Oil superpowers and their growth towers – by Peter Tertzakian (Globe and Mail – September 17, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Bakken, Permian, or Cardium? Where is all this oil coming from? New production from brittle, oil-bearing rocks in North America – otherwise known as light, tight oil – has been impressive. Yet that’s not all. A wider glance at the world of oil reveals a lot more new barrels coming to market. Other regions are busy pumping up capacity too – for instance, the Canadian oil sands and Iraq are notable for their scale.

Process differences are also important to highlight. Pulverizing subterranean rocks with fracking equipment isn’t the only way to deliver another million barrels a day. Mining and steaming bitumen in northern Alberta works too. Drilling good ol’ vertical wells into virgin Middle Eastern geology is proving to add a lot of capacity in Iraq.

Our feature chart this week shows towers of growth for 11 regions in three countries: the United States, Canada and Iraq. Each tower represents average oil output spanning 2005 to 2013 (the current year is estimated). The number at the top of each tower diarizes the change in output over the nine-year period.

Across all its oil fields, the United States is currently pumping a total 7.2 million barrels a day (MMB/d), up a remarkable 2.0 in less than a decade. The Eagle Ford play in Texas is the most impressive, rocketing up 1.0 MMB/d in just over three years. And who ever thought North Dakota would be an oil superpower? The Williston Basin, which spans the Flickertail State, has seen a capacity spike of 800,000 B/d.

Tack on another half-million in the Texas Permian Basin and you can see why many pundits in the Lower 48 are calling for energy independence, and the demise of OPEC.

Such prophecies are hasty, although that’s not to say the legendary cartel isn’t nervous about more barrels coming out of the ground. Most OPEC members are more worried about elephant fields being drilled in Iraq than they are by the distant din of fracking operations in the U.S. Despite ongoing violence, the days when Iraq’s oil production was impaired by weapons of mass destruction and civil war appear to be over – at least that’s what the country’s production chart shows. A steep and steady rise of 1.3 MMB/d has brought Iraq’s production above pre-2003-attack levels.

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