Unconventional Resources

A week after joining UT Austin on August 15, 2008, I formulated the first version of the strategic plan for the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering (PGE). My plan called for:

  1. A significant increase of the essentially multidisciplinary research on unconventional resources, and
  2. The hiring of several new faculty in the areas of drilling, completions, and production. 

Three years later, we have hired a full professor in drilling, and we are looking to fill two open junior positions in the other two areas.  Together with the Bureau of Economic Geology, we have abtained a 2-year $1.5 million grant from the Sloan Foundation, and we are about to sign a 5-year research contract with one major oil company for at least 7.5 million dollars ($12 million, or more if we perform well), and a 5-year, 5-million dollar research contract with another major oil company.  We have established a close relationship with Pioneer, a predominantly unconventional resource company.  Finally, the Department has raised several million dollars in charitable contributions to help usher our ambitious new efforts in the broadly understood unconventional resources.

In a peer-reviewed paper I have described the societal drivers of the development of unconventional resources as follows:

 While production of the easy-to-recover petroleum and natural gas declines worldwide, several adjustments will be made: (1) The rich countries will continue to limit their total energy consumption; (2) the United States in particular will have to cut its primary energy consumption by a factor of two to the level of the most affluent Western European countries; (3) the poor countries will be helped to produce and deploy passive solar devices for cooking and heating, and will gain access to the clean burning, locally produced biofuels for local transportation and other local uses; (4) all other countries will have to limit their reliance on coal for most of modernization; (5) several alternative energy systems that rely on the sun will be developed and deployed; and (6) electricity generation by nuclear fission will grow as old coal-fired power stations are decommissioned. The world will have three other environmentally unfriendly alternatives: (1) Produce massive amounts of biofuels; (2) recover, process and burn more ultra heavy oil or tar; and (3) burn more coal. For the next several decades the world will have only one environmentally acceptable option to fuel a majority of the required changes: clean natural gas. Natural gas will come from conventional deposits and, increasingly, from unconventional tight sands, shales, and coal seams. The United States of America is endowed with the huge unconventional gas -- and oil -- resources. In 2009, the technically recoverable unconventional gas is energy-equivalent to producible oil in 5 -- 10 Prudhoe Bays or 1 -- 2 Ghawars. The Prudhoe Bay in Alaska is the largest oil field in North America. The Ghawar giant in Saudi Arabia is the largest oil field on the Earth.


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