November 3, 2011
By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times
In a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper, Hal Washburn is drilling for oil.
Using a black high-definition computer screen, the petroleum engineer traces the ghostly white outlines of century-year-old vertical oil wells punctuated by the bright green and red of more recent efforts. The newer wells flare with what look like thousands of tiny hairs; the hotter the color, the greater the amount of oil.
"Today, we drill a lot of wells on the computer before we drill underground," said Washburn, chief executive of Breitburn Energy Partners.
The new crude being tapped — on screen and in real life — comes from Santa Barbara County's Orcutt oil field, one of the state's oldest, previously thought to be in terminal decline.
"It's been a huge home run for us," Washburn said.
Domestic energy producers like Breitburn have helped reverse the nation's once-escalating dependence on foreign oil by finding new ways to figure out the secrets buried beneath our feet....
Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, was more specific: "Three-dimensional seismic technology has become much more sophisticated. New drilling methods allow them to penetrate formations that were once thought to be impenetrable. So we've seen a lot of investment dollars going back into areas that had appeared very unpromising."