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Oil and gas resources are organic, formed by the effects of heat and pressure on sediments trapped beneath the earth's surface over millions of years.  While ancient societies made some use of these resources, the modern petroleum age began less than a century and a half ago.  Advances in technology have steadily improved the ability to find and extract oil and gas, and to convert them to efficient fuels and useful consumer products. More resources of this type and oil shale have been quantified elsewhere, but they have not yet been proven exploitable and extractable economically.

Thermally enhanced oil recovery technique enables oil producers to extract more of the difficult ‘heavy oil’ and thus extend the life of existing oil fields and open possibilities for new wells that had previously been deemed too difficult or costly to extract from.

The world's oil production has not, in fact, peaked. There's still a vast amount of oil out there and that production will continue to increase year after year for a long time. However, the problem is that an increasing proportion of this supply is in places that are more difficult and more expensive to get to.

In 1950, the US Geological Survey estimated that the world’s conventional recoverable resource base was about 1 trillion bbl [bbl = Oil barrel: 42 US gallons, 158.9873 liters, or 34.9723 Imperial (UK) gallons]. Fifty years later, that estimate had tripled to 3 trillion bbl. Only one-third of the world’s recoverable known oil resources havebeen produced so far, the enormous amounts of hard to remove resources, such as heavy oil and shale oil make it clear that there is sufficient oil for decades to come.
In addition to light oil resources of about 3 trillion bbl, heavy oil resources are estimated at 4.3 trillion bbl; slightly less than 1 trillion bbl of oil has been produced.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated there are 7 trillion bbl of “harder to get” heavy oil, including heavy oil, bitumen, oil sands, and oil shale. Technically recoverable quantities vary from 1 trillion to 3 trillion bbl of which 0.01 trillion bbl have been produced to date.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that crude oil production from existing oil wells will rapidly decrease over the next 20 years but that production will continue to increase as other techniques, including enhance oil recovery are used to extract the increasingly difficult and expensive heavy oil (see Figure 1).  These figures are also supported by forecasts from the US Department of Energy (see Figure 2).
While there is still plenty of oil left in the ground, most of the supplies that are easy to reach have already been developed, forcing the global petroleum industry to turn to oil deposits that are relatively hard to recover.  Heavy oil, which can be the consistency of molasses, or even denser, is costlier to bring to the surface than light oil.  They also typically contain more contaminants like metals and sulfur. Without steam or any other EOR methods, heavy oil can be very difficult to pry out of the earth because it is so thick it barely flows.  Heavy-oil fields without EOR sometimes yield as little as 5% of their oil with conventional pumping, compared with 35% or more in a light-oil deposit.

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