Exploration: Hot Spots and Hot Rocks
Saturday, July 14, 2012
A new report shows that Deep Water exploration is of continuing importance and emphasis, although perhaps there is a tendency of exploration companies to behave like a swarm of 8 year old’s playing soccer – to be drawn magnetically to where the ball is!
This seems to be true not only geographically but geologically.
The evidence is that explorers perceive prospective rocks in basins that are currently Frontier are restricted to plays in the Cretaceous and younger – however history tells us that as a basin Matures, insight and innovation will lead to a breakthrough in understanding – and therefore discoveries - in older rocks.
By David Bamford, OilEdge
Three takeaways from the recent Richmond Energy Partners report:
There is a significantly higher probability of making a 100 mm barrel discovery in a Frontier play than a Mature play (in fact it is about 7.5 times more likely!)
- Overall, Frontier Exploration has been successful, with the 5 ‘big play breakers’ all in Deep Water. For 2012, there is a huge focus on exploration drilling in the South Atlantic and East Africa (onshore and offshore).
- In Frontier Exploration, there has been relatively little effort, and no discoveries, in stratigraphy older than the Cretaceous, whereas in Mature provinces, effort and discoveries reach down to the Devonian and older.
The first of these conclusions is obviously not a surprise, although the degree of difference may be to some.
The second and third points speak to Hot Spots and Hot Rocks respectively – let’s examine them in more detail. Hot Spots Frontier play exploration wells 2008-2012. Courtesy of Richmond Energy Partners Frontier Hot Spots 2012. Courtesy of Richmond Energy Partners
Taken together these two pictures illustrate the location of Frontier exploration efforts, the continuing importance of Deep Water, and the tendency of exploration companies to behave like a swarm of 8 year old’s playing soccer – to be drawn magnetically to where the ball is!
Somewhat cynically, one might ask whether many companies are in fact pursuing their own exploration strategy or whether their strategy is simply “Me too!”? Hot Rocks Comparison of primary target Frontier and Mature play wells 2008-2012. Courtesy of Richmond Energy Partners
This picture raises an interesting question.
It is pretty unlikely that prospective rocks in basins that are currently Frontier are restricted to plays in the Cretaceous and younger – evidence from this picture and exploration history in general is that as a basin Matures, insight and innovation will lead to a breakthrough in understanding – and therefore discoveries - in older rocks.
The question which follows is – what insights and what innovations? How do we get to them?
Well, to repeat myself, explorers are by and large are engaged in the search for new plays in known basins, plays of increasing subtlety and complexity in basins that have been ‘open’ for a long time, where somebody has gone before them.
Here are just four of the questions that explorers might be trying to answer today:
- Massive amounts of gas have been found offshore East Africa. Is there anywhere to go to find oil?
- Where are the analogues for the much-talked-about Brazilian sub-salt successes? Are there any in the South Atlantic other than offshore Angola?
- Where might big fields be hiding in the Deep Waters of South East Asia?
- Is the North Atlantic really a poor relation compared with the South Atlantic?
And where, to tackle these questions, plenty of - sometimes huge amounts of - data are now available to explorers.
Satellites have delivered global bathymetry and topography; satellite gravity data shows us crustal thickness globally; some 200,000 exploration wells – that’s 200,000 ‘wildcats’, never mind appraisal, development production wells – have been drilled in the last 50 years or so; there are sea-bed cores; any government that is serious about its resources has a national data repository; there’s data from Geological Surveys; there’s a huge published literature….and so on.
The ability of explorers to deliver the increasingly difficult job of spotting the next big play depends on their ability to sift, organise and understand the Niagara Falls of available data, to solve what some have referred to as the “Big Data” problem – or opportunity, perhaps?
Deploying a deep understanding of plate tectonics and chrono-stratigraphy – understanding what
gets deposited where
– is the key process by which this is achieved, the “Know How”
whereby opportunity is accessed.
What it is not about is simply banging in (yet another) regional 3D survey and believing that more and more sophisticated seismic interpretation can deliver all the answers.
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