Old oil fits broad category with big supply potential

Aug. 20, 2012
Although new oil is much in the news these days, old oil represents big potential worth similar attention.

Although new oil is much in the news these days, old oil represents big potential worth similar attention.

New oil is what comes out of high-potential, low-quality formations considered, until recently, to be impossible to develop profitably. It’s new because its profitable production requires new technology—or at least new application of old technology.

But old oil represents large potential, too.

The “old” category is broad. One part of it includes small fields in mature production theaters, such as the UK Continental Shelf.

Operators in the UK have invented ways to make latter-day use of platforms and pipelines installed to service the big old fields, now depleted or nearly so, that inaugurated the UKCS industry.

They’ve made development of new, small satellite fields tied back to old infrastructure profitable, giving new life to what otherwise would be a dying resource.

Oil & Gas UK estimates a total of 41 billion boe of oil and gas has been produced from the UKCS. Further overall recovery, it says, could be 15-24 billion boe—enough to keep an industry busy for many years and a country well-supplied with energy.

Another category of old oil covers immobile hydrocarbons in areas of reservoirs below oil-water contacts known as residual oil zones (ROZs). In the US, crude oil in ROZs might amount to 100 billion bbl, according to a 2006 estimate by the US Department of Energy.

The department is supporting several projects studying the enhanced recovery potential of ROZs in the Permian basin of West Texas and eastern New Mexico (OGJ, Aug. 6, 2012, p. 67). The University of Texas-Permian basin is conducting the research.

Eventually, methods developed in the UK and the US for producing old oil profitably will migrate to old oil elsewhere—much like methods for producing “new” oil and gas from shales and bitumen from oil sands now are spreading out from where they were developed in the US and Canada.

Oil technology is like that: It seldom stays in one place very long.

About the Author

Bob Tippee | Editor

Bob Tippee has been chief editor of Oil & Gas Journal since January 1999 and a member of the Journal staff since October 1977. Before joining the magazine, he worked as a reporter at the Tulsa World and served for four years as an officer in the US Air Force. A native of St. Louis, he holds a degree in journalism from the University of Tulsa.