Mark you calendars! March 24th, V.P. Dennis Taylor has set up wonderful, after-hours social event featuring local artist Dinah Bowman describing her “summer vacation” as a crew member aboard a deep sea coring vessel! This is a free, non-technical event for members and their spouses, and promises to be an evening of merriment and storytelling. See the announcement in this issue for all the details.
In oil and gas exploration the one data type we probably spend more time and money on is seismic. With that kind of investment who hasn’t tried to process more information from this valuable commodity? From AVO to inversion to attributes, the choices in the seismic processing “supermarket” are numerous, and this month we are pleased to be able to offer another proven technique at the luncheon meeting, Wednesday March 16th. Roger Young, co-founder of eSeis will tell us how we can extract petrophysical data from our seismic data in his talk titled “Seismic Petrophysics – A Bigger Bang for the Buck”. Continuing the theme of extracting rock properties from seismic, be sure to read Michael Smith’s paper on using rock property inversion to detect porosity in the Edwards reef complex. Also in this issue, editor Bob Critchlow has acquired an entertaining story for the “Life in the Patch” series, submitted by the mysterious “Happy Mapper”. Happiness for the “Mapper” is, apparently, a relative thing.
Reports I’m receiving is that the recent NAPE convention in Houston was a big draw with over 15,000 registered. If you were one of those attending, I hope you found the buyer or seller you were looking for.
The History committee, led by chairman Ray Govett, has taken stock of their financial status and decided the time has come to create the south Texas oil and gas history documentary film following the success of our ‘Wooden Rigs, Iron Men’ publication. Due to the severe recession recently endured, the project never was able to receive the major funding necessary to produce a video product marketable to national TV audiences via networks like PBS, the History Channel, or the Discovery Channel. Nevertheless we have raised enough to produce a high quality documentary, incorporating the invaluable video interviews of our senior members that Ray’s group has been compiling throughout the last 10 years or so. We should have a finished product by early 2012 that will be offered to our local PBS station, schools, libraries, and interested civic groups. For more information, and to continue to help the cause, please contact Ray.
Energy Reality in America, continued.
Coal is by far the most abundant fossil fuel in the world1. According to the latest BP world energy report there are currently 909 billion short tons of commercial, technically recoverable reserves available worldwide. On a BTU basis, that is 3.5 times the 6,621 Tcf of proved global natural gas reserves2. These figures predate much of the surging shale gas reserves, but even with those added reserves (and it remains to be seen, in the years to come, how many of the newly reported shale gas reserves will be economic), gas can’t equal coal. In this country we have enough known coal reserves to supply us for over 250 years at current consumption rates3. Coal, it would seem, is a marvelous resource to have at our disposal.
But coal has a (ahem..pardon the pun) dark side. It is the dirtiest of the 3 major fossil fuels. We’ve all heard the figures: burning coal on average releases twice as much CO2 as natural gas. It also gives off significant quantities of nitrous and sulfurous oxides, which, in high enough concentration, leads to acid rain. By contrast, natural gas produces 1/4 the nitrous oxides and virtually zero sulfurous oxides4. Further, 10 percent of burned coal remains as a solid residue, called fly ash. Fly ash is made up of mostly metal oxides and alkalis containing small amounts of mercury, lead, and arsenic5. Finding a suitable place to dispose of fly ash is not easy, just ask the citizens of Kingston Tennessee. On December 22, 2008 an earthen berm holding back billions of gallons of fly ash slurry failed, creating a 5.4 million cubic yard flash flood of heavy, viscous coal waste. Twelve homes were engulfed and 42 residences damaged6.
As if that isn’t enough, mining coal is no picnic either. Underground, open pit, or mountaintop removal, they all have serious downsides. And lastly because it is a solid, practical uses for coal are somewhat limited. I think it is safe to say that automobiles will never be made to run on coal, and the days of home heating with coal are over, hopefully forever.
So what are we to make of this abundant blessing/curse? Well coal has become the fuel of choice for electrical generation. According the Energy Information Administration, in 2009 44.5% of US electricity was generated using coal for fuel, more than any other fuel type7. In this capacity coal does have some attractive features. Supply is predictable, source locations don’t change frequently, and transportation routes have been in place for generations. And, fortunately, many advances have been made in capturing some coal emissions at power plants using modern carbon sequestration and air scrubber technologies. But so far, even with emission control systems, the majority of coal-fired power plants can’t reach the lower emission levels of gas8, and the captured coal emissions still have to be disposed of.
As I have done in each chapter of this series, I ask and answer the question whether our nation’s coal supply is sufficient to hypothetically supply our nation’s entire energy demand of around 16 billion BOE/year9. Before getting to the math it’s probably pretty obvious by now that the answer is yes. So, by the numbers, proved recoverable U.S. coal reserves of all ranks has remained about 271 billion short tons each of the last 20 years10. This is the energy equivalent of 1.12 trillion BOE, enough to supply all our current energy needs for the next 70 years11.
Probably the best thing that could happen for the coal industry would be advancement in coal gasification and liquefaction technology. These processes already exist, but are not yet economical12. Ideally gasification of coal would occur in situ, leaving the solids in place and removing predominantly only methane. Successful in-situ gasification processes were conducted as early as the mid 1930’s, primarily in the former Soviet Union13, but again, cost and efficiencies don’t warrant its use at this time. Liquefaction of coal hydrocarbons is simply the next refining step after coal gas is collected.
The benefits of converting solid coal hydrocarbons to gas or liquids is twofold: less emissions and greater flexibility in application and transport. If the federal government really wants to have an impact on our nation’s long-term energy security, this is an area of research that could have tremendous benefit.
Next month: What does it all mean?
CCGS President, 2010-11
1 Salvador, Amos; Energy: A Historical Perspective and 21st Century Forecast, AAPG Studies in Geology #54, 2005.
2 BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2010, www.bp.com
3 Salvador, Amos, Ibid; and www.eia.doe.gov
5 Window on State Government, www.window.state.tx.us
9 CCGS Bulletin, President’s letter, Nov. 2010
10 Salvador, Amos, Ibid.
11 Energy conversion factors from The Geoscience Handbook, AGI Data Sheet, American Geological Institute, 4th ed, 2009, pgs 249-251.
12 Salvador, Amos, Ibid.