From the sunny Gulf of Mexico to Alaska’s frigid tundras, the North American continent is a hotbed of oil and gas reserves.
Many of these resources are actively used, but others are yet to be discovered. According to some estimates, the US has more untapped oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, making the country – and the entire North American continent – a gold mine for oil production. The question isn’t, “How much oil and gas do we have?” The question is, “How do we make the most of it?”
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the existing oil and natural gas supplies across the continent, how we extract these resources, and how to optimize the entire value chain with emerging technologies.
Several regions of the continent are abundant in oil and natural gas reserves. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it touches on some of the major oil- and gas-producing areas.
The Permian Basin , located in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, is one of the most prolific oil- and gas-producing regions in the world. Approximately 250 miles wide and 300 miles long, the Permian Basin boasts over 7,000 fields for fossil fuel extraction. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, the Permian Basin accounts for nearly 40% of all oil production in the US and nearly 15% of its natural gas production.
The Bakken Formation is located in North Dakota and Montana; and southern Saskatchewan, Canada. A shale rock formation composed of black, organic-rich shales, the Bakken Formation has become one of the largest oil-producing regions in the US, with an estimated daily oil production of 1,686 barrels as of May 2023.
The Eagle Ford Shale, located in south Texas, is known for its high-quality oil and gas reserves. It’s known as the largest oil and gas development in the world in terms of capital invested . It produces oil and gas resources at depths ranging from 4,000 to 14,000 feet below the surface, with over 100 rigs running.
The Gulf of Mexico is located off the coast of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The Gulf of Mexico has been a significant source of oil and gas for the US for many decades, with offshore production reaching 641 million barrels of oil and 882 billion cubic feet of gas in 2020.
The Prudhoe Bay Oil Field is the largest oil field in North America, covering an area of 213,543 acres. It was estimated to contain approximately 25 billion barrels of oil when first discovered.
The Marcellus Shale natural gas trend is the largest source of natural gas in the United States. It encompasses 104,000 square miles, across Pennsylvania and West Virginia and into southeast Ohio and upstate New York.
How are oil and gas extracted and put to good use? The lifecycle can be broadly divided into three stages: exploration and discovery; development; production and transportation; and refining and distribution.
The first stage of the oil and gas lifecycle involves exploration activities to locate potential oil and gas reserves. This typically involves geological surveys, seismic testing, and drilling exploratory wells. If a company finds a promising location and can identify the presence of hydrocarbons, it may conduct further testing to determine the size and quality of the reserves.
Once a company has identified a potential oil or gas field, it moves into the development stage. This involves constructing infrastructure such as drilling rigs, pipelines, and processing facilities to extract and transport the resources. Development activities may also include drilling additional wells and installing equipment to enhance recovery rates.
Once the well is prepared, production operations commence. Oil or gas flows from the reservoir through the wellbore to the surface. It is then processed and treated to remove impurities and separate any associated water or gas. Production facilities, such as separators, pumps, and compressors, are used to handle the fluids and optimize production rates.
After the exploration and production phase, the oil is ready for transportation. Once the oil or gas has been extracted, it’s transported to refineries or processing plants for further treatment. After it has been treated, it’s then transported via pipelines or rail to global markets for sale.
After the oil or gas has been extracted and transported to a refinery, it enters the refining and distribution phase of the lifecycle.
During the refining process, crude oil is transformed into a range of different products, including gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heating oil, and lubricants. This process involves a series of chemical and physical treatments such as distillation, cracking, and blending to create products of varying quality and composition.
Once the oil has been refined, it is transported to distribution centers and storage facilities using pipelines, tankers, and trucks. From there, it is distributed to retailers such as gas stations, industrial facilities, and airports for use by consumers.
Oil and gas productivity largely hinges on the efficacy and optimization of the entire lifecycle. Without streamlined processes, proactivity, and seamless communication, oil and gas companies risk losing out on profits, or worse, potentially creating hazardous working conditions in oil fields, plants, and refineries.
That’s why companies are increasingly turning to digital technologies to optimize the use of oil and gas resources through the entire lifecycle.
Technologies such as predictive maintenance, IoT sensors, remote operations, and automated systems can help companies make the most of existing oil and gas reserves, improve operational efficiency, and bolster safety.
The use of IoT sensors is particularly useful for optimized predictive maintenance capabilities. IoT sensors are deployed on equipment or other assets to collect various types of data, such as temperature, vibration, pressure, humidity, and energy consumption. These sensors continuously monitor the operational parameters and capture relevant information about the equipment's performance. By collecting this kind of continuous, real-time data, sensors enable early detection of anomalies or potential issues.
Remote operations allow companies to monitor and control key processes from a centralized location, reducing the need for on-site personnel and improving safety and efficiency. This approach is becoming increasingly important as companies seek to reduce costs and reduce their environmental footprint.
Digital twins play a significant role in remote monitoring. By creating a digital twin of a piece of equipment, a process, or even an entire plant, oil and gas companies can test different solutions without the need for physical prototypes, reducing costs and improving efficiency.
Automation of processes — which has been used for decades by oil and gas companies — can also help to cut down on costs and improve efficiency. By automating routine tasks such as data collection and analysis, companies can free up personnel to focus on more complex and strategic activities.
The North American continent will continue to provide the US – not to mention the global market – with abundant oil and gas reserves. But as technology continues to evolve and emerge, it’s up to oil and gas companies to step in time with the pace of innovation. There are endless opportunities for discovering, extracting, and producing oil and gas resources. Only by leveraging the most innovative solutions will we be able to take advantage of those opportunities with dexterity and precision.