars of crude to market.

Much more at the link.

UPDATE: A geologist reader thinks the above is a bit overstated on current facts: ” ‘Jack’ was a nice discovery, and does indeed confirm potentially commercial oil recovery from a new trend, but it in no way proves up 15 billion barrels. The initial well and test does not even prove up a commercial field – we will need several more wells to confirm the extent and continuity of the discovery (at over $100 million each). . . . . That said, the federal lease sale the other day attracted a very large number of bids by BP in deep water Gulf of Mexico – I haven’t plotted just what acreage they bid on, but it might indicate they are also optimistic about this trend (or a different one). Notably, Chevron did not bid on a lot of acreage – either they already have all they want of the trend, or they don’t think it’s as good as it is being marketed.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Stu Wagner emails:

Your geologist writer is correct, Jack by itself is not that big (there are probably only a handful in the world that are more than 3 billion bbls). But it is one of several discoveries in the Lower Tertiary trend in the deep-water GOM. Consequently, multiple discoveries could aggregate enough reserves to justify a large-scale development with central production facilities, even in thousands of feet of water. However, cost and technology means it will take years to bring on to production.

I find it interesting that we’re messing with deep-water reserves with meaningful environmental risk from hurricanes, etc. while billions of bbls lie under the North Slope of Alaska, where there’s existing infrastructure to carry the oil to market (the TAPS pipeline) and the environmental hurdles and challenges are far less than in 10,000’ of water (not to mention much lower cost and years quicker to market)…..

We have a highly dysfunctional political system.