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From the Editor

This issue is alive with the dynamic tension and synergy of technology, environmental protection and resource development that resonate throughout the petroleum industry. The challenges, risks and opportunities are monumental.

A series of shorter pieces on worldwide exploration and development “hot spots” sets the scene — testifying just how hungry we all are for petroleum. The need for heat and power drives production in these geographically diverse areas, including Iraq, West Africa, Libya, Russia, Canada and Venezuela. Exploration and production in these regions must deal with terrorism, political intrigue, graft, technological super-challenges and petroleum that will not flow without a lot of help.

In the United States, our quest for energy has led to an energy policy stalemate between environmentalism and industry, with “antagonism to offshore drilling deeper and wider than it was in the 1970s,” according to Frank Manheim in “U.S. Offshore Oil Industry: New Perspectives on an Old Conflict.” That’s really saying something when you consider that the decade preceding the 1970s started with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and ended with the Santa Barbara oil spill and the landmark environmental legislation of the 1969-1972 period. In striking contrast, Norway has been exploiting its offshore energy resources rapidly, even while the country pursues environmental protections, including a large-scale carbon sequestration project. Production there has built a $130 billion national fund as a hedge against fluctuating petroleum prices and ultimate depletion of reservoirs. That is natural resource management at its best (see Geotimes, December 2003, for other examples). Why are the Norwegians somehow managing the chaotic interplay of technology, free enterprise, sustainability, politics and the environment better than the Americans?

One petroleum technology with environmental potential that is starting to reach global proportions is “passive seismic,” as Geotimes Managing Editor Lisa Pinsker describes in “A Passive Approach to Healthy Oil Drilling.” Passive seismic takes advantage of natural tremors and small earthquakes deep in Earth — generated by drilling, fluid withdrawal or injections into reservoirs — to characterize subsurface environments. The petroleum industry has become interested in the technology for mapping reservoirs and changes therein associated with traditional and enhanced petroleum recovery. Looking to the future, passive seismic could be applicable to water management in aquifers and could help monitor injection of gas carbon dioxide, from coal-fired and other fossil fuel plants, into depleted petroleum reservoirs. That’s almost poetic: from “ashes to ashes,” ... “carbon to carbon.”

As you finish this issue on petroleum, you might want to flip back to the September 2004 issue of Geotimes and revisit the Energy & Resources news story “Booking and Rebooking Oil Reserves.” Described are a rash of write-downs and downgrading of petroleum reserves, somehow reminiscent of the widely publicized accounting scandals of late. How can we drill resources beneath 7,600 feet of ocean water and still find it difficult to make defensible reserve estimates? It is a complex system, with many challenges still ahead.

Hopefully, this issue can help shed light on the complex world of petroleum — the next time you fill up at the pump, see if the price makes more or less sense. Thanks to our authors and happy reading to you.

Believe your compass, but make your largess sustainable,

Samuel S. Adams
Geotimes Editor-in-Chief

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