21st century yields big finds

Discoveries ‘Changed the Game’

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
Bob Fryklund
Bob Fryklund

A quick look at some over-the-top field discoveries during the 21st century reveals that “show time” for the petroleum industry is far from over.

AAPG member Bob Fryklund, vice president Houston-based IHS, notes innovative play concepts and technologies have rewarded explorers with game-changing discoveries from 2000 through 2007.

The hydrocarbon finds during this period yielded 121,371 MMbo plus 751.5 Tcf of gas.

In other words, those who have decried a perceived dearth of discoveries may not have been paying enough attention.


  • First up at the start of the millennium was the Kashagan field with 18.1 Bboe, which was the largest field discovery since Prudhoe Bay in Alaska more than 30 years ago. Kashagan put the spotlight on the Caspian Sea region as a critical hydrocarbon resource.
  • The second largest find came about via Petrobras with the discovery of the 6.525 Bboe sub-salt Tupi Field offshore Brazil in the Santos Basin.
  • Brazil’s deepwater sub-salt play extends 500 miles across the Santos, Campos and Espirito Santo basins, according to Fryklund. He noted the play has tremendous upside potential with more than 15 Bboe of reserves reported thus far.
  • Turkmenistan’s Yoloten-Osman field joined the ranks of international game changers when appraisal efforts established super giant reserves there, boosting it to the position of fifth largest gas field in the world during 2008.
  • Domestically, Chevron’s Jack 2 well in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico Wilcox sub-salt play revealed the potential for three to 13 Bboe recoverable in the play. To the north on land, U.S. operators tapped into game-changing resource plays in the Williston Basin Bakken shale oil along with the Haynesville and Fayetteville shale gas plays.
Hail to Shale

In fact, for the past couple of years, the plethora of domestic shale gas play discoveries have became gangbuster headline-grabbing events.

“One of the questions we get asked the most is what happened to gas,” Fryklund said. “In North America, we went from a struggle to stay even to an oversupply.

“The big driver was the shales, the unconventionals,” he said. “Those were the things that weren’t on anybody’s radar screen.”

Shale potential is not confined to the much-heralded domestic plays.

“Shale is the number one source rock in the world,” Fryklund noted. “Where are these critters hiding internationally is what everyone is looking at – and also coalbed methane, which has some better potential internationally.

“Australia is one of the leaders, followed by Indonesia and then South Africa and central Europe,” he said. “They all have strong coal reserves to tap into, with coalbed methane leading the way.

“Shales internationally tend to be deeper, so it may take more thinking about how to get somewhere there at least on the gas side,” Fryklund said. “They’re not quite the lower-hanging fruit that coalbed methane is.”

Looking Ahead

As the industry folks explore for the next game-changing discoveries, both the Arctic and the offshore Mediterranean deserve a close look, according to Fryklund.

He noted the Mediterranean, which has been opened up somewhat via Noble’s discovery wells in the deepwater offshore Israel, could be a giant new province.

If Iraq puts out a big welcome mat for interested companies, the potential for additional major discoveries is huge. From an exploration standpoint, there will be more giants there, Fryklund said, noting that big tender offers currently are in the works.

The search for new super-size hydrocarbon deposits may be a global effort with plenty of room to roam, but don’t count North America out.

“In North America, the money is going into the commodity with the nearer term better price outlook, which is oil,” Fryklund said. “So the companies are changing their portfolio mix to focus more on oil.

“The deepwater is at the top of the list for the big guys and the medium size folks,” he said, “and the costs are coming down for the deepwater.”

Even though the big attention-grabbing story onshore North America has been about gas, this effort is struggling at the moment with low prices and an overabundance of product.

“If you look internationally, things tend not to slow as much because it’s a different business,” Fryklund said. “Instead of rigs being down 50 percent like in North America, they’re down more in the 10 percent range.”

Meanwhile, there’s excitement about discoveries made in 2008.

“If the Brazil subsalt and a few more of the other new discoveries prove up to be the size of the numbers we have now,” Fryklund said, “it would signal for the first time since Kashagan another little uptick in overall giants in discoveries.

“The big question is that much of the money that gets killed when we have a market downturn is the exploration money,” he noted.

“I don’t think we’ll run out of places to look, but we may be taking a pause in our activity.”

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21st Century Exploration: So Far, So Good

The paper “Game-Changing Discoveries Highlight 21st Century Exploration” by Pete Stark and Bob Fryklund will be presented at 1:20 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10, at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Denver.

The paper is the first in the technical session of the same name, chaired by Stark and Fryklund.

Other papers in the session will cover the pasts, presents and futures of:

  • Kazakhstan’s super-giant Kashagan Field in the North Caspian Basin.
  • Brazil’s deepwater subsalt discoveries.
  • The deepwater Gulf of Mexico’s Lower Tertiary Trend.
  • Ghana’s deepwater Jubilee Field.
  • The Haynesville Shale play of northwest Louisiana and eastern Texas.
  • The Bakken Shale play in North Dakota’s Sanish/Pashall Field area.
  • The super-giant discoveries in Brazil’s Santos Basin. 

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