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A key argument of “Peak-Oil” and “Fossil-Fuel” theorists is no new giant oilfield discoveries have been made in recent years. Oil “experts” such as Matt Simmons and Ken Deffeyes are locked into the belief that oil is a fossil fuel, and pretty soon we are bound to have found and drilled all the oil that ever was. What about Brazil?

The experience of Brazil’s offshore drilling is proving that giant new oil fields are out there, waiting to be discovered, just off shore along the continental shelf. Petrobras, Brazil’s largest oil company is moving Brazil from being nearly 100 percent dependent on foreign oil imports only some 50 years ago, toward becoming a net oil exporter in the next few years. How? Brazil has realized spectacular results by developing the technology to drill ultra-deep offshore wells in Brazil’s Barracuda and Caratingua oil fields, in the Campos Basin some 50 miles into the Atlantic Ocean east of Rio de Janeiro.

To develop the oil resources of the Campos Basin, Petrobras formed the Barracuda & Caratingua Leasing Company B.V. as a special purpose corporation established in the Netherlands. In December 2004, BCLC finalized an $2.5 billion agreement with Halliburton’s Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary, awarding KBR a full engineering, procurement, installation and construction contract for 55 offshore wells in the two oil fields (22 horizontal producers and two multilateral horizontal producers, as well as eight horizontal injectors and eight piggyback injectors).

The contract also specified the construction and installation of two FPSO (floating, production, storage, offloading) vessels. According to Offshore-Technology.com, the Barracuda and Caratingua fields are expected to add 30 percent to the current 1 million barrels per day of production from the Campos Basin region. The two fields cover a combined area of 230 square kilometers (approximately 145 square miles). Photographs of the massive Barracuda FPSO and the P-48 Platform Topsides are posted and technically described on Rigzone.com.

According to Rigzone.com, the Barracuda and Caratingua proven oil reserves are estimated at 1.229 billion barrels. Together they are expected to produce 773 million barrels of oil by 2025. Petrobras has taken the additional step of contracting international oil consultants DeGolyer and MacNaughton to validate proven reserve estimates.

According to Energy Information Administration estimates, Brazil in 2004 produced 1.8 million barrels of oil per day, almost all of which was from offshore drilling in the Campos Basin (which includes the giant oil fields of Barracuda, Caratingua, and Merlim Sul) and the Santos Basin. Brazil’s oil production has grown at a rate of about 9 percent per year since 1980.

With the country consuming 2.2 million barrels per day, Brazil is about to become oil independent. By the end of this decade, Brazil expects to become a net oil exporter. Brazil’s offshore drilling success represents a complete turn-around – in 1953, Brazil domestic oil production filled only 3 percent of domestic demand.

None of this will impress peak-oil or fossil-fuel theorists, who expectedly will argue that the Brazil’s offshore oil fields, regardless how large they might be, are doomed to deplete sooner or later. Petrobras has a different vision. If giant oil fields can be found 50 miles offshore Brazil, how many more giant offshore oil fields remain to be discovered?

Today, Petrobras is one of the world’s leaders in developing offshore technology capable of drilling the ocean floor under some two miles of water. Petrobras enjoys considerable international prestige with its ultra-deepwater technology. The company has expanded its offshore presence in the Gulf of Mexico and off the West Coast of Africa. Petrobras is contemplating developing new offshore projects in the Caribbean, in the waters offshore Cuba.

The geological description of the Campos Basin suggests that the rock formations in which oil is being found are in Upper Oligocene to Lower Micocene deposits – in other words, deposits from the Cenozoic Era, dating back only some 24,000 years. Dinosaurs dominated in the prior Mesozoic Era which stretches back 250 million years ago and end some 65 million years ago. The oil-rich deposits in the Campos Field stretch back at most some 20 thousands of years, not millions. This should rule out that any dead dinosaurs or decaying ancient forests formed the oil found off Brazil’s shore. Dinosaurs supposed died out in the Crataceous Period at the end of the Mesozoic Era, just before the Cenozoic Era began.

Moreover, the oil-rich deposits are typically described as “turbidite,” a sedimentary deposit that typically consists of material that has moved down a steep slope at the edge of the continental shelf. The oil-rich sediments are mostly sand and mud. The technical descriptions of the oil-rich rock in the Campos Basin strongly suggest that the deposits flowed from the continent and settled on the ocean floor.

The biotic content of the rock is found to contain “benthic foraminifera,” little shell creatures that like to live on the ocean bottom. The rock itself is described as having been formed in “bathyal” conditions, a term typically reserved to describe the ocean floor from half a mile to about two miles down. The geological descriptions suggest no findings of animal fossils or ancient flora debris.

While the geology suggests the Campos Basin oil-rich deposits formed when the sea level was lower than today, the deposits suggest that the area was most probably still underwater when the sand and mud deposits flowed into the area.

With the geological description of the rock, “Fossil-Fuel” theorists are going to have a hard time positing that ancient dinosaurs and decaying prehistoric flora were the cause of the oil. The geological description sounds like the area was already well underwater when mud and sand run-off from the shore deposited sediment. The abiotic theory of oil seems more consistent with the geology, arguing that this type of deposit was sufficiently porous for upward-seeping hydrocarbons naturally formed in the Earth’s mantle to pool in reservoirs.

What is clear from reading the technical discussions from Petrobras oil engineers is that they are far more interested in the 3D seismic studies of the Campos Field oil reservoirs and 4D seismic analyses (taking into account time period analysis) than they are in debating about whether the oil came from decaying dinosaurs and ancient trees.

When Petrobras CEO Jose Eduardo Durta presented the company’s Strategic Plan out to year 2015 to a group of investors in New York on May 20, 2004, he was looking to expand the company’s expertise in deep and ultra-deep waters beyond the continental shelf off Brazil. Mr. Durta looked to strong expansion for Petrobras in this oil market niche, and he said not a word about whether or not dinosaurs had ever roamed a square foot of the ocean bottoms he planned to explore.

Looking at the experience of Petrobras in Brazil, we are led to wonder why the United States is leading in ultra-deep oil operations. Few countries in the world have the extensive offshore territory enjoyed by the United States. Why aren’t we resolved to become oil independent by exploring offshore oil with the aggressive resolve demonstrated by Petrobras?

Our problem seems to be that the current coalition of radical environmentalists, “Peak-Oil” and “Fossil-Fuel” pessimists, and the political Left are unwilling to step down their rhetoric long enough to look rationally at some real world empirical results.

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