USGS official upbeat about oil reserves

Rick Wilkinson
OGJ correspondent

PERTH, Apr. 14 -- There are much more oil reserves left in the world than many of the pessimistic forecasts make out, according to Peter McCabe, senior research geologist at the US Geological Survey, speaking at the annual Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) conference in Perth.

McCabe presented delegates with an upbeat answer to the questions "how much oil is left, and where can it be found?"

Using figures gleaned from USGS studies, he said cumulative oil production to the end of 2004 amounted to 952 billion bbl, which represents about 32% of the world total available reserves. Some 2,029 billion bbl, or 68%, he placed in a category labeled remaining recoverable oil.

McCabe broke this latter figure into five categories. The greatest volumes are included in "remaining reserves of conventional oil outside the US (859 billion bbl), undiscovered conventional oil outside the US (649 billion bbl), reserve growth in conventional fields outside the US (612 billion bbl)" and a box he called "future resources."

He pointed out that the amount of oil in most fields is underestimated and that over time additions can be made through stratigraphic and geographic extensions and better recovery factors. He added that initial estimates of reserves are often conservative for a variety of political and financial reasons.

For example, McCabe said, between 1985 and 2000 the North Sea region saw estimated oil reserves grow by around 12 billion bbl with new field discoveries in that period adding a further 2 billion bbl.

Much remaining oil and gas remains in basins that are currently producing—including most basins considered to be "mature," he told conference delegates.

In addition, there are still frontier basins to be explored, and technological advances and political changes will allow exploration to become viable in these new regions in the future. McCabe said vast regions such as the Arctic, parts of the Indian Ocean, deep water off southern Australia, and parts of South America have yet to be explored in detail.

The future world economy, he said, needs continued fossil fuel supply. Renewable energy sources cannot sustain global economic growth on their own. To prevent the world's stagnation, requirements include a combination of fossil fuels, new technologies to make alternative energy sources more economically viable, and some attention to energy conservation using existing and new technologies, he said.

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