Willem Schulte on squeezing more oil out of existing reserves

Shell scientist Willem Schulte says advanced oil recovery technology could help us access vast amounts of oil that remain trapped underground.

Willem Schulte: In the long term, oil is a finite resource. Finding new oil is not that easy any more.

Willem Schulte is Shell’s Chief Scientist for Reservoir Engineering. EarthSky asked Schulte if the world is running out of oil.

Willem Schulte: Well the short answer is, no, not at the moment. What they call ‘easy oil’ from the fields that we are producing at the moment are leveling off. And to be able to boost our production levels, we need techniques like enhanced oil recovery.

He spoke of several ways to squeeze more oil out of existing reservoirs. This is oil that is locked up between grains of sand and rocks and can’t be easily pumped. He said about two-thirds of the world’s oil remains trapped underground – and that there are three main ways used today to push that locked-up oil to the surface.

Willem Schulte: Those techniques are chemical injection, thermal methods like heating up the oil so that it flows easier, or gas injection.

Schulte said enhanced oil recovery only accounts for about five percent of current world production – about 86 million barrels a day. But he added that advances in technology could double that by 20 years time.

This podcast was made possible in part by Shell – encouraging dialog on the energy challenge.

Jorge Salazar