263. ARE THE LARGEST FIELDS DISCOVERED FIRST?
A key assumption of the argument for imminent peak oil is the idea that "the largest fields are discovered first". If you quiz the peak oilers about it, they generally don't produce any supporting data. They simply appeal to "common sense".
Granted, the idea does seem reasonable on the face of it, but I distrust common sense. I prefer data, and the data shows that reality is more complicated.
For example, if the largest fields are discovered first, why did it take roughly 90 years after oil drilling began to find Ghawar (the world's largest field)? Similarly, Iran recently discovered 2 super-giant oil fields: Azadegan (2001) and Ferdows/Mound/Zagheh (2003). Azadegan was the largest field discovered in Iran in 30 years, and Ferdows is even larger. Oil exploration in Iran began in 1901. So why did it take 100 years to find these large fields if large fields are discovered first? Similarly, Kazakhstan discovered the gigantic Kashagan field (the country's largest field) in 2000, even though oil exploration in the area began prior to WWII. Prudhoe Bay, the largest field in the U.S., was discovered in 1968, even though Colonel Drake drilled the first U.S. well in 1859. Why did it take the U.S. 109 years to find its largest field? Norway recently discovered gargantuan coal deposits in the North Sea holding 3 times more coal than all the previously known coal resources in the rest of the earth's crust. It was the biggest coal discovery ever, and it happened more than 500 years after people began mining coal. That would seem to be a case of the largest deposit being found LAST.
Ronald R. Charpentier of the USGS has data making the same point in his presentation The Future of Petroleum: Optimism, Pessimism or Something Else(pdf) (click image to enlarge):
The disadvantages of trendology are easily demonstrated, however. Consider the discovery history of part of the Trias-Ghadames basin of Algeria. If trendology had been used for an assessment in 1980, the assessment would have given little chance for undiscovered fields larger than 10 million barrels and the resulting estimate would have been low. The largest field in the assessment unit would have been missed. (Slide #6)As you can see in the chart, the largest field in this basin of Algeria was not discovered first. If the peak oilers had been in Algeria in 1980, they would have pointed to the declining trend and said the basin was all played out. They would have missed the largest field.
The same trend is continuing today. Just yesterday, Mexico announced the discovery of a new deepwater field potentially larger than Cantarell, their largest currently operating field*:
MAR. 13 5:52 P.M. ET Mexico has made a deep-water oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico that could be larger than the country's giant Cantarell offshore field, President Vicente Fox said on Monday.SourceIn short, the evidence shows that large fields are frequently discovered late in the game. It also shows that there are some serious problems with Matt Simmons' superficial fairy tales about kings, queens and lords:
The French Petroleum Institute did a major study a couple of decades ago about the distribution of oil fields by basin. And what they found was that what seems to happen with phenomenal regularity is that within about 5-7 years of moving into a new area of prospective hydrocarbon, you tend to find the queen first, which is the second largest field you're going to find. You then calibrate in on the knowledge of how you found that and within a handful of years you find the king. And then over the next decade, you find there too, the next 8-10 lords. And once you've found the royal family, the rest of everything you'll ever find are basically peons in size.Source-----
*) Chicontepec, an undeveloped heavy oil field north east of Mexico City, is actually larger than Cantarell. Its original oil in place (OOIP) is greater than 139Gb, of which 7% to 10% (10-13Gb) are currently technically recoverable. (Source: World Oil, Nov. 2001)
-- by JD