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When Recipe Is Right, Oil Flows

Editor's note:

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.)

Short 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

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