The Outlook for Technological Advancements In Oil & Gas

Tim Haïdar

Part of the Oil and Gas Technology series

Technological advancements have always provided opportunities for the oil and gas industry to make the most of hydrocarbon reserves, while keep the impact of their operations to a minimum.

According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, technological advancements have helped to nearly double Ultimately Recoverable Resource estimates since 1980.

The surface impact of oil and gas operations has been reduced, while allowing for optimum recovery of reserves, by improvements in drilling, and in particular directional and horizontal drilling.

In addition, developments in 3D modelling allow for more accurate exploration, targeting reserves with guaranteed high production volumes, meaning fewer wells have to be drilled on the surface.

Aside from the E&P imperatives for technological advancements in the oil and gas industry, they can also help companies deal with the issues they will face in the coming decades.

Technology has its role to play in helping the oil and gas industry in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, at a time when carbon cuts are high on the global community's agenda.

In the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, technology may also be looked upon to enhance safety for those working within the industry.

Outlook for Technical Advancements

In its World Oil Outlook 2009, OPEC highlights that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is likely to be extremely important to the oil and gas industry in the coming years.

Speaking on the subject of developments within the oil and gas industries, OPEC said: "In particular, the focus needs to be on the early development and deployment of cleaner fossil fuel technologies, such as carbon capture and storage."

OPEC believes that CCS has the potential to aid the oil and gas industries mitigate its carbon emissions.The technology has been gaining much press of late and forms part of the UK's new coalition government's climate change policy.

Using CCS techniques for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) holds particular potential for the oil and gas industry. The practice involves carbon dioxide being compressed and forced down into reservoirs, which pushes oil to nearby production wells, while sealing the gas underground.

Exxon Mobil is among the major E&P firms using the technology, which it claims has been put to particular use in the Permian Basin in Texas. According to Exxon, 25 percent of production in the region is a result of EOR, which has allowed for the recovery of one billion extra barrels of oil.

Technological advancements to improve deepwater drilling and safety

Technology also has a significant role in play in the extraction of oil and gas from deepwater reserves, and in ensuring the safety of those charged with doing so.

This is particularly true in Brazil, which is blessed with large numbers of hydrocarbon reserves, many of which are located in remote deepwater locations.

OPEC observed that important discoveries, including Roncador, Peregrino, Papa-Terra, Whale Park fields, Tupi, Guara [and] Iara will need "major investment and cutting edge production technology" to be realised.

However, it is perhaps in the Unites States where deepwater technology is receiving the highest levels of scrutiny, following BP's blow-out at the Macondo well earlier this year.

United Statesgovernment officials claimed that better instruments and sensors are needed to diagnose issues with deepwater rigs and prevent further loss of life.

Interior secretary Ken Salazar is quoted in a report from Reuters as saying: "We must eliminate the gap between the technology and knowledge that allows oil and gas companies to tap reserves beneath 5,000 feet (1,524 metres) of water - and the technologies and strategies that allow us to deal with emergencies at those depths."

BP has now announced it is joining the Marine Well Containment Company, alongside Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell to build a system for use by the entire United States upstream oil and gas industry which "exceeds current response capabilities".