The Reign of Black Gold


It was one of my numerous trips to an offshore rig drilling for oil in a vast watery wilderness far, far away from the humdrum of the world. The rig floor rumbled with activity as the Travelling Block moved up and down. The drillers, the roughnecks and the roustabouts strained themselves to enable steady progress of the operation. My shift was yet to start and I had come up on the heli-deck for a breath of fresh air. In spite of spending close to eighteen years doing the same job, I never cease to wonder at the sheer crudity of operations on an oil rig. Notwithstanding all the effort put in by the crew round the clock, there is no certainty that our efforts are going to bear fruit, that is, it is still impossible to prove the presence of oil inside the earth until we actually get to it. If one traces mankind’s footsteps over the past few decades, it will be observed that He has indeed made huge strides in certain fields of science such as Astronomy, Nuclear, Electronics, Computers, Telecommunication etc. Yet, Man has still to discover an efficient method of discovering the hidden pockets of oil and gas within the earth’s crust, located mostly at an average depth of 3 kilometers from the surface – a mere 5 percent of the average thickness of the crust. We still have to physically drill a hole all the way to the “prospective” reservoir to confirm our prognostications of the presence of any hydrocarbon within. Yet, Man still has to contend with only a twenty-five percent probability of striking oil at the start of drilling in spite of lofty claims of accuracy of the various techniques employed to pinpoint the ‘probable’ oil reservoir. Even after we have found a reservoir, it is still impossible to extract more than 30 percent of the total oil in the reservoir, that too after employment of all the ‘advanced’ secondary recovery techniques. In short, 75 percent of human effort and expense that goes into exploration of oil and 70 percent of the discovered oil itself goes waste. This is ample evidence of the lack of technological progress in the field of oil exploration in spite of the continuous evolution of mankind over the ages. Today, we can almost see the edge of the precipice. We are getting closer and closer to the inevitable – a world without oil. A possibility Man had never envisaged. Today, it is oil that make the world go round. Our industrial machinery, our power plants, our automobiles and ships, all need oil for their operation. In addition to that, thousands of items of daily use are made from the by-products of oil.

So, what then is the path to freedom from the stranglehold of petroleum for the world? Alternative sources of energy? With all the technological advancement that this world has achieved in the field of alternative power, it is difficult to imagine that we cannot build a vehicle or a plant that runs on, say, solar or wind energy. So, then, can we get rid of oil and switch over to an everlasting form of energy such as solar or wind? At the moment, the answer seems to be a definite “NO”. Changing over to an alternative form of energy will require overhauling of the entire machinery of the industrial world. The transition from oil to another energy form, if attempted in haste, will result in the collapse of entire industries first before they begin again from the scratch. The effect that such a transition will have on the world will be unimaginably cataclysmic. The transition needs to be slow enough to be smooth, perhaps over a period of forty to fifty years. Till that time, Man has no choice but to keep all developments of alternate energy within the confines of the laboratory and continue to depend on mother earth to lead us to its hidden reserves of oil. However, given the state of the technology as it is now, it looks unlikely that Man will win the race against time with ease. Man is caught in a trap of His own making. The driver has become the driven, the ruler the ruled. Today, the world is ruled by oil. Man must wrack His brains harder to continue to discover more and more oilfields before the current ones start to deplete. Easier said than done.

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