Tuesday, April 23, 2002

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING! From Newsday (via Slate):
Although it sounds too good to be true, increasing evidence from the Gulf of Mexico suggests that some old oil fields are being refilled by petroleum surging up from deep below, scientists report. That may mean that current estimates of oil and gas abundance are far too low.

[N]ot known ... is whether the injection of new oil from deeper strata is of any economic significance, whether there will be enough to be exploitable. The discovery was unexpected, and it is still "somewhat controversial” within the oil industry.

What the scientists suspect is that very old petroleum -- formed tens of millions of years ago -- has continued migrating up into reservoirs that oil companies have been exploiting for years. But no one had expected that depleted oil fields might refill themselves.

Now, if it is found that gas and oil are coming up in significant amounts, and if the same is occurring in oil fields around the globe, then a lot more fuel than anyone expected could become available eventually. It hints that the world may not, in fact, be running out of petroleum.

Which also means -- let this point not fall on deaf legislators' ears! -- that the untapped Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) deposits could ultimately provide vastly more than "merely" the equivalent of six months worth of oil imports in the reserves' exploitable lifetime.

So far, I've been more-or-less agnostic on the issue. When ANWR drilling critics could say -- with the weight of considerable expertise and common sense on their side -- that the relatively modest size of the reserves would reduce worldwide oil prices by only one or two percent at best, and have similarly little impact on our ability to become import-independent, it was tempting to give the benefit of the doubt to the pristine wilderness and seek a less controversial solution to our energy needs.

But if this oilfield refilling phenomenon turns out to be commonplace -- if it's not merely conceivable, but fairly likely, that we've underestimated that significance of the ANWR reserves by several orders of magnitude -- so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Caribou, but this changes everything.

UPDATE: Intellectually honest discussion continues in the comments section below.


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