Geologists know that the East Java Basin in Indonesia is a region affected by the intersecting Indo-Australian and Pacific plates that produce complex faulting and rotation -- in short, a good geological possibility in a country filled with good geological possibilities.
And where there are geological possibilities, there is the petroleum industry. And often academia. And sometimes students from different lands simply trying to understand one another over a dinner of frog leg soup.
Recently, Chevron, under the auspices of retired geologist and AAPG member Tom Heidrick, professor Eric Frost and a team of students from San Diego State University (SDSU), joined professors and students from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to study this region -- and brought with them a fancy new tool in the search for oil and gas.
It was, more to the point, a search for the best way to search.
What they discovered in the ground was almost as important as what they discovered about each other.
AAPG member Eric Peterson, who has a master’s in geology at San Diego State University and specializes in bathymetric and Landsat imagery, says this area in Indonesia was chosen to perform a preliminary geologic investigation for Chevron and to give students from the two countries a chance to perform thesis work on a host of projects.
Peterson believes that, specifically, this central region of Java has not been extensively studied because of the apparent lack of hydrocarbons and difficulty in mapping with extensive jungle and agricultural cover.
As such, the tool they brought with them (new software called GeoMapper) allowed for digital field mapping of outcrops, picture locations, sample locations and other geologic information -- replacing, if you will, the notebook and the ball-point pen.
Accordingly, rock samples, oil seeps, extensional dike systems, compressional folds and thousands of strike/dips were found and documented using new computer-based mapping.
A Whole New World
Taken as a whole, Indonesia’s future potential depends on whether you think its barrel is half full or half empty.
According to the Indonesian Petroleum Association, as first reported in the Asia Times, the bad news is the country already has extracted 75 percent of its proven oil reserves and existing discoveries will decline by 50 percent over the next 10 years; the good news is that it is estimated that nearly 10 billion barrels of proven and potential oil reserves remain.
Similarly, while Indonesia has nearly 180 trillion cubic feet of proven and potential gas reserves -- one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves -- most of it is currently exported unprocessed because of a lack of refining or distribution capacity to use it at home.
As much for the discovery of oil and gas, though, this venture was an opportunity for students of two vastly different cultures to work together -- regardless of the tools used.
“It was the farthest any of us had ever been from home,” Peterson said, who called Indonesia’s geology “amazing and very complex.”
“We saw active volcanoes (such as Merapi, which was erupting at press time), a mud volcano and the sites where early man (Homo erectus) had been excavated by archeologists,” he said. “We ate food that you would have a hard time finding in the U.S., such as durian fruit or a bowl of spicy frog leg soup. We saw ancient Hindu temples like Prambanan in Yogyakarta,” now nearly destroyed by May’s disastrous earthquake in Central Java.
Another student from SDSU, AAPG member Jennifer Pérez, said the experience was more than just geologic.
“We were part of a team and our main purpose for being there was to get a job done, but along the way we became a family,” Pérez said. “It was a large cultural shock living and working in Java for a month, because resources that we take for granted here in the United States are not always available in Java. Washing clothes, making phone calls, getting something to eat are all done differently there, and it took some getting used to.”
As importantly, she said of the international effort, “we found that while the concepts of geology are the same, the way we learn and apply it in different regions of the world is something we needed to adapt to.”
Specifically, Pérez said that there is “a need for digital field mapping in large projects.
“However, the existing technology is somewhat lacking in capability to use this technology in remote places,” she said, “especially when you are working toward a common goal with people who are not present in the field and who must also use your data.”
She and Peterson both believe that being able to share the data digitally is key.
Peterson says the majority of the Indonesian students focused on stratigraphy while he focused on structure.
“The students created some beautiful stratigraphic columns, which helped in the overall subject of my thesis paper, which discussed the tectonics and stratigraphy of the East Java Basin.”
Pérez, too, was impressed by her Indonesian counterparts.
“The Indonesian students are quick learners,” she said. “I found that out when we first got there and our task was to teach them the software that we had just learned a few days prior at Berkeley (California). They picked it up quickly and did a good job, even though we, their teachers, were still learning it ourselves.”
A Profitable Partnership
It was, by all accounts, one of those industry-academic ventures that worked.
“Both Chevron and the students profited from this collaboration,” Peterson said. “Chevron received a basin evaluation for the onshore East Java Basin, which included geochemistry, porosity, stratigraphy, paleontology, geologic maps, fold analysis, etc. The students got to experience what a petroleum company looks for when doing fieldwork.”
The software -- used to determine whether digital mapping was effective as a tool in the field -- worked on mapping over digital imagery, such as digital satellite images or digital contour maps, and plots the map data in the accurate location using GPS. The promise is that mapping digitally produces a clean image that doesn’t have to be transferred from paper to computer post-mapping (a clean image is made by GeoMapper that can be edited later if needed).
The result, Peterson said, was a more efficient compilation of data.
The software, or something like it, may in the future replace the need for pencils and paper and erasers -- but if the experiences in Indonesia are to be duplicated, collaboration will still be the most important tool.
One more thing, Peterson said, will be the key to future successes:
“Don’t get the computer wet.”