It’s been a long time since Papua New Guinea held the last of its very successful series of petroleum conventions in 2000. Almost anyone who has delved into the petroleum geology of PNG cannot have missed the four convention volumes produced over a ten-year period (and now available through AAPG Datapages) that were provided to delegates at those events when PNG was just starting its oil and gas industry. It’s been 20 years since we compiled our understanding of PNG’s petroleum geology and it’s been great to have the AAPG and its partner, the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, underwrite our new PNG conference. We have exciting new discoveries and plays to talk about and much new information and knowledge to share from a period during which technology and techniques have leapt forward. I am delighted to be the convener of this event for and on behalf of AAPG and EAGE – bringing them into Papua New Guinea where I have spent so much of my life promoting the elucidation of PNG’s complex and hidden geology while trying to ensure that exploration might bring reasonable rewards to both the companies and the people alike.
Some 257 people gathered at the beautiful new Hilton Hotel in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in the last week of February 2020 to attend the first AAPG/EAGE PNG Petroleum Geoscience Conference and Exhibition. The theme for the conference was, “PNG’s Oil and Gas Industry Maturing Through Exploration Development and Production.” Three days of technical sessions were held featuring three keynote talks, 50 technical papers and 20 poster sessions. The conference room of the architecturally fantastic hotel, owned by the landowners of various mining and petroleum projects in PNG, was seriously decked out in classroom style with an emphasis on knowledge-transfer and learning. We had a great mix of people in attendance: corporates, academics, government, service companies, students and independents – all geoscientists of one kind or another, and this event was all about sharing our science.
After a welcome address from myself and some presentations to thank supporting organizations, Deputy Secretary Greg Balavue of the Papua New Guinea Department of Petroleum and Energy, himself a petroleum geologist, gave a background talk in which he spelled out the requirements of the government for the energy sector.
Frank Goulding, the chief geoscientist of ExxonMobil gave the first keynote address on the opening day talking about integrated subsurface analysis as applied to the challenging exploration of PNG’s fold and thrust belt. He discussed the integration of play elements with a focus on trap imaging – something that often poor-quality seismic data routinely confounds in PNG: much of the prospective Mesozoic section is overlain by thick, highly karstified Miocene limestone though which it is very difficult to trace any records on seismic.
This lead into a session on regional geology and tectonics setting the scene for the next couple of days by looking at the geodynamics of the New Guinea region, since the Triassic, including the allochthonous terranes scattered about PNG, and their effect on regional basins, together with some discussion about the paleogeographic and paleoclimatic evolution of depositionary systems in PNG.
After a quick look at petroleum systems in the Papuan Basin and the Gulf of Papua, the structural geologists held the audience spellbound with images of geomechanical models and reconstructions of the prior inversion and the more recent compressional geological history that gave rise to PNG’s most rugged and formidable terranes, among which we have thus far found most of our oil and gas accumulations.
By the time everything was explained and understood regarding structural geology, we finished the talks for the first day with some prospectivity reviews.
The Earth sciences students from the University of Papua New Guinea, along with their faculty advisers and teachers, were invited to attend under corporate sponsorship, so at the end of the first day, we hosted a meet-and-greet for the young geologists and those working in industry, government and academia to chat about careers and their development.
Our second day opened with an emphasis on carbonates led by a keynote address talk by Jeroen Kenter, carbonate expert at Total SA, during which he elucidated techniques for finding carbonates where they were hitherto unexpected, through use of data integration. Although not a new play in PNG, carbonates have made a comeback into the limelight now that we have identified gas-bearing Miocene reefs involved in the Eastern Fold and Thrust belt of PNG as at the Elk-Antelope gas field, which is being planned to be developed by Total SA.
After a strong dose of carbonate geology, we turned to the optimization of producing oil and gas field before reviewing new discoveries and new field developments, and operations petroleum geology.
Fold and Thrust Belts
Day three kicked off with our third keynote address provided by Ken McClay, professor at the Australian School of Petroleum, Adelaide, with the best tour of fold and thrust belts one could ever want as he discussed the tectonic evolution of thick and thin-skinned fold and thrust belts with application to PNG. This was followed by some talks on basement involvement in geological structures and the geophysical application of magnetic and gravity data to determine such. After a late morning session on geochemistry, our last and final session was taken up with new techniques and new play concepts and new basins.
Exhibition and Core Workshop
Augmenting the conference was a small but boutique exhibition of about a dozen booths occupied by operating companies, supporting organizations, some service companies and other stakeholders. The poster sessions were held in the middle of the exhibition hall.
In addition to the main conference talks, a “Core Workshop on Carbonate Cores” was held by Moyra Wilson of the University of Western Australia, at which the new core from Twinza Oil’s 2018 offshore Pasca A4 well drilled in the Gulf of Papua was displayed and enthusiastically examined. About 20 people attended this eclectic and brilliant workshop. The Petroleum Division of the PNG Department of Petroleum and Energy supported this event, and generously lent the core to the conference.
Other Features and Events
McClay dutifully stayed back for two days and gave a course on compressional tectonics and fold and thrust belts to about a dozen delegates.
Also, the morning after the main conference, a dozen intrepid geologists went on a bus tour of the PNG LNG Plant operated by ExxonMobil.
The conference had a typical Icebreaker reception the evening before opening, but this was distinguished by a group of traditional dancers from Hela Province home of the oil and gas producing fields in the PNG Highlands; they very colorfully demonstrated their unique chanting and stomping. Our conference dinner sponsored by the PNG national petroleum company, Kumul Petroleum, was a relaxed affair with a local jazz band playing. The diners were warmly entertained by my former boss, Peter Botten, the managing director of Oil Search Ltd., who – on his first day since handing the reins to his successor – reflected on 25 years of PNG petroleum exploration, development and production.
I thank the members of the organizing committee and all the people who contributed both small and large over the previous year to bring this event to fruition. Local support was provided by the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, which runs several workshops and conferences each year on mining and petroleum matters. Most notably, I want to thank my colleague at Oil Search Ltd, Nigel Wilson, for leading the technical committee and bringing together such a great technical program. Last but not least, I thank the sponsors, without whom the event could not have been assured and who gave generously, not only to foster the understanding to the petroleum geology of PNG, but to keep us alive as active professional organizations delivering our science to industry and people alike.