But for how long?

Eastern GOM – Forbidden Fruit Again

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Just one year ago drilling in the off-limits eastern Gulf of Mexico appeared to be on the cusp of getting the green light from the U.S. government as calls for “drill, baby, drill” emanated from politicians as well as the ordinary Joe.

Then the Big Spill occurred in the Gulf, and the industry’s hopes to explore this promising area were quickly dashed – perhaps for the long haul, perhaps not.

Meanwhile the so-called “permatorium” in the long-active central and western GOM waters is over, but it’s not really over – at least not until the powers-that-be get around to seriously ratcheting up the drilling permit process.

It’s all the more exasperating given that offshore western Florida is one of the last unexplored areas in the GOM. After all, there’s no known hydrocarbon cutoff line between the highly productive central GOM region and the eastern region, which has been forbidden territory for exploration since 1981.

Still, this is no cookie-cutter scenario.

“The geology of the eastern Gulf of Mexico has some similarities and many differences from the currently explored Gulf area,” said Joe Erickson, vice president of sales and business development at Spectrum Geo in Houston.

“The further you get from the Mississippi fan, the more things change,” he added, “especially in this part of the Gulf.”

A Lot of Data

Fortunately, optimism is a hallmark of the industry, and the folks at Spectrum appear to be imbued with a hefty amount of this trait.

They’re at work on a sizeable study analyzing 65,000 kilometers of modern 2-D seismic data processed in-house, which they acquired for the most part more than 125 miles from the Florida coast with the goal to evaluate the hydrocarbon potential of the eastern Gulf region.

The data cover portions of Desoto Canyon, Lloyd Ridge, Florida Middle Ground, The Elbow, Vernon Basin and Howell Hook protraction areas.

“This region is so important because it’s a frontier area, and we see trends successful in the central Gulf that are extending into the area,” said AAPG member Richie Miller, president at Spectrum.

“We’re doing a resource assessment that will take another couple of months,” Miller said. “We’re hoping the investigation results will help with the lobbying efforts to open the area to exploration.”

Miller and Erickson were co-authors, along with Spectrum Geo peer G.N. Scaife, of a paper presented at the recent AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston titled “Evaluation of the Offshore Florida Play Types Using Seismic Reflection Data.”

The talk was part of a session titled “E&P in the Americas.”

Their study examines future locales for exploration via identification of plays located on trend with existing play types.

“We’re working with the University of Alabama, also,” Miller noted. “There’s potential for some trends onshore Alabama to extend offshore to the south and east.

“For instance, there’s potential for the well-known Upper Jurassic Norphlet sandstone play to extend further into this area,” he emphasized.

“In fact, there’s current Norphlet success in the northwest area of the study, while the rest of the survey is totally unexplored.”

Still Waiting

The study team also proposes conceptual plays for future exploration and sub-divides exploration play types into:

  • Shallow water, shelf opportunities.
  • Moderate water depth, escarpment plays.
  • Deepwater play types.

“The extensive seismic data set provides valuable information that can be used to assess the number and size of undiscovered potential accumulations in this frontier petroleum province,” Erickson said.

He noted that evaluation of the escarpment area indicates the potential for large scale shedding of carbonate debris from the platform area into potential reservoirs.

“It might be hypothesized that a singular catastrophic event could have caused large scale debris flows,” Erickson said. “There’s a possibility that this untested play type may yield the most hydrocarbon potential as the aerial reservoir extent may be the largest reviewed.”

It’s intriguing that Spectrum is waiting on the go-ahead from the permit folks to accumulate even more seismic data for the program.

“We’ve asked for a permit to acquire more seismic data – about a year ago,” Erickson noted, “but it’s not yet been approved.”

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