soon and very soon

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Too Late?

In 1982, the Saudi government took complete control of Aramco (the Arabian American Oil Co.) after four decades of co-ownership with a consortium of major oil companies. Since then Aramco has never released field-by-field figures for its oil production. In fact, no OPEC member is very forthcoming. The cartel sets production quotas according to a country's reserves, so each member has reason to exaggerate. Meanwhile, OPEC nations are constantly cheating one another by overproducing, so none wants to publish official statistics.

Almost 900f Saudi production comes from six giant fields, all of them discovered before 1967. The "king" of this grouping -- the 2000-square-mile Ghawar field near the Persian Gulf -- is the largest oil field in the world. But if Saudi geology follows the pattern found elsewhere, it is unlikely that any new fields lie nearby. Indeed, Aramco has prospected extensively outside the Ghawar region but found nothing of significance. In particular, the Arab D stratum -- the source rock of the Ghawar field -- has long since eroded in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The six major fields, having all produced at or near capacity for almost 40 years, are showing signs of age. All require extensive water injection to maintain their current flow.

Still, the experience in America and the rest of the world shows that oil fields don't last forever. Prudhoe Bay, which was producing 1.2 million barrels a day five years after being brought on line in 1976, is now down to less than 400,000.The mystery of Saudi oil capacity bears an eerie resemblance to Saddam Hussein's apparent belief that his scientists had developed weapons of mass destruction. Who are the deceivers and who is the deceived?

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