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12/17/91

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Finite Resources: Dept. chair Khalid Aziz re Petroleum Engineering Khalid Aziz was born at his mother's parents' home in what is now Pakistan. He was the first of five children. In 1952, at the age of 16, Aziz left home to study mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan. He graduated in 1955 and was hired as a junior design engineer - which turned out to mean a glorified draftsman. Hearing of a natural gas discovery in Pakistan and hoping to someday help, Aziz left the job to study petroleum engineering at the University of Alberta. After earning a bachelor's and then a master's degree in petroleum engineering, he went to work in Pakistan for a natural gas company. Realizing he wanted to teach, he returned to the United States in 1963, this time to Rice University, where he earned a doctorate in chemical engineering in 1966. He taught at the University of Alberta for two years and at the University of Calgary for 17 years before coming to the petroleum engineering department at Stanford in 1982. He has just completed a five-year term as department chair.

WHAT DO YOU VALUE?

That's a good question. I value thinking of this planet as a whole - world peace, fairness, the ability of all people to make equitable use of resources. In this country, with about 5 percent of the world's population, we consume more than 25 percent of the oil being produced. And we generate a proportional amount of pollution. That bothers me. If all people did the same thing, we could not survive on this planet. These are the kind of things I think about as a person more than as a petroleum engineer.

HOW DO YOU CONNECT YOUR VALUES WITH YOUR RESEARCH AND YOUR TEACHING?

I teach courses all over the world so that the technology we're developing can be used by people all over the world. Petroleum resources belong to all the people of this planet. When they're wasted in this country or in China or in the Soviet Union, it's a loss for us all. The oil well fires in Kuwait are an immediate loss to the Kuwaitis, but a loss to us all in the end. Those resources are gone forever, and the pollution resulting from their consumption has affected the environment forever.

DO YOU SEE POTENTIAL FOR STANFORD BEING A MODEL FOR CONSUMING FEWER RESOURCES?

In the long run, we can be a model because only academic institutions can afford to focus on long-term problems. Organizations that are commercially motivated and driven by what they can show on their annual reports are not focusing on long-term issues.

I think our mission is education and research - to educate people who are not only technically competent but sensitive to the needs of humanity.

DO YOU IMAGINE A MORE INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH IN THE FUTURE?

We are recognizing the complexity of ecological relationships. We talk about oil resources and we immediately come to the environment. We have to be broad in our objectives, but that doesn't mean superficial. We emphasize this to our students. They focus in an area and become very good in that area, but they base that on a broad foundation.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE COMPONENTS OF THAT BROAD FOUNDATION?

I think science is very important; at the same time, so is a concern for the inhabitants of this planet. Stanford focuses in both these areas. For example, we plan to start a course in our department about the environmental impact of producing and consuming hydrocarbon resources.

WHAT ARE YOU RESEARCHING AND WHAT DO YOU AIM TO COMMUNICATE TO STUDENTS?

We deal primarily with recovering as much oil and gas as possible from a given reservoir. These are limited resources and we work on techniques for maximizing recovery at minimum cost.

Every oil reservoir is different - the geology varies. We build computer models that we use to test different scenarios to find which one will lead to the most recovery. We cannot try every possibility out in the field. First of all, it's very expensive. A well can cost millions of dollars. The second problem is that we only get one chance to produce a reservoir. We cannot go back to the initial conditions and try something different.

In the old days, we used to build scaled physical models of the reservoir. Now, we build these models on supercomputers, simulate behavior and predict performance.

Oil resources are finite. They will not be replaced during the time humanity is on this planet. They have accumulated over millions of years and we only have one opportunity to use them. Once they're used up, we cannot replace them.

Maximizing recovery of this resource has to be coupled with minimizing consumption. That area is not a current focus of research in this department, though conservation is very important for us all.

DO YOU SEE CONSERVATION BECOMING A GREATER FOCUS IN THE FUTURE?

There is no question about it. Right now many people act as though there are unlimited amounts of hydrocarbons. We are buying bigger and bigger cars and consuming more and more. Within our lifetimes, we will see other shortages of oil, but we are not planning for this eventuality.

IF YOU WERE TO DRAW A GRAPH OF THE AMOUNT OF OIL EXTRACTED PER YEAR OVER TIME, HOW WOULD YOU DRAW THAT CURVE?

The amount of oil in this country that is being extracted per year is going down, while the amount of oil being extracted worldwide is going up, because our consumption is increasing at a rate of about 2 percent per year. The growth rate, however, is much higher in developing countries.

Data published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers show that, in terms of 1989 dollars, the cost to fuel a car was 7.5 cents per mile in 1950; in 1990, it was 4 cents.

WHEN DO YOU EXPECT THE AMOUNT OF OIL EXTRACTED PER YEAR TO START DECREASING?

That's a tough question. It depends on several factors including whether we find more oil and what we are willing to pay to extract it. If we pay more, we can access reserves that are further off shore, deeper, or in the Arctic, or harder to produce. I guess the rate at which we produce will continue to go up until the middle of the next century.

The demand for oil in this country isn't going to go down very much even though we are going to replace oil by other sources of energy. Oil may be shrinking in its portion of the total energy pie, but the pie is getting bigger. The Department of Energy estimates that in the year 2050, even if all their plans to reduce oil consumption pan out, we will be consuming oil at the same rate we are now.

WHAT DOES AN OIL DISCOVERED VS. TIME GRAPH LOOK LIKE?

We now are adding less oil to the reserves every year than we are producing. In this country, at the rate we consume, we use up a giant oil field (6 billion to 7 billion barrels of oil) every year, and we haven't found such a field since Prudhoe Bay. Elsewhere in the world, we are not discovering many large reservoirs either.

HOW DO YOU CHARACTERIZE HOW THE WORLD LOOKS TO SOMEONE GRADUATING TODAY, COMPARED TO HOW IT LOOKED TO SOMEONE WHO GRADUATED 100 YEARS AGO? HOW IT WILL LOOK TO SOMEONE WHO WILL GRADUATE 100 YEARS IN THE FUTURE?

People developing oil resources 100 years ago were very concerned with the finite nature of the resource. They thought people were going to use it all very quickly because of the limited number of discoveries they had made. In the early days of oil, the price at one time went all the way up to $40 per barrel in 1990 dollars, which is about twice what it is right now.

In the 1950s, researchers developed new technologies and found more reserves. They became less concerned about conservation and optimizing recovery. It was cheaper to find oil than to try to recover more of what they had already discovered. It was the age of oversupply.

Since then we have had seven "oil shocks." The current depression in oil prices is the result of another glut. This, however, is temporary and we should be planning for future shortages.

At Stanford, we have always focused on the optimal recovery of hydrocarbons, and will continue to do so. [The first petroleum engineering classes were offered in 1914 and the department began in 1957.] We are now more conscious than ever before of the limited nature of this resource. We are finding reservoirs that are harder and harder to produce. We need to enhance our ability to recover oil. On the average, only a third of the oil discovered can be produced with current technologies.

The situation 100 years from now is difficult to predict accurately. I think that oil will have been almost completely replaced as a source of energy, but will still be used as a raw material. We will then be finding oil in very hostile environments, and the cost of producing it will be very high.

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?

I came from Pakistan, a Third World country. As I get older and older, I am more concerned about what I can do for those countries. The gap between the quality of education in industrial nations and that in Third World countries is increasing. If this trend continues, we are going to experience catastrophic consequences. I want to improve the quality of education in countries like Pakistan by offering advice, lecturing and in any other way I can.

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