GEO ExPro

Looking Beyond

Evidence of a more scientific approach, combined with some unusual collaborations, could truly be described as blue sky thinking
This article appeared in September, 2017

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Geoscientists, particularly those studying Africa, are now looking outwards, beyond known basins and standard exploration practices, to find new and completely unexplored petroleum territories, in settings that have never been investigated, many in the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This was clearly demonstrated at the recent, very stimulating, 'Petroleum Society of Great Britain/Houston Geological Society Africa Conference', held in London, where many papers were devoted to looking at new tectonic models of rifting styles observed in central Africa and on the west Atlantic margin. 

Map of Africa’s deepwater acreage demonstrating a recent move by the industry into the distal domain. At the Conference there were more than fifty posters covering African tectonics and basin evolution and new plays in new locations. Can we extend our thinking to the potential of the distal domain, way out into the Atlantic (Breaking up is never easy) or rethink the breakup of India from Africa and how that could affect hydrocarbon potential far out in the Indian Ocean off East Africa? Should we be making better use of sediment budget studies to ensure we have a reservoir where we think we have one? Many of these presentations were far more traditionally scientific than is common at such industry conferences, with an unusually large number of academics both attending and presenting. It was refreshingly different.

This direction of research seems to demonstrate that in the present financial situation the current philosophy is not to play at being ostriches and bury our heads in the sand - something the industry can justifiably be accused of having done in previous downturns – but to look out and beyond, to broaden our thinking and step away from the accepted norms. In order to do this and through it develop new hypotheses, however, it is noticeable that not only is scientific rigour being applied but this new thinking requires collaboration between multiple and diverse partners. Projects discussed at the conference demonstrated alliances between universities and research establishments on different continents who were working with seismic and other service companies, as well as with consultants and E&P majors and independents. Integrating tools like airborne geophysics with standard seismic and combining them with geological knowledge gained through field work on the ground requires a willingness to talk to multiple parties, including potentially competitive parties, or people completely outside the industry. One project discussed at the conference included research being undertaken in conjunction with a specialist potash company. This could truly be described as blue sky thinking.

Jane Whaley

Editor in Chief

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