AAPG ACE 2019 - A Sustainable Future in Petroleum Energy

The AAPG ACE 2019 in San Antonio focused on sustainable petroleum development and the need to maximise recovery while minimising our carbon footprint on present and future generations. This conference round-up is brought to you in association with Indalo International Ltd.
This article appeared in June, 2019


AAPG ACE 2019 - A Sustainable Future in Petroleum Energy

It is over ten years since the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) last held their Annual Conference and Exhibition (ACE) in the south Texas city of San Antonio. A lot has happened since then.

Brent oil prices 1990 - 2019. Credit: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019. In May 2008, when San Antonio previously hosted AAPG’s ACE, the oil price was rapidly rising towards the highest levels ever seen. West Texas crude was trading at over US$150, peaking at $163.5 a month later, while Brent crude was hovering around US$145. These were unsustainable levels; very soon they headed down and six months later were trading at a third of those prices, before bouncing up to about US$ 80 in time for the 2009 AAPG ACE and then steadily rising to over $110 by the time of the 2014 conference. This was followed, as we all know, by another crash, with prices hovering around the $50 mark for a couple of years. When we all visited Salt Lake City for ACE last year, the oil price was showing signs of being on the rise again, or at least stabilising, with the value of WTI during the 2019 San Antonio ACE being around $60 and Brent crude nearer $70.

Other than confirming that we work in a very volatile industry, this cycle of ups and downs probably explains why we mentally bounce back so quickly – and why there was quite such an air of optimism in San Antonio this year.

This was not just centred on prices and how much hydrocarbon is left in the ground; it seemed to be much more about renewing and reinventing the whole E&P industry to make it fit for the modern world, and through that to try to finally get out of this continuing ‘boom and bust’ cycle.

Interesting Session Themes at the AAPG ACE 2019

President Denise Cox: an inspiring and vivacious address at the opening ceremony. © AAPG. This was well demonstrated from the beginning of the event, when the outgoing AAPG President, Denise Cox, gave an inspiring speech – impressively without notes – on the theme of the conference: A Sustainable Future. Using the UN definition of sustainability – meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – Denise discussed sustainable petroleum development and the need to maximise recovery while minimising our carbon footprint through the use of geoscience, engineering, machine learning and augmented intelligence.

The theme of sustainability continued on into the conference, with session themes covering topics such as Energy Sustainability and the Environment and A Look into the Future of Energy and Sustainability Using the Sedimentary Record, with all sessions seemingly well attended. Iain Stewart, a previous recipient of the AAPG’s Geosciences in the Media award, gave an entertaining yet thought-provoking keynote talk on communicating the excitement of geoscience, telling us all to be story tellers, not just educators, particularly when trying to explain O&G’s role in sustainability to the general public - and not forgetting to let them know what fun it is to be a geologist.

Lively discussions at the sessions. © AAPG. As the conference programme pointed out, the AAPG technical programme “formally welcomed the data science revolution”, with a session theme dedicated to Deep Integration of Data and Disciplines, which covered digital transformation in the geosciences, the application of machine learning to the subsurface and multi-disciplinary integration, all with the aim of advancing the discussion on these important up-to-the-minute topics from the conceptual to the practical.

Another first for 2019 was a theme dedicated to business and finance, covering topics such as opportunity valuation, deals, investment decisions, finance options and other issues crucial to the business of exploring for oil and gas.

More traditional, but still important, session themes included topics such as carbonates and evaporites; siliclastic systems; new ideas in geophysics and structure; and tectonics and geomechanics. With San Antonio being sited in the heart of the Eagle Ford play, a fair number of presentations and posters covered unconventional resources.

New Ideas Explored

The international Barrel Award. © AAPG. First unveiled at last year’s conference, the U-Pitch 'invent and invest' theatre was back, where innovative, entrepreneurial geoscientists could pitch their ideas for potential new products and services to possible investors and commercialisation partners. Some great ideas there!

Facing up to the difficulties of encouraging millennials into and keeping them in the industry, AAPG had several events and networking opportunities aimed at students and young professionals, from a job seekers centre, student career seminars and YP meet and greet, to a special session on the challenges awaiting the mid-career geoscientist. 

The AAPG made a big effort to encourage more women to actively participate in the conference. © AAPG. Members of the AAPG’s Executive Committee attended this last discussion and took home a number of important points in order to both encourage more involvement in the organisation by people at the mid-career stage and to see what the AAPG can provide to help address some of the issues presented.

The mid-career session featured a panel of five women and one man – still an unusual sight in this business. The AAPG can be congratulated for trying to encourage and increase the female presence at the conference, as almost every session included a woman as one of the chairpeople and there seemed to be more female presenters than ever before. The whole event had two general co-chairs, one man and one women. 

Lively Exhibition

A lively exhibition floor close to the International Pavilion. © AAPG. The exhibition was as lively as ever, with a good number of exhibitors and attendees, though still down from the heady days of a few years back, and, as in the conference sessions, the mood was of cautious optimism. GEO ExPro had a successful exhibition, meeting many new and existing enthusiastic readers and picking up leads for potential new advertisers as well as talking to existing ones.

With various networking events on the exhibition floor, a good number of delegates took the time to visit it. It was good to see events like U-Pitch also held on the exhibition area, as this helps helps to get more delegates to visit the stalls and learn about all the new technologies and techniques being showcased there.


Also in the exhibition area was the ever popular International Pavilion, this year featuring nearly 30 countries or provinces, all with interesting acreage available through licensing rounds, open acreage arrangements or offered as opportunities. Julie Wilson, Research Director, Global Exploration at Wood Mackenzie gave the keynote talk for the International Pavilion, focussing on ‘Exploration’s Return to Profitability’.

Keep Exploring for Oil, Gas & Energy Resources

ExxonMobil President, Stephen M. Greenlee, giving the prestigious Michel T. Halbouty lecture. © AAPG. Stephen M. Greenlee, President of ExxonMobil, gave the prestigious Michel T. Halbouty lecture, where he summed up the underlying theme of the conference in a fascinating talk entitled ‘The Future of Oil and Gas Exploration’.

He enumerated various items of ‘fake news’ commonly heard about the O&G industry – such as “we’ve discovered more oil than we’ll ever need” and “exploration is a terrible growth strategy and destroys shareholder value” – and efficiently de-bunked them, stressing that investment is probably the critical issue, not our ability to find oil and gas. 

With electricity as the fastest growing energy requirement, even with a scenario of rapidly growing renewable sources, we will need to find more oil and gas to help meet that demand. 

We must keep exploring, and for that we need more geoscientists, full of imagination, innovation and determination.

Further Reading on the Future of Oil and Gas Exploration

Some recommended GEO ExPro articles sharing thoughts on the future of energy consumption and the exploration of oil and gas resources.

Defining the Future of the Oil and Gas Industry
Jane Whaley
Embracing the energy transition and improving the general perception and knowledge of the energy industry will help define the future of oil and gas.
This article appeared in February, 2019

What Does the Future Hold for Oil and Gas?
As a founder of E&P intelligence company Drillinginfo and with a wide range of experience in the industry, Allen Gilmer is uniquely qualified to predict future oil and gas trends.
This article appeared in Vol. 15, No. 6 - 2018

A Road Map for the Future of Geoscience
Jane Whaley
The world is changing, and the energy industry needs to change with it. Q&A with Max Brouwers, VP Europe, Russia and Caspian for Shell.
This article appeared in August, 2018

Future Energy Consumption
Halfdan Carstens
Primary energy consumption grew by 2.2% in 2017, which sets oil to be the largest provider of future energy consumption.
This article appeared in Vol. 15, No. 4 - 2018


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