Fossil focus

3 min read

The continued emphasis on technological advancements holds the key to the future success of the oil and gas industry, says Robert Olsen

By 2030, worldwide energy demand is estimated to be almost 40 per cent greater than today — close to the equivalent of 325 million barrels of oil a day. And that assumes we will achieve an energy efficiency improvement of nearly 45 per cent.

Until then about 80 per cent of the world's energy needs will continue to be met by fossil fuels. Of the other energy sources, wind and solar are projected to grow rapidly. But by 2030 they will still only account for about one per cent of global energy demand — just a fraction of the overall energy mix. So it will be conventional energy sources — oil, natural gas and coal — that will need to meet the bulk of our requirements in the coming decades.

And the resources are available. According to the multi-disciplinary science organisation US Geological Survey, there are more than three trillion barrels of conventional, recoverable oil across the globe. take into account non-conventional forms, such as shale oil and heavy oil, and the estimated resource base grows to more than four trillion.

When you consider that since the dawn of the oil industry, we have collectively produced one trillion barrels, you can see that resources are adequate for the foreseeable future.

The challenge lies in access and timely development. We no longer find and produce oil and gas the way we did in the 1800s. Our industry has evolved, and it will be the continued emphasis on technological advancements that will be critical to our future successes.

Technology has long been the answer to our most difficult energy questions. Through the years, innovation has enabled our industry to overcome countless obstacles in finding, producing and delivering a product that so many people consider just another commodity.

For example, in ExxonMobil's Sakhalin operations in north-east Russia, we are using leading-edge, extended-reach drilling technology to reach oil and gas reserves that are more than 11km from the shore. And we're doing it with pinpoint accuracy in some of the most difficult operating conditions in the world.

But not only are we working on technology to access new resources. Maximising recovery from existing fields offers tremendous potential.

The development and application of enhanced oil recovery methods such as waterflooding, gas injection and thermal recovery of thick and heavy oils have extended the productive life of hundreds of fields across the globe.

In Europe, our innovative multi-fracture and multi-zone stimulation technologies have helped us access tight gas reserves in places such as Germany, allowing us to produce gas resources previously unattainable. As these continue to evolve, they will play a major role in increasing recoverable resources from fields throughout Europe, and the world.

No discussion about the realities facing our industry today would be complete without addressing the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Studies have shown that significant advances in energy efficiency, along with expanded use of nuclear and alternatives, can deliver substantial emission savings. But if we are to stabilise CO


levels in the atmosphere it will require more dramatic technological breakthroughs, given the rapidly rising global energy demand. Significant efforts need to be directed towards this goal, without a pre-determined view on what the eventual winners will be.

Our industry has been quick to seek improvements in energy efficiency in its operations. In addition, many have recognised the need for new technologies and are investing in research.

Since 1999, the steps we've taken to improve energy efficiency at our own facilities has resulted in the avoidance of 12 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions last year alone. Much of that reduction is due to our commitment to cogeneration at our refineries and chemical plants. Today we have interests in 85 cogen units worldwide, with a combined capacity to provide about 3,700MW — enough to meet the demands of nearly seven million European homes.

We are also collaborating with car and commercial engine manufacturers on R&D programmes that could yield fuel economy improvements of up to 30 per cent in internal combustion engines, with lower emissions.

Our partners in addressing climate change also include governments. ExxonMobil and others are teaming up with the EU to assess the viability of geological carbon storage, based in part on our experience in the North Sea Sleipner gas field, where we've sequestered a million tonnes of CO


each year since 1998.

This initiative —


— is working to advance carbon capture and storage technologies by studying current projects at sites throughout Europe and Algeria. This approach holds great promise in becoming a major contributor to reduced emissions over the coming decades.

We're also a founding sponsor of the

Global Climate and Energy Project

(GCEP) based at Stanford University, which epitomises the approach to exploring step-changing technology. By accelerating research into promising new energy technologies with economic and environmental potential on a worldwide scale, GCEP scientists are moving toward breakthroughs that could lead to meaningful, worldwide emissions reductions.

They are researching how hydrogen and solar energy can be made economic; how engine and fuel systems can be more efficient; and how biofuels can be made more abundant.

Just as technology has continually been the driver of progress in our industry, I am confident that future technological advances will enable an effective response to the challenge of climate change.

From a speech given to the Offshore Europe conference by Robert Olsen, chairman of ExxonMobil