Saturday, March 26, 2011

If I had the Time and Money...Part 1

One of the places I would like to visit is the San Francisco Volcanic Field, North and Northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona. Especially Sunset Crater.

Having passed by the area each time I visited the Grand Canyon, I knew a little about the field, that it was composed of a combination of composite volcanoes and cinder cones and that it was relatively young, but I knew little else.

While surfing the Geoblogosphere, I happened across the short, photographic post at Geologic Froth, on Red Mountain, which is a dissected cinder cone in the San Franciso Volcanic Field. The photos showed what appear to be bedded, volcaniclastic sediments, including cinders preserved in some canyons within the Red Mountain area.

Following up, I found this link with a more detailed USGS report.

According to the USGS Fact Sheet:

"Red Mountain is one of several hundred cinder cones within a swath of volcanic landscape that extends 50 miles eastward from Williams, Arizona, through Flagstaff to the canyon of the Little Colorado River."...

..."The San Francisco Volcanic Field has been active for about 6 million years, and Red Mountain is roughly 740,000 years old."...

Those of us within the realm of Geology usually think in terms of deep time and we understand that anything volcanic less than 1 million years old (per current interpretations) is young and could be susceptible to a reoccurance. 

Thinking as a Geologist, consider the scientific and tourism value of a new cinder cone near Sunset Crater.  Cinder cones and shield volcanoes generally cause a bit less mayhem than pyroclastic eruptions and/or lahar
flows from stratovolcanoes.

That just begins a "laundry list" of places I would like to visit/re-visit in the Grand Canyon State, partially because digital cameras were not available last time.  The only places I have been since having a digital camera have been the Grand Canyon and the Sedona area on a brief, pass-through trip.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Use It or Lose It" Political Mindset

[Editor's note: I don't like to inject politics into this blog, but as the government chooses to inject politics into science and the marketplace, it is necessary in this case.]

In recent years, when gasoline and crude oil prices have risen sharply (due to more than one reason - including the lack of a firm, coherent national energy policy), some politicians have attempted to scapegoat the oil (and gas) companies by suggesting that oil companies are "sitting on X million acres of leased Federal Land", inferring to the public that American oil and gas firms are sitting on millions of acres of proven oil/gas resources and all that is necessary is for the firms to drill.

They further infer that the companies are not drilling in order to "jack up" crude prices to benefit themselves (and also deliberately under-utilizing refinery capacity for the same reason). The refinery issue is for another time.

From the mouths of at least some of these politicians (and the compliant MSM), this inference is to; 1) Deflect responsibility away from the Federal Government's policies; and 2) Perhaps plant a seed of justification in any future attempt to nationalize American oil and gas firms (in a cited Emergency, by suggesting that said firms were not doing everything they could to bring down prices by increasing production). 

What they do not say is that there is already a "use it or lose it" clause in each Federal Lease.

From this particular source, an API Fact Sheet:

"If companies do not produce oil or gas on leases then the leases must be returned to the government.

•Companies are required under government leasing regulations to develop a lease expeditiously (between five- and 10-year terms, depending on the area) or return it to the government. In general, leases not producing by the end of their term are relinquished back to the government,..."

There are already incentives to produce from these properties, aside from market prices:

"•In addition, companies already pay a rental fee during the pre-production phase of development. Rental fees on leases can now exceed $100,000 annually on some leases. Rental rates increase in the later years of the lease to encourage diligent development.
•Companies invest billions of dollars to acquire and maintain their leases. In addition to rental payments during the pre-production period, companies also pay a bonus bid to acquire leases.
Oil companies holding leases are in the business of finding and producing oil and natural gas, but a lease is only the first step."

Before drilling can commence, there have to be permits issued.  The permitting process can be held up by bureaucratic inefficiencies and/or by deliberate, agenda-driven delays:

"•In many cases, the administration itself is preventing the industry from developing leases by not issuing permits to drill on them. Companies cannot develop existing leases without drilling permits."

When Federal lands go "up for lease", it is in a competitive atmosphere, in which companies may believe that if they don't bid, they may be left out.  Sometimes, due to particular tax laws, companies may feel compelled to spend the money on leases that might pay out in the future, rather than have the money lost to taxation.

"Exploratory drilling occurs only when the geological formation shows potential, which is often unknown until after the lease has been purchased and studied.

•When companies bid on a lease, there may be minimal information available to evaluate its resource potential. Because of the competitive nature of the domestic oil and gas industry, companies are willing to risk capital to capture leases while speculating on the resource potential these leases may contain.
•Before drilling an exploratory well, companies may conduct seismic studies which require permitting to determine if commercial quantities of hydrocarbons are likely. If they believe commercial quantities exist, they will seek another permit for an exploratory well. Developing a lease can be a complicated process. Detailed planning, permitting timetables and regulatory and safety requirements must be met before development can occur."...
As drilling and completion costs can easily run into the millions, especially in offshore wells, it is cheaper to use seismic surveys to "narrow down" the areas to be targeted.  But even expensive seismic surveys prove nothing.  They just provide some more evidence of where oil and/or gas MIGHT BE.  Again, the seismic permitting process is subject to the same delays as the drilling permitting process.

Another issue not considered in the article, some of those companies might have leases on State or private lands to consider at the same time.  The offshore parcels, while much more expensive to drill and complete, hold the hopes of "the next new large discovery", i.e., the next new giant oil/gas field.  The conventional wisdom is that "all" of the large/giant onshore oil/gas fields have already been discovered, but if money is tight, onshore efforts might be more attractive though the payoff will be smaller.
Back to the API Fact Sheet:

"Production will only occur if resources are found, and found in commercial quantities.

•Not all leases contain hydrocarbons. Accumulations of natural gas and oil occur on only a small number of leases. It is not uncommon for a company to spend $100 million to drill a well and find no oil or gas. Companies drill more wells that have no oil or gas than wells that actually do.
•Not all leases will have enough hydrocarbons present to make development commercially viable."

Regardless of how much money is spent on geologic studies, geophysical studies, hunches, etc., the only way to ultimately KNOW what is "down there" - is to drill.

"In the OCS deepwater, costs can exceed $2 billion for a platform alone. Some factors a company will consider include:
  • Amount of recoverable hydrocarbons;
  • Technology restrictions; and
  • Availability of critical infrastructure needed to bring hydrocarbons to market.
Some leases go undrilled because their potential can be determined by exploratory wells drilled by the company at nearby leases.

•Given the relatively small size of an OCS lease, and the fact that many geologic formations and trends can cover a large geographical area, companies often bid on several contiguous leases in a geographical area it believes will have underlying oil and natural gas resources. A strategically placed exploratory well on a single lease may give the company enough data to determine the hydrocarbon potential of many leases."

As for the infrastructure issues, that applies to onshore drilling, too.  At least once, Bakken Fm. wells have been "shut in" because of a lack of a pipeline or insufficient capacity in a nearby pipeline.
[When work permits, I may come back and refine this a bit more.]

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Five Themes of Geography

From the above-linked website:

Explanation of the Five Themes of Geography

"The five themes of geography were created in 1984 by the National Council for Geographic Education and the Association of American Geographers. While they have been supplanted by the National Geography Standards, they provide an effective organization of the teaching of geography."

Five Themes of Geography are:

•Human-Environment Interaction
•and Region

Monday, March 7, 2011

Iceland - Land of Fire and Ice

Just a short summary of Iceland's geology is linked above. If given a chance to visit a foreign country (already been to Mexico and Canada), Iceland would be my first choice (in the summertime), to have a "look-see" at this exposed part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. And to load up my digital cameras with photos.

Anthropogenic Earthquakes in Iceland

Recently, there have been some swarms of earthquakes in Iceland, clustered around the southwestern part of the island nation. At first I thought this was "magma on the move", but the above-linked article suggests that the injection of cold water into geothermal sites may be causing the swarms (assuming we are talking about the same areas).

That humans can cause small earthquakes is nothing new. The removal of overburden at quarries, the backing up of water behind new dams, the injection of waste fluids into deep wells, and probably hydraulic fracking have all caused minor earthquakes.

If these swarms are not in the same geographical area as those illustrated last week in another source, I will update this post.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What a Geologist Sees - Part 35 - My Favorite Geophoto

It is so hard to pick a favorite for Accretionary Wedge #32.

The Eagle Mts. (an Oligocene caldera) were the site of my originally-intended Master's Thesis work, during the summer of 1978. The photo here was taken from the East Mill area, where we camped, for several weeks, while we mapped the southeastern portion of the mountains. In the near foreground is a portion of Wyche Ridge, composed of Cretaceous sedimentary rocks, forming part of the margin of the caldera.

Eagle Flat is in the middleground and the Carrizo Mountains are in the background (and maybe the Beech Mountains and/or the Sierra Diablo in the far background, too). Alamo Springs may be visible from this location, also.

Aside from the El Paso area, within this view is probably the greatest geodiversity in Trans-Pecos Texas, though some might argue that point. In the background are several outcroppings of Proterozoic metamorphics and in the near foreground are the aforementioned Oligocene ash flow tuffs of the Eagle Mountains.

Within this view is the Texas Lineament, the northeastern edge of the "Chihuahua Tectonic Belt", and related features.

Aside from this, part of the exploits of the 9th and 10th U.S. Calvalry (the Buffalo Soldiers) against the Apache Chief Victorio took place within sight of this area.

To the right of the view, maybe 40 miles or so away - to the southeast - are the Davis Mountains. Within the mountains are the Ft. Davis historical site, one or more wineries, the Chihuahuan Desert Museum, and the McDonald Observatory.

To the left, maybe 80 miles or so away - to the north - is Capitan Peak and the Guadalupe Mountains, McKittrick Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns. So much to see.

I discussed some other favorites in this post.