In February, I was guest speaker on behalf of AAPG at the Houston Geological Society Scholarship Night. The talk was called, “Discovery Thinking, Exploration Creativity, and the Rise of Super Basins.”
The talk can be found on the HGS YouTube Channel, HGSGeoEducation, and it’s entitled “Charles Sternbach-Discovery Thinking in the Age of Super Basins.”
In preparation for the night, HGS raised $40,000 from more than 25 companies and individuals for student scholarship funding. Fifteen undergraduate and graduate students received research funding and were recognized for their excellence and future promise. Thank you to HGS Past President Dr. John Tubb and the HGS Scholarship Committee for making this happen. I was pleased to give the students and faculty advisers copies of the DPA publication, “Heritage of the Petroleum Geologist” (volumes 1 and 2). This book features stories of 101 amazing men and women geoscientists. You may download your own copy.
Here is the gist of my talk: many petroleum “super basins” were thought to be on their way out of economic production. But game-changing technology has rejuvenated old basins into reaching new production peaks. Important technologies include both hydraulic fracturing in horizontal wells and enhanced seismic imaging. Onshore basins like the Permian are made more productive by perfecting multi-lateral/multi-directional drilling, finding the right drilling fluid mix, varying hydraulic fracture stages, proppant materials and increasing well length in the tapping of unconventional oil and gas resources. Super basins are yielding even more petroleum thanks to leading edge engineering refinements and breakthroughs.
It’s not just onshore basins! Offshore, deepwater basins are also being rejuvenated using new seismic imaging to discover deeper and hidden basins. Explorers are finding sedimentary packages previously obscured for various reasons. Some basins benefit from both engineering and seismic. Many of the new resources are being found below salt or around basement highs. Examples include deepwater subsalt Gulf of Mexico, Santos Basin pre-salt Brazil, and drilling around basement highs in the North Sea. In all cases, understanding the geoscience architecture is key to exploration success.
Up-scaling Exploration Creativity from Discoveries to Plays to Basins
The graphic shows the evolution of an idea. In graphic design classes, like those offered by Yale professor Edward Tufte, students create a “mind map.” I have showcased other maps in this column, so this is just a map of a different sort. It shows how AAPG and affiliated society events, focused on exploration creativity, have evolved over the last two decades. It represents a significant body of work – by myself and others – accomplished over 21 years. I spotlight key milestones above. Note that “quick to market” topical programs of science and professionalism are growing at a rapid rate. I believe they are rising in response to popular demand.
● Inception, 1997: I sat in the front row of the Dallas ACE meeting “Legendary Tale” panel moderated by Jim Gibbs, past AAPG president and chairman of the AAPG Foundation. I took ten pages of notes and was inspired by exploration greats. I wanted more of these types of programs. So, I called up some friends and got to work!
● HGS Legends, 2000: As then HGS president, I introduced an evening dinner event with exploration greats. At the first event, George Mitchell explained prophetically how geoscience and engineering would combine to change our world. The program has gone into full-scale development now with 10 panels. We estimate 2,500 total attendees. If you want to watch videos from the HGS Legends Programs from 2000 to 2016, they can be found on YouTube on the Geo Legends channel home page.
● Discovery Thinking forums, 2008: They first appeared at AAPG’s Annual Convention and Exhibition, then at the International Conference and Exhibition in 2012. Ten years ago, I made a promise, with the help of others, to spotlight 100 who made a difference with a sustained program of talks on the greatest discoveries by those who know them well. In retrospect, we were “way out over our skis,” so to speak to make such a bold promise. Today we have exceeded that promise with 115 authors and co-authors. Over the decade we estimate 10,000 total attendees and tens of thousands of video views. To see these talks for yourself, visit AAPG.to/DiscoveryThinkingVideos.
● 2012 Playmakers (DPA), 2012: We have had 10 events – twice in Houston, twice in Midland, and in London, Calgary, Pittsburgh, Bakersfield, Denver and Oklahoma City. We thank organizing chairs, who include Mike Party and Mike Canich (both of whom are candidates for AAPG president-elect) and about 140 presenters. Houston is up for a “three-peat” on April 26 with talks on the Haynesville and Gulf Coast revitalized plays (see the article in the February Explorer). We estimate 2,500 total attendees.
To see previous Playmaker talks, visit AAPG.to/PlaymakerVideos.
● Super Basins, 2018: This initiative includes the Super Basin event on March 4 at CERA WEEK, the March 27-29 AAPG Global Super Basin Leadership Conference in Houston (visit SuperBasins.AAPG.org), a super basin forum on May 21 at ACE in Salt Lake City, and a multiyear initiative to publish super basin-related articles in the AAPG Bulletin starting in this month (March, 2018).
Multimedia presentations will extend our mission to deliver science and professionalism. It is possible that future super basins conferences can spotlight AAPG Sections and Regions.
Providing energy to the world is a heroic journey. In my preface to the 2017 DPA publication “Heritage of the Petroleum Geoscientist,” I wrote that the philosopher Joseph Campbell described that the world has a few stories, and many storytellers. The “Hero’s Journey” starts with a call to adventure, overcoming trials (think of the Greek character Odysseus), and returning to tell the story.
Here are those who have returned to the tell the story – the speakers for the upcoming Global Super Basin Leadership Conference:
Worth a Million Words
Back in 2012, the Petroleum History Institute (PHI) recognized me with their “Keeper of the Flame” Award. I was deeply touched and liked the poetic sound. If you are interested, the Petroleum History Institute is holding their 2018 conference in conjunction with the AAPG Annual Convention in Salt Lake City (see PetroleumHistory.org). The award was for publications and efforts to recognize great men and women geoscientists for their oil and gas discoveries. The title of the talk was “If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, a Video is Worth a Million.” Using innovative video broadcasting now on the AAPG website, we helped creative explorers reach tens of thousands of people with an important scientific message, “in their own words.” I would like to thank Linda Sternbach for her tireless efforts to create and share nearly 200 videos and for being alongside me in this journey.
Visiting Mr. Halbouty
Many AAPG members will remember former AAPG President Michel T. Halbouty.
To me, wisdom is about learning from experience – personal or that of others. Exploration experiences during productive lifetimes are cumulative, valuable and to be cherished. For ten years I asked for advice, listened deeply and got to know Mike Halbouty. Fourteen years ago, I was visiting Halbouty, gravely ill at the time, in the Methodist Hospital, in downtown Houston. As during our previous visits, we talked about exploration, professional societies and what is important in life. In the middle of a visit, he looked me in the eye and firmly grabbed my hand, saying “I want you to speak at my funeral.” He made me promise, and yes, I kept that promise and spoke at his funeral in 2004. That was a difficult moment. I am not sure why he chose me, but I will never forget that he did.
“A keeper of the flame” has a sufficient desire and passion to continue to keep focused no matter what occurs. They continually bring the attention of the individual or organization back to what they need to be doing to create what is desired. We all have a duty to be keepers of the flame. The flame is service to others, pursuit of useful science and professionalism, and a duty to pass on to others a geoscience heritage better than we found it. Let us continue to dedicate ourselves to this mission.