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Unconventional Oil and Gas Conference Breaks the Mould

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines unconventional as: ‘not conventional: not bound by or in accordance with convention: being out of the ordinary.’
This article appeared in Vol. 10, No. 5 - 2014

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The headline at the entrance to the Exhibition Hall gives attendees the ‘flavour’ the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference will offer over the next three days. Just as unconventional resources have rewritten the exploration and production play book in the last few years, the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC), held in Denver, Colorado this last August, just may rewrite the play book on how conferences are to be held in the future. Being out of the ordinary, URTeC featured the three largest upstream oil and gas societies, namely Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), and Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) as the sponsoring organisations and Technical Program Committee. The result of this collaboration was a unique blend of disciplines that kept attendees buzzing through all three days of the conference.

It was at one of the several evening socials in downtown Denver that I realised just how unique and important this conference is to those developing unconventional resources. While relaxing after an information-packed day of meetings and lectures with C. R. ‘Dicky’ Hall, P.E., a third generation driller for Southwestern Energy, and Tim Holian, the company’s Geologic Discipline Lead for the Fayetteville Shale Division, Tim started off the casual conversation by saying, “I am actually sitting in on various engineering topics, a must now that we are using integrated teams to explore and exploit unconventional resources.” Dicky Hall, the drilling engineer, seconded that after some deliberation. He said, “We [geologists, engineers, and geophysicists] have to work together just to get the hole in the right place.”

The conference did not break from the central theme of ‘the Team Approach’ and the integration of geoscience and engineering in unlocking unconventional resources for all three days. The Opening Plenary Session was moderated by Dr. Scott W. Tinker, Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology and State Geologist of Texas. It featured Scott D. Sheffield, CEO for Pioneer Natural Resources, M. W. Scoggins, President of Colorado School of Mines, Vello Kuushraa, President and Chairman of the Board for Advanced Resources International, and Dave Hager, COO for Devon Energy Corporation. These panel members gave very candid and open views on how unconventional methodologies have changed their companies, changed the global supply, and changed academia. Again, the central theme of this panel, setting the table for the entire conference, was the team approach that companies have to take to tap the unconventional resources. Scott Sheffield and Dave Hager gave very factual accounts of how their successes in exploiting unconventionals have led to the amazing growth of their organisations. However, what might be even more astonishing is the huge outlay of capital and manpower that will be required to fully develop these resources. For companies with good positions in these plays, the future is certainly bright and according to Dr. Scoggins, this is a very exciting time for both the institutions with integrated geoscience/engineering programmes and their graduates.

Interspersed with the excellent presentations that featured geology mixed with geophysics and engineering, were interactive panels where the audience had the chance to ask questions or comment. The panels covered everything from new technologies and converting those technologies to money makers, to regulations dealing with the impacts of development and the public image. Discussions were frank and often featured new and cutting edge ideas.

Finally, this conference left me with a much better idea of the true impact this resource has had on the oil and gas industry and the enormous possibilities it has unleashed. Many there referred to it as the biggest oil and gas story ever to hit the US. We now have enough gas for 300 years. You can see the Eagleford development lighting up the night sky from space. The Marcellus has the potential to become one of the largest gas fields ever discovered and the Wolfcamp and Cline shales of West Texas could be one of the world’s largest oil fields. These gas discoveries have led to the US becoming the only country to reduce CO2 emissions enough to meet the Kyoto Protocol.

The second thing to amaze me at this conference was the willingness of companies to share new and cutting edge ideas. Industry leaders, such as Pioneer Natural Resources, had employees presenting 22 technical papers illustrating their current knowledge of unconventional plays, as did many other oil and gas companies as well as service companies participating in this play. All in all, I cannot wait until next year’s conference.

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