The big puzzles

Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Professor Emeritus alla Princeton University, è nato in mezzo al petrolio (suo padre era ingegnere petrolifero) e nel petrolio ha speso tutta la vita. Presso il laboratorio di ricerche petrolifere della Shell di Houston è stato collega di M. King Hubbert, quello che negli anni ’50 aveva previsto con esattezza che la produzione USA di greggio avrebbe toccato il suo picco nel ’70, per poi declinare inesorabilmente.

Nel 2001 Deffeyes ha scritto un bel libro, “Hubbert’s Peak – The Impending World Oil Shortage”, dove spiega molto chiaramente come funziona l’industria petrolifera del mondo e perché il picco della produzione mondiale verrà toccato quest’anno. Nel capitolo 6, Size and Discoverability of Oil Fields, racconta che non esistono angoli della terra e del mare, per quanto remoti, che non siano già stati esplorati e sfruttati. Tranne…

Iraq and Iran are the big puzzles. Despite the similar names, the two countries have very different histories and cultures. In Iran, 24 oil field larger than a billion barrels have been found from 1908 to 1974. In Iraq, 11 fields larger than a billion barrels were discovered between 1927 and 1979. Despite the smaller number of fields in Iraq, both countries have roughly 100 billion barrels of oil reserves in the existing fields. Political events, and the Iraq-Iran war from 1980 to 1988, shut down further petroleum exploration. (As I read about the Iraq-Iran war at the time, I had a ghastly fantasy that the United States were helping whichever side was behind, the purpose being to trash both countries.)

Which country would discover the most oil if serious exploration, using the most advanced techniques, were to resume? I had been saying that it was Iran, because Iranian oil fields are located on spectacularly visible surface anticlines. A retired petroleum geologist told me, “Nope, it’s Iraq. We plugged and abandoned any well that wouldn’t make 5.000 barrels a day. Threw ’em back in the water.”

Whether it is Iraq or Iran, the undiscovered oil in the Middle East is very likely the largest untapped supply in the world. I am not inventing spectacular political scenarios to restart Middle East oil exploration.

Ti ripeto: questo è stato scritto nel 2001. Tutte le guerre hanno motivazioni economiche, dicono.