Role of Conventional and Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the 21st Century

      Energy demand is expected to quadruple in the 21st century, whereas worldwide oil production is predicted to peak prior to the year 2015.  Increasing production of unconventional hydrocarbons has been suggested as a potential method of meeting rising global energy demands (Lakatos et al., 2009).  Lakatos and Lakatos-Szabó estimated the availability of these unconventional sources of oil and gas by evaluating and comparing existing data, including approximations of recovery rates based on present average values and probable technological progress.  In situ and ex situ techniques, as well as chemical methods, were considered.  Overall, the scientists estimated that recoverable unconventional hydrocarbons far exceed current industrial reserves of oil and gas, and that recent advances in tar sand oil and coalbed methane extraction have made many types of unconventional hydrocarbons competitive with crude oils and natural gases.  This study proposes that research, development and utilization of new recovery technologies for unconventional oils and gas will be of critical importance in the 21st century, as production of conventional sources of oil and gas begin to decline. .— Caitrin O’Brien 
Lakatos, I., Lakatos-Szabó, J., 2009.  “Role of Conventional and Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the 21st Century: Comparison of Resources, Reserves, Recovery Factors and Technologies.  71st EAGE Conference and Exhibition, the Netherlands, 8–11 June 2009, 1–13.

 I. Lakatos and J. Lakatos-Szabó of the University of Miskolc evaluated and compared data from “reliable organizations” to determine the potential of worldwide unconventional oils and gases.  The authors classify unconventional oils as oil shale, oil and tar sands, and pyrobitumen, while unconventional gases include gas shale, gas sand, tight gas sand, basin-concentrated gas accumulation, and coalbed methane.  Lakatos and Lakatos-Szabó compared historical production of unconventional sources of oil with estimates by the UN Energy Map of the World (1995) and the US Geological Survey.  The potential of unconventional gases were found by comparing forecasts from the BP Statistical Review and the US Geological Survey.  After comparing projected estimates of ultimately recoverable unconventional gas and oil resources, the authors estimated the production costs of these hydrocarbons for different recovery methods.  This final data was used to determine the effects that unconventional hydrocarbons could have on global oil and gas demand.
The authors determined that while “it seems very probably that natural hydrocarbons will remain the mainstay of energy supply until the middle of the 21st century,” unconventional hydrocarbons will be critically important in the future.  Global reserves of unconventional gases and oils “significantly exceed” the estimated availability of conventional hydrocarbons.  Production of several of these unconventional hydrocarbons has already started in several countries.  In particular, shale oil, sand oil, and coalbed methane resources are already being tapped using alternative extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing.  Recent increases in hydrocarbon prices may further accelerate the production of unconventional sources of oil and gas, especially because production cost of tar sand oil and coalbed methane gas are now competitive with recovery costs of conventional hydrocarbons.  Overall, more research and development activities are needed to allow for wider application of new, sophisticated recovery technologies that could be key to increasing extraction of unconventional hydrocarbons.

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