To be a modern explorer you have to be part detective, part historian, and part technologist. Above all, you need to be driven by curiosity. Our exploration teams cooperate across professional boundaries to solve problems together. Find out how we’re working on our next discoveries.
The tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s surface are moving at about the same pace that your finger nails grow. Whilst that might not sound like much it adds up; in the history of the Earth, North America and Europe have drifted over 3,000 miles apart. Understanding these shifting forces is essential to mapping the world’s energy reserves and planning future exploration.
Add to this changing dynamics such as climate, river flows, gradience—and the inevitability that the further back you go in time the greater the uncertainty—means that discovering where petroleum lies becomes an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Allie Kennedy Thurmon, manager in Exploration Research, Statoil, explains:
"We have to ask ourselves, where were the mountains over millions of years? Where were there beaches, coral reefs, what was the climate like, where did we have rain belts? Where did we have sand and desert? Putting these pieces together takes a lot of time, and it comes with a great deal of uncertainty," she says.
"So we work on developing technologies that allow us to do earth systems modeling, to model the earth back through time, and in what we call 4D. What this allows us to do is to create a virtual, global laboratory where we can test our new concepts," she says.
Geomodelling, also known as Earth Systems Modelling technology, has altered scientists’ ability to map what lies deep beneath our feet. Using 4D visualisation technology, Earth Systems Modelling factors in the plethora of geographic conditions and maps a seemingly distorted Earth. By ‘rewinding’ the Earth’s geographic make-up the technology enables geologists to predict where economically viable petroleum currently lies.
"In order to develop technologies like this we need brilliant minds and a multi-disciplinary team,consisting of people who understand the rocks, how the plates move, how climate has evolved over time, and they have to be driven by curiosity," says Kennedy Thurmond. "They have to want to know about the others’ discipline, because it is the connections that have never been made before between these sub-disciplines that’s so unique."
Scenario planning using geo-modelling requires a multi-disciplinary team. The scenarios the technology can produce must be analysed by experts versed in topics such as tectonics, climatology, sedimentology, and geochemistry. In effect, the technology is a tapestry of several scientific disciplines and it takes a great deal of visionary work to integrate the various threads to see the bigger picture. By controlling for different factors such as tropical or mountainous terrains and combining expertise, the teams are able to debate, collaborate and cross-check to make predictions about today’s energy reserves.
It wasn’t always this complex. In the early years of oil extraction knowing where to drill was a trial and error process, informed by minimal data yet resulting in big finds. This led to large and lucrative discoveries at a relatively low cost. However, if the early days of energy exploration were characterised by predictability, the modern era is about uncertainty.
As the easy to reach reserves are already discovered, today’s energy explorers are forced to operate in new frontiers or already explored areas with new data or to look at old data with new eyes. Exploration has become a case of piecing together the data we do have and approaching the petroleum system holistically. While this isn’t a new concept, it is a challenge to apply. You can’t address source, seal or reservoir without understanding their relationship to each other. All of which means that the exploration disciplines now work together in a way that was not the norm before.
A MULTI-DISCIPLINARY APPROACH
Traditionally, structural geologists will work on the seal, geochemists on the source and stratigraphers on the reservoir. Adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, in which disciplines learn to speak one anothers’ language, marks one of the clearest shifts in terms of how we approach modern energy exploration from an organisational perspective.
"People need to be able to ask themselves, what if? And then, they need to be able to develop technology, to facilitate those questions," says Allie Kennedy Thurmond. "The passion of our people combined with leading technology has enabled Statoil to become one of the leading exploration companies in the last few years. Combining new technologies developed and researched with that passion, creativity and persistence will increase the likelihood that we’ll continue to have success in the future."
The passion of our scientists, combined with leading technology, has made Statoil one of the most successful exploration companies in the world.
– Allie Kennedy Thurmond, Manager in Exploration Research Statoil