Exploring Creative and Collaborative Space to 'Recycle' Petroleum Basins

Six months have passed since I started writing and speaking on sustainable development. While writing this column at the end of the year for publication in the January EXPLORER to start the new year, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at sustainable development and petroleum basins from both past and future perspectives. Let’s consider how exploration is an intrinsic part of sustainable development – how exploration can “recycle” a mature petroleum basin.

The role of geoscientists in exploration is to use their knowledge of petroleum systems in global sedimentary basins and their creativity to define new plays. Creative or innovative thinking along with an understanding of technology and market trends inspire us to ask the question “what else.” What else have we not considered that could produce economic quantities of hydrocarbons to take advantage of existing infrastructure (or delay their decommissioning) and maintain established communities that will ultimately “recycle” mature petroleum basins as part of sustainable development.

Creative Space

When I interview geoscientists for employment, I ask the “clean sheet of paper” question: “Here’s a clean sheet of paper, what do you want to do?” Their response in an interview situation usually reveals their proclivity for exploration or development but more importantly provides insight into their creativity and innovative thinking.

A recent article, “Thinking Outside the Play” by Guy Loftus, Allan Scardina, Peter Burgess and Simon Neal in GeoExPro Magazine (Vol 15, No. 5-2018) expands on the concept of creative thinking in petroleum exploration.

Image Caption

Figure 1. A well spot map of study area with all wells posted illustrating the amount of hard data available, and the four fault blocks of discussion outlined and labeled in light green. Wells used for MLP training are annotated with light blue disks, and the cross-sections in figure 3a-b are indicated by the blue traverse.

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Six months have passed since I started writing and speaking on sustainable development. While writing this column at the end of the year for publication in the January EXPLORER to start the new year, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at sustainable development and petroleum basins from both past and future perspectives. Let’s consider how exploration is an intrinsic part of sustainable development – how exploration can “recycle” a mature petroleum basin.

The role of geoscientists in exploration is to use their knowledge of petroleum systems in global sedimentary basins and their creativity to define new plays. Creative or innovative thinking along with an understanding of technology and market trends inspire us to ask the question “what else.” What else have we not considered that could produce economic quantities of hydrocarbons to take advantage of existing infrastructure (or delay their decommissioning) and maintain established communities that will ultimately “recycle” mature petroleum basins as part of sustainable development.

Creative Space

When I interview geoscientists for employment, I ask the “clean sheet of paper” question: “Here’s a clean sheet of paper, what do you want to do?” Their response in an interview situation usually reveals their proclivity for exploration or development but more importantly provides insight into their creativity and innovative thinking.

A recent article, “Thinking Outside the Play” by Guy Loftus, Allan Scardina, Peter Burgess and Simon Neal in GeoExPro Magazine (Vol 15, No. 5-2018) expands on the concept of creative thinking in petroleum exploration.

They define four “white spaces,” data gaps and play types with increasing maturity that lead to increasing discoveries in petroleum systems:

  • Physical white space – Gaps in data – Frontier plays
  • Technical white space – Gaps in data quality – Emerging plays
  • Intellectual white space – Gaps in play-based thinking – Core (portfolio creaming)
  • Organizational white space – Gaps in business focus – Harvest (near field exploration)

Knowledge sharing increases with maturity, as does collaboration.

The next step, “rejuvenation,” takes a leap in perception to add incremental value. The best examples of this leap in perception are the shale (mudrock) plays onshore the United States where the perception of the source rock was changed to reservoir and matched with the application of technology to make the plays economic. With respect to sustainable development, these geoscience and technology leaps in perception are what are needed to “recycle” a basin.

Loftus and the others postulate that the highest potential for breakthrough plays is in the intellectual white space, but only if we do not get mired in traditional play concepts and are open to collaboration through the exchange of data or knowledge. The article outlines steps for a novel approach to a crowd-sourced collaboration and play evaluation that I encourage you to read.

Collaborative Space

The Middle East Region recently provided an excellent example of collaborative space with the AAPG/EAGE Shale Gas Evolution Symposium in Bahrain, Dec. 11-13. In addition to the two professional societies, representatives from national and independent oil companies and service companies shared their knowledge about shale plays during the two-day symposium.

The symposium provided an opportunity for information exchange on shale play case histories, integrated workflows for shale gas characterization, and best practice/lessons learned. The symposium also had an outstanding “Shale Gas 4.0” session that reviewed digitalization, data and analytics of shale plays. This symposium, held annually in the beginning of December, is a great opportunity for AAPG Sections and Regions with active shale gas plays to share their geoscience and operational knowledge on resource development.

The second collaborative space was the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting Dec. 10-14 in Washington, D.C. AAPG chaired technical and poster sessions on “The role of geoscience in sustainable energy solutions.” The sessions brought academia, government and industry professionals together to begin a dialogue on sustainable energy solutions that includes petroleum.

Importantly, AAPG had a presence on the exhibition floor along with other professional geoscience societies. The highly visible AAPG booth attracted the attention of AGU delegates with a banner reading “sustainable development” and showcased the breadth of AAPG through the Division of Environmental Geosciences, the Energy Minerals Division and the Division of Professional Affairs.

What Sustains You This Month?

This month, and every month since I became a petroleum geoscientist, I’m sustained by one of the best examples of a “recycled basin,” the Permian Basin. This year AAPG’s Super Basin Conference to be held Jan. 23-24, features “The Permian Basin Prototype Super Basin.” The conference will delve into the mudrock geoscience and evolving technology that have revitalized a basin that companies in the past had abandoned or relegated to strategies to “manage the decline.” The conference will also feature perspectives on emerging international basins including Mexico and Argentina.

Let us know what basins you are working and how AAPG’s resources help you look at mature basins in creative and innovative ways. #AAPGSustainsMe

Wishing you and yours a happy and sustainable New Year.

Onward!