We should be using America’s incredibly large fossil fuel storehouse such as our 200 year supply of coal and 110 year supply of natural gas. However, we should also be using them more effectively with smart technology solutions. These solutions are well summarized in a recent book by John A. Moore and Toby Shute titled “The Hidden Cleantech Revolution”. We can reach previously unavailable resources and do it cleaner, safer, more reliably and cheaper.
Our biggest challenge right now is oil. Global proven reserves, the oil we can actually extract, will last for 42 years and the slightest supply disruption sends prices soaring. However, Only 8% of identified reserves have been used and there is more to find. As recently as the 1970’s there was only a 20% chance of drilling a producing well. Advances in 3D seismic studies have improved the rate to between 80 and 90% and existing fields are turning out to be larger than thought. Forties, the largest North Sea oil field was recently found to contain 800 billion more barrels than originally thought.
Recovering the oil from a known field has also been limited. It is estimated only 30 to 35% of oil and gas are extracted from a field. New technology such as real time or 4D seismic profiling using down hole microphones and steerable wired drill bits combined with computer modeling of fields may boost recovery to 50%. Enhanced oil recovery techniques such as carbon dioxide injection, chemical flooding and steam flooding could boost recovery another 10%. If we also improve data flow and analysis further it is estimated we can increase U.S. proven reserves by 125 Billion barrels, enough to supply our needs for another fifty years at current usage rates.
There are huge reserves of oil trapped in deep layers of oil sands. A new technique called steam assisted gravity drainage, or SAGD, is unlocking this oil with low environmental impact. Two wells are drilled to the oil sands. Horizontal wells drilled at different depths allow steam to be injected in the upper well with oil to be collected in the lower well.
Oil is not the only fuel making gains. We have previously discussed natural gas fracking1. Higher pressure coal fired boilers are 35% more efficient than current boilers meaning the same amount of electricity can be produced with 35% less fuel. New modular designs for nuclear plants offer more safety, efficiency, faster construction times, and lower cost in a wide variety of sizes. Increasing efficiency at existing nuclear power plants provided over three times the power of all non-hydro renewable energy sources since 1990.
David T. Stevenson
Director, Center for Energy Competitiveness
Caesar Rodney Institute
Note 1: Natural Gas Fired Power Plants Key to Job Creation and Clean Energy