According to “Oil extraction nanotechnology may boost energy production” in the January 16, 2007’s The Daily Texan, Sean Murphy (a manager in the consortium) claims that extracting oil from reservoirs that already exist will save money, reduce environmental impacts, and decrease dependence on foreign oil. This increase in production from existing reservoirs would be accomplished by using nanosensors that would be able to endure the harsh temperatures and pressures inside a reservoir. This is no easy task considering the delicate nature of most electronics.
Although I was not aware that nanotechnology was being considered in this extraction process, labeling an oil field as depleted when there is still 80% of the oil remaining is no new idea. A Chevron representative recently informed me that they usually stop the extraction process when 20% of the oil has been pumped out. However, she was quick to inform me that when the demand is high enough, the technology to extract the remaining oil would receive funding, and the previously labeled “depleted” fields would be producing once again. The only trick is the price of oil must be high enough to be an incentive to invest in the technology and energy to extract the remaining 80%. The deeper the location of the oil, the more expensive it is to extract, and perhaps with the nanosensors, engineers and scientists will be able to determine better if returning a reservoir to production is worth the investment. Until one can determine all of the additional costs to go many more hundreds of feet below ground, I don’t believe that a nanosensor’s payback would necessarily be huge, contrary to Murphy.