The Imperative of Unconventional Thinking
- Robert Ryan (Chevron Global Upstream and Gas,)
- Document ID
- World Petroleum Congress
- 20th World Petroleum Congress, 4-8 December, Doha, Qatar
- Publication Date
- Document Type
- Conference Paper
- 2011. World Petroleum Council
- 0 in the last 30 days
- 40 since 2007
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The greatest impediment to new discoveries is the certainty of what's impossible. Fortunately, in the realm of oil and gas exploration, the impossible becomes possible through innovation and creativity. The words "exploration" and "frontier" are typically linked in the minds of many as pushing the limits of technology and capability in new geologic basins that have had little to no previous exploration effort. And while significant opportunities still exist in these frontier areas, the risks are getting higher and the operating settings are growing more complicated. With the energy industry being challenged by the ever increasing demand for oil and gas, the definition of frontier has expanded over the years to include not only new areas, but also new geologic concepts in what had been considered thoroughly explored areas; unconventional plays in rock types never before considered commercial reservoirs; and even the frontier of new technology increasing recovery in existing fields. Success in all of these frontiers is critical if the industry is going to meet demand.
Not so long ago, the Gulf of Mexico, for example, was declared the Dead Sea; salt signaled the basement and deepwater contained no reservoirs. Once conventional wisdom was turned on its head, both subsalt and deepwater settings became prolific new frontiers. And all of this success was in a basin long considered fully exploration. That story needs to be, and will be, told in many other areas as well.
But technology and new geologic concepts might be the easiest frontiers to unlock as today's explorers are confronted with topics that have become more complex over time, including access, commercial terms, public policy and the environment. Add those "frontiers" to the mix and the challenge becomes even greater.
A rock or an iPad: Which epitomizes innovation?
A rock is, well, a rock. Dumb as a rock, the saying goes.
What, on the other hand, epitomizes innovation more than Apple and the tablet it created? The iPad 2 has the computing power of a ม million Cray 2 – the 1985 supercomputer the size of a hot tub. Horsepower aside, the iPad revolutionized audiovisual delivery. It created a tool we never knew we needed, yet now cannot live without. The wafer-thin device has capabilities thought impossible a few short years ago.
It’s not alone. Many of the world’s greatest innovations were written off as impossible. Consider the work of engineer Joseph Strauss. In the 1920s, he designed “the bridge that couldn’t be built.” Experts railed about insurmountable obstacles: more than a mile of water to cross, 60 mile-an-hour winds, piercing underwater currents, blinding fog, the Great Depression, and, not to be overlooked, occasional earthquakes. Yet Strauss’ iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one of the seven engineering wonders of the world, was completed in 1937, on time, for less than ำ million …during worst part of the Depression.
Does our industry – oil and gas exploration, in particular – have its own bridges that cannot be built? Sometimes, our greatest impediment to discovery is our certainty of what’s impossible. Yet in the history of the oil and gas business, unconventional thinking has regularly turned the impossible into the possible, the industry frontier into the industry standard. In the span of this geologist’s 32-year career, two of today’s preeminent hydrocarbon plays – deepwater sands and onshore shales – materialized from the annals of the impossible.
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