Whether in good terms or bad, chances are most
of your friends are talking about the Middle East and the situation
with oil. We have no crystal ball, but we're guessing this subject
isn't going to go away anytime soon.
Also by now, you've dazzled these
same friends over the past few months with a lot of information
about your profession and the industry (you have been quoting this
column, right?), so naturally, they're looking to you for even more
information about what in the world is going on.
After all, when it comes to the
industry, you're probably a better source than CNN.
With that in mind, we offer reference
material and a quick, easy-to-remember and easy-to-explain answer
to a question that we've been asked and probably is on everyone's
mind -- perhaps even yours.
Why did all the oil end up in the Middle East? (By
the way, I really enjoy your answers.)
response: Thanks, Mom.
Robert W. Scott said the huge
oil reserves of the Middle East represent "an accident of both geological
history and political history." Today, this region contains 650
billion barrels of oil reserves in just five countries -- Saudi
Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, the UAE and Iran.
Scott worked as a geologist for
Amoco for 20 years and is a former officer of the Society for Sedimentary
Geology/SEPM. He's written more than 130 papers, articles and abstracts
and served as co-editor of a book on Middle East carbonate systems.
Scott lives in Tulsa, where he's
a consultant and part-time college instructor.
The oil-rich region of the Middle
East is "a unique place," he said, with prolific source rocks of
both Ordovician and Jurassic-Cretaceous age.
Unlike the deserts of today,
the ancient Middle Eastern landscape teemed with life in much different
settings -- "a shallow shelf that faced into the Tethys ocean during
the Mesozoic time," Scott said.
Most of all, this region with
great source rock and reservoir characteristics remained relatively
undisturbed through the ages. It escaped being broken up into marginal
basins and scattered accumulations.
"This area was a broad, flat
platform for a long period of time and it was not deformed tectonically,"
he said. "It's the coincidence of the tectonic setting and the position
of the plates. It was protected from all the mountain-building going
on around it."
OK, that's the
background. Now to answer the question:
Actually, all the oil didn't
end up in the Middle East.
If you had asked the same question
80 years ago, you might have said, "Why did all the oil end up in
Texas and Oklahoma?" A lot of the vast oil resource in the United
States has been produced by now.
And as the Canadians never tire
of reminding the world, there's more technologically recoverable
oil in Alberta than in Saudi Arabia. A LOT more.
It just happens to be locked
up in tar sands, making it relatively expensive to extract.
We hear that about 60 percent
of the world's oil is in the Persian Gulf area, but that's oil recoverable
at $10-$20 per barrel.
According to the U.S. Energy
Information Agency, the world has about 3.3 trillion barrels of
heavy oil and tar sands outside the Middle East.
Still, we can look at the vast
resource of high-quality, easily accessible oil in the Middle East
as a unique accident of nature.
And, as Scott says, "I don't
think we will ever find another Middle East complex."
-- DAVID BROWN