Interview with Deet Schumacher and Gary Rice: Hydrocarbon Microseepage and Improved Exploration and Development of Reservoirs

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

The earliest oil fields were found after explorationists drilled where they saw oil seeps on the surface. Now, new technologies and techniques can make microseeps visible and, as in the earliest discoveries, point to where oil may be found beneath the surface.

Welcome to an interview with Deet Schumacher and Gary Rice, conveners of AAPG’s Hedberg Research Conference (Hydrocarbon Microseepage: Recent Advances, New Applications, and Remaining Challenges) to be held June 18 – 20, 2019.

What is your name and your background?

1) Dietmar (Deet) Schumacher is Vice President for Geosciences and Technology for E&P GeoField Services, a Paris-based company providing surface geochemical exploration surveys and other geological E&P services worldwide. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Geology from the Univ. of Wisconsin (Madison) and his Ph.D. from the Univ. of Missouri (Columbia). Dr. Schumacher has had 10 years in academia, and 20 years in exploration with Phillips and Pennzoil, and the last 20 years providing geochemical exploration data and services. He has a long-standing interest in the exploration and development applications of petroleum geochemistry, particularly geochemical and non-seismic hydrocarbon detection methods. He has organized and taught an industry short course, Geochemical Exploration for Oil and Gas, for AAPG and other organizations and individual companies. Schumacher has edited several significant volumes on petroleum exploration, including AAPG Memoir 66 (1996), “Hydrocarbon Migration and Its Near-Surface Expression”, and “Surface Exploration Case Histories”, published jointly by AAPG and SEG in 2002. Dr. Schumacher is a Certified Petroleum Geologist (CPG-4301), a member of the AAPG and CSPG, and a past-president of the Houston Geological Society.

2) Gary K. Rice is President, of GeoFrontiers Corporation in Dallas. GeoFrontiers develops and applies geochemical exploration technologies for petroleum exploration worldwide. Prior company experience includes Texas Instruments, Geophysical Services, Inc., and Halliburton Geophysical. Professional Affiliations include the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Dallas Geological Society, and the American Chemical Society.

What are microseeps and why do they matter today?

Hydrocarbon seepage is common and it occurs from mature source rocks, from petroleum accumulations, and along migration pathways; there is a spectrum of seepage types ranging from the visible oil or gas seeps at one extreme (macroseepage) to invisible but chemically detectable discharges of gases and/or liquids at the other extreme (microseepage). The majority of oil and gas accumulations have a surface geochemical expression, and it is microseepage that forms the basis of the majority of geochemical and non-seismic hydrocarbon detection methods.

If you are in the business of finding and producing oil and gas, you should have more than a passing interest in the range of hydrocarbon detection methods available to you, whether you are working in mature basins or frontier basins. When these methods are properly applied and integrated with other exploration data, these integrated results can reliably predict 70-80% of commercial discoveries before drilling, and 90% of dry or non-commercial prospects before drilling.

What are some of the new technologies involved with them?

Almost everything at the conference will be about new technology and applications. These include advanced satellite remote sensing techniques; airborne radiometrics; UAVs onshore and offshore; DNA fingerprinting; machine learning; gas chimneys; biogeophysics; seep-induced magnetic anomalies; deep penetrating radar; assessing fault seal integrity and caprock efficiency; data integration methods, and methane microseepage on Mars.

Are new discoveries still being made using microseeps?

Yes, new discoveries continue to be made. Exploration case histories being presented at the Hedberg include Australia, Argentina, Azerbaijan, USA, Ukraine, Kuwait, Iraq, Senegal, Lower Congo basin, India, offshore China. Please describe some recent cases.

Exploration case histories being presented at the Hedberg include Australia, Argentina, Azerbaijan, USA, Ukraine, Kuwait, Iraq, Senegal, Lower Congo basin, India, offshore China. Published case histories are not not very common since the work we service providers do for private companies tend to be proprietary. E&P GeoField Services, for example, has conducted geochemical surveys in more than 60 countries. In 2002, he AAPG published Studies in Geology #48 titled Surface Exploration Case Histories. It is a compilation of case histories using geochemical and non-seismic hydrocarbon detection techniques, onshore and offshore.

Can microseeps be used in developing shale plays? How? Where?

The pervasive nature of hydrocarbon microseepage, its predominantly vertical migration, and migration rates up to one meter per day are all characteristics that can be applied to evaluating shale plays. So is the fact that intensity of microseepage relates to reservoir pressure, and when pressure declines due to production (such as after fracking), that should result in a reduction in microseepage from the increase initially observed due to fracking. Those frac stages being effectively drained should display a reduction in microseepage over time, just as has been documented during repeat geochemical surveys over producing fields and waterfloods. The shale producers I have spoken with have shown little or no interest in adding microseepage to their tool kit…. especially when they realize it is natural seepage (“leakage’) that results in the microseepage of hydrocarbons to the surface...

What do you think are highlights of the Hedberg?

The Hedberg will be a research conference reporting actual research from individual companies and academia from around the world. Presentations will be made by some of the leading researchers in their field. The research results being reported are not merely academic but have direct applications to improving exploration and development efficiency.

Topics such as improving pre-drilling predictions of hydrocarbon charge or assessing caprock effectiveness or fault seal integrity have very practical consequences.

Why should someone attend?

If you are in the business of finding and producing oil and gas, or just want to learn more about hydrocarbon migration, or about hydrocarbon detection methods and their applications to exploration and development, then this conference should be of considerable interest to you.

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