Solar power carves niche in oil drilling

Using solar rather than carbon-burning technology makes the process easier on the environment, and conserves natural gas, experts say.

“It is a rare situation to find a modern oil/gas well and field that does not use solar panels,” said Steve Melzer, a Texas-based EOR consultant.

“With the remote locations of many oil fields… solar technology is a critical source of energy” for a range of oil drilling techniques, he said. However, in areas where high-power machinery runs constantly, renewable energy has its limits, Melzer added.

“Where energy intensity is high, solar technologies have not been able to compete for the reasons of electricity storage capacity for 24/7 applications,” he said. The extraction process “will require a mix of solar and conventional energy sources.”

GlassPoint’s MacGregor, however, argues that solar is more productive than conventional EOR, simply because natural gas can be more costly to use.

“Solar-powered oil production will save valuable gas resources that can be used to establish new industries and create new jobs” in Oman, and other places where EOR is used, he said.

—By CNBC’s Javier E. David