There is reason to be optimistic about the state of oil and gas exploration and its future, according to Dominique Janodet, vice president of new business for Total E&P, who spoke at the recent Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. His presentation, entitled “New Horizons in Frontier Exploration,” was a repudiation of the idea that there are no more "large elephants" to be found in oil and gas exploration.
Janodet noted that there had been several large discoveries around the world in the decade from 2003-2013, particularly in areas offshore Ghana, Mozambique, East Africa, and more recently offshore Cyprus. "The industry's recent exploration record is outstanding, and has unveiled giant fields in petroleum provinces," Janodet said. "This is not the end of exploration."
The problem, Janodet noted, was conceptual. The main need, he said, was to "develop new ideas in old domains." He argued that the industry needs to find goods analogues for fields and outcrops, develop better seismic acquisition equipment, and learn how to safely drill in environmentally sensitive areas.
As a result of a more aggressive exploration strategy, Total has recently entered many large blocks in new countries around the globe, often in frontier areas.
These new plays, with complex geologies in challenging environments, have led to new strategies and technological adaptations on the way geophysical surveys are designed, acquired, processed, and interpreted thanks to new contractors, acquisitions, developments and in-house R&D processing and interpretation achievements.
Janodet examined a number of relatively untapped geological structures, including shallow-tilted, three-way-dip blocks in rift systems (Uganda); reefal structures in presalt carbonates (Angola); centrifugal hydrodynamism trapping in large deltas (Azerbaijan); and complex thrust structures in the foothills of Bolivia.
With regard to presalt exploration, Janodet said that the key technical challenges will include subsalt imaging, sedimentary models, and formation evaluation.
The industry also needs to develop "new ideas in new basins," and cited the discovery of the Jubilee field offshore Ghana as an excellent find in an abrupt margin – another type of geologic structure that bears additional investigation. In these newer basins, he said that the key technical challenges will include trap definition, reservoir modeling, and generative system efficiency.
Large deltas are coming back as attractive geologic structures, and new ideas are enabling companies with these structures to renew development. Janodet cited the Caspian Sea off Azerbaijan as an example. The area has an "elephant-size" gas/condensate discovery, but within a deep reservoir that will require new pressure management concepts.
Technology will be a key to frontier exploration, including remote sensing and other non-seismic methods. Seismic acquisition and imaging technologies will continue to be important, as will formation evaluation techniques. Following that, the industry will need to deploy the latest reservoir productivity maintenance methods.
Another key area will be seismic data processing, and the challenge of imaging complex horizons. The industry will need to develop appropriate computing power as it moves from narrow azimuth to wide azimuth, from narrow to broadband, and from short to long offsets.
Technology will help, but it will be important for the industry to understand that the technology must be acceptable to surrounding and local communities. Here, the industry must seek to reduce its footprint, and technologies such as cableless seisimic equipment can help do that.
The industry needs to hire, develop and keep teams of geoscientists who can "think outside the box,” Janodet observed. When revisiting old basins, geoscientists need to employ new concepts and “challenge dogma.”