Innovations in Crude Oil Production
The first oil well was drilled in 1859 by Edwin Drake. It burned to the ground
several months later, but had it survived it would only have yielded around 20 barrels of
oil per day, hardly a drop in today’s market.(“Story”) At the time however, it was
considered a success and it began a revolution in oil production. Crude oil production in
the world skyrocketed from a few hundred barrels of oil per day to 76 million today.
(“International”) Of course, in the long term, this is not sustainable. In the near future
however, it is the goal of the oil industry to continue this growth in order to continue to meet the world demand.
Unlike the rest of the world, crude oil production in the US has gone down, from
a high of 9.6 million barrels per day in the 1970’s to only 5.7 million barrels of oil per
day now. But like the world, demand for oil has gone up. Looking at statistics for
estimated US oil supply( “Environmental” : A History of Innovation, p. 9) :
162 billion barrels have already been produced
22 billion barrels make up our proven reserves
37 billion barrels are proven, but currently unrecoverable
50 billion barrels are estimated undiscovered and recoverable
351 billion barrels are estimated undiscovered and unrecoverable
With an estimate of around 460 billion barrels of oil remaining, recent production
declines are not due to the US running out of crude completely. However, 388 billion
barrels of this country’s crude oil are technologically unrecoverable. What this means is
that technology may exist to recover this oil, but that with today’s crude prices, it is not economical to do so. This problem faces oil producing countries all over the world. Thus, world production is likely to eventually undergo the same decrease as the US unless new and emerging technologies are employed to cheaply access the ‘unrecoverable’ oil.
Examining the technological leaps made from early means of oil production to present
day emerging technology shows a trend of increasing efficiency that suggests efforts to
access this unrecoverable oil will succeed.
Traditionally, oil production is a very inefficient process. To see this, examine a
conventional oil well, which lacks most modern innovations. Means used to locate this
well, such as 2D seismic imaging, were imprecise, so developing this well probably
involved drilling and abandoning several so-called ‘dry holes’ where no oil was struck.
The well itself consists of one vertically drilled hole. The structure and equipment
surrounding the well take up a great deal of space. Only around 10% of the oil in the
reservoir the well taps will be recovered. (“Enhanced”) Obviously, there is room for
improvement in the efficiency of the well and in its environmental impact.
The first major area of improvement is in the process used to locate sites for oil
wells. The first really accurate way to do this was by employing 2D seismic...