In a world with discussions about Peak Oil and transition from hydrocarbons, the Caribbean remains a bright spot for traditional oil and gas exploration.
From Trinidad and Tobago’s 100-year hydrocarbon industry in the north to massive discoveries in the Guyana Suriname Basin in Northern South America, there’s good reason why companies around the world are focused on the region.
Developing and maintaining the local workforce is key to continued exploration and development, and AAPG’s Latin American and Caribbean Region is committed to aiding countries in making that possible.
Xavier Moonan, Trinidad and Tobago native and president-elect of AAPG’s Latin America and Caribbean Region, has spent his entire career studying the Caribbean.
His current positions as exploration manager at Touchstone Exploration and lecturer at the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago reinforce the business and academic importance of the region.
His work with AAPG provides the opportunity to highlight the Caribbean’s geology and hydrocarbon potential through workshops, and conferences held in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname.
During his 10 years of service to AAPG, Moonan has worked to draw attention to the region and to help Caribbean students and young professionals learn about the area’s geology and hydrocarbon potential.
An active member of the Visiting Geoscientist Program, Moonan provides frequent lectures and leads field trips in Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname. He mentors teams participating in the Imperial Barrel Award competition and promotes student and young professional participation in AAPG conferences, workshops and short courses. He also seeks opportunities to expand AAPG’s influence to new areas. Recently he started focusing on Barbados, the 432-square-kilometer island country in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, located on the Boundary of the South American and Caribbean Plates.
A Laboratory for Deepwater Sedimentary Systems
“After holding AAPG events in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname, naturally I wanted to hold an AAPG event in Barbados due to its rich geological history, active oil and gas exploration and AAPG members on the ground who regularly attend and exhibit at our conferences,” he said.
But identifying Barbados as a destination for an AAPG event was just a start. Moonan also needed the right topic to complement the local geology and geological needs of this part of the Latin America and Caribbean Region.
“While much of Barbados is covered in Pleistocene to Holocene carbonates, hydrocarbons are explored for in the Eocene Scotland sands. These sandstones outcrop magnificently along the eastern coast of the island, and they are all deepwater deposits. Apart from Barbados, its Caribbean neighbors – namely Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname – all are actively exploring for hydrocarbons in deepwater deposits. As such, a short course on deepwater deposits would most likely serve members in these areas quite well,” he said.
“Coupled with this, the world-class outcrops of deepwater deposits on Barbados eastern coast allow attendees of the event to apply and practice their learnings from the course. And the cherry on the cake – one of these impressive outcrops, Greenlands Quarry, even features oil-impregnated deepwater deposits with its own mystery to unravel – preferential charge!” he added.
Moonan said the country’s geographical location and geological features make the country an ideal place to study deepwater hydrocarbon systems.
“I saw Barbados as the perfect laboratory for folks working in the Northeast Latin America-area to study deepwater deposits, geologically related to their basins of interest, and providing a high-quality alternative to deepwater courses and field classes in North America or Europe,” he said.
“And you can enjoy the touristic aspects as well: sun, sea and sand,” he added.
Deepwater Sedimentary Systems Course
After reading the book “Deepwater Sedimentary Systems: Science, Discoveries, and Applications,” Moonan approached Barbados Ministry of Energy and Business and Barbados National Oil Company (BNOC) about hosting an AAPG course in the capital Bridgetown.
Moonan invited the book’s primary author Jon Rotzien, president of Basin Dynamics, LLC, and adjunct professor at the University of Houston, to deliver the course in Barbados, while Moonan offered to lead a field trip with Chris Mosely, chief geologist at BNOC.
Moonan knew that the course and field trip would serve Barbadians and attract participation from abroad, but he had particular interest in including young people who would benefit from the course but might not have the financial means to come on their own.
Suriname Student Participation
Moonan’s natural choice was Suriname, a country on the path to becoming a deepwater hydrocarbon producer with a series of discoveries by Total, Apache and Shell.
“I have always admired that Suriname invests in building local capacity in hydrocarbon exploration, becoming masters of their own part of the Guyana-Suriname Basin. As such it was no surprise that the short course attracted the attention of many Surinamese students and young professionals. But due to limited flights, the logistics and costs for Surinamese participation made attendance challenging compared to attendees from its Caribbean neighbors. As such I focused efforts on trying to secure support for the Suriname contingent,” he said.
Moonan contacted oil and gas companies in Suriname, some of which also operated in Trinidad, seeking support for Surinamese representatives, noting that their participation in the course would help develop local expertise in deepwater deposits.
“Luckily, in the past, we were approached by some companies who noted to us their admiration for the activities by the AAPG, the AAPG student and young professional chapters and their willingness to sponsor future projects,” he said.
Moonan secured support from Halliburton and East Coast Drilling, while the students found additional sponsorship from Kuldipsingh Group and other local Surinamese companies.
Applicants sent their resumes and a letter describing their interest in attending the course and their AAPG service to Moonan and to Clyde Griffith, AAPG Delegate energy adviser to the Suriname government.
Moonan and Griffith reviewed the applications and selected five undergraduate and three master’s students from the Anton de Kom University of Suriname and IBW University in Paramaribo.
The eight Suriname participants joined 27 professionals representing 10 companies from Barbados, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.
The short course introduced predictive models of subsurface geology to improve exploration and development success. Content included a field-based analysis applying years of research of the range and variation in deepwater sedimentary intervals, as well as approaches to classic reservoir challenges and how they are addressed today.
Rotzien described attendees as upbeat and engaging.
“We had a very good mix of students and professionals who were eager to meet, learn and share knowledge from their experiences in deepwater. All the participants were so enthusiastic – it actually was hard to get them to stop doing the class exercises! We all gained a new appreciation for the complexity of deepwater sedimentary systems,” he said.
The field trip included visits to several of the island’s deepwater deposits with stops along the East Coast Road at Barclays Park, Sleeping Giant and the Greenlands Shale Quarry.
Sunaina Mohan, president of the AAPG Suriname Young Professionals Chapter and master’s student at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname, described participation in the short course and field trip as a life-changing experience.
“The AAPG Deepwater Sedimentary Systems Course and Field Trip has been very insightful. We got the opportunity to build predictive models of subsurface geology for more successful exploration and development. The field trip gave us the necessary knowledge and experience and made us able to see the amazing outcrops,” she said. “We acknowledge that without sponsorship we wouldn’t be able to have this amazing experience. The whole team of AAPG Young Professionals Suriname is forever grateful for the support!”
Arantxa Lieveld, also a master’s student at Anton de Kom and exploration geologist at Staatsolie, said she appreciated improving her knowledge of the characterization and analysis of deepwater systems and stratigraphy.
“This course gave me more detailed insights and a more practical experience. The one-day field trip has been an amazing experience and made it possible to link seismic observations to outcrops in order to get a better feeling of scale, architecture and geometry,” she said. “The gained knowledge from this course will be applied in my master’s thesis and in my daily work in order to improve geological concepts.”
Undergraduate student Javid Khan described his participation as not only very informative and eye-opening but also very fun.
“The geological and geophysical characterization of deepwater sediments was very new to me but the way it was taught was very easy to understand. The field trip which allowed us to see the stratigraphy of Barbados, was very well organized and easy to understand for a geologist. Overall, I am very grateful that I got the opportunity to attend this course and will use what I’ve learned to further my studies as a geologist,” he said.
Rotzien said he thoroughly enjoyed working with the Suriname group.
“The students - Arantxa, Chifaro, Javid, Kay, Singotiko, Sunaina, Tushar and Xiarah - came to the course prepared and brought a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for offshore exploration and the next five, 10, 20 - even 100 years - of deepwater,” he said.
Wise investment in the future
Moonan affirmed that Suriname student participation in the training is an investment that will provide benefits for years to come.
“Despite the challenges in logistics to get the Suriname contingent to Barbados, they truly had a great time with all of the attendees. Class sessions were very lively and interactive, and I appreciated that I got a chance to properly chat with each of the students, during the class, during lunch sessions, at an after-class dinner, in the field, at the infamous Harrison Caves, and even in transit in Trinidad. I can assure the sponsors that the Suriname group were a very inquisitive, passionate bunch and they learned a lot and developed great relationships by attending this event,” he said.
“Apart from expanding their technical understanding of deepwater deposits, which is much needed for exploration efforts in Suriname, the students gained a lot from networking with the course attendees and lecturer, learning from their experiences and establishing links for future discussions and collaboration,” he added.
Moonan emphasized the importance of continuing to support in-person courses and field trips, both for professionals and students.
“These specialized courses and field trips expand the perspectives of the attendees, and it is through these experiences that new ideas, theories and play concepts are forged,” he said. “These events help grow individuals and prepare them for future challenges, in their careers and in their general lives. Energy security is on every country’s agenda now, and a core function of that is personnel. Personnel who can ensure that energy is available, affordable and reliable for their country.”
Advice to Future Oil and Gas Professionals
Moonan said he applauds students and young professionals interested in pursuing careers in the oil and gas sector.
“We are here to provide clean, efficient and reliable energy to the world, and we are using cutting edge technology to make this energy source affordable, available and as environmentally friendly as possible,” he said.
“Learning and actively practicing the principles of geoscience improves your skillset so be sure to attend short courses, field trips and AAPG student chapter and YP events. And while at these events make the effort to network, chat with young and established professionals. Through these interactions you will be exposed to new and unpublished experiences and perspectives, you will learn of upcoming opportunities and get your future employer or manager familiar with your personality and passion.”
Rotzien said interacting with students like those he met in Barbados make him optimistic about what is to come.
“The future of offshore exploration is bright with such high energy and focused geoscientists and engineers in the pipeline. Their leadership will positively impact the energy industry on a global scale,” he said.