The world’s top 20 super basins contain about 57 percent of the biggest oil fields in the world.
Until recently, though, there wasn’t a comprehensive repository where industry professionals and scientists could access information about those fields, especially as it pertained to their commerciality, geoscience architecture, infrastructure and above-ground challenges.
There is now.
With the release of the fourth installment of the “Super Basin Special Issue Series” of the AAPG Bulletin, scheduled for this August and coinciding with the AAPG-SEG International Meeting for Applied Geoscience and Energy, the work is complete.
“Together, we achieved the five-year goal of creating a collection of reference material for explorers,” said Charles A. Sternbach, president of Star Creek Energy, who was the committee chair through the past half decade and helped give birth to this enormous project.
“It was a lot of work,” he said, smiling.
The four volumes include the combined work of 5,700 geoscientists who attended 17 AAPG super basin-themed events from 2018-2023 and more than 200 speakers and authors who contributed to these conferences and publications.
He was overwhelmed by the effort, support and volunteers who helped along the way, including those busy authors who wrote peer-reviewed papers.
“The vision created a framework that allowed the nucleation of volunteering efforts on geoscience and professionalism. Some say volunteerism is dead. I say it’s all about leadership. If you build it, they will come,” said Sternbach.
Specifically, the initiative created well-attended technical programs, an economic surplus to AAPG and a legacy of content for the AAPG Bulletin, DataPages, Search and Discovery, and multimedia archives (videos and presentations).
Why the Series Was Created
It was a project that arrived none too soon.
“Even though cries for the end of hydrocarbons intensify, super basins possess the untapped resources, infrastructure, service sectors and economics to produce adequate oil and gas to assure global energy security while minimizing environmental impacts,” said Pete Stark of IHS Markit when the series was conceived.
So, a plan was hatched to create an analog playbook for these great basins.
Sternbach, who is also an adjunct research professor at the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Houston, said, “We provide these papers as a foundation for explorers to revisit as technology and insights create new opportunities. “
The issues take a deep dive into:
- What makes a super basin special, unique or exemplary, and what can we learn from them?
- What are the critical geoscience elements that contribute to success?
- What is the exploration/production history, and what plays offer remaining potential – conventional, unconventional and ﬁeld growth?
- What innovations have revitalized super basins (such as horizontal drilling, hydraulic stimulation, drilling techniques, seismic imaging)? And what basins await revitalization by proven or future technologies?
- How do “above ground” issues like politics, access, mineral ownership and geography inﬂuence the full resource potential of each super basin?
- Will the basin be a regional or global disrupter?
The series, Sternbach said, was a chance to work with some of the best professionals in the world.
“I think of the journey as a trip in a jumbo jet Dreamliner to all the great energy basins of the world with local guides, like the ‘Ship of the Imagination’ (from the TV series ‘Cosmos’),” he said.
They completed their five-year mission to “boldly go” (to borrow from another space-themed TV series) to the world’s greatest basins, to learn from local experts and to share the adventure, Sternbach added.
“Kudos to Bob Fryklund and Pete Stark for laying out the flight plan,” he said.
He said AAPG’s strategic alliances provided the geoscientist muscle to write the papers.
“The game plan was simply to pack the house, make money for AAPG, and to contribute to our scientific legacy,” said Sternbach.
When asked what, in concrete terms, the series will give industry professionals, he said it will provide a series of analogs, descriptions of geoscience architecture, and models to compare and contrast.
“They are integrated case studies to provide professionals with information they can use to find the ‘energy of now,’” he explained.
Best of all, he said, the industry now has a collection of papers in a library that can be returned to as new ideas, technology, or economic factors emerge, as they always do.
He said such a study will have a ripple effect.
“Study of the basins enables recognition of shared elements and differences,” he said, adding that, “Super basin thinking is a systematic series of questions, a methodology and a toolkit to approach each new basin that a geoscientist works in their career.”
He said it is important to speak the language of analogs wherever one works.
“Immersion in analogs helps train and mentor future explorers whose goal is to acquire 30 years of experience” as quickly as possible, he added.
Sternbach, 101st past president of AAPG (2017-18), said geoscientists have the talent to connect insights among the world’s greatest petroleum basins.
“The task is so large that basin experts must work together to link the global consciousness. In addition, geoscientists connect super basin lessons into a global neural network which must include the fourth dimension of paying this knowledge forward to those who come after us.”
He said super basins are a global phenomenon.
Ultimately, he believes, the future of the industry can be seen in the faces of those involved in the series themselves.
“They are energetic, smiling, diverse, global and dedicated,” he said.