The demand for crude oil will continue to increase in the near term. Half of the world's undiscovered oil is thought to lie offshore. Thus, in spite of the negative attention garnered by oil spills, such as the recent BP Deepwater Horizon spill, deepwater drilling will continue despite the risks. Even if exploratory drilling hits oil, in order to determine how much oil is present and the type of oil, new innovative scientific tools that regard an oil reservoir as a complex materials system are crucial, says Philip Ball in his Energy Sector Analysis article in the second issue of Energy Quarterly published in the December 2010 MRS Bulletin. New analytical techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging, x-ray and neutron scattering and ultrasound are proving to be essential for mapping the composition and shape of the host rock. This information is important to determine the type of extraction to be used.
An oil reservoir is more than a fluid-filled cavity; it is a highly complex material system. The hydrocarbon material may vary from natural gas to a virtually solid, tarry substance made from partly aromatic compounds. The composition could vary from one part of a reservoir to another. Ball details a new methodology for in situ characterization of the reservoir fluids.
It is interesting to note that marine ecosystems are constantly exposed to crude oil via natural processes. Bacteria and fungi have adapted to metabolize the energy-rich hydrocarbons, and effective remediation strategies in the past have included boosting the abundance of these hydrocarbon degraders by adding appropriate nutrients. This bioremediation process can be accelerated by the use of surfactants to emulsify the oil. Dispersants are also effective to reduce the impact of spills on land shores. Ball details these issues in his latest Energy Quarterly article.
Gopal R. Rao, Ph.D.
Web Science Editor
Materials Research Society (MRS)