A Golden Key to Shales
The recent drop in oil and gas prices will make life tougher for those of us working in shale plays such as the Bakken, Barnett, Haynesville, Marcellus, Woodford (U.S.), Domanic (Russia), Mako (Hungary) and many others around the world.
Locating the zones with the highest organic contents quickly and at low cost is a prerequisite for success in these plays.
A lot is currently being written about the good correlation between uranium and total organic carbon. I would like to draw attention to a seminal but seemingly forgotten paper by my former Shell colleagues B.L. Meyer and M.H. Nederlof (AAPG BULLETIN, Vol. 68, No. 2, pp. 121-129, Feb. 1984), “Identification of Source Rocks on Wireline Logs by Density/Resistivity and Sonic Transit Time/Resistivity Crossplots.” Their methods are very applicable to exploring for shale reservoirs.
Logging tools have improved greatly since then. Updating the techniques published by Meyer and Nederlof may be a golden key to lower costs of finding and producing. This would help to unlock enormous gas and liquids resources from shales worldwide, even during a rough global economic downturn.
Wolfgang E. Schollnberger
‘Pragmatism and Practicality’
The “Pickens Plan” (August EXPLORER) outlines the reality that fossil fuels are finite and that when we have a natural gas and oil-based economy these are expensive commodities to import. But when we pay for these imports with borrowed money it is comparable to our government buying a house it can’t afford using a “subprime loan with balloon payments” and charging it on VISA …
The Pickens Plan may propose alternatives to the use of fossil fuels for many activities, but until we get our many levels of government and “entitlement” spending under control, no amount of energy of any type will be enough to sustain our economy. Somehow we need to tie government spending and mandates requiring others to spend or loan to a percentage of national productivity, phase out those programs that erode those traits of individual character and behavior essential for our democratic society to survive and realistically bring back into production all our domestic energy resources, even as we search, plan and develop future alternatives.
Remember those euphoric charts of the late 1950s that projected 25 percent of our energy by 1975 would come from “fusion power,” a still-unrealized alternative source that we can only hope will sometime become a reality? Until that time when alternatives become economically viable we will still have to depend on traditional energy sources and accept certain minor levels of pollution. Reality is always a balance!
Perhaps a first step out of this mess might be re-introducing into our society what was once called American Pragmatism and Practicality. For example:
- In the Great Basin hundreds of streams flow from mountain areas and almost immediately disappear under pediment and alluvial gravels. A water infiltration system similar to that on the Platte River might be able to capture this water and direct it through a dynamo system. The flow in many of these streams would easily fill a two-meter pipe and there is a 300-meter fall from most mountain fronts to the center of the adjacent valley – just wasted kinetic energy and possibly wasted irrigation waters. A hydroelectric system of this type could be integrated with the Picken’s wind system to furnish a steadier rate of “non-interruptible power.”
- Major users of “off peak” electric power get a terrific price break; why not every residential and business user? Why can’t every electric meter be under computer control to offer this price advantage to the small and medium user? This would perhaps make “off peak” reservoir-type heat pumps and other devices such as electric cars an economic reality and better match consumption with generation.
- The problem with every nuclear plant is the potential for a disaster that could release toxic materials, yet at some point we will need to construct them. But let us do so in geologically safe sites and pump coolant to these sites. It seems risky to have put a plant on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River, let alone in the gravel bed of the Columbia River and downwind from Portland.
- Why are many of Europe’s trains electric and ours diesel?
- There was nothing absurd about turning corn that was unsuitable for human or animal consumption into ethanol, but it was an intoxicating fantasy to believe turning edible corn into ethyl alcohol was the solution to our nation’s energy imports.
- We have had a huge housing boom, and yet every house was built with energy and water consumption as secondary concerns. We gobbled up orchards and farmland in our frenzy to build homes with no concern that a house in rural America requires more energy, in large part because of transportation and that this takes cropland out of production.
- We geologists stood by while imported oil replaced our abundant coal, yet every chart being created for geology classrooms, for companies and for government from 1960 on warned us of the impending cost and strategic danger of importing oil.
- We all remained quiet while Exxon, as the figurehead for “Big Oil,” was being attacked for an oil spill in Alaska that was trivial when compared to the oil on American beaches during World War II – oil that was gone, at least on Oregon beaches, within a few months after the war.
The media should have blamed the real culprit: the federal government for not requiring a pilot as they do in shipping channels like the San Juan Straits, and should have gotten answers as to why an inexperienced third officer was at the helm – sort of like having the steward take off a commercial airliner.
- Every geologist knows that even average size volcanic eruptions introduce greenhouse gasses into the highest levels of the earth’s outer spheres, where they actually do affect solar radiation, and that the earth has been warming in a fluctuating manner since the Last Glacial Maxima (LGM) 18,000 years ago. Why are these well-known and thoroughly studied geologic facts never mentioned in the “global warming” controversy? Have we forgotten 200 years of geological and paleontological investigation into climate changes through geologic time?
- We geologists need to convince the public, the media and government agencies concerned with enforcement that solutions to environmental contamination are exactly similar to those traditionally used by industry to assess cost vs. return in mineral exploration.
- Our nation is squandering its human resources with a school system that costs more but demands less than that of most other nations. A global economy means we need academic motivation in our classrooms and not just on the athletic field where coaches and players really are held accountable on a sport-by-sport basis. We need a recommended national curriculum suitable for the country’s future needs and a course by course examination system, with rewards that will motivate students to become seriously interested in learning and academic achievement.
The Internet and interactive communication make revolutionary approaches to improved learning even easier to accomplish than the Pickens wind power transition. So why are we delaying when it means the country’s future?
- How can any nation set aside 20 percent of its land as a playground that can only be reached by those rich enough to charter a plane as we have done in Alaska?
I am certain that every one of us can come up with more suggestions for returning reality to the way we live and the way we do business. Those who have lost their homes through foreclosure or are barely keeping ahead of “credit card” or “student loan” debt can certainly attest to the reality that when you borrow beyond your ability to repay, it results in a personal disaster.
Government is no different; it is just harder to control what it spends because the impact is hidden in inflation – higher food costs, higher health care costs and a thousand other increased costs.
Sustainability means much more than simply not doing something, it means planning, developing and using in a practical and economically viable manner with the future constantly in sight – and that means educated and knowledgeable voters.
Robert B. Nelson
In March 1974, OPEC lifted its six month embargo with the price per barrel being four times the price before the embargo.
At that time the late Hans A. Bethe, Cornell University physics professor, was nearing the end of his three-decade career. In early 1975 he issued a statement on energy policy – signed by 32 scientists – that could have been written in 2008.
Its main points are:
- “Today’s energy crisis is not a matter of just a few years but of decades. It is the new and predominant fact of life in industrialized societies.”
- “Our domestic reserves are running down and the deficit can only partially be replaced by new sources in Alaska; we must, in addition, permit off-shore exploration.”
- “The U.S. choice is not coal or uranium; we need both.”
- “We can see no reasonable alternative to an increased use of nuclear power to satisfy our energy needs.”
Bethe released his statement on Jan. 16, 1975, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It was mentioned the next day in the New York Times; the next week in the Christian Science Monitor; and in a sidebar and in a letter to the editor in Science over the next several weeks.
Basic ideas for future energy supply in the United States have evolved little since then because each of several options is treated as equally feasible, and among them, the least developed options are treated as the options with the least problems. Their true rank and priority are not well understood. The great magnitude of energy required and the limits from laws of physics rarely make it into political debate.
The differences between 1975 and 2008 are as striking as the similarities: supply-driven in 1975, after oil exports to the United States had been cut off, and, more ominously, largely demand-driven in 2008, when rising living standards in China and India and expanding imports into the United States strained the world oil supply.
Other differences are the absences of ethanol and global warming from the 1975 discussion.
Since then windmills became a leading candidate among possible green sources of energy. A windmill, or any device that captures energy from the environment, has three tests it must pass before considering it a potential contributor to U.S. energy supplies: Prove that the magnitude of the energy in wind is worth the expense of capturing it; demonstrate that the windmill can economically withstand the extremes of weather; and show that the inherently variable wind produces electrical power suited to the electrical grid, which needs a steady predictable source of power.
All costs involved should be those before subsidy.
During the same time, nuclear power effectively replaced oil in France as a source of electricity. In 1973, France produced 8 percent of its electrical power from nuclear power plants. In 2008, France has 59 nuclear power units producing about 78 percent of its electrical power. As intended, France has significantly reduced its dependence on imported oil and is Europe’s largest exporter of electrical power. France did this over three decades.
The experience of the past decades, the great magnitude of the energy needed, the immutable laws of physics and the distribution of resources in the earth’s crust combine to limit the practical options available for U.S. energy policy.
Conserving to reduce waste, exploiting oil where it can be found, reserving liquid petroleum for transportation use and using coal and nuclear power for base load electricity are the principal needs of the next decades.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Congratulations on your August EXPLORER cover. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is near my Bakio birthplace, where I grow txakoli (wine) grapes in Triassic diapiric clays.
As Claudio Bartolini points out, these outcrops of Albian limestones and turbidites result from a very complex synsedimentary history. Paleozoic northern land masses, provided many of the clastics. Plate tectonics and differential block movements in the Gulf of Biscay were principal agents of today´s geology.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a peninsula, where the isthmus has been enhanced by human intervention. I can assure you of this, as I have swam twice all the way around it – being rewarded with txakoli by my wife at the end of the adventure.
(A precious metal and gem expert who visited San Juan de Gaztelugatxe was the privateer, politician, bowler and slaver Sir Francis Drake. In 1593 Drake sacked the chapel on top of the rocks, and ordered the monk to be thrown into the sea.)
But let´s get back to geology: Flysh and allocthonous megablocks make good partners on many occasions. In western Venezuela, Coronel and Renz (1959) redefined the Barquisimeto and Barure formations of Bushman as a series of Cretaceous (large) allochthonous masses, imbedded in a Lower Tertiary Wildflysh mass. While doing field geology in Wyoming I learned of an opinion of the excellent geologist and professor, Donald D. Blackstone, of the University of Wyoming. After studying a complex location, he concluded something like “here Mother Nature had an orgy.”
This applies, with no limitations, to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
Jon Sanjuan Etxebarrieta