AAPG President Charles Sternbach likes to quote the late Marlan Downey, a past AAPG president, about the secrets to a successful career in the profession.
“Go where the energy is.”
And in London, during the Discovering Thinking seminar at this year’s International Conference and Exhibition (ICE), Sternbach, along with others, will revisit the world’s most petroliferous basins with new technology.
And showing where that energy is.
“Fundamental to AAPG energy-relevant content strategy,” said Sternbach, “are plans for publications and programs on super basins. These are infrastructure-rich basins that keep on giving.”
As an integral part of the seminar, Paul Weimer, another past AAPG president and the Bruce D. Benson endowed chair at the Department of Geological Sciences of the University of Colorado, will teach a short course on the very notion of what comes next — specifically, what’s out there to be discovered.
The problem is, he’s not very good at it.
At least, according to him.
“I have worked around this industry for almost 40 years, and one thing that I’ve learned is that I’m not particularly gifted at predicting its future,” said Weimer.
But it’s not like he doesn’t have some clues.
“It strikes me that our industry is going through a long-term major reorganization, similar to the decade-long one from the mid ‘80s to mid ’90s. Technology and the markets continue to make activities more efficient,” which, he added, is both a blessing and a curse, as there is an oversupply of oil, which he does not think will decrease in the next three to five years.
The New Force of Independents
The way Weimar, who is director of the Energy and Minerals Applied Research Center (EMARC), sees it, there are really three global industries today.
“One focuses on conventional accumulations onshore and in the offshore shelf regions; the second industry focuses on deepwater; and the third, which is limited primarily to the U.S. and Canada, focuses on the development of unconventional reservoirs,” he explained.
And while there are some limitations on unconventional resources — and Weimer said Argentina is the most obvious example — he thinks the potential for development of unconventional plays is high in many countries.
In the United States, a new force is leading the industry.
“Unconventionals have now become so large in the United States that independents are increasingly becoming the initial employer for students,” whereas, traditionally, major companies used to be.
“In some schools, graduate students are now trained primarily on unconventional resources and do not necessarily have a background in conventional accumulations,” he added.
Weimer said that with the rapid evolution of unconventionals, the collective geologic knowledge database has probably tripled during the past decade. What that means for students and young professionals is that they will continue to have a steep learning curve throughout their careers — not that there’s anything wrong (or new) with that.
“Everyone needs to grasp that continuing education is always an ongoing and significant part of a professional career,” said Weimer.
To that end, in London, he will lead interpretation exercises in the class, covering new frontiers, as well as instruction in seismic data and wireline logs.
“One exercise deals with developing new resources on older fields, one addresses the recognition of deepwater prospects in terms of traps and reservoirs, and a third addresses the basic concepts in unconventional resources,” said Weimer.
Evolving Role of Professional Societies
In determining the four main areas on the horizon — rejuvenation, resurgence, frontier exploration and future plays — he said to keep an eye out on that last one.
“Future opportunities are largely controlled by commodity prices and access to lands; different basins and play types need a different minimum price to encourage development, so it is somewhat difficult to predict where the greatest opportunities are,” something, he said, which also varies by country.
“For example, in deepwater exploration, sustained oil prices in the $55-60 range are necessary for it to be profitable. This is also the price range for some unconventional plays. However, the current level of oil prices is clearly economic to encourage the extensive drilling in the Permian and Anadarko Basins,” he explained.
Weimer sees less anxiety going forward.
“A delicate balance in prices has evolved in the market between global supply and demand,” he said.
Outside the classroom, outside the job site, he still sees a place for professional organizations like AAPG.
“I think the entire concept of professional societies is undergoing a major transition in geosciences as well as all disciplines,” said Weimer. He recalls that scientific societies developed in the mid-17th century when like-minded people could meet both to socialize and to discuss science — something he believes hasn’t really changed much during the past 300-plus years.
“However, I do think that the Internet has fundamentally changed the dynamics in terms of how we access scientific information. This change is significantly affecting how professional societies will operate in the future, and all societies are grappling with this currently. Societies like AAPG still provide much needed opportunities for mentoring, networking, and science, that, to a large degree, is inaccessible to non-members,” he explained.
On a personal note, he said that many of the most important professional relationships and colleagues with whom he has worked began in professional societies.
“That is something that one cannot understand at the start of one’s career.”
Where the Opportunities Are
With regard to the broader industry, Weimer is an optimist, within reason.
“Industry today is markedly different than the one of 40 years ago. The major reorganization of the mid ‘80s was primarily a long-term transformation due to production in new areas, the introduction of new technology (such as 3-D seismic), etc. The confluence of all these factors resulted in a significant decrease in the number of geoscientists who were needed. I believe we are undergoing a similar generational change currently, and we’re only in Year Three of what is likely a extended period of time,” Weimer said.
However, he does not believe the demand for geoscientists is going to remain as high as it has been in the past.
“This does not mean there are not many opportunities. My experience has taught me that there are always opportunities for those who have imagination, vision and initiative. Consider that twelve years ago, no one predicted the effects that the development of unconventional resources has had on the global markets,” he said.
And, the Discovery Thinking Forum is all about looking to past successes to find those opportunities.
“What makes the Discovery Thinking Forum so exciting,” said Sternbach, “is that we are showcasing discoveries that are basin and play openers. These are rare and wonderful finds with game changer impact to their regions and to the world.”
To that end, the Forum will also discuss:
- Goliat was the first oil field to come on stream in the Barents Sea, and reports by ENI indicate that the platform has a storage capacity of almost one million barrels, which could be, according to Sternbach, a “significant game changer” for the Barents Sea and for industry exploration of remote and challenging areas.
- Of Zohr, in the eastern Mediterranean, ENI reports that reservoirs are Cretaceous Rudist reefs and Miocene Carbonates, where the nature of its gas may indicate a paradigm shift with both local and global implications.
- The Senegal discoveries are reported to be significant oil reserves in shelf sandstone reservoirs in intermediate water depths of the African margins.
- u Successes and exploration efforts have been reported in the east African rift basins in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique and Madagascar.
The Forum will also feature a brief presentation of highlighted vignettes of exploration insights from the decade-long Discovery Thinking program. This will be a tribute to more than the 115 men and women presenters (or co-authors) to this enduring and popular program.
“These 100 who made a difference,’ said Sternbach, “are a proud part of the AAPG 100th Anniversary legacy. We are thankful for their generous contributions to make our exploration heritage better than ever before.”