Exploitation of shale plays is viewed by many as a major resource for future economies of many countries. To date, most exploitation of this resource has centered on North America where the existing high onshore well count previously drilled for conventional resources guides pursuit of unconventional plays.

The situation is, for example, very different across onshore Europe, which has a low existing well count for conventional resources and notable socio-political and infrastructure challenges, such as high-population densities. To be successful, the delineation of European shale plays must use existing data for exploration and drill a reduced number of wells during exploration.

During the exploration phase, the ability to manage uncertainty and make informed decisions across the potential shale plays is vital. An optimal approach is proposed, whereby all possible surface and subsurface sources of data are integrated and exploration screening is done based on advanced petroleum systems modeling. To illustrate the approach, data from onshore Netherlands has been selected. The West Netherlands Basin and Roer Valley Graben contain organic-rich Jurassic sequences within the Altena Group, including the well-known Posidonia Shale Formation. This formation is currently being targeted as a potential unconventional resource.

A fully integrated 3D geological model – including an advanced 3D petroleum systems model – is presented, which includes critical spatial information, such as geographical terrains and surface constraints. Results from this approach clearly demonstrate areas of higher prospectivity, and, importantly, their associated uncertainty. This allows E&P companies to select areas that have the best chance of success.

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