AAPG Salt Basins Technical Interest Group Interview - Tim Shin

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Understanding the role and influence of salt in the subsurface has been the key to many hydrocarbon discoveries and appraisals and more recently carbon & hydrogen capture and storage, and geothermal interests. Now, AAPG has a new Technical Interest Group, co-founded and co-chaired by Clara Abu (Ph.D Candidate Imperial College), Rachelle Kernen Ph.D., Leonardo Muniz Pichel Ph.D., Clara Rodriguez Ph.D., and Tim Shin, MSc. Welcome to an interview with Tim Shin, one of the co-founders.

Tim Shin
Tim Shin
What is your name and your background?

I am Tim Shin, an Exploration Geoscientist seismic interpreter and salt-tectonics expert in the US Gulf of Mexico Regional New Ventures Team at Total E&P Americas, LLC, co-founder and co-chair of AAPG Salt Basins Technical Interest Group, just finishing my 3-year term as Committee-Member-at-Large of Geological Society of America’s Increasing Diversity in the Geosciences Committee, and an advisory member of the Austin Geological Society.

I received my Special Honors BSc in Geological Sciences and my MSc in Structural Geology & Tectonics from The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences. During my undergraduate I published a paper from my field- and lab-based thesis about very-high pressure/low-temperature metamorphic rocks and associated granitoids in Turkey. I continued in Aegean tectonics studying the brittle-ductile low-angle normal fault detachment systems that exhumed metamorphic complexes using micro- to macro-scale structural geology, field mapping, and geo- and thermochronology using U-Pb in zircon and (U-Th)/He in zircon and apatite.

Tim Shin doing field research for his MS thesis at the Livada Detachment of retrogressed blueschists in the metamorphic core complex of Andros Island, Greece (2012)
Tim Shin doing field research for his MS thesis at the Livada Detachment of retrogressed blueschists in the metamorphic core complex of Andros Island, Greece (2012)

In 2014 I started working as a geologist at Hess Corporation where I worked offshore South Atlantic margins exploration, global lacustrine basins capture & appraisal, onshore Kurdistan exploration of the Kurdish Zagros, shallow water Sureste Gulf of Mexico exploration, unconventional Bakken production & development, and deepwater US Gulf of Mexico exploration. After spending a short stint at a startup as Vice President of Geosciences and Landman at Mountain Lion Oil & Gas, I started working for Total E&P Americas, LLC in 2018 and have worked US Gulf of Mexico exploration ever since. I fell in love with salt tectonics while working Mexico exploration at Hess as I have a deep and intense proclivity for brittle-ductile deformation (as you can see from my MSc thesis).

How did you become interested in geology?

Even though I grew up in Houston I knew next-to-nothing about geology until I was already in college (like most Americans) studying electrical and computer engineering. I finally realized (admitted) that I wasn’t doing what I loved (in my third year!) and a couple of friends of mine suggested that I take a couple of courses in geology . I took Introduction to Geology and Discovery Channel serendipitously was also showing its Fearless Planet mini-series and I was hooked. It was the best combination of everything I loved about science in a magnificent, spatially enormous way that spanned the history of everything.

Tim crooning over a garnet-rich blueschist banding in an eclogite on Syros, Greece in a return to the field for his graduate research (2013)
Tim crooning over a garnet-rich blueschist banding in an eclogite on Syros, Greece in a return to the field for his graduate research (2013)

Over the subsequent 6 years of my degrees, I dove in deeply to many extra-curricular projects: I first researched geomorphological processes using physical models in the lab of wind ripples, river-delta processes, turbid flows, and catastrophic dam removal field work; I researched tectonics in Turkey; delved into Lunar and Martian “geology” and worked at NASA Ames in a field mapping experiment via remote-rover, dipped my toe into oil & gas working the Permian Basin in 2011 for Cabot Oil & Gas, and ultimately got hooked on the energy industry when I interned for Hess Corporation in 2012.

Where have you done field work? Which place was most interesting to you?

I have been fortunate enough to do field work in a variety of places across the north-western hemisphere: Texas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota in the USA; Scotland; Turkey; Greece; Nova Scotia, Canada but have not yet gotten a chance to work in the southern or eastern hemispheres. I enjoy something about all of them but the places where I have been able to observe brittle-ductile deformation and how deformation influences subsidence and deposition from sub-seismic to regional scale have been my favorites.

Tim delineating a high-displacement normal fault in Death Valley while on an industry field course.
Tim delineating a high-displacement normal fault in Death Valley while on an industry field course.
How did you become interested in salt basins?

As I mentioned earlier, I did an early-career rotation at Hess working offshore Mexico in the first round available to international oil companies. A large part of my job was to map and define the structural and depositional evolution of the basin as it evolved due to salt- and far-field tectonics. The complexity of the kinematics and the beauty of brittle and ductile

Please describe a new technology or technique that is making a difference in salt basin exploration and development.

I look forward to major advances in sub-salt seismic acquisition, migration, and imaging coupled with new techniques in physical and computer modeling, and interpretation software which combined with drilling and completions advances will unlock significant potential economic resources with competitive energy densities and carbon footprints. Long-offset broad band and ocean-bottom node acquired data and full-waveform inversion are helping us make significant inroads. Drilling efficiency is continually increasing and the ability to drill and produce 20,000 psi is monumental. I also look forward to the coming step-change that new software, ways of working, and analytics/machine learning will disrupt the way we explore.

What are some of the major challenges with salt basins?

Salt basins are a double-edged sword: some of the most amazing geology and geophysics you may ever get to see but also some of the most complex and difficult geology and geophysics with which to work. Salt basins can be incredibly prolific but discerning the depositional history/environment, structural evolution, trap timing, seal efficiency and timing, and charge and migration evolution become much more difficult when you cannot reliably see the geometry or presence of those elements. Each salt basin comes with its own special set of caveats that are particular to its halokinematic evolution. When you do get to drilling a prospect, understanding your potential pore-pressure fluid gradient is critical for safety and producibility.

Where do you think there will be breakthroughs -- in new basins, improved levels of recoverable reserves, improved modeling and characterization, or other areas? Why?

Breakthroughs will come from utilizing the aforementioned geophysical and drilling advances combined with disruptive technologies in interpretation, modeling, workflows, data science and data management. For example: better utilization of multi-z interpretation of reflectors on which you can actually make fundamental calculations. New resources will be unlocked with creative ways of thinking and “oil finding” by amplifying the “weak signals” in a basin. You get to do this when you spend less time managing your data and clicking and more time thinking.

Please recommend a book or two that you think the readers might enjoy.
  • Salt Tectonics: Principles and Practice. Jackson and Hudec (2017)
  • The Salt Mine: A Digital Atlas of Salt Tectonics. Hudec and Jackson (2011)
  • Structural Geology. Fossen (2010)
  • Salt: A World History. Kurlansky (2002)

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