Just before the New Year, I read an interesting statistic: the New Year’s Eve holiday would mark the only time in 200 years when all of children in the world (at least as we in the U.S. define them) would have been born in the 21st century while all of the adults on the Earth were born in the 20th century.

 It stands to reason if you think about it a moment: In the United States at least, the age of majority is 18 years old. On the cusp of the century entering its 18th year, those born just after the birth of the century also would be entering their 18th year — and adulthood.

A corollary of that is that it has already been 18 years since all of the adults around here sweated through the Y2K changeover. Did you know anyone who stockpiled supplies in preparation for a return to a 19th century lifestyle after all computers ceased to work? (Have they managed to use up their rations yet?) Fortunately, the worst fears never came to pass because institutions and businesses large and small took steps to keep systems online when the clock struck midnight on December 31.

I was reminded of the Y2K bug while reading about a study at Stanford University. Conducted by researchers in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, the study looked at super-giant oilfields and tracked the energy required to keep them operating throughout their lifecycle. The complete findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

While the study primarily sought to determine the lifecycle climate and emissions impacts of super-giant oilfields, some insights gleaned make a strong business case. “As oilfields run low, emissions per unit of oil increase. This should be accounted for in future modeling efforts,” said study co-author Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering. In all, the researchers looked at 25 “globally important” super-giant oilfields and noted key takeaways:

  • As the wells were depleted over time, oil production declined, and the energy expended to capture the remaining oil went up.
  • To recover oil from waning wells, more energy-intensive methods such as water, steam or gas flooding were required.
  • Such energy-intensive methods also dictated that the oil extracted required more surface processing to remove the introduced gases and water. These processes also increased the energy demands per unit of oil produced.

“We can show with these results that a typical large oilfield will have a doubling of emissions per barrel of oil over a 25-year operating period,” Brandt said in a release.