Forbes, the business magazine of high repute, has an article up by staffer Christopher Helman overlooking the biggest oil field known on earth. Called the ‘Bazhenov’ the massive territory, as described by lead international oil analyst Oswald Clint, “covers 2.3 million square kilometers or 570 million acres, which is the size of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico combined.” These numbers put the field at 80 times bigger than the Bakken field that’s in North Dakota, Montana and Canada. This is huge, and its tight shale similar to the Bakken.
For scale, the Bakken should yield over 20 billion barrels of oil or more over the next 40 to 50 years. Right now the Bakken is now producing over 500,000 bpd, with 210,000 barrels per day (bpd) of that coming on in just the past year. Only five years ago the Bakken was at 60,000 bpd.
U.S. ExxonMobil and Norway’s Statoil are already in joint venture with the government controlled firm Rosneft. That sets up a technology export and world market access. Exxon’s recent statement says the two companies have agreed “to jointly develop tight oil production technologies in Western Siberia.”
Compared to the Bakken the geology of the Bazhenov looks just as good if not better. The pay zone averages about 100 feet thick, and as analyst Clint points out, the Bazhenov has lots of cracks and fractures that could make its oil flow more readily. The test wells that Clint cites flowed at an average of 400 barrels per day. That’s in line with the Bakken average.
For business folks and those of us watching – this is news, but for Big Oil, its old news. Most people don’t realize the conventional oil fields of Siberia have been producing millions of barrels a day for decades, oil that originated in the Bazhenov because it’s a “source rock” where oil was formed. Then the oil slowly oozed up over the millennia into higher rock that give up oil more easily. Geologists have been looking at the Bazhenov for at least – more than 20 years.
In a major contrast to the huge natural gas production and export firm Gasprom, declaring that technologies like direction drilling and hydraulic fracturing are fantasies, Lukoil‘s president Vagit Alekperov said a year ago that his company was also experimenting with the shale. In the U.S. the technology and expertise has been developed over the years that will enable drillers to harvest it.
The Forbes article lends Clint’s analysis more space. Clint expects it won’t be hard for Big Oil to export their shale-cracking techniques to the Russian firms. If the Russian companies can organize to deploy 300 drilling rigs to the field, Clint figures the Bazhenov could be producing 1 million bpd by 2020. Field operations will be challenged by summer weather in Siberia, the warmth thaws the ground enough to prevent drilling for much of the season. Its not a year ‘round place like the Bakken.
For a bit of perspective the ‘liars figure’ route is illuminating. From the Bakken’s 20 billion barrel potential multiply by 80 or get 1.6 trillion barrels – more than 75% of all the oil ever used by civilization to date. Its over 50 years of total world supply at current consumption. This is no small matter.
There are market impacts to anticipate. Russia may well have reserves way beyond what the Saudis have. Russia has out produced Saudi Arabia for years. Yet the Saudis are thought to be pretty good at husbanding the resource, staying free from major spills and not wrecking the reserves. The Russians on the other hand, tend to be ‘go for now, the future be damned’, which suggests the fields are not in top condition or even being run in ecological responsible ways. Where secondary or even tertiary recovery techynology might be is an open question.
There’s a lot of oil below Russia. The Kremlin plans to drill for oil in ice-packed Arctic waters with expensive icebreakers, cold-weather drillships and subsea pipelines. The advantage of the Bazhenov is that it’s onshore and underlies an area that is already networked with pipelines serving mature, conventional fields.
And it’s just huge. When they start fracturing one has to wonder with the geology and the oil’s ability to work its way up to more recoverable rock horizons above, just how low the reserve estimates will turn out to be.