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Orinoco Belt – World’s Largest Untapped Reserve

Orinoco Belt – World’s Largest Untapped Reserve

Venezuela is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of crude oil. According to the Oil & Gas Journal (OGJ), in the beginning of 2014, Venezuela had nearly 298 billion barrels of proved oil reserves, the largest in the world followed by Saudi Arabia (266 billion barrels) and Canada (173 billion barrels). The vast majority of Venezuela’s proved oil reserves are located in its Orinoco heavy oil belt. Situated in Central Venezuela, the belt houses billions of barrels of extra-heavy crude oil and bitumen deposits. Development of the Orinoco Belt is the keystone of the Venezuelan government’s future economic plans – oil accounts for 95% of the country’s export earnings and around 55% of the federal budget. The government has stated that it is seeking $100 billion of new investment to develop the Belt.




According to a study released by the U.S. Geological Survey, the mean estimate of recoverable oil resources from the Orinoco Belt is 513 billion barrels of crude oil. PDVSA began the Magna Reserva project in 2005, which involved dividing the Orinoco region into four major areas:  Ayacucho, Boyacá, Junín and Carabobo that are further divided into 28 blocks, and then quantifying the reserves in place. This initiative resulted in the upgrading of Venezuelan proven reserve estimates by more than 100 billion barrels.

The Magna Reserva projects involve converting the extra heavy crude and bitumen to lighter, sweeter crude, known as syncrude. The upgrading facilities themselves introduce another element of risk into Venezuela’s petroleum supply chain. While the country’s four upgraders have installed production capacity of about 600,000 bbl/d of syncrude, industry estimates place production levels for these facilities at less than 500,000 bbl/d as a result of maintenance and safety issues.


  • The Orinoco River surrounds a globally important wetland , also a critical habitat to a number of endangered species with high biodiversity
  • Huge amount of new infrastructure, in terms of the extraction ,upgrading of crude, refining equipment and transport.
  • Lack of power, water and transport infrastructure
  • Pollution due to the production of coke and sulphur waste from the upgrading process
  • Environmental, climatic impacts


Venezuela plans to further develop the Orinoco Belt oil resources in the coming years. In 2009, Venezuela signed bilateral agreements for the development of four major blocks in the Junin area. In 2011, the country awarded two more major development licenses in the Carabobo region. Venezuela expects these projects to add more than 2 million bbl/d of heavy oil production capacity by the end of the decade. However, given recent financial, regulatory, and operational issues, considerable uncertainty surrounds the future of Orinoco production.

It would be very interesting to see how the world’s biggest untapped reserve could be exploited given the added challenges. Several approaches are employed to exploit the belt efficiently, which could probably be the most sought after success in the exploitation of heavy oil sites around the world.






Will robots replace humans in our industry?

20 November, 2013 News 1 comment
Will robots replace humans in our industry?

Our industry has relied on human acumen and insight to progress and stand consistent in operations and executions. Using this very intellect, humans have designed robots. Robots are the strategic locus for almost every scientific and technological operation in today’s world. Robots are today the talk of oil and gas industry .They execute a range of tasks, each under different conditions, using sensors that can measure changing parameters and yielding reaction studies. Hence, robots, by definition, are the closest emulation of a human.

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) have become an important tool in drilling, development and repair offshore already, but now Automated Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are all set to gain the market. While we use ships and huge investments to explore oil and gas today, we are looking for even more cost effective, safer and environmentally friendlier technologies with the rise in subsea environment exploration.

Liquid Robotics, Inc., an ocean data services provider, developed its own Wave Glider, the first wave-powered marine robot that functions as a persistent and versatile platform for scientific, industrial and defense applications. They have collaborated with the oil giant Schlumberger as a joint venture and are exploring its use in areas of seismic, subsea and environmental monitoring. The Wave Gliders collects information on ocean currents which give crucial data for deciding where to build an offshore oil rig, provide seismic monitoring and detect seepage from oil drilling. The high tech robot comes with flash storage, a dual-core ARM processor running open Linux software, a battery pack, sensor arrays, a GPS unit and wireless and satellite communications systems that beams data to servers in the cloud. A pair of solar panels powers the equipment while an undersea fin array taps the up-and-down motion of ocean waves to propel the Wave Glider.

Robotic Drilling Systems, on a different mission, is designing a series of robots to take over the repeatable tasks now done by deckhands, roughnecks, and pipehandlers on a rig. Its blue, 10-foot-tall robot deckhand has a jointed arm that can extend about 10 feet, with 15 or so interchangeable hands of assorted sizes. The robot is anchored in place to give it better leverage as it lifts drill bits that weigh more than a ton and maneuvers them into place. The company is also collaborating with researchers at Stanford University on a three-fingered robot hand embedded with sensors that give it a touch delicate enough to pick up an egg without crushing it.

Robots do have an edge over conventional means due to the high amount of quality, efficiency and safety they facilitate even in hazardous environments. The dilemma, rather, lies in whether their replacement to humans is really possible. As for now, the future is uncertain. The developments taking place today is shading off few of our doubts that could answer the question of their application in our industry for the exploration, drilling, transportation and even refining. The “robotic” revolution may just be the next big thing the industry would witness. Do you think we would go robotic any soon?

Illustration by Ted McGrath



Gas Hydrates – worth the wait!

Gas Hydrates – worth the wait!

Conventional sources are expensive, polluting, or drying up. This gives rise to a growing demand for carbon free emission energy. Methane, being the cleanest of all hydrocarbon fuels, has undoubtedly brought gas-hydrates into a bigger picture. They are the largest source for hydrocarbons on the Earth. Methane/Gas hydrates are cage like crystalline substances consisting majorly of methane and water, and are found in the outer continental margins and permafrost regions.

Melting one cubic meter block of a gas hydrate can yield as high as 164 cubic meter of gaseous methane. Worldwide reserves are estimated to be 400-500 million trillion cubic feet. Even, exploitation of 15% from this gigantic reserve can meet the global energy requirement for about two centuries (Makogon et al., 2007). The current challenge is to inventory this resource and find safe, economical ways to develop it. The latest studies suggest large methane reservoirs beneath Antarctic ice sheet. Japan has enormous offshore deposits and has invested $60 million on research to have production on line by 2015. With investments as high as $50million, India is also looking into converting its offshore deposits . Germany, France, and Australia are following their steps in what could be tomorrow’s game changer in the industry.

To date there has been no large-scale commercial methane production from gas hydrate deposits. All of the production has either been small scale or experimental. In early 2012, a joint project between the United States and Japan produced a steady flow of methane by injecting carbon dioxide into the methane hydrate accumulation. The carbon dioxide replaced the methane in the hydrate structure and liberated the methane to flow to the surface. This test was significant because it allowed the production of methane without the instabilities associated with a melting gas hydrate.

The future of gas hydrates doesn’t lie in the reserve potential only, rather in  the amount of research, technology advancements, and policy framework that could shape its dependency, which looks very green and promising.







Photos: Huffington Post, eatingjellyfish.org