BP's Gulf of Mexico Disaster - Palinology Versus Geology
Palin writing in one of her preferred media supports and outlets, that is Facebook, said:
With [environmentalist] nonsensical efforts to lock up safer drilling areas, all you're doing is outsourcing energy development, which makes us more controlled by foreign countries, less safe, and less prosperous on a dirtier planet. Your hypocrisy is showing. You're not preventing environmental hazards; you're outsourcing them and making drilling more dangerous.
Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country's energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It's catching up with you. The tragic and unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it.
To be sure, Palin has serious competition from other conspiracy theorists to explain the disaster. These have let imaginations and prejudices rip, to explain it as due to a North Korean or Venezuelan mini-submarine attack, or why not an Al Qaeda suicide scuba diver in really deep water. Almost never do we hear the real reasons, a lot more to do with geology and rarefied remaining oil reserves onshore, than bomb-wielding terrorists.
Extreme deepwater oil exploration and development, along with Canadian tarsand oil are two of the last, best hopes for US domestic oil production and import supply. Both are what Palin would call dirty or very dirty, although they protect innocent US oil consumers -- each using an OECD record high quantity of oil each year of about 23 barrels -- from being "controlled" by foreign suppliers. These, as Palinology tells us, are apart from Canadians almost all hostile and bent on making the US less prosperous.
Deep offshore oil production, meaning oil produced at water depths below about 1000 metres, is surely growing, and with Canadian tarsand oil production raising accounts for as much as two-thirds recent annual world production increases. However this in turn is a small figure, after depletion loss of production and rising losses through the "well to wheel" production and supply chain. Less than 4.5% of world oil production is from deep water plus tarsand oil, and neither are candidates for sudden stepwise jumps in supply.
Both the IOCs (international oil corporations), like BP or Exxon and the NOCs (national oil corporations), like China's Sinopec or India's ONGC are struggling to find, develop and extract oil from overwhelmingly "mature" oil provinces and prospects. Examples of "very mature" provinces and prospects with downward-tilted outlooks for production are as commonplace as upward revisions of the daily oil volume gushing from BP's hole in the seafloor, a mile below the Gulf of Mexico's waters. All the onshore US oil provinces including Alaska and south of Alaska (in the Lower 48 States), except for the recently-found Bakken field, and all the North Sea province are two examples. The common thread is that these provinces are worked out or depleting, often rapidly, many are high cost due to exotic production technology being needed to tweak the remaining oil, but are either onshore or shallow offshore which reduces risk.
Simple facts underline this: US oil production, excluding oil-like biofuels and tiny volumes of coal or gas-based synthetic oil production, is given by the US EIA as around 5.4 million barrels a day (Mbd) in May 2010; net imports of oil are around 12 Mbd and total consumption of oil, biofuels, LPG and other oil-like and oil-substitute fuels and chemical bases is about 20 Mbd and tending to grow again with the hesitant economic recovery. As Palin knows only too well, BP's once prolific Prudhoe Bay and all related fields like the North Slope also part-owned by BP, the first of which was discovered in 1977, are in long-term and irremediable decline, some for more than 15 years. At best, around 2 to 3 billion barrels remains to be extracted from all onshore and shallow offshore Alaskan fileds -- enough for 4 or 5 months of US oil consumption. Chances of a 'magic recovery' in production are very close to absolute zero.
For the North Sea's "very mature" complex of fields, exactly the same question can be asked: how many, if any North Sea oil producers, IOCs or NOCs, are producing more each year ? How many are producing less ? Do they expect future prospective finds and production outlooks to go on declining, or not ? These answers are easy to find, and summarize what "very mature" means.
Gambling On Deep Water Oil
North Sea oil was, and for remaining producers still is a relatively easy-to-operate shallow offshore province, with many large differences to extreme deep water exploration and production. This special category features extreme high costs to work in many cases wat more than a mile's water depth, before start drilling another 2 or 3 miles, or more into the Earth's crust, to find pockets of very hot oil, and sometimes enormous volumes of very hot pressurized gas.
Record depths, at present are in the West African offshore oil provinces, notably Angola. Hot, high pressure gas is always a risk with oil exploration and production from extreme depths. A gas blowout ripped through and sank BP's hired Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible rig, a $365 million jewel of high-tech, killing 11 of its crew on April 20, starting the USA's worst-ever oil spill and worst-ever environmental disaster, and BP's worst-ever financial disaster...
Palin's tirades are directed mainly at environmentalists -- and the Obama administration - who do not want oil drilling in the US Arctic nature reserve of Alaska, perhaps keeping this oil for harder times around the corner. The Arctic nature reserve drilling debate has gone for over 35 years, since the first Oil Shocks and the start of decline in US national total oil production, in 1970. The probable oil reserves are likely to be rather modest, few estimates placing them at much above 10 billion barrels extractible, equivalent to around 15 months of US oil demand.
Deep water oil is above all a way to avoid what Palin calls "control by foreigners" but her mental homework on US oil is woefully inadequate. She clearly hints that the US could "home source", rather than outsource, either overseas or in risky deep water foraging at the edge of the continent, its present or future oil supplies. Today, the US imports around 12 Mbd, making it the world's biggest importer, with China and Japan, N°2 and N°3, a long way behind. US domestic production, inlcuding about 1.65 Mbd of deep water oil is as mentioned above about 5.4 Mbd and this is declining. To be sure, the few new onshore fields recently found include the "giant" Bakken, which may yield 4 billion barrels, when developed and produced over a period able to extend over 25 - 35 years, but this will do little or nothing to dent US oil import dependence due to its fields being overwhemingly "very mature".
The often clearly stated claim that IOC exploration ad production in the OPEC states and Russia must be increased, even by military force as in Iraq, is also shown by Iraq to be a low performing option. Unsurprisingly, the OPEC states and Russia do not feel they have a burning need to develop, exploit and deplete their national oil reserves in a record short time, mainly to raise profits for the IOCs and keep oil prices low for OECD, Chinese or Indian consumers. Whether dependence on oil imports from overseas producers whose production is mainly onshore, not under the water, is dirtier than dependence on deep offshore oil from the Gulf of Mexico is however very easy to answer, with BP giving the answer every day. Whatever Palin means by "safe", deep offshore oil is now shown to be what multiple other, but rarely commented accidents, like the Mexican Ixtoc disaster of 1979 also show -- that is unsafe and risky.
To be sure, Canadian tarsand oil, certainly the dirtiest-possible method for producing synthetic crude from bitumen, sand and mud, is openly hailed as "safe", in the sense of national security, by America's leaders but this source of "new oil" is also highly limited in production scalability. The reserves, of course, can be estimated as "equal to Saudi Arabia", and 3 times Russia's remaining oil reserves, but "ramping up" tarsand extraction and producing more oil is dirty, expensive and slow. Even worse, Canada wants, and needs this oil itself, with tarsand oil now supplying around 75% of total Canadian production, due to declining onshore conventional oil reserves.
Palin, like fellow extreme Republicans is fully in favour of the Iraq war, but extending this model for "opening up" access by IOCs to OPEC's neglected, or supposedly neglected remaining onshore oil reserves, is highly questionable, high cost, and thoroughly dirty in human terms. Selling new wars, even on Facebook, is not such an easy task despite Palin's bimbo smile.
For the IOCs, non-access or restricted access to OPEC, and Russian remaining onshore oil reserves is most surely the basic cause of the rush to deep offshore exploration and production. The basic cause of this is geology, and the massive quantity of oil coal and gas mostly thrown away in the "mature postindustrial" countries. These include Palin's USA, which has no qualms about outsourcing its industry, to provide the industrial goodies that the USA and other "postindustrial" societies avidly consume in massive quantities. Paying the right price for imported oil is a better strategy, but the best long-term strategy is cutting dependence on oil, and other fossil fuels, in a serious and committed way.