Statistical trends of discovered hydrocarbon volumes show an increasing dominance of established hydrocarbon basins as opposed to Frontier acreage. Nevertheless, new basins remain promising mainly for their potential volumetric upside and the high reward.

Because of generally higher costs, it is imperative to improve the explorer's capacity to make better and more direct measurements, thereby increasing predictability and reducing risk. Even in Frontier situations, this involves a multidisciplinary approach. From the onset, information sampling must be guided by an integrai view of the potential field life. Professional input from mature hydrocarbon basins is necessary to apply relevant technology, obtain maximum benefit from new data sets and generate the best technical and economical models.

As a result, basin-wide exploration has evolved from being mere ‘treasure hunting’ to a much more sophisticated business involving professionals from a broad industry-wide range, a growing technical arsenal, and a more comprehensive approach. This evolution implies change in training and organization and its success is critically dependent on qualitative communication and data management. Examples will provide some insight into the way Shell manages the change.

CURRENT STATE OF EXPLORATION In spite of concerns about the future of the oil industry, technological advances continue to allow substantial increases in hydrocarbon reserves. As a result, the world's proven oil reserves are now estimated to represent about 45 years' supply assuming current production levels, whereas in 1973, for instance, they were thought to be sufficient for 30 years' supply only.

Although a number of new hydrocarbon provinces have been established during the past decade (Fig. i), their contribution to the total volumes of hydrocarbons discovered is modest. There is an increasing dominance of new discoveries in established hydrocarbon provinces over those in frontier acreage. This is in marked contrast to the 1960s and early 1970s when many very large fields were discovered in new provinces like the North Sea and Alaska, and reserves increases were largely driven by frontier exploration.

Looking back, the wave of frontier successes in the 60s and early 70s can be seen as having been underpinned by three things; the industry's newly developed technological ability to explore the offshore continental shelves, significant improvements in super-regional geological knowledge and the effectiveness of worldwide exploration ‘creaming’ through the use of digital seismic. These factors were closely interrelated and their beneficial effect on exploration allowed new frontiers to temporarily dominate the scene.

The technologial advances of the 80s h

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