EXPLORER Correspondent

"You need to know a little about geology, also. Some people today don't seem to think that's too important. But that's where it all starts."

Do You Have One?

Concepts Are the Latest Buzz

It’s the newest idea in exploration today.

The current catchphrase, the latest buzzword.

It can be helpful to use, or dangerous if misused.

Don’t have a concept?

Then you’re out of luck, because “concept” is the hot idea of the moment.

Instead of areas of interest, company reports now discuss exploration concepts.

Instead of chasing a play, exploration managers want to extend a concept.

“It’s a catchword that’s going around,” said AAPG member Charles Wickstrom, managing partner of Spyglass Energy in Tulsa.

You can’t have just a play.

You’ve got to have a play concept.

Here’s a comment on the 2004 Utah hingeline discovery by Wolverine Gas and Oil, from the September issue of World Oil:

“The Wolverine team spent a year and a half developing a play concept for central Utah.”

A recent issue of Oil & Gas Journal included this description of two electromagnetic surveys:

“The surveys were conducted in 110-140 m of water over an untested play concept ...”

The Web-based information service carried this item about UK independent Burren Energy:

“Burren Energy has reported success with its onshore Loufika exploration prospect in Congo-Brazzaville’s Atlantic Coast, which has uncovered a new play concept.”

Concept implies portability, the chance to take a set of ideas from one area and apply them to another.

As noted:

“The discovery of an entirely new play ... has the possibility to extend throughout the Congolese coastal basin.”

Think About It

When you consider how “concept” is used in the industry today, you realize it’s not an easy concept to grasp -- conceptually.

“It can work from a play concept in an area that’s not been drilled at all to an area that’s had some light drilling 20 years ago,” said Ralph Baird of Baird Petrophysical in Houston.

It also can come from a heavily drilled area, and be an international or purely domestic concept, he added.

An industry consultant, Baird lists one of his specialties as adviser on exploration concept management.”

A current concept in exploration?

“What’s going on right now is that everybody’s drilling seismic amplitude. That’s a concept that has been pretty well developed,” he said.

Part of Baird’s business involves concept development prior to exploration.

“We take a look at a basin and then develop a concept for that basin,” he explained. “Sometimes, it starts out as a land acquisition concept.”

That process of gathering information, data and background on a prospect is part of what’s now called “developing a concept.”

“You would have called this research, years ago,” Baird noted.

New technologies and techniques play a large part in frontier, non-conventional and enhanced recovery projects. Concepts sometimes are built around applications.

“What’s interesting,” Baird said, “is that you have a grab bag or a cafeteria of tools and you can select the tools you need in a given situation.”

No Short Cuts

One danger in this approach comes from too much reliance on technology and too little focus on fundamentals. Even now, great technology can’t save a poor prospect.

“You need to know a little about geology, also,” Baird said. “Some people today don’t seem to think that’s too important. But that’s where it all starts.”

He’s worried about the industry losing a treasure of experience as older professionals retire. New hires won’t get the mentoring that previous generations enjoyed, he said.

Good concepts often grow out of access to experience, a deep understanding of exploration that shapes decisions.

“I like to use the ‘i’ word -- the ‘i’ word is intuition. It takes intuition to come up with the right approach,” he said.

From a different view, new concepts usually require a new perspective and new approaches. New ways of thinking continue to revitalize well-explored areas.

“We’ve got a long way to go in the future in putting these play concepts together,” Baird said.

“The game’s open. It takes an exceptional exploration manager to be open to new ideas. You aren’t going to develop a new play concept that way,” he added.

And new ideas are essential to new concepts, although the line between ideas and concepts can be fuzzy.

Here’s a Thought ...

A paper presented at the Society of Exploration Geophysicists’ annual meeting in October looked at Upper Jurassic reservoirs in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and concluded:

“Fresh ideas and a new play concept emerged with the discovery of the Alpine Field.”

With so many concepts claimed for so many new play areas, it’s hard to talk about “proven concepts.”

Like everything else in exploration, concepts are subject to the test of time.

Wickstrom said the oil and gas industry has a history of chasing exploration concepts, though they might not have been called concepts.

“Up to a few years ago, the main concept or buzzword was coalbed methane. Everybody had to have a coalbed methane play in their portfolio,” he said.

“In conventional oil and gas, it became 3-D seismic. On every play, you had to shoot 3-D seismic. That became a concept,” he added.

Today, concepts buzz around non-conventional resource plays.

Work in the Barnett shale has generated a number of new concepts, from the smack-it and frac-it approach to horizontal well drainage.

New players entering the shale-gas chase often talk about applying previously tested concepts.

“Now I’d say unconventional resources like shale gas -- and the Barnett shale really kicked that off -- and the information from the Barnett have allowed people to follow that concept,” Wickstrom noted.

That creates another danger.

A concept that fits one play cannot always be moved whole and applied to a completely different area.

In shale gas, not every organic-rich shale is a potential producer, Wickstrom observed. Geologists need to understand all the parameters involved.

“There are key elements behind the concept,” he said.

A concept sometimes grows out of extensive work in developing a productive play.

And sometimes the thought is no more than:

It worked once.

Maybe it will work again.

In the end, the industry might decide that the best exploration has always come from the best ideas. And always will.

What a concept.

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