The AAPG Search and Discovery forum is designed to highlight new discoveries that have surprised the industry and provided important learnings for geoscientists for future exploration. The SNE discovery, in particular, is one such example which was not seen by the industry despite many years of study in the basin and was (wrongly) considered a high-risk exploration well when identified.
Two new deepwater wells were completed by Capricorn Senegal, a subsidiary of Cairn Energy, in 2014 offshore Senegal. These were the first deepwater wells in the country (excluding Kora-1 in the joint administered AGC). Both these wells are significant new oil discoveries and open new plays in the region. Both these plays were in an area of the world (NW Africa) that was receiving close attention from the Industry especially since the Jubilee discovery by Kosmos in Ghana. What is significant is that neither play was identified by the operators who had operated the blocks from 2004-12 and done extensive geological work. Furthermore, the plays were not initially discovered by booming amplitudes as many of the most recent large play openers have been (in Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique, Guyana, and Tortue in Mauritania) although amplitudes did help to de-risk the play to some extent after the play was identified. Although Conoco and Cairn both identified the Fan play, no company apart from Cairn identified the SNE play, and almost all companies saw the subsequent wells as extremely high risk. Why was this, and what are the lessons learned for successful exploration?
Subsequently Cairn and partners have drilled eight appraisals on the SNE discovery (two with further exploration targets) which have increased STOIIP estimates and progressed the discovery towards commerciality. Cairn has a 40% Working Interest (WI) in three blocks offshore Senegal (Sangomar Deep, Sangomar Offshore, and Rufisque) ConocoPhillips had 35% WI which it sold recently to Woodside, FAR Ltd 15% WI, and Petrosen, the national oil company of Senegal 10%.
To be the first company to open a new play is one of the most significant ways to create value in Exploration. Although one in four new plays may be serendipitously found, it is known that the primary key to success is completing full geoscientific analyses of basins on a regional scale with the integration of as much data as possible. Play based evaluations are complimented by rigorous competitor intelligence and regular
government engagement. All companies must have an independent quality assurance process with the appropriate disciplines and correct experience levels in the QA/QC team and the ability to harness the widest range of experience and knowledge from within their companies. Ideally a management that has geoscience experience, or trusts its geoscientists and the process, is essential. Too often geoscientists miss opportunities through cognitive bias or not fully and properly integrating the data. In many cases in-experienced staff are sent to data rooms and have time only to listen to the operators (sellers) point of view. The danger (and hence higher risk) of farm-ins is always the limited time for evaluation and so a good regional understanding is important. With integrated geoscience, strong accessible technical capabilities, and advanced insight Cairn has opened up the West African margin between Senegal and Sierra Leone and these discoveries should act to significantly enhance the economy and benefit the people of Senegal in the long term.