One of the important goals of this year’s AAPG International Conference and Exhibition (ICE) in London is for industry leaders and professionals leading the various short courses and field trips to introduce members, young professionals and students to the new geologic potential around the world.
In the “Identifying the Play” seminar, possibilities in the East Shetland Platform, the UK’s Rockall Trough, Morocco, North Falkland Basin and Senegal will all be discussed.
As will one other place you might not expect.
Cobbled together in 1960, when both British and Italian Somaliland were granted independence, the country, not surprisingly, has been engulfed in almost constant civil war. It carries with it the scars and death of such strife, especially since the 1980s. The country, as it turns out, is also a place of unrealized, yet substantial resources, and that’s what will be discussed.
Douglas Paton, who is chair in structural geology and basin analysis at the University of Leeds, wants to reintroduce Somalia to professional geologists. To that end, he will be offering a short course called “Somalia: The Last Remaining Exploration Frontier,” as part of the “Identifying the Play” technical program.
“Offshore Somalia,” he said, “is one of the last remaining truly frontier continental margins for hydrocarbon exploration.”
Land of Challenge and Opportunity
From approximately 1950 to the mid ‘80s, most of the exploration in Somalia had been onshore, Paton said, and “only two exploration wells have been drilled in the entire offshore region.”
Exploration stopped for many reasons — the civil wars mostly — when all licensed acreage was declared under force majeure. Up until a few years back, Somalia remained inaccessible and many of the country’s geological and geophysical data were either lost or destroyed. Since 2012, however, as the country slowly achieved something resembling stability, a willingness to re-invest in the region has emerged, starting, Paton said, with two regional 2-D seismic surveys offshore.
“We anticipate the imminent announcement of a new offshore licensing round,” he added, alluding to two surveys: one completed in 2014, the other in 2016.
A current project, which will be discussed in the course, is a joint effort amongst Basin Structure Group, Paton’s research group within the University of Leeds, Spectrum and the Somali government. Paton said it will be “collaborative” and include “people with many years experience in exploration and prospect generation, academics, but also PhDs and other graduate students, and the Ministry in Somalia.”
Although the current focus is on the forthcoming license round of the process, Paton anticipates the project will form between the Somalia government and the country’s universities.
And it is the future about which Paton is particularly excited, citing the books and lab equipment that have already been sourced and donated to help establish geoscience graduates within the country.
Paton is under no illusions, however.
“Exploration in frontier basins is a challenge at the best of times, but this is increased where there have been very little documented studies with even fundamental questions such as the nature of the crust being uncertain,” he said.
Cracking the Margin Mysteries
He said the goal, then, is to increase the understanding, de-risk future exploration investment and help the Somali government maximize the opportunity available.
“This is best achieved with such a collaboration that merges the best and most recent academic insights with world-class industry data and industry insight,” said Paton.
“These data provide an unrivaled insight into evolution of the crustal geometry and basin development on this margin that has far-reaching implications on plate reconstructions and conjugate areas,” he added.
Paton said that the possibilities of the offshore Indian Ocean margin of Somalia represent one of the final truly frontier margins globally, for little is known about either its tectonic evolution or basin-structure configuration.
“To date this has severely impeded hydrocarbon exploration in the mid-shelf and deepwater areas of the more than 1,500-kilometer long margin. Recently acquired long offset 2-D reflection data by Spectrum has revolutionized our understanding of the margin architecture which has significantly de-risked future exploration,” he explained.
Ultimately, said Paton of Somalia, what will come of such exploration, as well as a forthcoming report on exploration prospects, are “new views on the process of crustal stretching, interaction of transform margins and volcanism which will have far-reaching implications of these processes on other margins and which lead to a suite of co-authored publications in both the industry and academic literature.”