A Renewed Look at the Anadarko Basin

Molly Turko, even in these dark times of COVID and decreased worldwide energy demand, is at heart an optimist.

“There is always a light, you just have to know where to look,” she said.

And she feels that the Anadarko Basin, a place she has spent the last 10 years of her professional life, is a great place to start looking.

For Turko, who has worked in multiple basins in the United States, including the Ardmore, Powder River, Appalachian, onshore Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain basins, said the Anadarko, along with the adjacent Wichita uplift, may hold the most attractive possibilities.

“One of the great things about the Anadarko Basin is that there are a lot of ‘unconventional’ targets to pick from. There are options to drill in older fields thought to be depleted, but with new technologies, we can increase the recovery factor,” said Turko.

She said this may have something to do with its pedigree.

“From a failed rift during the Precambrian-Cambrian, followed by post-rift thermal subsidence, to a complicated uplift during the Pennsylvanian orogeny, this basin has encountered every type of structural style possible,” she said.

At this year’s AAPG 2021 Global Super Basins Leadership Conference, in a presentation entitled “Structural Origin of the Anadarko Basin,” Turko will discuss these types of structures in the region and what can be predicted, based on their origin, orientations and structural styles, which is significant to fluid conductivity and compartmentalization.

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Molly Turko, even in these dark times of COVID and decreased worldwide energy demand, is at heart an optimist.

“There is always a light, you just have to know where to look,” she said.

And she feels that the Anadarko Basin, a place she has spent the last 10 years of her professional life, is a great place to start looking.

For Turko, who has worked in multiple basins in the United States, including the Ardmore, Powder River, Appalachian, onshore Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain basins, said the Anadarko, along with the adjacent Wichita uplift, may hold the most attractive possibilities.

“One of the great things about the Anadarko Basin is that there are a lot of ‘unconventional’ targets to pick from. There are options to drill in older fields thought to be depleted, but with new technologies, we can increase the recovery factor,” said Turko.

She said this may have something to do with its pedigree.

“From a failed rift during the Precambrian-Cambrian, followed by post-rift thermal subsidence, to a complicated uplift during the Pennsylvanian orogeny, this basin has encountered every type of structural style possible,” she said.

At this year’s AAPG 2021 Global Super Basins Leadership Conference, in a presentation entitled “Structural Origin of the Anadarko Basin,” Turko will discuss these types of structures in the region and what can be predicted, based on their origin, orientations and structural styles, which is significant to fluid conductivity and compartmentalization.

“In my presentation, we will look at all of this, but we will particularly focus on what happened during the Pennsylvanian. In my dissertation on the Wichita uplift, we noticed a change in structural styles from early contraction to strike-slip deformation along certain structures, which we attributed to a rotation in the regional stresses. This observation is significant to understanding the type of structures that developed in the basin and on the Anadarko Shelf,” she explained.

The observation was significant to understanding the type of structures that developed in the basin and on the Anadarko Shelf, in part because very subtle features in the 3-D seismic which, she said, were no doubt smaller faults and fractured damage zones related to Pennsylvanian age deformation.

“These faults and fractured areas had a significant impact on operations and production,” she said.

Future Anadarko Production

Turko said it is a good time to discuss what happens next in all the basins, generally, and in Anadarko, specifically, believing new play concepts can be developed in low porosity/permeability rocks where modern technology can help get the hydrocarbons out.

“The key is that each one has its own petroleum system elements. In order to drill the best wells, the geoscience team really needs to be able to identify and understand each element,” she said.

As for the overall future of production in the Anadarko, she said it will largely be dependent on two factors: one non-technical and one technical.

“While alternative energy sources will be beneficial, there is still some doubt that they will be able to keep up with demand. However, as technologies advance, we may surprise ourselves! Nonetheless, natural gas is readily abundant in the U.S. and we do have the technology to get it out efficiently. But I’m afraid the motivation to get the gas out will be low until operators can get a better bang for their buck,” she said.

The second factor is actually a bit more complicated.

“I think we’ve done a great job getting gas (and oil) out of the Anadarko Basin using conventional and unconventional methods for decades now, but for the long-term future we will need to rely on technical and geologic advances in order to get a reasonable return on investments,” Turko explained.

She said the geologic advances would require a better understanding of the structure and stratigraphy impacting a play.

“Much of the classic literature on the basin was written prior to the ’90s, however a significant number of wells have been drilled (and cored) since then, as well as the acquisition of modern 3-D seismic covering the basin. The insight and knowledge gained from these modern (and proprietary) datasets could really advance our geologic understanding of the basin. I would love to see a revival of published geologic studies on the basin, similar to the circulars put out by the Oklahoma Geological Survey during the ‘80s and ‘90s. If I could encourage operators and fellow geoscientists to publish more often, I think we could bring a lot of positive awareness and interest back to the Anadarko Basin,” she said.

When she started in the industry a decade ago, she believes there was a “sweat shop” mentality.

“We had to run those rigs and drill, drill, drill! Unfortunately, a lot of money was wasted on dry holes, but prices were high enough at the time that a few good wells usually made up for the bad ones. However, that is not the case now, and we must stick to a reasonable budget where a single dry hole has the risk of bankrupting a company,” said Turko.

A Renewed Mindset

But – and this might be surprising – Turko believes the COVID pandemic may have been something of a blessing.

“It really slowed down operations, which allows those in industry to really take the time to research, brainstorm, and come up with new and efficient ways of going forward,” she explained.

She said in the past six months alone, she has witnessed some incredible and innovative research, from the role of serpentinite and diamondoids on hydrocarbon exploration, to modern ways of prospecting for uranium.

“Seeing people think outside the box and present new ideas is very encouraging, and I believe it is the right kind of mindset for a time like this,” Turko added.

That is because the mindset leads to new ideas which, when applied to dwindling basins, have the potential to revive exploration in areas previously thought to be depleted.

Not to minimize the effects of COVID, which have been nothing short of a wrecking ball, and one she has felt personally. Turko, currently a member of Applied Stratigraphix, said, “I don’t think it’s any surprise, but since operators have slowed down immensely, that has also resulted in many layoffs, me included.”

However, in the Anadarko, while operators are not drilling as much, they are still exploring.

“My inclination is that those still in business are taking the time to do more research and really understand the petroleum system of their prospects,” she said.

She hopes this will lead to some great prospects drilled once we emerge from the pandemic. And her innate optimism will, she hopes, have a ripple effect.

“I also believe that many of those laid off are also taking the time to expand and increase their skillsets, so when operations do pick up, we will have an incredibly smart and resilient workforce ready to go. This doesn’t only apply to oil and gas, but also to other industries such as mining, geothermal and others,” said Turko.