The concept of ‘oil running out’ is an elusive one!
– how much money do you want to spend exploring for more oil in new/different areas?
– how much money do you want to spend exploring for more oil in existing oil provinces?
– how much money do you want to spend (how much energy do you want to expend) increasing the ‘recovery factor’ in existing oil fields?
On the latter, the UK Oil & Gas Authority in 2017 published a report entitled ‘Recovery Factor Benchmarking – UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) Oilfields’.
It reported: ‘Expected UKCS recovery factor has consistently been around 42% to 43% which is where the current expected recovery factor stands. Currently, at the end of the basin’s life, it is expected that 57% of the oil originally in those developed fields will remain in the ground.’
Through the application of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods, it notes: ‘Currently the expected RF for the UKCS is 43% and even a small upward percentage swing could add many millions of extra barrels, helping maximise economic recovery.’
So significant but, in the greater scheme of things, relatively marginal gains from EOR. There are limitations due to economics (influenced by e.g. oil prices, operational costs, tax regimes) but also limitations due to ‘physics’ on how much the recovery factor can be increased. And of course there may be/should be limitations imposed on all of the above for environmental/climate reasons.
Some years ago there was programme of research in Scotland to develop an understanding of CO₂-Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) with the aim of creating a commercial use for CO₂ captured from power plants and industry. The project was led by the Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage (SCCS) partnership and funded by the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, 2Co Energy Limited, Nexen and Shell.
It notes that CO₂-EOR technology has been used in North America for decades, involving injecting CO₂ into partially depleted oilfields to force out additional volumes of oil. Crucially, the majority of the injected CO₂ remained permanently stored in the pores of the oil reservoir rocks deep underground.
We learn that: “Although to date there has been no supply of CO₂ to support implementation of industrial scale CO₂-EOR in the North Sea, the large-scale development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) could change this.”
I have no idea where this research has reached. However, we do know this regarding UK government action: the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in October 2021 on ‘Track-1 clusters confirmed’.
‘Our cluster sequencing process, which has, through the CCS Infrastructure Fund, £1 billion to provide industry with the certainty required to deploy CCUS (Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage) at pace and at scale, has completed the first phase of the evaluation of the 5 cluster submissions received by the department.
‘We can now confirm that the HyNet and East Coast Clusters have been confirmed as Track-1 clusters for the mid-2020s …..We are also announcing the Scottish Cluster as a reserve cluster if a back-up is needed.’ (These favoured clusters are located in Teesside, the Humber, Merseyside, North Wales.)