Endless Oil

Posted on January 13, 2010 

Endless Oil

Not many people think of the Netherlands as oil country, but a billion-barrel field lies under a nine-mile strip of grazing land along the Dutch-German border. When oil prices cratered in the 1990s, Royal Dutch Shell (RDS/B) and ExxonMobil (XOM) shut the Schoonebeek field down. Company executives reckoned that its thick, hard-to-extract crude wasn’t worth the trouble, even though only about 25% of Schoonebeek’s oil had been produced. The main evidence of the town’s petroleum past was an old-fashioned bobbing oil pump, known as a nodding donkey, which still stands in a parking lot near a bakery.

Many analysts and industry executives have little doubt that there’s plenty of oil in the ground. “Only about 32% of the oil [in reserves] is produced,” says Val Brock, Shell’s head of business development for enhanced oil recovery. Shell estimates 300 billion barrels and maybe more might be squeezed out of existing fields, much of it once thought beyond retrieval. Peter Jackson, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates’ London-based senior director for oil industry activity, has reviewed data from the world’s biggest fields. His conclusion: 60% of their reserves remain available.

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