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By C. A. Sternbach, past president AAPG 2017-2018

Every 15-20 years AAPG holds Pratt conferences designed to take stock of industry knowledge and plan for future strategic directions. The first conference convened in 1984 “Future Petroleum Provinces of the World”. The second conference in 2000 “Petroleum Provinces of the Twenty First Century” focused on mainly new areas. In 2018-2020, at the dawn AAPG’s second century, an energy renaissance in abundant and affordable energy has reset our thinking. A mood of optimism has replaced fear of shortage and “peak oil” decline. While we continue to explore new frontiers, industry has returned to the world’s richest petroleum bearing basins with an all-out effort to optimize extensive infrastructure using new technology. This is the advent of super basins and impetus for a new series of conferences.

While previous Pratt conferences produced Memoirs 40 and 76, super basins conferences are leaving a legacy of multimedia presentations that can be accessed globally through the AAPG website.

What is a super basin? A basin with 5 BBOE produced and yet to produce, many pays and plays, and substantial infrastructure*. In contrast to rank frontier exploration, super basins are well known basins where technology is the game changer. Super basins combine geoscience architecture, commerciality, infrastructure and above-ground issues in a holistic review. While there are about 900 petroleum bearing basins around the world and 130 or so that qualify as super basins, comparing and contrasting the world’s top 30 super basins enables anticipation of new resources by looking for opportunities in all basins. *Super Basins, Bob Fryklund, Pete Stark, IHS market research paper, 2016.

Super Basins

Onshore basins with unconventional resources are benefitting from engineering breakthroughs in stimulation and recovery. Offshore basins with conventional resources are being revitalized below salt and other barriers by enhanced seismic imaging. Geoscience plays a key role and AAPG members are leading the way.

What can we learn from super basins? Each has at least one active world class petroleum systems where petroleum modeling can be a powerful predictor of “yet to find resources”. The prototype architecture consists of rich source rocks buried by a thick sedimentary section (commonly basin fill clinoforms), capped by a regional seal or series of seals, in a non-leaky setting. Thus, passive margins, rift and intracratonic basins hold two thirds of world’s giant fields. Super Basins like California and Saudi Arabia have many structural traps but few stratigraphic traps. These types of observations are examples upon which exploration programs can be built. The goal of super basin forums is to reveal comparative insights for actionable intelligence.

The Permian Basin is the prototype onshore unconventional super basin. It possesses key geological fundamentals in abundance. In addition, the Permian Basin and other North American basins are a fertile crescent and cradle of technology. They possess critical factors for innovation: private mineral ownership, a strongly networked community, service company partnerships, and immediate rewards for risk taking. The Permian basin offers hard won lessons from more than a decade that include: addressing needs for transport, water source and disposal, sand shortage, and gas oil ratios (from source rock and well interference). Building on this experience, other basins can leapfrog ahead. Where might other Permian Basins emerge?

Super Basins

Our industry is making great progress to improve energy, environment, economics and global security. We are rebalancing our energy portfolio by replacing clean burning natural gas for less efficient energy sources. Alternate energy innovation is occurring, but hydrocarbons have, are, and will play a dominant role in global prosperity for generations to come. The super basin renaissance, just like AAPG’s second century, is just beginning.

Technology transfer

How is technology transferred from “centers of excellence”? Independents, major companies, service companies, and AAPG play important roles. AAPG has instituted a series of conferences, forums, and publications to assist geoscientists. In the last 14 months the speaker has participated in ten events with 4,177 total attendees focused on super basin topics. The third Global Super Basins Leadership Conference is planned for February 11-13, 2020 in Houston TX.

AAPG Bulletin Initiative

Global experts on the world’s richest basins have been proactively recruited to submit articles to the AAPG Bulletin. Currently 8-10 papers are in the works for publication in future issues of the AAPG Bulletin.

  • What makes a super basin special and unique and what can we learn from them?
  • What are the critical geoscience elements that contribute to success?
  • What is the exploration/production history, and what are the major plays with remaining potential—conventional, unconventional, and field growth.
  • What are key innovations in each super basin, these include: adoption of horizontal drilling, hydraulic stimulation, completion and drilling techniques, and seismic imaging that helped unlock the potential and what is needed to grow it further?
  • How do “above ground” issues like politics, access, mineral ownership, and geography influence realizing the full resource potential of each super basin?
  • Will the basin be a regional or global disrupter?

To bring together experts on the worlds richest energy basins to study the geoscience architecture, explore the technology, and to anticipate opportunities in basins that have unrealized potential. To build programs that pack the house, yield economic surplus to AAPG, and create a valuable legacy through written and multimedia archives (videos and presentations).