Environment

The Next Oil Frontier

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 24, 2011 12:49 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Like a monster in a horror movie, oil might prove tough to kill off. This front-page story in today's WSJ ought to give climate concerned folk the shudders. Because it's behind a pay wall, I'm going to quote extensively from the piece, including this set-up:

The Arabian Peninsula has fueled the global economy with oil for five decades. How long it can continue to do so hinges on projects like one unfolding here in the desert sands along the Saudi Arabia-Kuwait border. Saudi Arabia became the world's top oil producer by tapping its vast reserves of easy-to-drill, high-quality light oil. But as demand for energy grows and fields of "easy oil" around the world start to dry up, the Saudis are turning to a much tougher source: the billions of barrels of heavy oil trapped beneath the desert. Heavy oil, which can be as thick as molasses, is harder to get out of the ground than light oil and costs more to refine into gasoline. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have embarked on an ambitious experiment to coax it out of the Wafra oil field, located in a sparsely populated expanse of desert shared by the two nations. That the Saudis are even considering such a project shows how difficult and costly it is becoming to slake the world's thirst for oil. It also suggests that even the Saudis may not be able to boost production quickly in the future if demand rises unexpectedly. Neither issue bodes well for the return of cheap oil over the long term.

Here's the potential sequel to 'easy oil':

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there are some three trillion barrels of heavy oil in the world, about 100 years of global consumption at current levels. The catch: Only a fraction of it--about 400 billion barrels--can be recovered using existing technology. New techniques like the ones being tried in Wafra could unlock more. "When people talk about how we're 'running out of oil,' they're not counting the heavy oil," says Amy Myers Jaffe, who runs the Energy Forum at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston. "There a huge amount of resource there...It's just a question of developing the technology."

The whole article, which is lengthy and well worth reading, is a straight business/energy story. Not a mention of the climate implications. Should there have been at least a nominal nod to climate change concerns, given the potential conseqences of this new oil frontier?

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.