January 2023

What's new in exploration

Exploration 2023: I’m melting, I’m melting!
William (Bill) Head / World Oil

Exploration, noun; the activity of searching and finding out about something. (Cambridge Dictionary, 1/1/2023). As in, where are natural sources of energy located, using existing or soon-to-exist tools? 

Fossil fuels, “explained…non-renewable fuels, which include coal, oil, and natural gas, supply about 80 percent of the world’s energy. They provide electricity, heat, and transportation, while also feeding the processes that make a huge range of products, from steel to plastics.” https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/fossil-fuels 

So, for populations that require the 80%, “No more drilling. There is no more drilling,” Biden snapped at a young woman in the crowd. “I haven’t formed any new drilling.” (Nov 6, 2022). Told you so…Fig. 1. 

Fig. 1. Look what you've done!! Ohhh, what a world, what a world.
Fig. 1. Look what you've done!! Ohhh, what a world, what a world.

I applaud Exxon and Eni, which keep exploring, or basin-delineating, vast fossil fuel resources (see their press releases). M. King Hubbert would be shocked, but proud. While focus remains on majors, large independents, and shale-fracing, oil finders continue to plod along. It’s a pity that most of the strippers, hot oil, and 10-boed crowd are gone. However, money is still chasing the dream. Explorationists from the old school of analogging adjacent wells to today’s cyber prospectors continue. I never doubted.  

Realistic financial institutions and investment crowds still seek high ROI and are willing to take risks. Actually, exploration is less scary than bitcoin. Small independents still thrive with tenacity. The most prosperous idea exchange is the North American Prospect Expo (NAPE), now celebrating its 30th anniversary. NAPE is a mega-phenom in a secretive business. It is the oil and gas industry's marketplace for buying, selling and trading of prospects and producing properties. Investors search primarily for production with “free” upside in PUDs. Aren’t we all.  

Buying oil at $80/bbl at the wellhead limits margins. Exploring onshore for $23 or offshore for $65 is much better, if risk can be limited. Current “rank” exploration drilling-to-commerciality ratios are up from 2 in 10 in 1955, and about 4 in 10 in 1970, to a whopping 6 in 10 for 2020. But, think this: if you have a producing fraced reservoir, experts continue to claim that engineering studies show only about 5% to 9% of producible oil made it to your wellhead. Wildcatters are more inclined to stay onshore. The big companies must look to water.  

Technology in exploration continues concentrating on squeezing the last bit of information possible by correlating old tools and old rocks to new ideas. With a little encouragement, this should lead to advances, not only in interpretation but in creating a fourth generation of tech. 

If you are serious about exploration, note that SPWLA convenes in Conroe, Texas, United States, June 10-14, 2023, at the international SPWLA 64th Annual Logging Symposium. Attendees will present ever-important case studies, and maybe new technologies and innovations. While intended to be informative, I hope session-goers will mix it up a bit, challenge concepts, yet collaborate to improve applications. There will be an after-session opportunity to “mingle.” 

From the SPWLA flyer: management topics for geologists and geophysicists, who routinely interact with nerdy log analysts, include: 

  • Formation Evaluation of Conventional Reservoirs 
  • Formation Evaluation of Unconventional Reservoirs 
  • Automated Methods of Formation Evaluation  
  • Specialized Measurement Techniques and Interpretation Methods  
  • Petrophysics impact on Integrated Reservoir Modelling  
  • **Case Studies**  

Better for the future of world oil exploration, SPWLA is soliciting papers for Special Organized Sessions on these topics: 

  • Beyond picking dips from Image Logs 
  • Geological Evaluation while Drilling  
  • The Role of Advanced Borehole Acoustics in a Diverse Energy Industry  
  • New Landscape of Mud Gas Logging – Geoscience Meets Engineering  
  • Petrophysics Beyond Petroleum – State of Technologies.  (Ed.: A critical look here while thinking oil and gas, too, could show future game-changers!) 
  • Monitoring and Verification of Containment in CCUS projects 
  • Petrophysical workflow automation with AI/ML  
  • Experimental and Digital Core Analysis Applications in Support of Carbon and Hydrogen Storage Projects 
  • NMR for the next Frontiers: Machine Learning, High Field, and New Logging Applications.  

Exploration technology is facing disinvestment, not only in the where or what, but in the how. Ideology vs. reality. Recall, “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."— John F. Kennedy, President of the United States (Remarks on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America; Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Feb. 26, 1962). 

About the Authors
William (Bill) Head
World Oil
William (Bill) Head William (Bill) Head is a technologist with over 40 years of experience in domestic and international exploration.
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