Science has brought us everything from vulcanized rubber to peanut butter and jelly. And now, thanks to a Lodi scientist, it's bringing us closer to Ecuador. Geophysically speaking, of course.
On Monday and Tuesday, geologists, project managers and business people from Ecuador came to Lodi to discuss an oil exploration project with Doug Munnecke, the president of Environmental BioTechnologies, Inc.
Munnecke's company, EBT for short, was started in 1991 - and moved to Lodi in 2000 - when he developed a way of finding natural resources like petroleum, propane and methane without the expense and chance of just drilling.
"Geologists need very extensive technology to detect petroleum," said Master Geologist Marco Rivad Eneira, who works with PetroEcuador, Ecuador's government-run natural resource company. Eneira pointed out that it costs $5 million to drill a well, so hit-or-miss isn't an option.
Enter Munnecke and EBT. Due to the company's proprietary microorganism detection technology, they are able to effectively find pockets of petroleum - accurately - saving PetroEcuador and its partner company Gems, Ltd. in Colombia precious time and millions. EBT's rates range from $30,000 to $100,000 per project, depending on the size and scope involved.
Before implementing EBT's services, PetroEcuador used costly seismic equipment, yielding a 50 percent success rate, according to Alex Carrera, a geologist with the company. "For every two holes we would drill, one was dry," Carrera said.
But with EBT, "We have had a 100 percent success rate," Eneira said, as Gems and PetroEcuador have worked with Munnecke in the past.
Here's how it works:
- Oil or gas deposits 9,000 to 10,000 feet below the surface release hydrocarbon gases.
- Those gases seep through layers of earth vertically to the surface.
- Microorganisms feed on the hydrocarbon seepage.
- A quarter-mile area thought to be above an oil pool is cordoned off into a grid.
- Soil samples are taken by field technicians from each grid square.
- EBT analyzes the soil in its Lodi labs to determine the amount - if any - of microorganisms.
- Results showing higher concentrations of the little gas eaters dictate where the underground oil pools are located.
The exploration projects that Munnecke will be helping with will take place in Ecuador's Amazon Basin and along their coastline. Similar projects will take place in Colombia and Peru as well.
PetroEcuador and private oil companies in the country have produced about 3 billion barrels of crude today, and another 2 billion are currently in production. Ecuador produces about 500,000 barrels of oil a day.
With Munnecke's efforts, his South American clients can determine where exactly they want to drill and what they want to set aside to lessen the environmental impact.
Though it can take more than three years to complete an exploration project, Munnecke's portion of the process only takes a matter of months.
"We have this project in Ecuador, one in the shore area of Peru and one in the jungle in Peru," Munnecke said of his workload. Thanks to an international marketing firm, EBT gets connected with companies from all over. And since there are only about three other companies in the world that provide the services that Munnecke does, he's not too stressed over competition.
What's next for EBT?
"We're working on a uranium exploration project for a Canadian company in Spring," Munnecke said.