Discovery Thinking: Twice as Good

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
Charles Sternbach
Charles Sternbach

How do you improve on a good thing?

If it’s the AAPG Discovery Thinking forum, an event that has grown in popularity since its inception in 2008, organizers have a simple answer:

You try to make it twice as good.

So now, for only the second time in the event’s history, the Discovery Thinking forum set for this year’s Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston will have not one, but two sessions – an enhancement designed to accommodate a growing number of must-be-told stories about major discoveries around the globe as well as the ideas, technology and guts that made them happen.

“Explorers like to tell stories around the campfire, and the stories they like to tell are about discoveries,” said AAPG Honorary member Charles A. Sternbach, president of Star Creek Energy Company and founder and co-chair of the Discovery Thinking forum. “The whole purpose of Discovery Thinking is to discuss promising new plays and major new discoveries by people who know those discoveries well.

“We are fortunate that they share their insights on how the discovery was created,” he added.

This year’s forums will be held Monday, April 7, as eight geoscientists discuss new reserves, unconventional resources, payoffs from persistence and the application of highly specialized technology. (See accompanying story for a complete list of presentations.)

Many will use visual and technical data to give “tours” of their processes, Sternbach said. They will reveal the problems and challenges they faced, failures they experienced along the way and the path that led them to success.

“We get the privilege to look at major new trends and discoveries in seismic maps and vertical displays. It helps us understand how technology is applied and integrated as well as the business aspect of things,” Sternbach said.

“It’s a holistic view of new discoveries.”

Knowledge – and Encouragement

Discovery Thinking was launched to advance the AAPG’s 100th anniversary in 2017. Co-sponsored by the AAPG and the Division of Professional Affairs, the forum addresses both the scientific and professional aspects of exploration.

As it continues to grow in popularity, its life may extend beyond the centennial year and become a traditional component of the ACE and International Conference and Exhibition.

“The program leaves a legacy of discovery and has the continuity and momentum to continue,” Sternbach added.

Already, it is serving as a resource for thousands of geologists who visit the 40-plus presentations from previous forums, which are posted on the AAPG website (“Publications” tab, “Search and Discovery” button, or

The site has received more than 20,000 hits, proving that “the talks are not over when the forum is over,” Sternbach said.

The presentations also serve as educational tools for young petroleum geologists.

“AAPG and DPA want to encourage young professionals entering the business to become both successful explorers and the next generation of leaders,” he said. “These forums can accelerate the learning process.”


Paul Weimer, co-chair of this year’s Discovery Thinking forum, a professor and director of the Energy and Minerals Applied Research Center at the University of Colorado, and a former AAPG president, said many look forward to the talks every year.

“Exploration is very much a process that is done by analog, so geologists are always looking at other basins to generate ideas for their basins,” he said.

Ed Dolly, who with Weimer is co-chair of AAPG’s 100th Anniversary Committee, will co-chair the afternoon session about discoveries specific to the Gulf of Mexico.

As the forum has gained momentum over the years, Sternbach said lightheartedly that it prompted him to make “new friends” in the industry.

“It’s not easy for someone who’s just made a giant discovery to come and tell you about it until you have a good relationship,” he said. “We’ve continued to expand our speakers. It’s really been a joy for me. I can’t wait myself to learn and be inspired by these great discoveries. These programs owe a great debt to the wonderful men and women among us who share their discovery stories so that we all may aspire to be better explorers.”

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Experts, Ideas Set for Discovery Thinking Forum

This year there will be two Discovery Thinking Forums at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition – one in the afternoon, one in the morning

Here’s what you can expect:

Morning Session

Antonio Escalera, deputy director of exploration and production, Pemex, talking about “Recent Discoveries in Ultra Deep Water Western Gulf of Mexico.”

Highlight – Major new oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico unveiled by Mexico might open possibilities for capital investment in deepwater discoveries.

Hans Rønnevik, exploration manager, and Arild Jørstad, Lundin, talking about “Unfolding by Holistic Thinking, Giant and Significant Oil Discoveries in a Mature Area; Discovery of Edvard Grieg, Johan Sverdrup and Luno II in the Norwegian North Sea.”

Highlight – Insights into petroleum migration and careful data collection and interpretation, creativity and sheer persistence led to major new oil discoveries in the North Sea.

Flavio Juarez Feijo, senior geologist, Petrobras, talking about “Sergipe Basin, An Oil Province Reborn.”

Highlight – By continuing to learn and drill deeper in the Sergipe Basin, explorers have found tremendous new oil reserves in a mature basin.

Fiona MacAulay, technical director, Rockhopper Exploration, talking about “Size Doesn’t Always Matter: Twelve Months in the Life of a Small Oil Company – The Discovery and Appraisal of the Sea Lion Field, North Falklands Basin.”

Highlight – A major discovery near the Faulkland Islands shows how many small companies are willing to take large risks for discoveries.

Afternoon Session

John Dribus, global geosciences adviser, Schlumberger, talking about “Three Important Conventional Reservoirs Receiving Exploration Focus in the Deep Water Today.”

Highlight – Take a private “tour” of some of the giant discoveries of the Atlantic Margin.

Ernie Leyendecker, vice president of exploration-Gulf of Mexico, Anadarko, talking about “Discovery Thinking: The Gulf of Mexico Advantage.”

Highlight – Anadarko, how they did it.

Scott Sheffield, chief executive officer, Pioneer Resources, talking about “Discovery Thinking Leads to Success in Eagle Ford and Spraberry/Wolfcamp Plays, Texas.”

Highlight – The story of unconventional discoveries in Texas is told directly from the man at the top.

Kristin Wood, Mesozoic area exploration manager, Shell, talking about “Appomattox Persistence Pays Off in a Frontier Gulf of Mexico Play.”

Highlight – Exploration of Mesozoic reservoirs is leading to new discoveries in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.


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