by William Walter Kay
The Orinoco Belt
"Oil-in-place" is estimated to be up to 1.4 trillion
barrels, of which 70% might be extracted using the
most advanced technologies.
"Let's place 1 trillion barrels of oil in
Global oil consumption is currently 35 billion
barrels a year. Thus, the Orinoco Belt alone
could satisfy 100% of global demand for almost
As for the Orinoco field's dollar value. World
oil prices are currently hovering near $60… do
And these oil reserves belong to the People of
Heavy Oil and
While much is heard of "fracking"
these days, steam-injection may in the long run prove to be the
petroleum industry game-changer.
Steam aids in harvesting
heavy oils from sprawling oil-rich sand and clay formations where
the oil is too viscous to be worked by conventional pumps.
Initially, all heavy oil (Alberta) was extracted via open-pit mines
wherein giant shovels heaved mounds of oil-saturated sand onto giant
dump-trucks for transit to separating vats filled with hot water.
This method has largely given way to
Alberta's oilsands, where much of
this technology originated, heavy oil is now 80% extracted via
steam, 20% via mining.
The simplest form of steam injection uses a single well. A hole is
drilled down to a heavy oil deposit, then steam is pumped down the
hole, sometimes for months...
Eventually a blob
of oil concentrates near the well's bottom of sufficient viscosity
to enable pumping to the surface.
SAGD (Steam Assisted Gravity
Drainage) emerged. With SAGD two lengthy perforated pipes are
drilled into place horizontally through the deposit; one pipe a few
meters above the other.
Both pipes emit steam
until a teardrop shaped oil bubble envelopes the lower pipe. Then
the top pipe continues to emit steam while the lower pipe goes into
reverse; drawing oil to the surface.
In 2017 Alberta's
oilsands yielded 2.7 million barrels a day, mostly via SAGD.
Three additional innovations are coming to the fore.
SAGD adds designer chemicals (solvents) to the
steam-injection process to accelerate the loosening up the
Steam Generation) lowers small but mighty steam generation
tools (furnaces) deep into the well. DHSG allows for greater
heat conservation and improved fuel economy.
reactors are ready for commercial application. Toshiba has
developed a prototype reactor specifically for heavy oil
extraction. This 5 MW electricity generator simultaneously
serves as the furnace for a 900 Celsius steam injection
boiler. The reactor promises to replace the elaborate and
expensive natural gas infrastructure presently required by
oil-field steam injection facilities. Toshiba's prototype
needs refueling every 30 years.
Orinoco Oil Belt
The world's fourth largest river,
the Orinoco, rises in the
Parima Mountains along the
The Orinoco engraves a
2,000 kilometers north-easterly arc through Columbia and Venezuela
before discharging into the Atlantic Ocean off Venezuela's coast.
The Orinoco Heavy Oil
Belt stretches 600 kilometers along the north bank of the Orinoco
River's easterly dash to the sea. The Belt is 70 kilometers wide.
The Orinoco Oil Belt
United States Geological Service's (USGS)
of Recoverable Oil Reserves of the Orinoco Oil Belt'
(2009) is the go-to source regarding the Orinoco reservoir's size.
After describing how this
oil-saturated bed of sandstone ended up 150 to 1500 meters below the
surface of the East Orinoco Basin; the authors' estimate
"oil-in-place" to be up to 1.4 trillion barrels.
A comprehensive study
by Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA)
established the magnitude of the original oil-in-place.
(OOIP) at 1,180
billion barrels of oil (BBO), a commonly cited estimate for
the Orinoco Oil Belt (Fiorillo, 1987)
revised this value to more than 1,300 BBO (Gonzalez and
In this study the
median OOIP (Oil-inPlace) was estimated at 1,300 BBO and the
maximum at 1,400 BBO.
(quoted in USGS, op cit)
The Belt's "technically
recoverable" oil is estimated to be as much as 652 billion barrels.
(see USGS below)
Elsewhere, however, the
report speculates that by fully exploiting SAGD, and other recovery
enhancement processes, 70% of the oil-in-place might be extracted.
Moreover, the report
relies on studies published between 2001 and 2008 hence does not
Tackling the Orinoco Belt
with these technologies will yield a trillion barrels.
USGS Report p. 1
The report does not discuss production costs.
companies continued to produce in 2018 even after transportation
bottlenecks tanked prices to $20 a barrel. These facilities,
however, would not have been built had investors known this might be
the price of their wares.
The business press
guesstimates the current breakeven price for an Alberta oilsands
project to be around $35 a barrel.
While the Orinoco Belt is not as large as Alberta's oilsands it has
its oil is not as
its climate is
far hotter; and
it's much closer
to a coast.
The Orinoco Belt sits at
9 degrees latitude and its entire span is a few hundred kilometers
from Atlantic shores.
Orinoco Belt production
costs will be noticeably lower than Alberta's oilsands.
Let's place 1
trillion barrels of oil in context.
Global oil consumption is currently 35 billion barrels a year.
Thus, the Orinoco Belt alone could satisfy 100% of global demand
for almost 30 years!
As for the Orinoco field's dollar value. World oil prices are
currently hovering near $60… do the math.