The world is full of basins, areas that have had sediments deposited over eons that are prospective for oil and gas. But only a few get recognized as “super basins,” those that have produced at least 5 Bboe and have more than 5 Bboe left to produce.
These monsters were the topic of the recent Global Super Basins Leadership Conference co-hosted by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and IHS Markit. All the presenters were asked to discuss the geoscience fundamentals of the basin, technology drivers, uniqueness, business conditions and next steps.
The two-day conference included a roundtable of sorts, where a group of experts discussed super basins in general as well as specific challenges the industry faces. Brian Horn, senior vice president and chief geologist for ION Geophysical, noted that regional geology plays a key role in the study of any super basin.
“These basins are not getting smaller,” he said. “When we acquired our 2-D program in the Gulf of Mexico in 2002, we called it ‘mega-regional’ because everyone assumed the basin was already covered in 3-D. But we were cobbling together multiple datasets, and there were still pieces missing.
“I’m a firm believer in looking at all different scales. It’s one of the best values in regional understanding.”
Greg Leveille, CTO for ConocoPhillips, added that the volume of hydrocarbons found in the U.S. in the last decade exceeds the amount that was found in prior decades. “It all comes down to geoscience if you get the right rocks,” he said. “And the geologist has to help find the sweet spots, understanding organic matter, overpressure and being in the right window as well as being the producer at a low cost of supply.” He added that his company has been using geochemistry to understand where the oil is draining in horizontal wells as well as seeking a more thorough understanding of fracture patterns.
“We did a test in the Eagle Ford, and the results were nothing like you’d read in a textbook,” he said. “And the fracture growth has a huge impact on production.” Buddy Woodruff from Core Laboratories noted that fracture geometry is indeed a dark science. “We think we’re smarter than we really are,” he said. “A completions manager once said, ‘We know everything about hydraulic fracturing geometry except for the height, length and width.’”
He added that his company is looking at ways to find the sweet spots before actually perforating the well by putting tracers in the spacer between the drilling mud and the cement and then running a gamma ray log.
The conversation ultimately included questions from the audience that discussed topics such as the time and cost it takes to develop new technology. Horn responded that costs in remote operations often drive the development of new technology, and Leveille added that technologies that are already being used in areas such as the Permian Basin and South Texas can ultimately be transferred to global shale plays. Other discussions dealt with gender diversity and the challenges of training the next generation of geologists.
Current AAPG President Charles Sternbach summed up the discussion by noting, “It’s important for us to focus on the fact that geoscience matters.