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NW Europe to - international!

Graham Goffey, convener, 7th International Pet Geol Conf, looks back on an illustrious series

Geoscientist Online 20 November 2007

PGCVII, in 2009, will be the latest in a series of prestigious London-based conferences which began in 1974. The First Conference was described as “the most important and significant geological conference ever presented in the European area, and possibly in the world, in view of the great importance of the North Sea development in the total world energy picture”. The conference was seen as unique because most of the presentations came from the oil industry, rather than from academia, and most of the material was previously unpublished. Proceedings of the conference, edited by Austin Woodland, were published to critical acclaim and were the first of a series that have become essential reference works for geoscientists working the NW European hydrocarbon basins.

Every conference has followed the successful pattern of the first; a conference with outstanding scientific talks and posters and a multi-national attendance of delegates, followed by a comprehensive conference proceedings publication containing ground-breaking knowledge and techniques introduced at the conference.

The First Conference was held in Bloomsbury, London and hence the early conferences were referred to as ‘the Bloomsbury conference’ whereas later conferences have been known as ‘the Barbican conference’ although the most recent event was in fact held at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster, London.

The Second Conference was held in 1980 and as before it was organised by the Geological Society with other organisations including the Institute of Petroleum (now the Energy Institute), PESGB, Institute of Geological Sciences and UK Offshore Operator’s Association. More than 1000 delegates from 12 countries listened to papers describing the emergence of the North Sea as a major oil province. David Howells, then UK Secretary of State for Energy, commented on how the discovery of new oil reserves would depend on new ideas and a fresh approach. His talk anticipated the licensing of previously unexplored deep water areas west of the UK and highlighted the need for new discoveries to sustain UK hydrocarbon self-sufficiency into the 1990’s. As before, the conference proceedings, which were edited by Leslie Illing and Douglas Hobson, formed an invaluable reference volume for geoscientists exploring the North Sea.

The Third Conference took place in 1986 in arguably the first major downturn experienced by the modern petroleum industry, yet the conference was still a success. In his opening address, Alick Buchanan-Smith, UK Minister of State for Energy, presciently observed the cost in human terms of the industry downturn, with the great loss of skilled personnel from the industry. In the proceedings volumes, the editors Jim Brooks and Ken Glennie commented on the technical and commercial advances achieved by the industry and the progress in understanding the petroleum geology of NW Europe.

The Fourth Conference was held at the Barbican Centre in London in 1992 and attracted 1,230 delegates including 350 from 15 overseas countries. This was the first event to feature a Core Workshop which proved immensely popular, displaying as it did some 600m of cored rocks. Conference Chairman Jim Brooks observed in his introduction that whilst the major companies had dominated in the early days of North Sea exploration, independents were increasingly involved in the exploration, development and production of offshore fields. Brooks underlined the ongoing North Sea success story; a success owned by all those working the province. The proceedings of the Fourth Conference were edited in a mammoth effort by John Parker.

Held in 1997, the Fifth Conference was the last to be focussed exclusively on NW Europe. Andy Fleet and Steve Boldy edited the two volume proceedings which again provide to be essential reference works. Highlights of this conference were the increasing integration of disciplines - both within the geosciences and of geosciences with other disciplines, the development of 3D and 4D seismic techniques, the development of reservoir modelling and the ongoing refinement of sequence stratigraphic approaches.

The most recent event, the Sixth Conference in 2003, was the first to explicitly broaden its perspective and content to encompass international activities. Entitled ‘North West Europe and Global Perspectives’ the conference aimed to both import ideas and concepts from the international arena as well as exporting to other parts of the world ideas and concepts developed in the North Sea ‘laboratory’. Editors of the conference proceedings, Tony Doré and Bernie Vining, observed that the continued maturing of the North Sea provinces, first noted in the 1992 conference, had posed exploitation challenges which had lead to many of the advances since the Fifth Conference. A focus on value creation through infrastructure-led exploration, tail-end production and field rejuvenation were new themes for the NW Europe industry. The emergence of gas as a fuel for the future was marked by a section dedicated entirely to gas.

Following this outstanding conference series with the Seventh Conference in 2009 poses many challenges for the convenors, as before led by the Petroleum Group of the Geological Society, with the PESGB and Energy Institute. The NW European province continues to mature and break new ground, particularly in small pool exploration, development and exploitation. The extensive subsurface datasets prevalent in NW Europe and the response of the industry to the challenges it faces provide a rich stream of valuable models, lessons, techniques and ideas which have both local and international applicability. The importance of new ideas and a fresh approach noted in 1980 are as important as ever and the industry needs to look to the international arena as a source of such ideas and approaches. The time is thus right for the Barbican conference series to become a truly international conference, sharing insights, techniques and success stories on a truly global basis.

John Smith, the then UK Under-Secretary of State for Energy, commented in his opening address to the First Conference in 1974 that “the successful exploitation of North Sea hydrocarbon resources with the new data and technological innovation it will produce, will lead…to worldwide development of offshore petroleum in waters that have until now seemed impossible to work”. Finally the Seventh Conference will follow Smith’s prescient observations fully into the worldwide arena with the objective of sharing leading edge petroleum geoscience on a global basis ‘from mature basins to new frontiers’.