Friday, September 19, 2008


How to Prospect for Oil

Check if your garden’s on fire
Crude oil is the fossilised remains of tiny animals and plants who snuffed it millions of years ago. Over aeons the layers of organic material were compressed by overlying rock and sediment to create the thick treacly substance that BP and Shell etc. turn into motor lubricant, calor gas, scratchy jumpers, and petrol. Wherever oil is found in abundance it seeps up through the earth to form tar pits. These sometimes burst into flame spontaneously.

Borrow a vibrator
In the absence of a blazing inferno by your garden shed, you need to find good source rock: like the classic oil-bearing limestones, clays, and shales. If the terrain looks hopeful, then you have to test it: by directing sound waves through the earth. You can use a truck mounted ‘vibrator’: bit bigger than the girlfriend’s. Or you can explode small charges and monitor the results. Like a lawsuit from the neighbours.

See if she gushes
No matter how promising the results of your seismic tests, the only sure way to find out if there’s a recoverable reservoir of oil is by drilling. First off you sink a borehole. Then you send down a ‘sniffer’: a sort of hi-tech nose. If these work out it’s time to install a proper well and pump. This type of independent oil exploration is called ‘wildcatting’ and in the US it’s reckoned one in ten wildcats produce a ‘bonanza’ - a seriously profitable oil strike. A gusher.

Move to Bournemouth
Although 70% of the world’s million billion barrels of oil are located in Arabia, do not despair. You can always try Dorset. Yep, believe it or not, the UK has a small but lucrative onshore oil industry, much of it in the southern English chalk and limestone belt, much of it privately owned. Wytch Farm, in Purbeck, is western Europe’s largest onshore oilfield. Nearby Kimmeridge has had a ‘nodding donkey pump’ for decades. Oop North the West Firby oil fields of Lincolnshire make a shekel, likewise the gas fields of Pickering, Yorkshire.

Buy that private jet
Should you hit lucky, and get a licence from the Secretary of State for Energy to run a wildcat in your nan’s allotment, you’re in the bucks. Even a tiny independently-run oilfield like Goodwith, in Sussex (the Kent-Sussex Weald has been producing oil since 1895), is said to be good for 300 barrels of oil a day, for another fifteen years. Now, a barrel of Brent Crude fetches about £70 in the market. You do the math.

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