Energy developments in Texas

By: Engr. Edgar Mana-ay

Houston, Texas, USA – Texas or “The Lone Star State” in the US, leads the nation in crude oil reserves and also in oil production. It has almost one-third of the US petroleum reserve and in April alone of this year, Texas had produced 4.33 million barrels of oil per day (mbpd). One barrel is 159 liters.

The Philippines anemic production of only 25,000 bpd from our very few and dwindling offshore wells in Palawan plus the condensate from the Malampaya gas field is only 0.6 percent of Texas production! By the way our country imports about 300,000 barrels per day of crude and finish petroleum.

In natural gas, Texas produces 25 million cubic feet (cu. ft.) per day mainly due to the latest fracking of shale formation in the Barnett, Eagle Ford and Haynesville-Bossier shale formation.

Our Malampaya gas production at offshore Palawan delivered direct by submarine pipeline to Batangas to fuel 3,211 megawatts of LNG fired electric power plant is only about 300,000 cu. ft. per day or only 1.2 percent of Texas production.

By the way, our Malampaya gas reserves estimated at 2.7 trillion cu. ft. will be exhausted in five years’ time and the Recto Bank oil and gas resource are supposed to replace it but development is delayed because of China interference. There are also 27 refineries in Texas process both crude oil and natural gas for export and local use and this accounts for 30% of the total refining capacity of the nation.

This new technology of fracking is really hydraulic fracturing and not a drilling process in the conventional way of recovering crude oil from underground deposits. This special process is used to recover gigantic oil and gas deposits that are mixed and trapped with shale (a type of soil or formation made of compacted silt and clay). But it has to start first with the drilling of a large straight mother hole (as in a conventional oil drilling) to contact the oil shale deposit at 1,500 meters deep or more here at the Permian basin of Texas. From then on a series of small horizontal holes are drilled around the mother vertical hole continuing to several thousand feet horizontally within the oil shale deposit. These horizontal hole casings are perforated where sand, water and chemicals are introduced under high pressure to fracture the soil or shale horizon and in the process releasing the trapped gas and oil deposit which will pass through the same perforation towards the mother hole to exit the ground.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates and approves all oil and gas drilling in Texas, recently published the total length of horizontal sections of all wells drilled in Texas. This is a measure of the horizontal part of the wellbore that is hydraulically fractured to produce oil and gas and this is where the oil and gas flows from the surrounding rocks.

The Permian Basin of West Texas dominated the list with eight of the 10 longest horizontal lateral holes. Surge Energy has 16, 955 ft. of gross perforated interval, Crown Quest has 16,857 ft., and WPX Energy has 16,557 ft., these are the top three with the longest horizontal drilled holes! Even this writer who had experience in drilling 25 years ago cannot even imagine how this new technology developed to drill horizontal holes under the ground from a vertical mother hole that can literally extend to more than 5 kilometers!

New technology are also in use at the Gulf of Mexico where there are hundreds of offshore drill rigs. A drill platform is now being installed at 5,000 ft. water depth and then drill from sea bed down to 18,000 ft. where the crude oil deposit lies.  This type of project is now undertaken by Chevron at a cost of $5.7 billion. This massive Anchor project of the California energy major is described as the first-ever, high-pressure development in the deepwater Gulf. The high-pressure technology is expected to open up other avenues of growth within the Gulf.

On the other hand, it is sad to note (being a coal boy, engaged in coal exploration and mining for a long time) that many coal-fired power plants here in Texas and other parts of the US have closed and are replaced by a cleaner-burning natural gas-fueled electric power plants. In 2011, the US coal mining industry employs 92,000 workers, this year it is down to 50,000. Annual coal production in the US peaked in 2008, when the US produced 1.2 billion tons of coal from nearly 1,500 mines. It has since gone down to only 800 million tons per year because of natural gas substitute derived mainly from oil shale deposits. In the Philippines what prevents us from shifting to natural gas is that we don’t have sufficient natural gas resources, unlike coal where we have Semirara and nearby Indonesia as cheap sources.

On renewable energy, Texas is also leading the nation on wind power at 27 gigawatts installed capacity. But it has ambitious plans to rapidly increase geothermal power production which is the domain of the state of California. Through the Cockrell School of Engineering, University of Texas Austin, (the university where my granddaughter recently graduated in Public Health), it is developing a hub for geothermal energy which will bring together engineers, researchers and entrepreneurs to develop technologies and launch companies to advance geothermal energy.

Among the UT Austin plan is to develop drilling technologies that can economically reach 30,000 ft. depth and temperature exceeding 350C to reach a vast geothermal energy potential underground. This is what our country needs since we are located in the so called “ring of fire” an area characterized by volcanic activities, hence a tremendous geothermal potential. Most of our production wells at Palimpinon, Tongonan and Tiwi (a total of about 4,000 megawatts) are at below 15,000 ft., so if we can drill further up to 30,000 ft., it is expected that we can double the power that can be realized from geothermal energy.