Monday, October 31, 2005

The Hills Are Alive, With the Sound of Drilling

Before I went to Austria, I heard stories about boorish Europeans accosting visiting Americans in order to spout the usual irrational anti-American, anti-Bush propaganda like the claim that the war in Iraq is all about oil. I hoped to be able to point out that if that was true and oil was found in Austria or they would have to be invaded next. The Europeans I met were entirely friendly, but it turns out that Austria has oil after all:

Alpine mountains and tasty milk chocolate spring to mind when thinking about Austria. But oil? Actually, the country is home to Central Europe's largest reserves and it has become a testing ground for new drilling technology. And the country is in the middle of a mini oil boom.


[OMV] Oil and gas production have quadrupled in the past four years, earning them a mid-table position in relation to their European competitors, with exploration underway in all five continents. Now, the company is pumping oil from the ground just outside of Vienna.

Northeast of the capital city, where the Green Veltlin grape grows and the land is mostly flat, this part of Austria has little to remind one of the Alps further south and west. But nowhere on the Central European mainland is there a higher concentration of oil production. The most important field, named after the local town of Matzen, was discovered in 1949 and was estimated at a volume of half a billion barrels of crude oil.

Reserves of this size did not quite lift Austria into the OPEC league -- in terms of worldwide oil consumption, the Austrian reserves would last just six days -- but it formed the foundation of OMV and is still being tapped with great care today. Fifty smaller fields in Austria have since been discovered and drilled, with around 750 oil and 120 gas probes extracting fossil fuels in the wine region. OMV's local production covers some 10 percent of Austria's crude oil needs and 15 percent of its natural gas consumption.

ANWR drilling opponents and Florida NIMBYs could learn something from Austria:

But over an above its relatively modest production, the Austrian oil fields are vital for another reason. The 1,500 mile long branch-like pipeline network is the only one of its kind in the global oil business. And Austria is an ultra-modern laboratory which could come up with answers to two of the most pressing questions facing the energy industry. How much gas and oil can still be found? How much scope is there for further developing existing fields?

In the fossil fuel treasure hunt, Austria is way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of efficiency and exploration. This is reflected in a remarkable production curve. Normally, one would expect a new field to chart a rapid increase in yield to begin with, followed by a so-called plateau for a number of years, before dropping off at a similar rate to the initial rise.

Austria's oil production decreased 30 years ago, but then began to rise again before leveling out in 1992 and maintaining the same level ever since. Gas production has actually begun to improve again...

Not far from OPEC's headquarters, northeast of Vienna, the seismograph trucks are massaging the earth so vigorously that the wine cellars start to shake.

Austria should be applauded for taking some responsibility for its own energy needs and developing the technological solutions that environmentalists like to pretend cannot exist.

And finally, a small piece of trivia:
Austria may not produce enough to be in OPEC, but Vienna does host the organization's headquarters.

No comments: