Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

The recent Bath Discoveries Conference was devised as a celebration of the 30th birthday of the Geological Society of London’s Petroleum Group.
This article appeared in Vol. 8, No. 6 - 2012


The conference dinner in the magnificent Georgian Pump Rooms in Bath, where discussion and networking spilled on through the evening and the venue was enjoyed by all. Source: Neil Meneer/Bath Tourism Plus The opportunity to celebrate such an auspicious occasion in style and focus on a topic which lies at the heart of the Petroleum Group’s raison d’être and at the same time to return to the magnificent Meeting Rooms and Pump Room at Bath, venue of the inaugural meeting, was just too good to miss. The focus of the conference was on Major Discoveries of the 21st Century – ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ – reflecting on Isaac Newton’s words of wisdom and insight.

The convenors arranged an impressive array of 22 talks over two and a half days, predominantly from industry and covering many of the key discoveries of the last 10 years, together with reviews of some of the principal technologies that have enabled them. Keynote talks took a broad ranging retrospective and forward look at the industry, its performance and challenges. Each day was completed with a lively panel-based debate focusing on various aspects of how we might learn better and truly build on the ‘Shoulders of Giants’ that have preceded us. In his welcoming note to the conference Jim Brooks, one of the creators of the Petroleum Group, reflected not just on the success of the Group but also some of the great explorers and geoscientists who have paved the way for our industry today.

Over 165 people attended, most from industry, covering all dimensions of the business from super majors and majors to large and small independents, consultants and service groups – a truly diverse array. Only a few of the academic community were able to attend, possibly due to the start of a new academic year; a disappointment as the meeting provided a unique window into global exploration, its successes and challenges. There are or have been few such focused events in the conference calendar globally. The participants were mostly more senior technical leaders and managers, posing a question about how we can better engage and inform less experienced staff without in any way compromising the impact of such an event. Nevertheless, it was a very successful meeting: lots of high quality talks and discussion, great networking and a unique window into the industry today.

Wide Ranging Discussions

Day one focused on exploration success enjoyed by the majors and some of the technologies involved. A consistent theme permeating the whole day was the value of high quality integrated geoscience, the need for a deep understanding of the whole petroleum system and the value of determination to succeed despite adversity. The final panel discussion was wide ranging and thought provoking, with capability and the need to replenish our workforce a recurring theme.  

The second day looked at what the majors have missed in both new and mature basins, to the benefit of the independents – here imaging, petroleum systems, uncertainty and risk management were core themes, together with better drilling and completion technology. Talks covered some of the key discoveries in new basins that had slipped under the radar screen of the majors, including offshore Ghana, deep-water Sabah and Rajasthan. Another lively panel discussion focused on what distinguishes the different players and their various attitudes to risk and uncertainty. Challenging paradigms, determination and courage under adversity, integrated petroleum system understanding and informed risk taking were all part of what was a lively and energized discussion session.  

The meeting concluded on the third day with a look ahead, analyzing what we had discussed in the first two days to examine how we might truly build on the shoulders of giants. The final panel session reflected on the three days and what we had seen and learned, in which the challenge of future technology and accessing future resources figured prominently.  

Overall, when we reflect back on the meeting and its highlights, I am sure that many will recognize what a unique opportunity it offered to learn and network with many of the key players in the industry. The constant hum and energy of discussion at the breaks, the thoughtful debates and the high quality presentations and discussions all contributed to a highly successful event. Very rarely do we get the opportunity to focus, share and discuss in such a collaborative way. It left many of us thinking deeply about how we can continue to build on the shoulders of the giants who preceded us and also create a great legacy for those who will follow us.


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