Are We Running Out of Oil?

Policy Backgrounders | Environment

No. 159
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
by David Deming


The Role of Technology

With every passing year it becomes possible to exploit oil resources that could not have been recovered with old technologies. The first American oil well drilled in 1859 by Colonel Edwin Drake in Titusville, Pa. - which was actually drilled by a local blacksmith known as Uncle Billy Smith - reached a total depth of 69 feet (21 meters).

  • Today's drilling technology allows the completion of wells up to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) deep.
  • The vast petroleum resources of the world's submerged continental margins are accessible from offshore platforms that allow drilling in water depths to 9,000 feet (2,743 meters).
  • The amount of oil recoverable from a single well has greatly increased because new technologies allow the boring of multiple horizontal shafts from a single vertical shaft.
  • Four-dimensional seismic imaging enables engineers and geologists to see a subsurface petroleum reservoir drain over months to years, allowing them to increase the efficiency of its recovery.

New techniques and new technology have increased the efficiency of oil exploration. The success rate for exploratory petroleum wells has increased 50 percent over the past decade, according to energy economist Michael C. Lynch.23


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