The Permian Basin

An analyst says that it’s a virtually infinite source of oil.

And it’s bad news for bad people around the world.

[Update a few minutes later]

Mexico’s largest shale field is now open for business. In theory, this should help the economy down there as well, and perhaps relieve the pressure to emigrate. But the place is still pretty corrupt.

14 thoughts on “The Permian Basin”

  1. We can no longer be held hostage because of oil. Those that still are now have another reason to work with us.

    Do you suppose ol’ Joe is whispering BFD in anyone’s ear?

  2. Well we always knew even in the worst case oil could be manufactured with synthetic processes like the Fischer-Tropsch process from natural gas or coal. The question was about peak oil production and oil prices. Not that gasoline or diesel would become totally unavailable. But that it would become increasingly expensive until the point came where it was replaced with something else. It’s a good thing that they’ve found these resources. I only wish we worked more on exploring our shale resources here in Europe instead of becoming dependent on Russia natural gas and Middle Eastern oil.

    1. Well, not all shale is the same. The shales being exploited in the US tend to be nice and flat, which makes it easier to drill long distances horizontally through the desired parts of the formations.

      It’s interesting to me that the whole fracking revolution took off because of hands-on experimentation in the field. It had been conventional wisdom that fracking with water would cause clays to swell in rocks, ruining a formation. But then someone, trying to save money, skimped on fracking chemicals (like expensive gels) by diluting them with water, just to see what happened. Repeated experiments got unexpectedly good results, even as the water was increased. Costs could be cut radically, and the clay swelling problem was seen to be overblown.

    2. I think the Paris Basin has considerable promise, but for political/emotional reasons, I suspect there would be resistance to fracking there. Both Poland and Hungary have sedimentary basins that might be exploitable. Those countries have a political incentive to develop their shales. Heck, even the Brits are now fracking.

  3. If the Permian has as much as 2 trillion barrels economically recoverable, that supplies the entire world for 57 years. Not infinite, but it’s just one source. That means my children will always have oil. It’s comforting.

    Of course, that puts an extra 1,069 ppm of CO2 into the atmosphere. Maybe head off the next ice age…

    1. 2 gigatons of carbon (C) increases atmospheric CO2 concentration by 1 ppmv (parts-per-million, volume).

      There are about 44 gallons of oil or about 264 pounds of carbon (the hydrogen is quite light). Hence there the Permian basin is claimed to hold 264 gigatons of recoverable carbon. This translates into 132 ppmv.

      About half of the emitted carbon in the form of CO2 appears in the atmosphere, the remaining half goes into “sinks.” Half of that half goes into the ocean, the other half of that half goes into land plants. So burning up the recoverable oil in the Permian Basin increases atmospheric CO2 by 66 ppmv (it is currently north of 400 ppmv).

      There is evidence that warming results in increase emission of CO2 from the soil owing to accelerated decay processes. For example, Slashdot is running an “Arctic permafrost is melting and we are all going to die” article right now. If increased temperature is driving increase CO2 emission, the absorption of CO2 by plants has to be commensurately higher, otherwise the atmospheric CO2 concentration would already be much higher than it is right now. There is evidence of such “greening” of the land as CO2 levels have increased.

      Taking into account temperature-stimulated CO2 emission, my model shows that only half of the observed CO2 increase in the atmosphere is the consequence of human-caused emissions; the other half is the result of it, yes, it has been getting warmer. Taking that into account, burning the endowment of the Permian Basin increases atmospheric CO2 by about 30 ppmv or less than 10 percent.

      Murray Salby (and our own Bart) think that the portion of the observed increase in atmospheric CO2 directly the result of humans is much lower than that. I disagree on this point with Salby as he is basing this on linear statistical analysis whereas the ocean absorption of CO2 is highly nonlinear owing to the manner in which CO2 is absorbed into ocean water through a chain of chemical reactions known as the Revelle buffer. Bart tells me that thermohaline ocean circulation that upwells cold water needs to be accounted for and I am assuming a constant ocean temperature.

      Pieter Tans (he has impressive credentials) hand-waves away the effect of temperature-stimulated CO2 emission on atmospheric CO2 and the human-caused fraction. He claims that the variation in emissions with temperature (the Web site Wood for Trees is the go-to-place for this observation) comes from a small leaf-litter-on-the-forest-floor reservoir, mainly in tropical forests that operates on short times scales accounting for year-to-year fluctuations. This means the carbon emissions balance without invoking a stronger CO2-concentration-dependent uptake from plants. I think he is wrong — there is published evidence in a “well-regarded” journal that the soils have net carbon emission in response to warming over a decades-long time frame, but I am trying right now to formulate a model where Tans could plausibly be correct or to disprove Tans by pointing out the observable discrepancy in such a model.

    2. Shorter version:

      The response to “warming drives increased CO2 emissions we are all going to die” is that if this is the case, the plant uptake of CO2 has to be higher otherwise we already would be all dead.

      The higher the warming-drives-CO2 effect, the stronger the negative feedback of plant growth of atmospheric CO2, and the much smaller the amount of atmospheric CO2 that can be blamed on humans. CO2 is increasing because it is indeed warming, warming that is the result of emergence from the Little Ice Age.

  4. I don’t quite buy the story since this analyst has a vested interest. Sure, there’s probably that much oil in the formation. But it isn’t necessarily true that the oil will be economically recoverable. We’ll see how it turns out.

    1. “Fossil fuel”, broadly defined, is the chemical energy available from reacting atmospheric oxygen with reduced material in the Earth’s crust. This includes not just conventional coal, oil, and gas, but also dispersed organic matter (kerogen) and sulfides and reduced transition metals (Fe+2, for example).

      By this definition, the amount of fossil fuel available is limited by the amount of atmospheric oxygen available. Of course using even a fraction of this would likely have dire consequences.

  5. I am pro nuclear power and was surprised to see this .. hope it doesn’t end up setting it back..

    “Early signs of ‘incompetence at every level’ went unheeded as South Carolina rushed toward ‘sexy’ nuclear future”

    “Seasoned laborers who worked on two now-cancelled nuclear reactors in South Carolina described the $9 billion construction effort as one of the most dysfunctional jobs they have ever done.

    “Incompetency at every level,” said one construction worker, who like others asked not to be named for fear of being blacklisted in the industry.”

    1. It has very likely killed new gigawatt scale nuclear power in the US. The only hope now is small reactors (NuScale, for example), but unless at least ~50 of some model of those get sold the notional manufacturing scale effects likely won’t be good enough to have a hope of making them competitive. And if solar/wind costs continue to rapidly decline even that likely won’t be enough.

      Time to make room for nuclear in the Museum of Obsolete Technologies, next to vacuum tubes, magnetic cores, and the buggywhip.

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