Rocket-powered automobiles! Robot dancing
it was all going to be yours -- just like:
Personal satellites! Pocket-size cordless telephones!
Seafloor vacation resorts!
Go back a couple of decades and look at predictions
for the year 2001. Like most predictions, they would sound pretty
silly -- except for a few that turned out to be right on target.
"It's easier to look 10 years into the future than
two years," said Dennis O'Brien. "In the short term, you have a
lot of small things, small fixes that alone have no significant
O'Brien serves as director for the Institute of Energy
Economics and Policy at the University of Oklahoma, where he also
holds the John A. and Donnie Brock Chair of Energy Economics and
Business. That gives him a great view of merging technology for
the oil and gas industry.
"It's really neat being around a lot of fermenting
ideas that have a chance of going out there and becoming commercial,"
he said -- "and not only doing well, but also making some money."
What technologies and trends will have the greatest
effect on the oil industry in the next 10 years?
are a dozen possibilities, based on responses from all over.
Which ones are most likely to be on target?
Please check back, in the year 2010.
Tiny Tools for Drilling.
Bob Hulse, a partner in Map Production Co. in Tyler,
Texas, sees big savings from coiled-tubing deployed microdrilling.
A new generation of tools will be able to work through one-inch
tubing, he said.
Hulse looks forward to the day when he can invest
in a $15,000 microdrilled hole instead of a large-hole test at the
same depth for more than $100,000.
The catch: You might not be able to produce through
a superslim hole. But you will have a very economic way to take
a first look around.
for Sight and Sound.
G. Warfield "Skip" Hobbs is founder and managing
partner of Ammonite Resources in New Canaan, Conn. His company of
25 consultants works with venture capitalists who want to invest
in new petroleum technologies.
Hobbs likes a new technology -- offered by Continuum
Resources International in Houston -- that displays seismic data
and geological attributes using sound as well as visuals.
He calls it "a multidimensional visualization process
involving the senses."
"It's a correlation," Hobbs explained. "If you've
assigned a tone to a specific attribute, your ear can pick that
up more quickly than your eye can."
Because their hearing is so sensitive, the blind
will be part of the next generation of seismic interpreters, he
Where's the Plug?
"My sense is, within the next decade we will begin
to see the application of fuel cells," O'Brien said.
Fuel cell technology could provide self-contained,
portable energy units: Prolonged power sources that can be used
"That raises some interesting questions," O'Brien
"How do you market those things? Does the guy who
uses one own it, or is he going to lease it?"
Steve Millett is manager of forecasts for Battelle,
the science-management conglomerate in Columbus, Ohio. His actual
title is "Thought Manager" for a company that employs more than
7,500 scientists and support staff.
According to Millett, in 20 years even our home appliances
will be powered by fuel cells.
Are So Darn Sensitive.
Lance Cole, project manager in Tulsa for the Petroleum
Technology Transfer Council, likes advanced measurement technology
as a new application -- especially in sensors that can "see through"
"One area where they're seeing a lot of usage is
when you punch a hole and put in a fluid sensor," he said. New-wave
sensors give a much better reading of oil-gas-water in the production
flow, Cole noted.
"My assessment is that the technology is going to
work," he said. "My only question is timing. Will it be two years
from now or five years from now?"
You Can Drive My Car.
Hybrid gas-electric vehicles might be the most obvious
sign of change in the auto industry, but they are only part of the
story, Millett said. In the next 10 years, auto makers could compete
with major energy companies as fuel suppliers.
"My advice to (AAPG members) is, 'Watch out for the
automobile companies.' They are deadly serious about fuel cells
and about not having to rely on other people to provide fuel for
their cars," he said.
And the nature of gasoline retailing could change
forever as nontraditional outlets begin selling fuel. Good-bye corner
station. Hello filling up in the parking lot. A burger and a tank
of unleaded, please.
"The big change there is going to be basically a
process change," O'Brien said. "That's the entry of WalMart (or)
KMart into the service station business -- the entry of Albertsons
(a grocery chain) into the business," said O'Brien.
of Miracles and Wonder.
"Some of the national labs are developing things
that we've only dreamed about," Hulse said, "like being able to
look at a density log through casing."
Government-funded research laboratories in the United
States and other countries may produce breakthrough technology in
the coming years. Commercializing their concepts is often a problem,
but national labs "are doing some fundamental research, which companies
don't like to do," Millett noted.
"One of the things they've got is a sort of epoxy
that will bind to damn near anything," Hulse said. "They think it
will replace Portland cement in wells, in cementing or in squeeze
"It's twice as expensive as Portland cement, but
you can do anything to it," he continued. "It will bond to the pipe,
bond to the rock, and there it is."
the Offshore Groundwork.
Hobbs, who serves as president of AAPG's Division
of Professional Affairs, believes this decade will be the time for
establishing the necessity of exploration on the U.S. Pacific and
Atlantic coastal margins, as well as coastal Alaska.
"We need to say, 'Hey, guys! We have a lot of gas.
Let us go get it.' The Canadians are doing that quite well, and
the public is behind them," he said.
"The Atlantic OCS has tremendous hydrocarbon potential,
as we see from what they're doing off Nova Scotia," he continued.
"The public has to be educated about the operational process of
developing the coastal margins."
Take a Really Deep Breath.
Some people in the industry wish that global warming
and air quality issues would go away -- but they're likely to become
even bigger concerns during this decade, with big implications for
"We have major air quality problems in most cities,"
O'Brien said. "The issue we really haven't addressed is: Is there
a subsidy for something like CNG? On the basis that it's going to
reduce health problems for people who breathe the air."
As an independent operator, Hulse said his number
one concern is regulations pertaining to fugitive gas emissions.
"A lot of what I do falls under the minimum emissions
standards," he said. "If they lower those, they might put us out
Are Already Tank Farms.
Bio-engineering should allow us to begin raising
crops for energy as well as for food, according to Millett. He sees
energy farms as a way for the United States to "grow gasoline, so
to speak, to lessen our dependence on imported oil.
"There's the possibility we can use DNA to grow crops
for fuel, and not just with corn," Millett added. "I've been told
there are chickweed and other plants that can be engineered to better
produce ethanol or methanol."
the Fuel of Today.
Natural gas has been the fuel of the future for a
long time. Millett believes that future may be now.
"I don't think natural gas is going to replace gasoline
(as a vehicle fuel), but there's very serious interest in distributed
power generation, and that's mainly natural gas," he said.
Distributed generation could gain popularity if national
power grids can no longer meet growing demand for electricity.
Local power could be generated for neighborhoods
or even individual businesses by gas-fired microturbines and engines.
"It looks to me like oil is going to fall away and
we'll have an economy based on natural gas," Hulse said. "Our domestic
U.S. oil industry is basically shot. It's not gone, but it's going."
Little Guys! Group Hug!
The past decade brought mega-mergers among the majors,
and Hobbs predicted that the current decade will see a flood of
mini-mergers among small independents.
"Small companies have to merge," he said. "Companies
that are net asset value of less than $5 million have to merge to
form a critical mass -- they have to consolidate in order to attract
Tax law changes could spur investment, according
"Restoration of intangible drilling cost tax relief
for passive investors would bring billions of dollars into the industry,"
"The oil and gas industry has had terrible return
on investment for the past 15 years. Return on investment has been
7-8 percent and return on assets has been 4-5 percent.
Access to capital has been a real restraint for this
Natural Gas You Can Pour.
Improved gas-to-liquids methods may make a real splash
within a few years, according to O'Brien, especially in producing
liquids for direct fuel blending.
"I think it has very significant potential," he said.
"When you turn that into a liquid you turn it into a blend stock.
It goes right beyond the refinery to a point where it's blended
into gasoline or middle distillate. And that could be a significant
Millett expects major applications in two areas.
"One is at the wellhead," he said. "There's a whole
bunch of companies, not to mention the Saudis, who would love to
convert gas to liquids at the wellhead."
The second area is liquid conversion for storage
and transportation purposes -- a way to salvage remote gas that
otherwise would be wasted.
For the record, Battelle has produced its own list
of Top Ten Energy Innovations for 2010. Battelle, which has nearly
$1 billion in annual revenues, focuses on technology development
and commercialization as well as laboratory management, including
some of the U.S. national labs.
Here is the company's projection of the Top Ten "economically
impactful energy innovations" for the next 10 years:
- A shifting energy industry structure.
- Hybrid vehicles.
- Smart energy management systems.
- Distributed power generation.
- Fuel cells.
- Gas-to-liquid conversion.
- Advanced batteries.
- Energy farms.
- Solar energy.
- Methane hydrate crystal mining.
Millett said those are listed in rough order of most
likely to have an effect to least likely. No matter what the industry
does during the decade, he has the comforting thought that, eventually,
we will all look like idiots.
"We have a tendency to look back 100 years or 200
years and say, 'What were those people thinking?' In 100 years,
people will look back at 2010 and say, 'How ignorant were those
people?'" he observed.
And no matter what happens, Hobbs said the most important
concept is, "Keep up." Things will change, maybe radically, so be
prepared to change along with them.
"I know some wonderful guys, even AAPG members, who
don't have a computer," Hobbs said. "They don't have e-mail! And
I've gotten to the point where I won't do business with people who
don't have e-mail.
"A message we need to get to our membership is, unless
you adapt to these technological changes, you go the way of the