For anyone wondering about the upcoming, inaugural Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC), a good one-word answer would be “Bakken.”
The concept of integrated teamwork, essential to cracking open the Bakken unconventional oil play, lies at the core of URTeC.
AAPG, the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists joined together to create the conference, a hybrid event drawing together knowledge from geology, geochemistry, geophysics, petroleum engineering and other professional specialties.
Scheduled Aug. 12-14 in Denver, URTeC’s very existence speaks to the importance of unconventional resource plays and the integrated, multidisciplinary approach that makes them work.
“One of the first tight oil plays that came around was the Bakken. It was developed by people who used vertical drilling,” said AAPG Honorary member Steve Sonnenberg, professor and Charles Boettcher Distinguished Chair in petroleum geology at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo.
Sonnenberg, a past AAPG president, serves as co-chair of URTeC, along with Luis Baez, exploration manager for BG Group in Houston, and AAPG member Ken Beeney, a Humble, Texas geophysical consultant formerly with Devon Energy Corp.
Without the combined input of geoscientists, engineers and other industry professionals, the Bakken play would not have developed into a significant, unconventional, oil-producing resource, Sonnenberg said.
“The Bakken is a key example of an integrated approach combining geology with petroleum engineering,” he observed. “The geophysical add to that was not only 3-D seismic, but also the microseismic – the microseismic arrays that were put out sometimes on a permanent basis.”
The ‘Integrated Approach’
Baez has seen the same path to success in his experience with resource plays.
“I’ve been working unconventionals for over 10 years,” he said, “and the key is this integrated approach.”
His two-word answer for questions about URTeC might be “Eagle Ford.”
“It’s been a radical shift. Five years ago everyone was looking for Barnett-type shales. No one was looking too much outside the box,” Baez said.
By comparison, the Eagle Ford was overpressured, deep and difficult to characterize, and appeared to have the “wrong lithology,” he noted. But by using a multidisciplinary approach, companies were able to begin tapping into the Eagle Ford’s potential.
Baez hopes URTeC attendees will be able to discover answers to current resource-play challenges, in addition to broadening their horizons and sharpening their professional skills.
“There is just a huge learning curve to go through. Having everything in one place allows you to see what other people are doing,” he said. “There’s also the communication part. People don’t necessarily know how these projects prove out.”
Even if someone sticks close to his or her own specialty when attending URTeC, the importance of the multidisciplinary approach should show through, according to Sonnenberg.
“We have tried to stress to the authors to make their presentations integrated,” Sonnenberg said. “No matter what session people sit in, they should see this integrated approach.”
Just reviewing the submissions for URTeC presentations was an eye-opener for Baez.
“There are things in there I hadn’t thought of before. I was saying to myself, ‘Wow, that’s a really good idea!’” he recalled.
A Never-Ending Story
Slipping the word “technology” into the name of an unconventional resource conference might seem to emphasize one aspect of resource play development above others.
Actually, it’s recognition of technology’s central importance in exploiting unconventional prospects, Sonnenberg said.
“If it weren’t for the technology, people wouldn’t be drilling these wells,” he acknowledged. “You could nickname these reservoirs ‘high-technology reservoirs.’”
While mainstream media often portray resource play development as a perfected art, the oil and gas industry sees it as a set of still-evolving techniques. URTeC will address the industry’s ongoing research into unconventionals, Sonnenberg said.
“For instance, is the frac fluid of the future going to be a water-based frac fluid? People right now are experimenting with frac design,” he observed.
The industry still has significant work to do, Sonnenberg said, both in understanding and opening new resource areas and in optimizing the approach to existing unconventional plays.
“We’re determining right now with these studies that are going on what the optimal well designs can be, what the optimal well spacing is, that sort of thing,” he said. “I think we have a ways to go in developing our science in these things.”
Sonnenberg called URTeC a state-of-the-art science meeting and “the one conference you can go to and see ALL your colleagues there.”
To Baez, it reflects the excitement and opportunity created by unconventional resources.
“It’s a great time to be a scientist in this profession. We’re looking for a lot of different skill sets right now,” he said.
By design, URTeC will give industry professionals an understanding of the multidisciplinary approach to resource development techniques that continue to emerge, evolve, develop, grow and change.
“I have a feeling,” Baez said, “everything I know will be wrong 10 years from now.”