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Climate impacts of oil extraction increase significantly with oilfield age

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 551556 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Record-breaking temperatures1 have induced governments to implement targets for reducing future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions2,3. Use of oil products contributes 35% of global GHG emissions4, and the oil industry itself consumes 3–4% of global primary energy. Because oil resources are becoming increasingly heterogeneous, requiring different extraction and processing methods, GHG studies should evaluate oil sources using detailed project-specific data5. Unfortunately, prior oil-sector GHG analysis has largely neglected the fact that the energy intensity of producing oil can change significantly over the life of a particular oil project. Here we use decades-long time-series data from twenty-five globally significant oil fields (>1 billion barrels ultimate recovery) to model GHG emissions from oil production as a function of time. We find that volumetric oil production declines with depletion, but this depletion is accompanied by significant growth—in some cases over tenfold—in per-MJ GHG emissions. Depletion requires increased energy expenditures in drilling, oil recovery, and oil processing. Using probabilistic simulation, we derive a relationship for estimating GHG increases over time, showing an expected doubling in average emissions over 25 years. These trends have implications for long-term emissions and climate modelling, as well as for climate policy.

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Acknowledgements

V. Tripathi provided historic data for five oilfields. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Ford Motor Company provided financial support to M.S.M.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Energy Resources Engineering, School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, California 94305, USA

    • Mohammad S. Masnadi
    •  & Adam R. Brandt

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Contributions

Both M.S.M. and A.R.B. were involved in data gathering, processing and analysis of different fields. The final results were integrated and produced by M.S.M. He also wrote the manuscript, and all authors contributed to revising the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mohammad S. Masnadi.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3347

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