Unconventional Thinking

“Targeting unconventional resources requires unconventional thinking.”
This article appeared in Vol. 9, No. 2 - 2012


Giant trucks at the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada. Source: Shell “Targeting unconventional resources requires unconventional thinking.” So stated the Exploration Vice President of Saudi Aramco, Abdulla Naim, at the recent GEO 2012 conference. And this edition of GEO ExPro Magazine is focused on just that, starting with the unconventional notion that maybe we should no longer be using the term ‘unconventional’. Just about every newspaper reader, even with no interest in the energy industry or in knowing what is powering their homes, has heard of shale gas – often through reading articles discussing the pros and cons of fraccing. Shale gas is the reason why the United States is now the world’s largest gas producer – surely it no longer needs the unconventional tag. Oil sands; heavy oil; coalbed methane; oil shale; all rapidly moving from ‘blue sky thinking’ to tried and attainable resources.

Even gas hydrate, usually considered to be situated on the far end of the ‘unconventional’ spectrum, is now getting serious consideration in Japan. Drilling off the coast of central Japan, where there is an estimated 40 Tcf of methane hydrates in the Nankai Trough, was due to commence in February, and the energy-hungry country is hoping to start trial methane hydrate production early next year.

The successful exploitation of these reserves would not have been possible without the huge strides taken by companies and research organisations in developing cost-effective ways of discovering, imaging and safely extracting the resources. We take a look at some of these developments in this edition, from using microseismics for advanced fracture imaging, to methods of testing at the well head to reduce the number of fraccing cycles.

Communication between the service companies which often develop these ideas and the oil and gas companies which apply them is crucial. And communication means people. These technical applications will determine the future – and the future in turn will be determined by investing in the right young men and women now. People who will be able to innovate and learn, collaborate across disciplines and apply these new technologies, as well as tried and tested ones, to allow us to make the most of the Earth’s bounty in a safe and sustainable manner. We should regard all the many reserves of energy available to us as resources, without hindering our thinking by describing them with phrases like ‘unconventional’.


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