A reader writes:

I am an exploration and production geologist in North Dakota. The fellow writer and geologist in your post makes some comparisons that will likely sound palatable to the average reader but do not actually mean what they might seem to imply.

The world's oil production can be seen as two types, gigantic reservoirs that produce roughly half of the world's oil with their large porosity and permeability (Arabia's Al Ghawar) and small reservoirs with low porosity and permeability that require tens of thousands of wells to produce the approximate other half of what we call "conventional" oil.

What the writer calls drilling technology does not produce significantly more oil, it just produces it faster. All we are doing with our technology in Canada and the US is taking those last remnants of oil and instead of pumping them out slowly over the let's say next forty years is getting them out in ten. (There are caveats here but the broader point is correct.)

The phenomena he speaks of with thousands of rigs has much more to do with the allowed private production of oil in the US and Canada whereas elsewhere the resource is owned by the state. Those nations are typically reluctant to increase infrastructure (hundreds of rigs) in the oil patch and speed up like our "production on steroids" means. They may get there, or by that time it may not pay.

The infrastructure costs are enormous though. The vaunted N. Dakota Bakken Formation which has been so much in the news lately are running 20 stage frac jobs which requires staggering horsepower from compressors and mighty piles of sand to complete the wells. A well drilling and completion can easily run $5 million. Initial production can be high, on the order of 800 bbl/day but that decline is very steep and rapid. You have to drill as fast as you can just to stay flat after the initial runup and already the "sweetspot" areas appear to be dwindling.

A very large proportion of the Bakken wells are not making money in the present price and many companies are critically over extended and having financial stress because of their recent Bakken investments. We're on the verge of an experiment in massive investment that will be a failure unless price comes up and soon.

The "bumpy top" the writer suggests will likely not be a long phase. As the large reservoirs around the world go into their final steep declines, such as Mexico's Cantarell field is doing now that effect will overwhelm the portion of oil that is produced with these thousands of rigs effort; and that population of oil fields will again have it's own steep declines as the oil is produced so quickly with this technology. So the top will be a little bumpy and modestly prolonged but the "cliff" at the end of that becomes even steeper as a linked proportional result.

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