Inaugural ME Workshop to Yield Publication

The first Geosciences Technology Workshop ever held in the Middle East Region proved to be an enormous success and a remarkable accomplishment for the geosciences community in the area.

As such, the purpose of this article is twofold:

  • First, we want to educate the general reader on the increasing importance of petroleum system modeling (PSM) in hydrocarbon exploration.
  • Second, we want to let everyone know some of the details of this successful event.

The GTW, held in Dubai, UAE, was titled “Basin and Petroleum System Modeling in the Middle East: Applications and Case Studies,” and complete details of the workshop will be part of a special publication summarizing and highlighting recommendations discussed during the three-day event.

Because it was the first workshop solely devoted to the Middle East region, conveners decided to cover a wide variety of case studies and technologies currently being applied in the Middle East as well as technologies that have been useful elsewhere but are still not sufficiently utilized in the region.

The main goals were to identify gaps in our understanding of petroleum system modeling, discuss key sources of uncertainty in PSM and evaluate potential new play concepts in the region.

A complete, detailed report on the speakers, findings and recommendations can be found online at the Middle East Region website. Below is a summary of the proceedings.


There were five main sessions, all followed by a breakout session. Key findings and recommendations from each breakout session include:

♦ Basin Evolution, Geodynamics and Heat Flow Mechanisms.

This session dealt with crustal and lithosphere architecture and dynamics, tectonic evolution and paleogeography, heat flow mechanisms and their assessment.

Recommendations from the breakout session included:

  • Data store and geopolitics – There is a need for building a large ArcGIS project integrating all public domain data from the region – probably by an academic institution that is able to reach across geopolitical boundaries.
  • Tectonic aspect – Imaging the Moho was identified as a top priority; there is a need for a new regional stress map that can explain deep petroleum systems in the Middle East by linking structural deformation to working petroleum systems; it is critical to generate regional erosion maps; it is important to understand how large Paleozoic basins in the Middle East region were formed; participants emphasized the influence of the ice cap (~2,000 meters) on basin formation; and heat flow modeling requires a good understanding of the internal composition of the basement and the structure of the crust (structural control, radiogenic heat, etc.).
  • Thermometers/calibration – More thermometers are required to provide more accurate data for calibration.
  • Salt – The impact of salt evolution on heat flow history and hydrocarbon maturation needs to be accounted for and accurately modeled in all petroleum system models.
♦ Source Rocks – Properties, Processes and Modeling of Hydrocarbon Generation and Expulsion.

This session focused on depositional characteristics and preservation processes of key source rocks in the region and included variations from basin to basin, in source rock properties, maturation, expulsion and hydrocarbon migration and oil-oil and oil-source correlations.

Key emphasis was on quantifying the above processes in petroleum system models.

Gap areas identified by the participants included:

  • A general requirement of good natural samples for the identification of processes and effects of secondary cracking.
  • The need for ground proofing laboratory predictions for better assessment of source rock properties and secondary cracking mechanisms.
  • Case studies are required to study detailed source rock properties and secondary cracking processes – for which Kuwait and Barnett petroleum systems were proposed as two candidates.
  • A better understanding of the main products of secondary cracking.
  • A variety of experimental methods and analytical approaches should be tested to evaluate the best way forward.
♦ Petroleum Systems Evaluation from Regional to Reservoir Scale.

This session addressed flow/seal properties of host and fault rocks; approaches that combine basin modeling with seismic methods; pre-drill pressure prediction; resource assessment; and case studies demonstrating integrated approaches for both low and high resolution basin models.

The breakout session concluded with general recommendations that included:

  • PSM software needs to include the processes occurring at the reservoir scale. It can be achieved using local grid refinement and requires advanced up-scaling techniques.
  • R&D is needed to address rock properties, especially carbonates.
  • More integration with geochemistry is desirable and will be very helpful.
  • New quantitative and geochemical diagnostic tools are required to better understand PSM’s involving carbonate rocks.
♦ Uncertainty and Risk Analysis in Petroleum Systems Analysis.

The papers in this session covered example applications of existing uncertainty-oriented methods and addressed different aspects of petroleum systems including structural and tectonic evolution, heat flow variation, rock properties, hydrocarbon generation and expulsion, hydrocarbon migration efficiency and volume of hydrocarbons left behind vs. delivered to traps, maturation and pressure implications of poor imaging, time-depth conversion, and others.

Key findings of the breakout session included:

  • Although many companies have a process for assigning risk, standardization of this process was recommended to ensure consistency.
  • Key PSM risks are related to charge, fluid properties and seal integrity.
  • Uncertainty analysis in frontier basins attempts to address basic aspects of PS such as oil vs. gas.
  • Uncertainty analysis in mature basins addresses high-resolution HC products, migration patterns, hydrocarbons left behind and complexity of rocks.
  • Uncertainty analysis is not complete without keeping PS models well calibrated.
  • Uncertainty analysis requires proper way of communicating results. They often serve as inputs for economic analysis.
  • Uncertainty analysis in PS models should be mandatory.
♦ Petroleum System Analysis of Unconventional Gas – Basin Center, Shale and Sour Gas.

While petroleum system modeling of conventional resources is well established, the application to unconventional systems is still in its infancy. In particular, modeling of low-permeability reservoirs, shale gas potential and sour gas risk and its impact on fluid properties requires more attention and were represented in this session.

Recommendations from the thermochemical sulfate reduction breakout session included:

  • Collect and analyze field data and reproduce observations.
  • Understand the PVT of sour gas.
  • Connect to reservoir geologists.

Recommendations from the shale and sour gas breakout session included:

  • More education on technology needs is recommended; some companies tend to drill without a comprehensive integration of the petroleum systems modeling with the geology.
  • Estimating gas in-place is an important issue – and not only in the Middle East.
  • Hydrocarbon generation kinetics data is not well understood and requires more publications using well-known source rocks as real cases.
  • More research is required to describe mechanical properties of rocks and their control on hydrocarbon migration.

Regarding basin center gas:

  • The topic deserves more attention in the Middle East.
  • More research should be devoted to the mechanisms of secondary migration in tight rock and to trapping.

This workshop was a natural follow up to the Hedberg Research Conferences on Basin and Petroleum Systems Modeling that were held in The Hague, the Netherlands (May 2007) and in Napa, Calif. (May 2009).

Future plans are to publish some of the key presentations given during the workshop.

Finally, special thanks are due to our generous sponsors, Saudi Aramco, ADCO, Shell and Jacobs University.

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Regions and Sections

Regions and Sections Column - Carol McGowen
Carol Cain McGowen is the development manager for AAPG's Regions and Sections. She may be contacted via email , or telephone at 1-918-560-9403.

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