Innovators in Geosciences Series

Fracturing Modeling Breakthroughs: Interview with Ahmed Ouenes

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Fracture modeling has become a vital part of successful drilling, completion, and ongoing stimulation of shale plays, as well as other unconventionals. It is also important in optimizing recovery in mature fields. Welcome to an interview with Ahmed Ouenes, CEO and Founder of FracGeo.

What is your name and your experience in the oil industry?

My name is Ahmed Ouenes and I am the CEO and Founder of FracGeo. I was trained in France as a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer and discovered the oil industry by chance when I had to do my military service. Instead of joining the army, the French oil company Elf-Aquitaine (acquired by Total in 2000) offered me three options to conduct research either at UT Austin, Stanford or New Mexico Tech in Socorro. I am glad I went to Socorro and discovered the oil patch. In Soccoro, NM, I had the chance to work with great minds in wettability, gas storage, geostatistics, hydrology, EOR, and drilling. Never looking back, I stayed in the oil industry through booms and busts leveraging my multidisciplinary training to solve a wide variety of reservoir modeling problems to help E&P companies survive and thrive under any economic conditions. I have introduced many new concepts in reservoir modeling with extensive published field validations and made these techniques available in commercial software so it can be used or reproduced by others. FracGeo is my fifth technology start-up, and focuses on new reservoir modeling concepts to address urgent industry challenges in unconventional reservoirs by creating a new technology that facilitates the simultaneous and seamless use of Geophysics, Geology and Geomechanics (3G) to address production and completion engineering challenges.

What are some of the areas that you have focused on in the last 5-6 years?

When I started working on tight sands and CBM in the 90’s I would never have suspected that the fracture modeling technologies we were developing at that time would play a major role in the shale revolution. For the last 6 years, I have been focusing on applying these unconventional technologies to improve the production from shale reservoirs by identifying the geologic and geomechanical attributes that drive production. Unfortunately our geologic and geophysical modeling approaches developed so far were not sufficient to address all the intricacies of unconventional reservoirs so we had to create new technologies leveraging the use of geomechanics for the naturally fractured shale reservoirs.

What are some of your most compelling “lessons learned” ?

Never underestimate the complexity of the subsurface. There is no way one discipline or expertise or person alone can bring a solution to a subsurface problem. The herd mentality and excessive marketing of dubious solutions is the biggest danger to our industry which today suffers even more from a lack of well-rounded experts to develop or evaluate new solutions.

Which techniques, procedures, and new technologies have made the most difference?

The introduction of 3D seismic has allowed us a glimpse into the complexity of the subsurface. Despite its very limited use outside structural interpretation, the benefits of the 3D seismic, especially when combined with well data using geostatistical methods, continues to provide critical information to drive the efficient development of reservoirs. We have also found that the simple use of seismic structural attributes as input to fracture geomechanical simulation provides the means to quickly estimate the local stress gradients which control the performance of frac stages in unconventional reservoirs. 3D seismic is the gift that keeps giving and geomechanics is now improving completion performance as it did previously for drilling performance.

What do you see as the main challenges right now that could be impeding progress in developing new technologies or encountering “break-through” science?

The main challenges preventing the development of new technologies are three fold:

  1. Lack of multi-disciplinary training and experience in different science and engineering disciplines: all of our challenges and problems involve multiple disciplines and the silos imposed by our training and our organizations are preventing the cross-pollination of ideas that allow the development of global solutions.
  2. Lack of time and budgets to explore alternative scenarios including what may seem today as unlikely solutions. Our challenges are becoming more complex and require a deeper understanding of reservoirs which necessitates very thorough investigations that last even up to 2-3 years. Too much attention given to quarterly results has compromised long-term vision in a volatile price environment. With government research funding dramatically reduced, it is very unlikely that there will be a Moonshot project in the oil industry anytime soon.
  3. A conservative industry that has a long technology adoption cycle and that also tends to forget that it is the small start-ups that create most new technologies.   Our industry is very slow in adopting new technologies and tend to gravitate towards the large players perceived as low risk and safe bet solutions even if they are totally inadequate. Unfortunately, these large players have proven their inability to create new technologies and they tend to copy or buy technologies from the small start-ups that have to find the resources to create, prove and grow the new technologies. This is not a fertile environment for creating new technologies since the resources may not be used where the returns on investment are higher.
What do you do to think creatively? Do you have any special tactics?

To think creatively in the context of new industrial technologies it helps to have a strong and genuine interest in math, science, medicine, business strategy, and the status of human conditions. This strong interest requires spending a lot of time reading about these topics and connecting to the world and seeing how people are solving problems to improve human lives. Everything starts by identifying a problem, then finding how other people are trying to solve it and finally using your skills and teaming up with others with different backgrounds to find a solution. There is no magic bullet and one has to read a lot, travel a lot and hang out with smart and humble people of different backgrounds.

What are the technologies that seem to hold out the most promise in the near future?

Artificial intelligence and what is called today data analytics are technologies with real potential that is yet to be realized. Practical and fast methods to compute and use in reservoir modeling high resolution seismic attributes that combine the benefits of common standard seismic with well logs will continue to provide a competitive edge to a few companies.   Reservoir geomechanics will become a fundamental and cornerstone discipline for unconventional reservoirs.  Finding the best computational methods to solve the new reservoir geomechanical problems may take the industry years of trial and error. So far the meshless Material Point Method (MPM) seems to be one of the most promising computational method.

Can you recommend any books to read or listen to?

I highly recommend reading Alex Epstein “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels”

Find out more at Making Money with Mature Fields.

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