Why is it called the Empty Quarter?

Saudi exploration wells
Originally uploaded by Heading Out.
Well I am now getting into Twilight in the Desert, and, while it would be wrong to describe it as totally dispassionate, it is a well written and relatively easy text to understand and enjoy, so far. This is going to become a fairly controversial subject before long, since the raw numbers are not getting any better and there are going to be some enemies generated. And while not wishing to step on Prof G's toes in this area, historically to motivate the nation, there has had to be an enemy.

This may very well, in the intermediate term, become the Saudi family or the Arabian nation. And, while I tend to agree with Matt Simmons a whole lot more than I don't, there should be some recognition that Aramco and the Saudi family do have some arguments on their side. Which, of course, means that it is time to visit the sandwich shop again. The picture that I have posted tonight is from the presentation that the Saudi Oil Ministry made to counter Matt Simmons presentation to the CSIS in 2004. What it shows is that all the exploratory wells that have been drilled have concentrated in the North East corner of the country where the oil companies have found a significant number of very large fields. So far they have not explored that much in what, for even more reasons, is referred to as "The Empty Quarter."

So here you run a sandwich shop, where, all of a sudden, your Tuna Sandwich has achieved State recognition and busloads of folk have started dropping by to get some. The problem is that you only have so much tuna (think Arabian Light or Extra Light crude oil) and while you think you can order more from the vendor (think going out and finding new fields or drilling more wells in existing fields) that takes time that the bus companies won't wait for. But you do have that shark meat (think heavy sour crude) that the locals are happy to drop off at the back door, and so you start adding a bit of this to the sandwiches. For those who are starving (think the Far East) this is better than nothing, and so business continues to grow.

Realistically you realize that the current shop (think gas oil separation plants and other infrastructure) can only supply so many busloads, and so you start checking out the neighborhood for new franchise locations (think new fields). And by telling all the bus companies about the new prospects, you can continue to convince them to keep bringing all their custom to you.

There are just a three or so minor flies in the ointment, for while the picture shows that you have only visited part of the neighborhood to check out good sites, in reality you had your good friend "Mario" take his limo (airborn exploration) and check them out, and so far he is not finding any really hot new places.

The second worry of course is finding good help to make the sandwiches. Without good makers (think oil drilling rigs) even if you find a good location you are not going to be able to meet the demand. And this is where we have a bit of a debate. Aramco say that they have 48 rigs; the EIA says that they intend to double their rig count to 60, the recent press report says they have 34, and the latest rig count suggests only 31 active . Matt Simmons doesn't think that they can make 100 by the end of next year, though they do have some 36 on order for delivery by the end of this year.

Given the highly technical tools they are now using to get more from the fields, there is a very serious concern that even though they have the hardware, will they have the knowledgeable personnel?

And the third is that the current tuna supplier is having some problems or, to quote the usually optimistic EIA
One challenge for the Saudis in achieving this objective is that their existing fields sustain 5%-12% annual "decline rates," (according to Aramco Senior Vice President Abdullah Saif, as reported in Petroleum Intelligence Weekly and the International Oil Daily) meaning that the country needs to add 600,000-800,000 bbl/d in new capacity each year just to compensate.
Um! I have been remiss in not welcoming Ianqui to our site, having read her site for a time, I was glad to see her come aboard, but as y'all can see (hey we're not all in the North East) she is a great addition to our team and brings an additional depth that makes me even happier that I accepted Prof G's invite to help him start this discussion. So Welcome Gentle Lady, and thanks for contributing your insight. Were the subject not so grim, this would be even more delightful.

Sorry Prof G and HO for throwing the comments off-track from the get-go and be a link-whore to my own blog.

But the one thing I've been curious about (and Prof thanks for the responses on the subject), can best be explained by a conversation in Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon's character goes on a rant about externalized responsibility, which Robin williams responds by telling Matt he is paralyzed by negativity. THe entire exchange is here .

Here's the question: though this rant is a boldly negative vision, if it is true, what then? Is it negativity, or is it lucidity? If one doesnt want to contribute to the harm modern institutions often cause, where then do you turn? Do you 'lay brick in Southie' for the rest of your life?

HO--I'm very glad I can be a part of this enterprise, although I tend to feel daunted by yours and P.G.'s extreme depth of knowledge as compared to mine. But I hope I can rise to the challenge (if not as frequently as you two do...)!

BTW--did either of you get email from Rep. Jay Inslee about the New Apollo Energy Act? I suspect I got it through my involvement w/this site.

One thing I notice about the map is that most of the dots are where the oil is. They have a good pattern spread searching for the other area though. If they had found anything it would have been massively explored ( more dots ). Looking at the map it looks like they have the one nice area and the rest of them have turned up dry or not worth the effort.

Empty is as Empty does.

Spot on. Americans solve every recognized problem with a War On . . . (insert problem here)

The 30-second TV spots in 2008 will show well-dressed Saudi Royals hastily boarding Lear Jets with half-zipped canvas bags of dollars. The slogan under the screen will be THEY LIED TO US. The frame, of course, is 'America Would Still Be Okay If Not For Those Saudi Bastards.'

1) Map Scrutiny - looking for particular surface features conducive to oil accumulation
2) Aerial Survey - searches for gravitic anomalies associated with oil deposits
3) Seismic Exploration - searches for subsurface structures and reflections indicating potential reservoirs and oil or gas
4) Surface Exploration - searches the surface using "sniffers" for tangible presence of oil or gas, refines gravitic aerial surveys, and verifies surface geology

These are steps routinely taken by explorationists before a well is ever drilled. Desert topography lends itself especially well to many of these methods. These are what drilling is based on today. Note that none of them involve drilling, and all of them can be done rather quickly.

ARAMCO was not the original exploration company for Saudi Arabia. But this company did name the place "The Empty Quarter".... IMO, not without a good reason.

I stick by my guns - follow the money. ARAMCO cannot admit depletion when the country is 95% financed by IMF and other banks. It would mean their loans were made on oil not really there.

One nice thing about the new "globality" is that you can readily see how the financial dominoes are set up, and what might happen when one of them falls. This allows a better understanding when parsing things said carefully and deliberately by "officials" from any government ot corporation.

I think people should always follow the money - who gains, who loses, on every issue. In our culture, it is the sole driver for power, irrespective of national borders or even continents.

"Oil companies are huge polluters and do not care about the people who they affect with their operations. All they are after is the oil, and they don't care what they have to do to get it." This came from one of my neighbors years ago.

While this is inherently untrue today (we all work and live in the same areas, raise families, and don't want to pollute), it wasn't the case 50 years ago. But then again, 50 years ago pollution wasn't an issue, lead wasn't a poison, and the word 'environmental' was not in common use. As each of the practices or substances causing problems came to light, the oil industry responded rapidly.

Why? Because of the extreme liability it posed long term. There are now, in many areas of the world, large tracts of acreages held by oil companies without producing wells. They are bought and retained simply to keep them off the market due to environmental issues. Each is being slowly remediated, but some will take decades due to what we call NORM (radioactive rock produced from drilling) or due to extreme oil surface contamination.

I see ARAMCO, Exxon, BP, Shell and every other oil company as easy scapegoats for any administration anywhere. By refusing to defend themselves in the public arena with respect to the environmental issues, they have allowed the environmental extremists to paint them as monstrosities. They are sitting ducks for the blame game.

And the Emperor will use them at any time as "the real villains" because they are an easy scapegoat with the "evil" groundwork already laid. Others will do the same where necessary.

I am not sure the sandwich shop analogy holds in your desparate Far East comment. Desparation would not lead these countries to purchase poor quality oil if they are not capable of refining it. Rather, they would be willing to pay higher prices for the light oil that they can refine.

I agree with earlier comments that the white on black comment format and tiny comment box is not user-friendly.