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Reflections of Peaking: Prudhoe Bay

The Washington Post reports on the affects of peak production on the US Prudhoe Bay oil field.

But this vast field is ailing: Output has fallen by nearly 75 percent from its peak in 1987 and is expected to continue dropping.

The Prudhoe Bay field sprawling over an area the size of Howard County still pumps more oil than any other site in the United States. But its shrinking production reflects a trend throughout the country: After years of pumping, fields in the U.S. are drawing less oil from the ground.

[...] While there are some bright spots in U.S. oil production, such as discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico, the overall outlook points steadily downward and is expected to continue that way for the foreseeable future -- the result of a natural process of decline.

[...] BP, which operates more than 1,000 wells on the Prudhoe field, has given up exploring for new oil on the North Slope, saying its prospects are better elsewhere.

Prudhoe Bay’s production has followed the arc of many other oil fields around the country. After ramping up quickly, the amount of oil pumped from the ground eventually fell into a prolonged period of decline. Now the pressure created by underground deposits of natural gas—which helps drive oil to the surface—has lessened and the most easily accessible oil has been extracted.

BP re-injects natural gas that’s extracted as part of the production process into the ground as a way to stave off declines. It also injects water to help produce more oil.

One of the few places in this area where visitors can see evidence of the production declines is in a cafeteria in one of the BP dormitories.

A graphic posted on the wall shows North Slope oil production over the years, along with projections for the future. A marker reading “We are Here” is positioned in a place far below the peak and on a path toward gradual decline.


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