President Bush has joined Sen. McCain and others who are urging that more lands and waters be opened for oil exploration, even though every drilling rig in the world is busy, and there are existing undeveloped leases. Unfortunately, we have limited prospects for major oil strikes in U.S. territory.
In the waning days of 1929, a 70-year-old, down on his luck prospector named Charlie Joiner met a veterinarian/amateur geologist named A.D. "Doc" Lloyd. Doc Lloyd had done an extensive study of the strata in the Rusk County area of East Texas. He showed Charlie his collection of drawings which depicted a suspected oil laden Overton anticline at a depth of about 3,500 feet. On the drawings Doc had placed an "X' as the best place to drill.The X was on a large farm owned by a colorful widow named Daisy Bradford. Later analysis showed that nearly all of the geology in Doc's drawings was incorrect. There was just one thing right - the X.
Daisy supported the drilling effort, but the first two wells failed, as neither man knew much about drilling techniques. They hired a professional driller for the third and last try. The driller then spudded the Daisy Bradford No. 3, one of the most famous and perhaps the most productive well in petroleum history. For a few thousand dollars, at 3,500 feet, it hit six billion barrels of light sweet Texas crude oil.
In the early 1930s, oil from this field hit a million barrels a day, and much of it sold for 10 cents a barrel. Today, the Saudis and others who have the oil aren't making the mistake of selling their oil for peanuts. They are husbanding a precious resource that isn't getting any cheaper, and that continues to cost more to find and develop
The world's biggest oil strike of the past few decades is Kashagan in the Caspian Sea. A consortium of major oil companies was supposed to start producing there in 2005. Toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, winter ice, and other problems have the start now at 2013, and the Kashagan development cost is approaching $30 billion. Other big potential finds like Chevron's Jack 2 in the Gulf of Mexico and Tupi off the Brazil coast are very deep. Each well runs about $100 million, and the fields will take years to reach production stage.
Preliminary surveys off both of our coasts have not been very promising, and we don't really know how much oil is down there.
Two geo science firms, Wood Mackenzie and Fugro Robertson, have recently surveyed petroleum prospects for the entire Arctic. They have downgraded the crude oil potential by 75 percent and raised the natural gas prospects. But there are no pipelines for gas, and there won't be for at least a decade.
Alaska's ANWR is adjacent to Canada's Mackenzie Delta, which is mostly natural gas. The problem with ANWR isn't the caribou which do fine with oil drilling. There just may not be that much oil there. If there is, it will be 10 years before we see any of it.
In the early 1980s a huge structure, similar to the one at Prudhoe Bay, was identified by seismic in the ocean about 65 miles northwest of the Prudhoe Bay field, in the Arctic Ocean. An artificial gravel island was constructed to protect the drill from ice floes. In December 1983 the structure was breached only to discover it was filled with salt water, the infamous Mukluk dry hole, the most expensive in history.
With respect to any new oil, we may want to heed the words of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. When he learned of some new discoveries in the Saudi desert, he said, "When there were some new finds, I told them, no, leave it in the ground, with grace from god, our children need it,'"
It also wouldn't hurt us to conserve and leave a little for our children.
ROLF E. WESTGARD is a Deerwood resident, a professional member of the Geological Society of America and a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He is an associate chair of the Crow Wing County DFL.
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