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Pushing New Frontiers With Proven Basins

In the arena of super basins, what’s old is new again.

With new technology, oil finders are finding great success by returning to basins once thought to be mature, explained Charles Sternbach, president of Star Creek Energy and AAPG past president.

As explorationists return to the world’s greatest basins armed with newer, ever-evolving tools like enhanced seismic imaging, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, “it’s a paradigm shift,” Sternbach said.

He noted that AAPG sponsored two milestone Pratt Conferences in 1984 and 2000, looking at global opportunities and envisioning energy and exploration in the next 100 years.

“Everyone wanted to go to new places – frontiers,” Sternbach said, reasoning that the major basins already found were mature and exploited.

Today, “The industry is not going where past visionaries thought it would,” he said.

While exploration continues along new frontiers, the industry has returned to the world’s richest petroleum-bearing basins with an all-out effort to optimize extensive infrastructure using new technology. Discoveries and plays covering large parts of a basin require big thinking, Sternbach explained.

Image Caption

Global Super Basins 2019 keynote speaker Chris Spies, vice president of geoscience and technology, Concho Resources Inc.

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In the arena of super basins, what’s old is new again.

With new technology, oil finders are finding great success by returning to basins once thought to be mature, explained Charles Sternbach, president of Star Creek Energy and AAPG past president.

As explorationists return to the world’s greatest basins armed with newer, ever-evolving tools like enhanced seismic imaging, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, “it’s a paradigm shift,” Sternbach said.

He noted that AAPG sponsored two milestone Pratt Conferences in 1984 and 2000, looking at global opportunities and envisioning energy and exploration in the next 100 years.

“Everyone wanted to go to new places – frontiers,” Sternbach said, reasoning that the major basins already found were mature and exploited.

Today, “The industry is not going where past visionaries thought it would,” he said.

While exploration continues along new frontiers, the industry has returned to the world’s richest petroleum-bearing basins with an all-out effort to optimize extensive infrastructure using new technology. Discoveries and plays covering large parts of a basin require big thinking, Sternbach explained.

With the aim, he said, of keeping AAPG at the forefront of relevant science, he helped plan three conferences, beginning in 2018, with the latest next Feb. 11-13 at the Sugar Land, Texas Marriot: the AAPG Global Super Basins Leadership Forum.

Sternbach and others have dubbed the information to be found at the event as “actionable intelligence.” He credits AAPG members Bob Fryklund and Pete Stark for helping the industry think in terms of “super basins,” which are “the world’s most richly endowed petroleum basins, each with at least 5 BBOE produced and more than 5 BBOE left to produce. With multiple source rocks, multiple plays, and well-established infrastructure, the top 25 global basins hold potential for hundreds of BBOE future resources. thanks to ongoing technological innovations.”

A Global Approach

Where past major conferences produced books, super basin-themed gatherings have produced video presentations that AAPG members can view online through the AAPG website.

In addition, a special publication is planned with eight or more papers on the subject in the AAPG Bulletin, edited by Claudio Bartolini and Sternbach.The effort has involved more than the three large meetings. Sternbach said AAPG has held 14 themed events in 20 months, drawing 4,500 attendees at ACE, ICE, AAPG region and section meetings, and in partnership with other societies.The efforts remain global in scope, since super basins are scattered worldwide. Every AAPG section and region is home to at least one super basin, which shapes exploration in those areas, he said.

“We want AAPG to be the meeting place for global basin experts to learn from each basin and apply those lessons widely to optimize staff strengths and talents wisely,” he said.

The upcoming Leadership Forum fully embraces the global approach.

“I am thrilled with the list of globally diverse expert presenters lined up for the program,” he said. “It is they who deserve our appreciation. Speakers and attendees are decision makers – managers, chief geoscientists, vice presidents and the like.”

Big Data in Big Basins for Big Results

Another attraction of known super basins is the massive amount a data available, Sternbach said.

Mature basins have a lot of historical data covering all aspects of exploration and production. The Permian Basin, for example, has decades of information from more than 100,000 wells.

“Shandell Szabo at Anadarko said it well: ‘Big data in big basins yields big results,’” he commented.

As oil finders go back to the mature basins, they can apply best practices learned from other basins.

Sternbach said he wants to make these insights available to all AAPG members. “The more I have studied the world’s greatest petroleum basins, the more I am convinced there are abundant and recoverable hydrocarbons well into the future,” Sternbach said.

“This hydrocarbon abundance brings both prosperity and the global freedom to choose local energy mixes,” he added.

Developing Super Basin Proficiency

Student programs are another important aspect of AAPG’s big basin efforts.

“Students fit right in,” he said. “Creative thinking is the essence.”

Many students already are well-versed in spatial relationship software like ArcGIS technology and “take to it naturally,” he said. Many are also gifted in visualization and problem-solving.

Several universities are interested in developing student proficiency in super basins. “One such collaboration is at the University of Houston with Dr. Paul Mann,” Sternbach said.

Re-entry to super basins is often led by smaller companies – the risk takers – before major companies pursue the effort, Sternbach said

“We also owe the service companies a great debt,” he said. “They see more examples of technology in different locations. They are a true partner in this renaissance.”

Engineers, geophysicists, regulators, entrepreneurs, and many others have roles to play. Geoscientists integrate data and disciplines, from the inklings of exploration to visualizing the basin’s architecture.

In the final analysis, Sternbach said, “Geoscience matters. AAPG matters.”

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