Thursday, March 5, 2015

What a Geologist Sees - Part 6

At right is a scanned slide that I took during a UTEP Geology field trip 30+ years ago. We were somewhere in Southeastern New Mexico.

An environmentalist would probably "have a cow" over the sight of a large oil drilling rig, complain about the environmental damage, and begin assessing the carbon footprint of the oil from this well, if it had discovered oil.

This type of rig, for its time, was the largest of the land-based drill rigs, capable of reaching depths of some 30,000 feet, the depths of the deepest U.S. gas wells in the Anadarko Basin (western Oklahoma and adjacent states). Though deeper depths might be possible, generally the geothermal gradient is too high (it gets too hot), making the metals in the drill bits too soft and causing the drilling mud to start to boil. With that type of heat, generally any petroleum products have been "cooked away", leaving mostly carbon dioxide and/or carbon residue.

So, when a geologist sees a drilling rig, we see jobs for geologists, engineers, roughnecks, roustabouts, truck drivers, surveyors, machinists,... We see tax revenues. We think of the drill crews that go 8 hour shifts - 24/7 until the well is done. Even when it is 11 degrees and blowing snow on Christmas night in Oklahoma. We see risk-taking investors. We hope they find something, while understanding that they might not.

In this particular case, this was a dry hole, a "duster". By the time all was said and done, there was probably a couple of million dollars (at least) dropped on this dry hole. Someone's gamble didn't pay off. Any well generates some geologic data and you find out "where the oil ain't". At this time (1982), we were taught that wildcat wells (those at least a quarter mile from a producing reservoir) had a success rate of 10%! Nine of ten failed to produce.

I believe with modern technology - this figure is now about 50%. This is what we have to do in order to foster a vibrant economy which will produce the energy-saving technologies of the future. In other words, we have to use more energy now in order to save energy later. Conservation is important, but starving our economy of energy will not bear good fruit.

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