New Oil From Old Fields - Dynowatt, Texas
Petroleum is, unfortunately, a nonrenewable resource. It takes so long for organic matter to turn into oil that all we have to work with is the supply that's currently in the ground. Once that supply is gone, we'll really have to rely on new energy sources. A big part of consuming Earth's supply of petroleum responsibly is making each drop do as much for us as possible. When an oil company is unable to pump any more oil out of the ground at a given site, the company typically abandons the site. Thanks to new technology and increased motivation, oil companies are returning to fields that were once considered dry: something that is good for all of us.
An oil field seems calm from the surface, but is really quite complicated hundreds of feet below the ground. Before an oil pocket is tapped, the petroleum is trapped between layers of impermeable rock. As the time and heat have increased upon the biological matter that makes oil, the pressure has increased in turn. Quite often, the first time a company drills into a new oil pocket, a layer of natural gas escapes and oil, under all that pressure, may gush out. (You've probably seen that happen in movies and on television.) A working oil field is studded with pumps and derricks that churn day and night, channeling the precious petroleum to tankers and pipelines.
Oil fields typically go through a few discrete stages. Once oil is discovered, the field's output will increase exponentially until the output peaks and the amount of oil in the ground starts to decrease. This is called peak oil. The late geophysicist Dr. M. King Hubbert developed this idea, charting the oil production of single fields, countries and regions, finding that the general shape of the curve was consistent. After peak oil, a field's output decreases until the cost of extracting the oil exceeds the revenue the company earns by pumping it. That's when the workers go somewhere else and the field closes.
The march of progress has changed the game for depleted oil fields. Some fields were deemed "used up" decades ago. The extraction technology has improved, making it possible to pump deeper and reach more of the oil that is left in those fields. One of the few good things about the increase in oil prices is that it is now profitable for companies to spend the money it would take to return for that "black gold." Perhaps best of all, these jobs pay fair wages and are one of the kind that simply can't be outsourced.
Revisiting these spent fields could be a huge boon for Texas and other petroleum-rich states. In an article for The Dallas Morning News, Elizabeth Souder reports that Exxon Mobil is planning to invest $340 million to extend the life of a field once feared to be near depletion. The Hawkins Oil Field in Wood County, Texas was first successful drilled in 1940. One of the big advances increasing the recovery rate is the ability to reuse the nitrogen the company pumps into an oil well in order to push the petroleum to the surface.
Another way to increase the efficiency with which a company uses its oil fields is to get a more detailed picture of what is beneath the surface. Satellite pictures and radar composite images allow derricks to be placed with more precision. It's not yet possible to locate underground oil with pinpoint accuracy, but great strides are being made all the time.
When the petroleum culture was truly taking hold in the early twentieth century, oil companies didn't think a great deal about conservation and managing each well as intelligently as possible. Thankfully, times have changed. Increasing production from long-dormant oil wells will also help the United States increase its energy independence: something that profits us in a number of ways. So the next time you're driving past a long-abandoned oil field, don't be surprised if the gates have been opened and the countryside is filled with the long forgotten sounds that mean progress has occurred and we're making the best use of our natural resources.