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Bath Discoveries


Geoscientist 22.01 February 2012

The recent Bath Discoveries Conference, celebrating the Petroleum Group's 30th birthday, was attended by 165 people in the magnificent surroundings of Bath's Pump and Meeting Rooms. The conference, entitled Major Discoveries of the 21st Century 'Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, presented an impressive array of 22 talks over two and a half days.

Mike Bowman writes: The recent Bath Discoveries Conference was devised as a celebration of the 30th birthday of the Geological Society of London’s Petroleum Group. The opportunity to celebrate such an auspicious occasion in style and focus on a topic which lies at the heart of the Petroleum Groups raison d'etre and at the same time to return to the magnificent Meeting Rooms and Pump Room at Bath was just too good to miss. The focus of the Conference was on Major Discoveries of the 21st Century 'Standing on the Shoulder of Giants' reflecting on Isaac Newton's words of wisdom and insight.

The convenors arranged an impressive array of 22 talks over 2.5 days; these were predominantly from industry and covered many of the key discoveries of the last 10 years together with reviews of some of the principal technologies that have enabled them and keynote talks that 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 'Shoulder of Giants' that have preceded us. It was nice to read the welcoming note to the conference from Jim Brooks, one of the creators of the Petroleum Group 30 years ago; he reflected not just on the success of the Group but also some of the great explorers and Geoscientists that have paved the way for our industry today.

Over 165 people attended, most were 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. Disappointingly there were only a few of the academic community that were able to attend which might be at least in part due to the start of a new academic year and competition from other meetings in the diary. Nevertheless this was a disappointment as the meeting itself provided a unique window into global exploration, its successes and challenges; there are or have been few, if any such focused events in the Conference calendar globally. The participants were mostly some of the more senior technical leaders and managers, posing a question about how we can better engage and inform less experienced staff without in any way comprising the impact of such an event. Despite this it was a very successful meeting, lots of high quality talks and discussion, great networking and a unique window into the industry today.

To the meeting, Day 1 was focused on Exploration Success enjoyed by the Majors and some of the technologies that have enabled success. Mike Daly, bp's Executive Vice President, Exploration Division kicked off the meeting with a far- ranging review on the history and track record of exploration, focusing on the last 10 years and its giant discoveries and key messages that can be taken from these. He showed that the industry has a pretty consistent track record of between 20-25bn boe per annum with an increasing influence of the National Oil Companies (NOC’s); he also illustrated a continuing growth in deep-water exploration and stratigraphic trapping in the mix of discoveries. Mike used two examples from bp’s recent successes in the Gulf of Mexico (oil) and Deep-water Nile Delta (gas) to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities of these new plays, focusing particularly upon the importance of enhanced seismic imaging and also on having a more profound and integrated understanding of the petroleum system – two important messages that permeated through the rest of the meeting.

The rest of day 1 covered a wide range of recent discoveries from the NW Shelf of Australia (Dave Moffat, Chevron) to Angola (Denis Francois, Total), the Gulf of Mexico (Brad Prather, Shell) and South America. In the latter we had two contrasting talks from ENI on their giant Perla gas discovery offshore Venezuela (Alessandro Gelmetti) to the new and exciting subsalt plays in Deep-water Brazil by Petrobras and others (Sylvia Anjos). There were also two very informative technology reviews by Craig Beasley (Western-Geco) on seismic imaging and Brodie Thompson (ExxonMobil) on reservoir description. The day was competed by a broad ranging review of the Middle East by Mike Simmons (Neftex).

A consistent theme that permeated the whole day was the value of high quality integrated geoscience, the need for a deep understanding of the whole petroleum systems and the value of determination to succeed despite adversity. Technology plays an important role and the seismic image is clearly critical but there is no silver bullet – it all has to be integrated – a theme exemplified by each of the talks. Finally a good grasp of subsurface uncertainty and risk management are also very important.

The end of day 1 panel discussion was wide ranging and thought provoking. Capability and the need to replenish our workforce was a recurring theme. Also, the appropriate use of technology and the need to better use our judgement and more rapidly build on past successes as we look to the future. Perhaps surprisingly, there was little support for the idea of technology as a competitive differentiator between companies. Day 1 was completed by the conference dinner in the magnificent Pump Rooms. Here the discussion and networking spilled on through the evening and the venue was enjoyed by all. Gary Richardson (BBC Radio Sports Journalist) was the after dinner speaker.

Day 2 was focused on what the Majors have missed in both new and mature basins, to the benefit of the independents. Malcolm Brown, Senior Vice President, Exploration for BG Group started the day with a keynote on new oil and gas in old basins, building on BG’s own experiences; he focussed appropriately upon the need for continuous improvement in our subsurface understanding – here imaging, petroleum systems, uncertainty and risk management were again core themes together with better drilling and completion technology. Malcolm saw these as key to unlocking future value together with a capable and competent workforce. He also gave a fascinating insight into the evolving global gas markets and what this might mean for the future as the commodity becomes increasingly global and the world switches to increasingly cleaner gas based fuels.

The keynote provided a strong platform for the remainder of Day2. It was followed by an excellent talk by Edwige Zanella (Nexen) on their Buzzard success and the learning’s they have gained in the exploration for subtle stratigraphic traps in mature basins. Next was an equally high quality talk by Tim Chisholm (Apache), using their successes in the Egyptian Western Desert to show how a nimble and aggressive independent can grow to the point where Apache is rightfully seen as one of the largest and most successful independents. The challenge they now have is what next? Can they shift tack and move into the Major/Supermajor league or do they just continue their current great track record of mopping up what the Majors might have left behind using appropriate technology and a skilled focussed workforce. Bob Allen gave an equally fascinating review of success in a mature basin using the TNKbp experience as an example – describing some of the challenges and success they have enjoyed. Douglas Carsted (Sproule) and David Finalyson (IHS) completed the morning with excellent and very topical reviews on unconventional reservoirs (heavy oil and shale gas).

The afternoon session comprised three excellent talks covering some of the key discoveries in new basins that had slipped under the radar screen of the Majors. These included offshore Ghana and the Jubilee discovery by Guido Papproni (Kosmos), deep-water Sabah (Sam Algar of Murphy Oil) and the Rajasthan discoveries by Cairn (Stuart Burley). Each reflected a number of key issues that rolled into the end of day panel discussion, notably the need for a deep and integrated understanding of the petroleum system and an open mind on trapping styles. They also reflected a possible willingness of the smaller companies to take on more subsurface risk than the Majors – this might be a key differentiator between them. All together it was an excellent day and capped off by another lively panel discussion that focussed 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 energised discussion session.

Day 3 concluded the meeting by taking a look ahead, building on what we had discussed in the first two days to examine how we might truly build on the shoulders of giants. Bruce Levell, VP Emerging Technologies and Chief Scientist Geology at Shell kicked off the session with an excellent, far reaching and thought provoking look ahead at what technology is offering both as an opportunity and a threat. Don Gautier (USGS) followed with a thoughtful overview of Arctic resources and their challenges. The presentations were concluded with two excellent papers on new frontiers from Tom Fletcher (Anadarko) on their offshore Mozambique gas discoveries and Ian Cloke (Tullow) on their successes in Uganda. Both offered further testimony how independents can succeed where Majors might fear to tread!! The meeting was brought to a close with a final panel session that reflected on the three days and what we had seen and learned. The challenge of future technology and accessing future resources figured prominently. There was also debate about building a business at scale through exploration success - this clearly demands deep knowledge and capability as well as an ability to take informed risks – patience and determination are also important.

Overall, when we reflect back on the meeting and its highlights, I am sure that many will recognise 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 discussion all contributed to a highly successful event. A large number of the participants commented on the uniqueness of the event and how it rated as one of the best that they had ever attended – no small feat and an outstandingsuccess for the Petroleum Group in its 30th birthday year. Very rarely do we get the opportunity to focus, share and discuss this in such a collaborative way. It left many of us with some deep thinking about how we can continue to build on the shoulders of the giants who preceded us and also continue to create a great legacy for those who will follow us.