How much oil remains to be produced?
When will world oil production peak?
When will the world run out of oil?
These are serious and increasingly salient questions -- for the world community as well as the upstream professions.
Unfortunately, many treatments of these issues rely on an outdated and increasingly limited conceptual framework (the “Hubbert Method”) tied to a highly constricted view of the resource base.
On the other hand, many published projections of future world oil production blithely ignore the many financial, political, logistical and manpower constraints on developing oil resources as well as the qualitative and quantitative limits of the oil resource itself.
To promote a rigorous discussion of these questions, an organizing committee drawn primarily from AAPG’s Committee on Resource Evaluation convened a Hedberg Research Conference on “Understanding World Oil Resources” in November in Colorado Springs, Colo.
As the conference title indicates, the emphasis of the conference was not simply on world oil resources, but on understanding them. What do we really know about world oil resources? What are the major ambiguities, uncertainties, and unknowns revolving around world oil resources? What approaches, concepts, methods, and terminology promote a better understanding of world oil resources? Which mislead and thwart our understanding?
Casting a Broad Net
Because the issue of world oil resources has many facets, different perspectives are essential to achieve an adequate understanding. Conference participants intentionally included a broad array of relevant perspectives:
- The 75 participants came from 17 countries on five continents.
- They came from a variety of organizations, including 15 major international, national and leading independent oil companies; 10 national, state and provincial geological surveys and resource agencies; and several service and consulting companies, universities and research institutes.
- All of the broad upstream professions -- geology, geophysics and petroleum engineering -- were represented, including official representation from both AAPG and SPE.
- Many key subspecialties also were represented, including petroleum resource assessment, integrated reservoir management, petroleum system analysis, horizontal and multi-lateral drilling and petroleum geochemistry.
The conference format differed from most prior Hedbergs: Only one session -- the first morning -- consisted of oral presentations, which emphasized assessment methodologies and provided essential background for evaluating the subsequent posters.
Three poster sessions provided empirical grounding, covering both conventional and unconventional oil resources. The two conventional poster sessions assessed both recovery growth and future discovery potential.
Because world oil resources are concentrated in a small number of major provinces and, within those provinces, in a small number of giant and supergiant fields, these posters concentrated on those provinces with an additional potential beyond current known recovery of at least five billion barrels each.
The poster sessions on unconventional resources included major deposits of oil from mature source rocks, which is just beginning to come into prominence with the development of the Middle Bakken in the Williston Basin in Montana and North Dakota.
We did not include in our deliberations conversions (such as gas-to-liquids or coal-to-liquids) or direct oil substitutes such as biofuels.
Continuing the Process
This Hedberg’s central focus was the discussion sessions; nearly 20 hours were devoted to thrashing out the issues surrounding oil recovery growth, future discovery potential and unconventionals.
Certain themes reoccurred in these lively (but rarely overheated) discussions, including:
- The need for better conceptual and definitional clarity.
- The importance of understanding geological characteristics of each resource.
- Using comparable units for characterization different types of resources (e.g., in-place for both conventional and unconventional).
- Avoiding unjustifiable constitution of the true uncertainties.
The conference was only the beginning of process within AAPG to grapple with this issue. Currently the conference organizing committee is digesting, summarizing and elaborating on the conference discussions.
The initial presentation of the conference results will occur in special oral and poster sessions at the AAPG Annual Convention in Long Beach, April 1-4. That will be followed by a poster session presenting about half of the Hedberg posters.
Following the convention, the oral presentation from both the conference and the convention, together with the posters, will be combined into an AAPG publication.
We welcome suggestions and comments of the AAPG membership to assist us in this project.