21 February, 2024

EMD is the Home to Exploration

A call to join two active and impactful Energy Minerals Division Committees, Tight Oil and Gas or Gas Hydrates, and a request to be open to change as AAPG reorganizes. 


A call to join two active and impactful Energy Minerals Division Committees, Tight Oil and Gas or Gas Hydrates, and a request to be open to change as AAPG reorganizes. 

I’m writing this column on a cold winter day in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Walking around its snowy streets, it is hard not to be inspired by the towering columns, the stony statuary, the engraved words of our greatest leaders or the engraved names of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

This is not to say that D.C. has a monopoly on good ideas or on the DNA needed to build the future. While not a native Kansan, I am a person currently experiencing Kansas. You might not realize it, but there are many threads of our national mindset that derive from the Sunflower State. “We’re not in Kansas anymore” is invoked when we are out of our comfort zone and “There’s no place like home” is the mantra we might recite when we need to return mentally to that place of safety. “Home on the Range,” the state song, is shorthand for the journey that takes us to the frontier to build a new home – its loping tune implies that the path to that new home is not a giant leap, but rather the summation of a thousand steps, one after the other. You might be less familiar with the motto Kansas swears by: “ad astra per aspera,” or “to the stars through difficulty.” Kansas recognizes that the sky is not the limit and to get to the stars takes hard work. It’s the spirit that got Amelia Earhart, not just to learn how to fly, but to go somewhere.

While we AAPG members tend to focus our ambition and exploratory zeal downward, I think we can all agree that oil and gas development can require the same integration of science, engineering and capital–and the scales of investment and development of our international energy industry have dwarfed what we have invested in space.

AAPG’s Energy Minerals Division is home to those who want to explore the frontiers of geological energy production and put in the hard work to realize the value of these deposits. In this quarter’s EMD column, I’d like to highlight two of our EMD resource committees: the Tight Oil and Gas Committee and the Gas Hydrates Committee.

While the current energy transition seeks to move away from emitting carbon into the atmosphere, the natural gas in both of these resource families represents among the lowest-carbon-intensity hydrocarbon fuel that is produced today and thus has been a part of many countries’ and companies’ efforts to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

Tight Oil and Gas

The development of new oil and gas resources from formations previously viewed as “tight” has been the most significant success story in the global hydrocarbon industry of the last 20 years, making areas like the Barnett, Marcellus, Bakken and Eagle Ford among the most vibrant geographies in our industry and breathing new life into places like the Permian. The development of these deposits has turned the United States from a hydrocarbon importer to a net exporter and changed the balance of the global petroleum industry.

While this has been a huge success, numerous questions remain about the geology, geophysics, petrophysics, engineering and economics of producing hydrocarbons from these tight formations. However, the environmental consequences of shale gas extraction have sparked debates concerning water usage, water contamination, air pollution, the release of methane during production and induced seismicity from both the frac’ing process as well as from associated deep wastewater disposal. Policymakers, regulators, scientists and industry stakeholders are exploring ways to mitigate the environmental risks associated with tight oil and gas development while ensuring the continued abundance of this inexpensive energy resource. This Committee tracks developments in these areas of technical and social interest for the benefit of AAPG members. Contact Lucy Ko ([email protected]) for more information on how to join this vital community!

Gas Hydrates

Also known as clathrates, methane hydrates, methane ice or “the ice that burns,” this truly enormous (up to 10 million trillion cubic feet globally) but low-density type of hydrocarbon deposit is found predominantly in continental margin sediments, though it can also be found in permafrost regions on land and in deep lakes as well. In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy management estimated a mean 51,000 TCF of natural gas was present in marine sediments on along the coasts of the Lower 48 United States. USGS estimated about 54 TCF off the North Slope of Alaska in 2019. These deposits consist of a methane molecule in a cage of water-ice.

Researchers are working to better understand the dynamics of hydrate formation and develop technologies that can safely and efficiently extract methane from these deposits. Concerted exploration programs for marine gas hydrates only really took off in the 1990s. Today, drilling and production programs have studied gas hydrates off Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, India and China as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, but new drilling tests are needed to verify engineering simulations of production-scale operations. New drilling and completions technologies are needed to access these unique deposits and produce them economically while minimizing sand and water production.

As the demand for energy persists, the exploration and exploitation of gas hydrates is likely to get attention in discussions around energy security and sustainability for countries around the world who do not have traditional petroleum resources in abundance domestically. Striking a balance between harnessing the economic benefits of gas hydrates and addressing environmental challenges is a complex task that requires careful consideration and ongoing technological advancements in the energy sector.

Recently, members of EMD’s Gas Hydrate Committee have contributed to two special issues of AAPG Bulletin as well as contributing presentations to AAPG’s International Meeting for Applied Geoscience and Energy and the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting. Their recent mid-year committee report was posted on the EMD page of the AAPG website. Contact Tim Collett ([email protected]) for more information about participating in this group’s efforts!

Be Open to Change

I will finish this quarter’s column by encouraging you to keep an open mind about organizational change in AAPG. I recognize that change can be scary, and it is OK to feel scared about change at AAPG.

Reorganizations are nothing new to our industry and yet, AAPG is fundamentally organized in the same way it was when I joined more than 20 years ago. Are we that sure we had it all figured out so long ago? Or can we be humble and recognize that our organization needs to grow and change? We must be creative in meeting the challenges of the times we live in, because anything else is simply unacceptable. If we want to be a “we’ve always done it that way” organization, we will go down in history with the Pony Express, Pan-Am and Sears. I guess, at least if sorted alphabetically, we’d be at the front of the shelf. However, if we are the organization of growth-minded explorers who have consistently found the vital resources that our global society has asked of us, then we need to grow and change. I am excited to see the AAPG that emerges, because I think we will be better equipped to help our members, to communicate cutting edge science and engineering among our members and to find the resources our society needs.