Do super basins have a role in sustainable development?
The short answer is, Yes. Super basins can be part of a sustainable energy and environmental future for the planet.
A more complex answer is: It depends on how you define “sustainable.”
In the view of the oil and gas industry, sustainability has an economic component and an environmental component. Hydrocarbon-based energy is essential for a sustainable world economy in that view, and it will be for a long time to come.
First, the world needs sufficient energy to maintain a robust global economy. Hydrocarbons are an important – and currently irreplaceable – part of that energy supply. Second, global sustainability today depends on a reliable stream of products from petrochemicals – everything from medicines to synthetic materials to agricultural inputs.
And third, the populations of many of the world’s developing countries can’t rise above a dire level of poverty without affordable access to energy, primarily hydrocarbons, and power, primarily electricity.
Those needs were emphasized in a presentation on super basin evolution and sustainability put together by AAPG past President Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin.
Tinker demonstrated that countries can move from high levels of poverty to much lower levels with adequate, cost-efficient and attainable public access to energy.
His analysis included a forecast of global energy-demand growth and an examination of the energy-mix scenarios that could meet that demand. A key concept is for the world to increase energy production while limiting or reducing carbon emissions.
For example, lower-cost natural gas supplies from unconventional resources have allowed the United States to de-emphasize coal use for power generation and attain an almost 20-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the past dozen years, Tinker noted.
Increased crude oil production from the Permian Basin and other U.S. unconventional super basins helped the world rebalance its oil supply, while there was still speculation about an absolute limit on global production capacity and a future of $200/barrel oil.
Super basins might be the world’s most important storehouses of future energy supply. The common definition of a hydrocarbon super basin is a basin that has produced at least 5 billion barrels of oil equivalent and contains at least another 5 billion boe of future production.
While the world may contain 100 such basins, or even more, evaluation of the top 30 super basins shows future potential for hundreds of billions of boe to be produced through ongoing technological development.
Asia’s Super Basin Potential
Historic, emerging and possible super basin areas of Asia hold the promise of providing new natural gas resources for a region in need of clean energy, in addition to increased energy production for rapidly developing nations.
Areas of interest include:
• Luconia basins complex/Sarawak Basin and Sabah Basin, Malaysia
The shallow-water Lang Lebah natural gas discovery in the Sarawak-Luconia area by PTT Exploration and Production was one of the world’s largest gas finds in 2019. Wood Mackenzie estimated resources in the Miocene carbonate play at 2 trillion cubic feet.
• Sumatra Basin and Kutei Basin, Indonesia
The mostly onshore South Sumatra Basin has been Indonesia’s most active exploration province. Future gas discoveries and development in the Kutei Basin are of key importance for the area’s established liquefied natural gas infrastructure.
• South China Sea, Bohai Basin and Songliao Basin, China
Earlier this year, CNOOC Ltd. announced a play-opening, large crude oil find in Bohai Bay, where initial production from its Kenli 6-1 discovery well tested at a reported 1,178 barrels/day.
While these offshore China areas are best known for oil potential, future opportunities in the Songliao Basin include a Cretaceous-reservoir, tight sands natural gas play.
• Barmer Basin, Cambay Basin and Barrier Rift Basin, India
The West Indian Rift System has produced multiple hydrocarbon discoveries in the past and is an emerging focus of exploration interest today. The northern Barmer Basin is oil-prone while the more deeply buried southern section is a mixed oil and gas province. The Eocene Cambay shale, a significant source rock, is considered a potential unconventional prospect for tight-gas and tight-oil exploration in western India.
• Cooper/Eromanga Basin and Westralian super basin area, Australia
Sandstone natural gas reservoirs have been found in multiple formations in the Cooper Basin, regionally sealed from the overlying Eromanga Basin. In recent years, large gas/condensate discoveries have emerged from Australia’s offshore North West Shelf play.
The Role of Mature Basins
Mature super basins around the world also are contributors to sustainable development as ongoing, known sources of energy supply, where abundant future hydrocarbon resources have already been identified, with reduced exploration risk and increased development efficiencies.
The mature North Sea super basin has claimed a role in the world’s energy transition, said John Underhill, academic lead and director of the UK Centre for Doctoral Training and professor of exploration geoscience at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
The basin is seeing efforts to repurpose old platforms for wind energy, to produce hydrogen through electrolysis, to use depleted fields for carbon storage and to apply generated electrical and resources toward heating offshore platforms, he noted.
Best of Both Worlds
In the Sustainable Development Scenario of its current World Energy Outlook, released in October, the International Energy Agency stated, “There is no trade-off between achieving climate objectives and delivering on energy access and air pollution goals.”
Its proposed sustainable development solution includes increased investment to mitigate climate change and a commitment to providing impoverished populations with access to adequate, affordable energy supply.
“Achieving universal access to modern energy only leads to a small increase in CO2 emissions (0.1 percent), the climate effect of which is more than offset by lower methane emissions due to a reduction in use of traditional biomass cookstoves,” the IEA reported.
As Tinker observed, today’s challenge for the oil and gas industry and for the world is to make energy as affordable and globally available as possible, with super basins an important contributor to a more sustainable future.