Discovery Thinking: The Role of Creative Thinking, Integrated Technology in Giant Discoveries

Integration and creative thinking were recurring themes in the 2015 Discovery Thinking forums held at the AAPG Annual Conference and Exhibition (ACE) in Denver last month.

Convention Center ballrooms remained full throughout the day as ACE participants flocked to hear their peers share personal stories, anecdotes and lessons learned throughout the “art of exploration” and subsequent technical and business successes.

Morning sessions focused on global discoveries, including East Africa-Tanzania Block 2, the Deepwater Kwanza Basin of Offshore Angola and Israel’s Deep Water Levant Basin.

Afternoon sessions highlighted North American discoveries in the Northern Flemish Pass Basin, the Deep Utica Play in Northeast Pennsylvania and Big Bend Gulf of Mexico.

Game-Changing Discoveries

Tiffany Hopkins, AAPG associate member and regional exploration manager of the Eastern Mediterranean for Noble Energy, shared her experiences with the “game-changing” Tamar discovery in the deep water Levant Basin.

The project started with a rank basin with no wells drilled in the Israeli deep water, beyond the Syrian Arc. Despite common perceptions that the well was not drillable, the Tamar team challenged assumptions and leveraged knowledge and technologies from other basins.

“Having produced the first natural gas for Israel from our offshore Mari-B field, we were confident in both the potential for gas and the ability to develop it for the Israeli market,” she said. “We also had extensive experience in pore pressure prediction from seismic that proved critical in determining the drillability of the subsalt section.”

The next challenge came with developing the Tamar field quickly before the Mari-B’s depletion in order to provide a continuous and reliable natural gas supply to the Israeli people. They achieved their goal by conducting a quick and thorough appraisal of the reservoir and fluid system to ensure reliable production performance.

Hopkins said they knew the project was successful as soon as they started production. The Tamar discovery was even larger than expected, due to an initial underestimation of net pay.

Hopkins credits local partners, the tenacity of individuals from Delek and Noble Energy and integrated geoscience for making the project successful.

The team worked together well, thanks to clear goals and objectives and “a relentless stand for success.”

“Everyone felt that they were part of something great,” she said.

Teamwork, tenacity and pleasant surprises appeared as recurring themes in other talks as well.

AAPG associate member John Shinol shared the story of Colbalt’s search for oil prone pre-salt areas in the Kwanza Basin of West Africa just before major pre-salt discoveries were announced in the conjugate margin of Brazil. The Brazilian discoveries provided confirmation of the Colbalt team’s initial assumptions.

AAPG member Chris Gonsalves of Shell Utica discussed how fundamental regional geology work, integrated with seismic, thermal maturity and rock work gave a new direction to the Utica play.

Pete Stark’s presentation, “The Exploration Dilemma,” provided an overview of new paradigms in 21st century exploration and development.

New topics and speakers were joined by familiar faces, including AAPG Honorary member Charles Sternbach, past Division of Professional Affairs (DPA) president and current AAPG Gulf Coast Section president, who has attended every Discovery Thinking forum since the inaugural session at ACE San Antonio in 2008.

The History

Sternbach created the Discovery Thinking Forum model after attending Jim Gibbs’ 1997 ACE “A Legendary Tale” program -- an event that changed his life, he said.

He sat in the front row, took 10 pages of notes and was inspired to develop a “Legends Panels” for the Houston Geological Society (HGS) in 2000.

After several years of highly successful HGS panels, Sternbach brought the concept to AAPG Annual meetings, and “Discovery Thinking” developed as an initiative of the AAPG 100th Anniversary Committee and the Division of Professional Affairs.

“Basically, geoscientists love to hear other geoscientists tell discovery stories of how they integrated science and professionalism into business success,” he said, explaining why the forums have been successful year after year.

In the past seven years, Sternbach has worked with colleagues AAPG Honorary member Ed Dolly, AAPG member Paul Weimer and AAPG Emeritus member Ted Beaumont to develop the program for ACE meetings and with Paul Weimer, AAPG member Gabor Tari, Peter Baille and others to develop international Forums at AAPG’s International Conference and Exhibition (ICE).

“We have built up quite a ‘rolodex’; and are always searching for discovery talks. We pay attention to talks on discoveries and sign up the good ones,” he said.

“Because of our many relationships, we also hear about brand new discoveries, so we frequently encourage a new talk to be created and presented in the forum. Now that the program has reached a self-sustaining critical mass, we are pleased when explorers call us to volunteer discovery talks.”

For Sternbach, Discovery Thinking forums are successful because they go beyond technical lectures offered by many professional societies and include the integration of both business and technical successes.

“Personally, I think of geologists as the natural integrators. When geologists tell stories of exploration success as they do in Discovery Thinking forums, I think they capture the art of exploration,” he said. “As (former AAPG president and Roxanna Oil chairman) Marlan Downey said, ‘Geology is a science; exploration a business.’ Discovery Thinking forums combine both. I think of discovery as a heroic journey with new actors playing old roles.”

Sharing the Knowledge

These historic journeys are available beyond the AAPG ACE and ICE events. Audio and video recordings of all Discovery Thinking talks are available online at the Discovery Thinking Special Collection on AAPG’s Search and Discovery website. Sternbach said he is grateful to speakers for their willingness to share their “hard won insights” with the AAPG community.

“Imagine if Paul, John, George and Ringo made beautiful music but no one recorded it? Thankfully, we have recorded DT talks in A/V from the beginning,” he said. “Speakers’ generous gifts have contributed to a legacy of discovery, and resources for fellow explorers. I thank them wholeheartedly.”

To propose for future Discovery Thinking Forum topics and speakers, contact Charles Sternbach.

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