Volume 43, Number 171,
October-December 2012

The Depletion of Large Oil Fields and New Potential for Hydrocarbons in Mexico, Fabio Barbosa, iiec-unam, 2011.

Since pre-historic times, there have been natural oil outcrops (chapopoteras), which were used by indigenous peoples as a building material, a dental hygiene product and even to be burned in ritual ceremonies. Since the beginning of the global oil industry with the Drake well in Oil Creek, Pennsylvania in 1859, through the oil expropriation decreed by President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938, up to today when finding and exploring oil is more difficult and complicated, this source of energy has moved the global economy.

Fabio Barbosa seeks to explain a two-part hypothesis: if the fall of oil production in Mexico is due to the lack of investment or the exhaustion of underground geological resources. Even with falling levels of production, hydrocarbons are still important for internal demand, the trade balance and relations between Mexico and the United States. This text consists of five chapters and a conclusions section.

“Exploring the Deep Waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Results” is the first chapter of the book, where the author talks about the success rate (global indicator), which is the relationship between the number of successful wells and the number of drilled wells. This chapter also provides tables that are the result of the author’s research, detailing the discovered wells and those with possible reserves, deep wells with failed results or with no report, as well as the 10 areas that have been defined as deep water in Mexico, their characteristics, problems and results, which are: 1) Perdido, 2) Oreos, 3) Nancan, 4) Jacapatini, 5) Lipax, 6) West Holok, 7) East Holok, 8) Han, 9) Temoa and 10) Nox-Hux. Pemex has only drilled in four of them and plans to drill in three more before Felipe Calderón’s term is up.

Why is production falling? Because almost two-thirds of discoveries are natural gas, while merely a third are oil, and more than half have a very low level of reserve. This is the topic analyzed in the second chapter, “Exploring Surface Waters in the Gulf of Mexico and Land Areas, 2001-2010.” There has been a fall in oil production and the increase in natural gas production. The value of this is detailed, as well as the way in which elite groups that set the course of the country are obsessed with maintaining oil exploration because it is easier to sell, is thoroughly examined in this section of the book, as well as new policies to return to old fields, despite the fact that they have been in decline since 2000. There is still a hypothesis that it will be easier to find oil where it has been found previously.

“The recovery factor is an indicator of the efficiency of exploration methods, because it measures the proportion of oil that has been extracted by a determined date, with respect to the original in situ volume estimated. This can be applied to a field, a region or a country. The recovery factor for Mexico is 13.2%, which means that 87.8% of hydrocarbons remain underground. This information is developed in detail by the author, as well as the failure of injecting nitrogen and the invasion of water in fields, among other themes, in the chapter “The Situation of Giant Fields and Key Business Plan Projects.”

What is hard-to-find crude oil? Some characteristics that define this expression include high temperatures and high pressure in wells, levels that need to be drilled and are crossed by saline bodies and clay, frequent entrapment of the tubing string, friction and gasification. All of this puts the drilling at risk. In the chapter, “Areas with Growth or Potential,” the author Fabio Barbosa explains the Marine Light Crude Project, the Ultra-Light Project, the Pre-Saline Group, the Progress Project and other projects in different regions of the country, their achievements and technical problems throughout the previous decades and up to the modern day.

There are three areas that define the future of the hydrocarbons branch of primary activities, which are as follows: 1) large ongoing projects, 2) exploration and 3) rehabilitation of old oil fields. In the last decade, our country has changed its hydrocarbons policies. These have put pressure on crude exploitation and exportation, which has caused irreversible damage to the majority of giant fields. Many of them have entered into the terminal phase and recovery methods have not been able to slow their decline. Between 2000 and 2010, only one new giant oil field was found. Re-entries to closed wells and fields have only increased production by a few thousand barrels. The author shows us that Mexico still has important oil potential. The discovery of the new region of extra-heavy crude near the coast of Campeche is an unexpected challenge. If Pemex can design and develop this project, it would increase supply for the 2018 term. Easy-to-find and abundant oil is a thing of the past. Mexico’s best oil years have ended and the most important fields have already been discovered. Still, the country’s elite clings to the goal of exporting a volume 10 times greater than the proven reserves discovered. The proposal to divide the territory and Mexico’s territorial waters and wealth into blocks for concession to foreign capital would only accelerate the exhaustion of this resource with the goal of maintaining income for crude exports. Although oil is falling off, it will continue to be a central theme in the economics and politics of the Mexico-United States relationship.

Héctor González Lima
Institute for Economic Research — unam
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Published in Mexico, 2012-2018 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 194 July-September 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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