What's Ahead

Peak Oil and Hot Technologies

Ever since the first successful well was drilled in the United States by Colonel Drake in 1859, the potential peaking of oil production has been debated. M. King Hubbert presented his peak-oil theory at the 1956 meeting of American Petroleum Institute in San Antonio. The key problem is not the limit of geological resources but the issues that revolve around the technologies, oil prices, and policies that will make the world’s vast resources economically recoverable and turn them into proven reserves. This issue of TWA provides young professionals with various angles on the topic in hopes of increasing understanding about the various intricacies of peak oil.

This issue features an interview with Mathew R. Simmons, whose perspective on peak oil is highly regarded in the oil patch. Complementary to this is the Economist’s Corner, which includes an article by Peter Jackson of Cambridge Energy Research Associates assessing whether oil production is at a peak or a plateau and Dennis Smith of IHS Energy discussing the economics involved in evaluating oil and gas projects.

“Now more than ever the international community is looking at technology to help meet the pressing challenges of energy security, environmental protection, economic growth, and the need for clean energy technologies,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a 2005 report. To that statement add the possibility of peak oil, and one can infer that technological advancement holds the key to supplying energy in the future. Advancing technology can lead to more economically renewable energy sources, increased recovery factors, and more efficiency in oil production. Syed Ali, recipient of the 2006 SPE Production and Operations Award, shares some of his insights on this matter. Brian Glass and Carol Stoker update the latest on drilling technology and space research, and Professor Michael Economides shares his perspective on future oil supplies.

Technology by itself will not bring about all the changes the oil and gas industry needs for the future; it will take successful people as well. Alan Preston, in the HR Advice section, identifies what it takes to be successful, which is worth noting in your life’s diary. International cooperation and greater teamwork are essential if we are to find solutions to the challenges related to peak oil and deployment of hot technologies. The Soft Skills section features an article on borderless teamwork to this effect.

The Forum survey reveals that 87% of young professionals believe that technology can delay the onset of peak oil. The IEA corroborates this belief in its publication, Resources to Reserves: Oil and Gas Technologies for the Energy Markets of the Future. The following technologies, based on reports from the IEA and others, are making an indelible impact:

  • Improved reservoir characterization, the ability to better image and visualize reservoir heterogeneities and fluid movements, is a vitally important consideration for every aspect of exploration, development, and production of petroleum resources.
  • Reducing the lifting cost of oil, especially from unconventional sources, will help realize this vision of economical energy from such sources.
  • Computer simulators are able to refine the large amounts of data, integrate them, and visualize them in 2D and 3D images or models of the reservoir for interpretation of the subsurface structures and the hydrocarbon-trapping mechanisms. Intelligent systems enable real-time management of reservoirs.
  • Enhanced-oil-recovery and improved-oil-recovery techniques that increase the recovery factor even a small amount can go a long way toward pushing the oil peak further out.
  • Technologies are needed for more economical production of nonconventional resources, particularly heavy oils, bitumen, oil shales, and nonconventional gas.
  • Technologies are needed to enable the greater inclusion of renewable energy sources such as wind and photovoltaic cells into the electricity generation mix and effectively capture and store CO2.

The articles in this issue of TWA are not the conclusion on peak oil or hot technologies. But they offer food for thought and should whet your appetite for learning more and enabling you to form your own opinions. If you would like to know more about the topics in this issue of TWA or debate some of these ideas, post a message on the SPE Young Professionals network at

 “Whatever is happening at the moment, try to think for yourself.”-Jean Riboud, Schlumberger Chairman and CEO, 1966–85

How do you think we are doing with TWA? Is there any theme you would like to see covered? The editorial team would love to hear from you:


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