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New techniques could tap into Schoonebeek reserves

Drenthe still sits on giant oil field

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

SCHOONEBEEK, the Netherlands - A giant oil field discovered sixty years ago near this village about twelve kilometres south of the city of Emmen, could produce more of what became locally known as ‘black gold’. New extraction techniques make it possible to reopen ‘Schoonebeek’ which was abandoned in 1996.

Because of the viscosity of the oil beneath the village, profitability of the field ran out some ten years ago. By then, the site had produced 250 million barrels of crude oil. A barrel is an accounting unit, equivalent to 42 gallons or 159 litres.

The Schoonebeek field was discovered by Shell Petroleum in 1943. Three years later, more drilling took place by the joint venture of Shell and Standard Oil (Esso), called Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (Dutch Petroleum Company) which widely became known by its acronym NAM. The Schoonebeek discovery had an estimated size of one billion barrels, thus was categorized as a ‘giant oil field.’

Another 100 million barrelsDespite its size, extraction of only one quarter is standard for oil fields, while a yield of 50 percent is considered ‘extraordinary’. The new techniques could produce another 100 million barrels during the next twenty years. Production beyond that quantity currently seems unlikely.

NAM technicians have concluded that exploration is possible at this stage. A study is underway to assess the viability of an estimated investment of $320 million. Production could start as early as 2007.

Gas at Slochteren

The oil field at Schoonebeek was the oldest in the country, although in 1924, limited quantities of oil had been found near Winterswijk, a town on the border with Germany. In 1960, huge deposits of natural gas were discovered at Slochteren in the province of Gro-ningen and soon were brought into production as well. Ten years later, these gas reserves were estimated at 1,850 billion cubic metres, then by far the largest field in the world. Since then, numerous smaller fields have been discovered and put into production in the Dutch section of the North Sea.

Currently, the Dutch are debating how natural gas fields beneath the Frisian Sea can be opened for production. Nature park De Biesbosch also is thought to cover a natural gas field but so far is off limits to exploration.

The oilfield of Schoo-nebeek has drawn tourists as well. The construction and the operation of oil rigs along with the flares was a new phenomenon for most Dutchmen in the 1950s. The so-called donkey pumps - in Dutch parlance ja-knikkers, ‘yes nodders’ - were a must-see novelty.

In particular the area around Slochteren, but also other natural gas and oil exploration sites, must deal with another, equally natural phenomenon these days. Extracting such huge quantities of oil and gas has caused the area to sag and settle, resulted in increased seismic activity, including earth tremors. It is directly linked to the natural gas and oil production. Dutch laws dictate that NAM budgets for possible damage claims.