As explorers we often get asked “why bother?”. Many people see play analysis as peripheral to what they believe is the industry’s core business of drilling prospects. This is simply wrong. Anyone with more than 10 minutes of experience in the upstream exploration business knows that looking at separate prospects in relative isolation is a recipe for portfolio failure and consequently understanding the regional context and any relationships between prospects is absolutely key.
This is all play analysis is and it can be done qualitatively or quantitatively but in either case it’s really just the integration of basic geological knowledge in a systematic process. We prefer and recommend quantitative analyses because all decisions in all oil companies I have seen require numeric estimates of volumes, value and risks not subjective descriptors. If you asked your management “for US$20m to farm into a well that looked sort of low risk and should be very valuable if it was successful” you would lose your job. Like it or not numbers matter and the data has to be spatial ,not in a spreadsheet and in collected in a tool that can be updated regularly since data and ideas are dynamic.
The other key aspect of Play Analysis is that the key decision point in most exploration portfolios is NOT which prospect to drill its which BLOCKS or licenses you should focus your efforts on now and ultimately which ones to participate or take equity in (or conversely exit from..). This is a much harder decision given you normally have limited resources and less data and understanding when these decision have to be made. If you access a block and then plaster it with modern high quality 3D then any competent evaluation team can find and drill the better prospects. Yes they will take the credit for the discoveries but it was the decision makers and the quality of the evaluation team and their work at block entry time that in most cases made the difficult and important key decisions years before any discussion of drilling a prospect. Play analysis provides these insights in a structured, calibrated and documented way and its why play analysis is absolutely central to exploration success and not a peripheral sub-science. Hopefully after you have listened to the presentation you will agree…
This paper was presented by Ian Longley and Jeff Brown at the Discovery Thinking Forum at AAPG International Exhibition Conference (ICE) in Melbourne on 14 Sept 2015. The Why Bother? paper is here.