The petroleum industry's accomplishments in wresting oil and natural gas from tight shale formations virtually assures plentiful supplies for coming generations.
The bad news is prices for fuel are likely to range from high to higher.
Oil producers are proving there's a way to extract petroleum from hard rocks, but they are gambling real money to do it.
A conventional vertical well can cost from $2 million to $3 million, according to Davis L. Ford, a consulting environmental engineer and board member of Clayton Williams Energy.
But the horizontal wells hydraulically fractured to release oil and gas from across a shale formation take $7 million to $8 million.
Ford and Mohamed Soliman, chairman of the petroleum engineering department at Texas Tech, met recently in a conference room to share their thoughts about the future of petroleum.
They foresee nothing short of achieving energy independence for the United States through the new high technology available to oil and gas producers.
"Some people usually discuss, will the United States become self-sufficient in energy," said Soliman, a former engineer with the Halliburton Co. "Not in oil. That's never going to happen. But if we can use gas in transportation, then we can get there."
Ford said, "What I hear from talking to large companies like Exxon and small companies like Clayton Williams ... I'm hearing energy independence -- forgetting about the amount of oil and gas -- in 10 years."
Ford suspects natural gas will become the dominant fuel in a few years. "It's prolific, clean and available. We're in a technological transformation like I've never seen in my lifetime."
The engineers think natural gas will be adopted first by the trucking industry because of the rising cost of diesel fuel, and then automobiles will follow.
Soliman said of the new petroleum extraction technology, "This is actually very exciting. There are a lot of things going on."
Is this going on all over the Permian Basin?
"It's going on all over the world," Soliman said. "I was in Vienna in Austria, and they have a company now drilling for gas in shale -- in Vienna!"
Ford sees petroleum reserves lasting for a long time.
"When I'm around people like Dr. Soliman, and people from large and small companies, they're all saying about the same thing: Our proven reserves -- which means the bank will loan you money on them -- our proven reserves in this country are almost 200 years. In Poland they are saying 300 years. Now that's a guess, but when I was a young engineer, I would say in the 1970s and 1980s, our proven reserves were guesstimated to be at the most 20 or 25 years."
Soliman, laughing at that past estimation, said, "We thought by the time we retired there would be no oil."
Is there no end to it, then?
"Well ... I can't say that," Soliman answered.
"Everything has an end," Ford said.
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