The Value of Exploration

This edition of EXPLORER began with President Paul Weimer presenting a detailed analysis of membership trends in the Association. It’s an important topic because these trends are harbingers of AAPG’s future – and they should force serious thinking about how we recruit and retain tomorrow’s members.

That may look significantly different than it does today.

But I’d like to close this month’s issue with some thoughts on one of the core aspects of our science and profession: Exploration. It’s a fundamental human drive that has attracted past generations into petroleum geology.

I’m currently reading Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium. Tyson regularly lectures and hosts science television programs to promote science literacy – and, like Carl Sagan a generation ago, he is an unabashed promoter of space exploration.

Despite its high price tag, Tyson argues that the value of space exploration is twofold:

  • First, it advances science and technology in many disciplines, often serendipitously.
  • Second, bold challenges – such as putting a man on the moon – inspire the best and brightest to pursue science and engineering careers.

Achieving something so audacious is inherently motivating. Absent such a goal, it is little wonder that in the past decade so many quantitative Ph.Ds. chose instead to pursue careers in financial engineering.

Exploration doesn’t happen in a vacuum (except for space exploration, of course). There are factors that drive humans to explore, and Tyson suggests three:

♦ Military competition.

Space exploration has its roots in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is no accident that nearly all of NASA’s astronauts were military aviators. And only one scientist ever walked on the moon: Apollo 17’s Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, a geologist and AAPG Honorary Member.

♦ Honor and glory.

There are bragging rights to being first to explore or achieve something. As a boy I was inspired by mountaineer Reinhold Messner’s feats of scaling Mt. Everest – the highest point on Earth – alone and without oxygen. To an armchair mountaineer that is a superhuman accomplishment.

More recently, explorer and filmmaker James Cameron dove the Marianas Trench – the deepest point on Earth – and demonstrated that we still have much to explore on this planet.

♦ Commercial.

Finally there are the commercial interests that drive exploration. That certainly characterized early traders and explorers – looking for faster or better paths to obtain goods, or deliver them to market. Finding and producing natural resources fits this category, as does the emerging commercial space industry looking to take away the government monopoly on space travel that has existed to present.

The commercial reward of finding and developing oil and natural gas certainly fuels the exploration drive of many AAPG members. But so does the recognition that comes from finding and communicating new scientific discoveries and breakthroughs. It’s all exploration.

Fact is, our profession and industry are advancing the frontiers of science. And we’re doing so to meet the daily energy needs of a growing global population.

Ensuring an affordable and plentiful global energy supply is an audacious challenge. Energy is the foundation of modern society and enables mankind to explore the stars and the depths.

Can we craft a compelling narrative to attract the best and brightest into the energy geosciences, and to foster that spirit of exploration in the next generation?

It starts with that dream and desire to do important work.

“There are a lot of things I have to do to become an astronaut,” says four-year-old Cyrus Corey in Space Chronicles. “But first I have to go to kindergarten.”

That’s a great plan, Cyrus. And take a class in geology the first chance you get.

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Director's Corner

Director's Corner - David Curtiss

David Curtiss is an AAPG member and was named AAPG Executive Director in August 2011. He was previously Director of the AAPG GEO-DC Office in Washington D.C.

The Director's Corner covers Association news and industry events from the worldview perspective of the AAPG Executive Director.

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See Also: Bulletin Article

The Molasse Basin represents the northern foreland basin of the Alps. After decades of exploration, it is considered to be mature in terms of hydrocarbon exploration. However, geological evolution and hydrocarbon potential of its imbricated southernmost part (Molasse fold and thrust belt) are still poorly understood. In this study, structural and petroleum systems models are integrated to explore the hydrocarbon potential of the Perwang imbricates in the western part of the Austrian Molasse Basin.

The structural model shows that total tectonic shortening in the modeled north–south section is at least 32.3 km (20.1 mi) and provides a realistic input for the petroleum systems model. Formation temperatures show present-day heat flows decreasing toward the south from 60 to 41 mW/m2. Maturity data indicate very low paleoheat flows decreasing southward from 43 to 28 mW/m2. The higher present-day heat flow probably indicates an increase in heat flow during the Pliocene and Pleistocene.

Apart from oil generated below the imbricated zone and captured in autochthonous Molasse rocks in the foreland area, oil stains in the Perwang imbricates and oil-source rock correlations argue for a second migration system based on hydrocarbon generation inside the imbricates. This assumption is supported by the models presented in this study. However, the model-derived low transformation ratios (lt20%) indicate a charge risk. In addition, the success for future exploration strongly depends on the existence of migration conduits along the thrust planes during charge and on potential traps retaining their integrity during recent basin uplift.

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Criteria for recognizing stratigraphic sequences are well established on continental margins but more challenging to apply in basinal settings. We report an investigation of the Upper Devonian Woodford Shale, Permian Basin, west Texas based on a set of four long cores, identifying sea level cycles and stratigraphic sequences in an organic-rich shale.

The Woodford Shale is dominated by organic-rich mudstone, sharply overlain by a bioturbated organic-poor mudstone that is consistent with a second-order eustatic sea level fall. Interbedded with the organic-rich mudstone are carbonate beds, chert beds, and radiolarian laminae, all interpreted as sediment gravity-flow deposits. Bundles of interbedded mudstone and carbonate beds alternate with intervals of organic-rich mudstone and thin radiolaria-rich laminae, defining a 5–10 m (16–33 ft)-thick third-order cyclicity. The former are interpreted to represent highstand systems tracts, whereas the latter are interpreted as representing falling stage, lowstand, and transgressive systems tracts. Carbonate beds predominate in the lower Woodford section, associated with highstand shedding at a second-order scale; chert beds predominate in the upper Woodford section, responding to the second-order lowstand.

Additional variability is introduced by geographic position. Wells nearest the western margin of the basin have the greatest concentration of carbonate beds caused by proximity to a carbonate platform. A well near the southern margin has the greatest concentration of chert beds, resulting from shedding of biogenic silica from a southern source. A well in the basin center has little chert and carbonate; here, third-order sea level cycles were primarily reflected in the stratigraphic distribution of radiolarian-rich laminae.

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Natural fractures are a prominent and dramatic feature of many outcrops and are commonly observed in core, where they govern subsurface fluid flow and rock strength. Examples from more than 20 fractured reservoirs show a wide range of fracture sizes and patterns of spatial organization. These patterns can be understood in terms of geochemical and mechanical processes across a range of scales. Fractures in core show pervasive evidence of geochemical reactions; more than is typical of fractures in many outcrops. Accounting for geochemistry and size and size-arrangement and their interactions leads to better predictions of fluid flow.

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Expanded package for CEU credit is $100 for AAPG members, and $145 for non-members. Special Student Pricing: $25 for Webinar only; $35 for Expanded package.

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