If you do not already work in the energy sector or have some sort of educational background in the field, you can be forgiven for not knowing what tight oil is. In fact, you might not have ever even heard of it. But, tight oil plays an important role in our energy mix, so it is good to have at least a basic understanding of what it is, how it works, and where it comes from.
What is Tight Oil?
Let’s start with the very basics. Tight oil is a form of crude oil that has been trapped within tight rock formations. These rocks have very low permeability and porosity, meaning it is virtually impossible for the oil to seep into or through the rocks. Thus, the oil is held in these tight spaces and cannot move. Tight oil is a fossil fuel, meaning there is a finite supply of the resource. We are plowing through the world’s oil reserves at an unprecedented rate, so the question of how to move away from a dependency on tight oil is hot on everyone’s lips.
How Do We Get to It?
Due to the tight geological constraints surrounding tight oil, this resource is difficult to access. Advanced drilling techniques have been developed in order to tap into the world’s tight oil supply. These techniques include horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. It is thanks to the discovery of fracking that the United States has become one of the world’s largest producers of petroleum.
While fracking has seriously boosted the USA’s oil economy, it is a highly controversial extraction method. There are more jobs available in the energy industry and the US has a greater energy security than ever before, which will come in handy in the event of an energy crisis.
However, environmentalists lament the negative effects it has on the planet. Each well requires around 11 million liters of water and side effects of the process include contamination of the surrounding air, ground, and water. Furthermore, each well can only drain a small area, so more wells are needed when fracking for tight oil.
Challenges of Tight Oil
Of course, tight oil has its challenges and disadvantages. Aside from the environmental concerns raised by its extraction, there are also issues surrounding its transportation. There is a lack of pipeline infrastructure for tight oil and without this in place, it is a challenge to get the tight oil from the wells to the refineries, where it can then be turned into gasoline and diesel. There are also difficulties associated with the refining process as tight oil comes in varying compositions and contains a number of impurities that need to be extricated.
The world is on the road to being 100% dependent on renewable energy, but there is still a long way to go. Slowly, but surely, the energy industry will need to adapt to this plan and ease off of oil production, but it will only do so when we stop using so much oil. Tight oil is not eco-friendly, nor is it a sustainable energy source. As clean fuel alternatives are explored, tight oil will become less and less and relevant.