Oil and natural gas reserves are found underground and must be extracted using a drilling method. In this lesson you will learn about the many uses of oil and natural gas, the availability of these valuable resources and how they are extracted.
Oil and Natural Gas
Oil and natural gas are trapped within porous rocks deep under the earth's crust. Early Native Americans were the first to discover oil seeping out of the earth and collecting on the surface of lakes and ponds. They would skim the water with blankets to gather oil to use for burning.
But in 1859, a man named Edwin Drake used a drilling method to tap into the oil deposits under his property, moving us toward the Age of Oil. In this lesson, we will learn more about how oil and natural gas is extracted from the earth, and discuss how much remains to be drilled.
Oil and Natural Gas Uses
Developed countries, like the United States, run on oil. According to the Energy Information Administration, gasoline for cars, SUVs and light trucks accounts for roughly 45% of the oil we use. Yet oil does more than just fuel our transportation methods. Many items we use every day contain oil, and some of them would surprise you! Now, you may already know that oil is used to make plastic products, and our modern-day farms could not run without massive inputs of oil for fertilizer and pesticide manufacture.
But, did you know that oil is also used to make everything from nylon pantyhose, to crayons, to lipstick? That's right; it's hard to get through our day without some aspect of our daily life being dependent on oil. But what about natural gas? Well, that has many practical uses as well. Natural gas is one of the most popular fuels used to heat our homes, and many chefs prefer cooking on a natural gas range. Industries rely on natural gas for lighting, heating, cooling and cooking. Natural gas can also be used in the production of products, such as plastics, fertilizer, anti-freeze and fabrics.
There is no doubt that developed countries and their economies are very dependent on oil and natural gas. Unfortunately, oil and natural gas are 'nonrenewable fossil fuels.' They're considered nonrenewable because, once they are burned, they cannot be replaced during our lifetime, due to the fact that they take millions of years to form. This has led many scientists to ask the question, 'Just how much oil and natural gas remains for us to use?'
As it turns out, there's a lot of differing opinions as to how much oil and natural gas can be produced in the future. To get a better idea of the availability of these energy sources, we need to consider how much remains in the ground, and how much of these existing reserves can actually be extracted without overly disturbing the environment or costing too much money.
Petroleum geologists are geologists who specialize in the exploration and production of oil and natural gas. It is the petroleum geologist's job to evaluate areas where oil and natural gas might be found. If they find an oil deposit that can be economically recovered using existing technologies, it is said to be a proved reserve, or a 'proven reserve.' While there is some debate, it is estimated that at present, proved reserves of oil could meet demand for the next few decades, if the rate of consumption stays the same.
There is also thought to be more oil and natural gas reserves that have yet to be discovered. However, these reserves may be in more difficult areas to access and therefore harder to extract. To tackle the problem of hard-to-extract oil and natural gas deposits, petroleum geologists are continually developing new technologies to squeeze more fuel from existing reserves and reach previously inaccessible fields.
Extraction and Technology
Oil and natural gas is extracted from rock deep within the earth using a drilling method. Traditionally, this involves an oil rig, which is a structure with equipment used for drilling oil and gas. If the oil is found at sea, as opposed to under land, an 'offshore oil rig' is used in a similar fashion. With many of the easily accessible oil reserves already depleted, oil extraction has become more creative, thanks to new advances in extraction technologies. These advances in technology have increased the ability of oil companies to extract oil and natural gas from previously inaccessible locations, and also squeeze more oil out of existing reserves. Let's take a look at some of the technological advancements.
Traditionally, drilling was done by boring holes vertically into the ground, which required the oil company to set up drilling directly on top of the potential oil deposit. Directional drilling is the practice of drilling non-vertical holes for the extraction of oil. Directional drilling allows oil companies to reach different areas of an existing oil field that may otherwise be inaccessible. For instance, if a reserve is found under a protected area where drilling is not allowed, directional drilling may be used. Directional drilling can also be useful to drill under structures, such as railroads, or other areas where a rig cannot be set up.
Horizontal drilling is similar to directional drilling, but where directional drilling may drill in a slanted direction, horizontal drilling is the practice of drilling horizontally through an oil or natural gas deposit. In other words, horizontal drilling can allow oil companies to drill down, and then make a 90-degree turn to continue drilling parallel to the ground surface. Horizontal drilling has proven to be highly productive, and often allows for more economical drilling. Another advantage of horizontal drilling is it has less of a negative impact on the area. In fact, horizontal drilling can be used to access oil in some areas where drilling is not permitted for environmental reasons.
Another technology that enhanced oil and natural gas recovery is 3-D seismic technology. Now, 3-D seismic technology is not a drilling technique; instead, it is an exploration technology, which uses sound waves to create three-dimensional images of underground formations. This allows the industry to gain a clear picture of what lies beneath the surface and more accurately locate oil and gas deposits.
Let's review. We live in the Age of Oil. We rely on oil for our transportation needs, and oil is the raw material for many forms of plastics and synthetic fibers. Oil is also used to make fertilizer and pesticides used in farming. Natural gas is widely used in both homes and businesses as a source of heating, cooling, cooking and lighting.
To get a clear idea of the availability of oil and natural gas, petroleum geologists evaluate areas where oil and natural gas might be found. If they find an oil deposit that can be economically recovered using existing technologies, it is said to be a proved reserve.
Traditionally, an oil rig is used to drill for oil and gas. New technology has allowed oil companies to locate and extract more oil. Directional drilling is the practice of drilling non-vertical holes for the extraction of oil; for instance, drilling on a slant. Horizontal drilling is the practice of drilling horizontally through an oil or natural gas deposit. While not a drilling technique, 3-D seismic technology uses sound waves to create three-dimensional images of underground formations, allowing companies to more accurately locate oil and gas deposits.
After seeing this video lesson, you should be able to:
- Recall different uses of natural gas and oil
- Tell what petroleum geologists do
- Explain what a proved reserve is
- Discuss directional and horizontal drilling and 3-D seismic technology