When revealing the traits that make an explorer successful, Hans Christen Rønnevik, recipient of this year’s Norman H. Foster Outstanding Explorer Award, said it is not necessarily a detailed eye that finds oil and gas.
Rather, a broader view can be advantageous.
“I like to create relationships between various detailed elements in the broadest possible context,” he said. “It is important to know what one is ‘defocusing’ from. The ability to think associatively is also a key factor.”
That is the thinking that has led Rønnevik to discoveries in the North Sea that have rivaled some of the most significant discoveries in the world.
One of his finds that has generated ripple effects in his native Norway was made near the Utsira High – one of the largest structural features on the Norwegian Shelf in the North Sea.
Explored by Esso in 1967 with little success, the reservoir eventually was downgraded for exploration by many in the industry, as it could not be imaged with 3-D seismic technology, was associated with basement erosion, fractured and weathered basement, and in independent sedimentary cover.
The reservoir remained unexplored for 30 years until Rønnevik, working as exploration manager for Lundin Norway, developed a play that led to the discovery of billions of barrels of oil during a time when it was believed that only small fields remained in the North Sea.
In 2007, near the Utsira High, Rønnevik discovered the Edvard Grieg and Edvard South fields, totaling nearly 200 million barrels of oil.
In 2010 he discovered the giant Johan Sverdrup Field, totaling 1.9 to 2.9 billion barrels of oil.
In 2013 he discovered the Luno II Field, totaling 120 million barrels of oil.
“He was able to put together the acreage in an area he considered mature and work out the petroleum system story and geology of the Utsira High,” said AAPG Honorary member Charles Sternbach, president of Star Creek Energy Company and founder and chair of the AAPG Discovery Thinking forum.
“Hans excels as an explorer because he is an iterative learner,” Sternbach said. “He sees the big picture. By holistic thinking, he examines the entire petroleum system.
“And,” he continued, “he brings in people of various disciplines to get many views on the same problem, thereby effectively magnifying the collective intelligence to turn an exploration problem into an opportunity.”
So noteworthy are his accomplishments that Rønnevik is the first non-North American to receive the Outstanding Explorer Award.
“It is an honor to be appreciated for work over time,” Rønnevik said, “and especially work in the last decade.”
Loyalty to a Nation
Throughout his career, Rønnevik has worked to keep Norway a fierce competitor in the oil and gas industry.
He began his career as a geologist in the oil office of Norway’s Ministry of Industry and Craft before quickly moving to the newly established Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD). There, Rønnevik began mapping the resource potential of the Norwegian Continental Shelf and formulating national exploration strategies.
He also was involved in the geophysical and geological mapping of the Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea.
One of his final tasks at the NPD laid the foundation for a career in mind-bending discoveries: interpreting Block PL089 in the southern Snorre Field – located in the Tampen area of the North Sea – and writing a detailed drilling work program for its licenses.
In 1984, Rønnevik joined Saga Petroleum ASA, a Norwegian upstream petroleum company eventually acquired by Norsk Hydro, as vice president for exploration. There, he took part in the delineation of the Snorre Field, which is expected to produce reserves greater than 1.4 billion barrels of oil.
Additional exploration of the Snorre Field led to Rønnevik’s discovery of four additional fields:
- The Vigdis, in 1986.
- The Tordis, in 1987.
- The Borg, in 1987.
- Tordis East, in 1993.
He also discovered the Laverans Field in 1994 and Kristin Field in 1996. He called these discoveries “impossible” breakthroughs similar to the Grieg and Sverdrup fields.
In 2000, Rønnevik joined Det Norske Oljeselskap, Norway’s first independent oil company to become approved as an operator on the Norwegian Shelf. As exploration manager, he helped revitalize the company. It was later acquired by Lundin Petroleum, where Rønnevik continued to work as exploration manager for the startup company, Lundin Norway.
There, Rønnevik oversaw the discovery of the Alvheim Field, with recoverable reserves estimated to be in the 300 million barrels of oil equivalent range – as well as the historical discoveries in the Grieg and Sverdrup fields.
To help his country rise to the top in terms of discoveries, Rønnevik has “founded and nurtured” many exploration teams as well as defined national policies that have led to the creation of tremendous wealth for the nation, said AAPG member Andrew Hurst, professor of Production Geoscience at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
“In his career, Hans Christen has successfully served the interests of Norway and then created wealth in small, independent companies in the Norwegian environment, which, until recently, was dominated by large, multi-national corporations,” Hurst said.
“His achievements in terms of reserves speak for themselves.”
To Rønnevik, “Diversity, and not more of the same, is important for any creative process.” He believes that the “truths” of the Earth do not unfold through a “majority” or an “authority.”
“Smaller companies focus on the purpose,” he added, “and have the will, skill and dedication to achieve it.”
Encouraging the Explorer
The theme of diversity is carried into Rønnevik’s hand-picked exploration teams as well. He gives the explorers he mentors the freedom to pursue their own interests and ideas – within the purpose of their teams.
“Hans Christen encourages the very best to work with him and share ideas and concepts, thus engendering remarkable exploration environments around him,” Hurst said. “Only those who work with him can really know and understand the true value of his leadership and skill.”
While at Saga, Rønnevik required four out of every five exploration wells to test new exploration concepts to keep creativity flowing.
“Balanced exploration between frontier, growth, mature and step-out drilling is necessary for continuity,” Rønnevik said. “In order to have stability, it is necessary to have a continuous renewal of concepts.”
When asked about the old industry adage by the late geologist Parke Dickey, which suggests that the world is not running out of hydrocarbons but rather new ideas to discover them, Rønnevik whole-heartedly agreed.
“The main obstacle for gaining new knowledge is the human mind looking inward and not outward,” he said. “Knowledge must be based (on) – but not limited by – facts.”
During the past two years, Rønnevik has continued to guide Lundin Norway’s exploration in the Barents Sea, where the Alta and Gohta carbonate discoveries were made.
“Hans modestly claimed that he wasn’t alone in the Lundin exploration efforts,” Sternbach said. “But Andrew Hurst, who knows Hans well, says that Hans has been, and was in this case, the prime prospect generator for Lundin.”
(While Rønnevik may be modest about his success, he accepted an invitation to discuss in detail his discovery of the Grieg and Sverdrup fields at last year’s Discovery Thinking forum in Houston. Review his presentation.)
“The aspect of continuously learning in light of new data and technology,” Rønnevik said, “is the key attraction to exploration.”