A Golden Age of unconventional " shale" resources discovery is well underway across North America. As in previous Golden Ages, new ideas are aligning with technologies, producing unexpected and unprecedented results with global impact - in this case, hydrocarbon volumes that were unimaginable less than a decade ago. And, perhaps analogous to the 1920's rush of post " anticline theory" discoveries, this Age will be all-too-brief given the velocity at which our Industry evolves.
During this period, geoscientists and engineers have a unique opportunity to discover vast new resources and create compelling value. While Wallace Pratt's insight that oil is " found in the mind" has never been more relevant, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the 1937 Hungarian Nobel Peace Prize awardee, noted that discovery is seeing what " everybody has seen" and then " thinking what nobody has thought". But how can we put this lofty advice to work? [Figure 1]
This process of innovation and discovery is historically well-documented by research and case studies, one of the hottest topics at the leading business schools, and supported by the author's experience. The thesis herein includes recognizing and addressing our observational biases, understanding and engaging our latent intellectual and creative processing power, empirically deriving and focusing on a compelling, logically sound RESULT, and iteratively and dynamically testing it, with increasingly informed questions, in an empowering, multidisciplinary setting. Behaviors and methods that can spark the fuse of discovery include learning on the fly, taking informed risks and willingness to fail, working collaboratively and pragmatically in interdisciplinary spaces, and focusing on RESULTS over process. [Figure 1]
The Scientific Method (ABC) is the benchmark discovery process; however, an alternative approach, termed " Innovation Mode" (ACB), is proposed. The fundamental difference is that ACB implicitly acknowledges that initial ABC questions or screening criteria may not be critical to, and are perhaps even irrelevant to, the RESULT. [Figure 2]
Given that every shale play is unique, an ABC " cookbook" approach may evolve into a costly lost opportunity looking for something that may not exist, while bypassing compelling sister opportunities. Examples from coal bed methane (CBM) and shale gas " secret sauce recipes" from the Fruitland Coal, San Juan Basin, NM and Barnett Shale, Fort Worth Basin, TX, respectively, are posited to have actually inhibited, through their specificity, subsequent discovery and value creation. [Figure 3]
A hypothetical SE Asia exploration example will illustrate the power of ACB to illuminate a widespread and potentially highly material play type. [Figure 4]
An early-days vignette of the ConocoPhillips Eagle Ford shale discovery, South Texas, will suggest how an covert, integrated, and empowered technical Team, focused on the RESULT, identified and captured a new, liquids-rich, shale play concept, involving an unfractured, carbonate-rich reservoir, while much of Industry was focused on a near-diametrically opposed fractured siliceous Barnett shale gas model. [Figure 5]