Geosciences

Early in the history of oil exploration, the anticlinal theory was preeminent: oil and gas weretrapped by uplift in the earth, which formed large oval or circular four-way closures at the surface.

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How the salt dome theory was proven

Early in the history of oil exploration, the anticlinal theory was preeminent: oil and gas weretrapped by uplift in the earth, which formed large oval or circular four-way closures at the surface. The salt dome theory was a subset of the more general anticlinal theory. It proposed that oil and gas would be trapped in and around much smaller structures, hills created by salt-cored uplifts.

The theory was proved correct on January 10, 1901, outside of Beaumont, Texas, at a prospect called Spindletop. Pattillo Higgins first recognized the potential at Spindletop. The area had sulfur-laced water and routinely released natural gas. His simple observation of the natural world and perseverance led to the discovery.

That onshore gusher proved that production from a salt dome was possible and led to an expanded search for oil along the US Gulf Coast and eventually outward into shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the industry's premier touchstones, and this year geoscientists celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Spindletop oil discovery.

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Spindletop opened the US Gulf Coast to oil and gas production and created an era of inexpensive liquid fuel. At 10:30 that morning, pipe flew out of the wellbore, the entire rig shook, and the terror-struck crew fled in search of shelter. A stream of crude 6 in. wide burst out of the wellbore and topped the crown of the wooden derrick. We might wish now that natural gas that propelled that oil flow (estimated at 100,000 b/d), but the indelible "gusher" image is a heritage for us all.

Optimism the key to geological success

"The only real tonic (to the industry's lingering 1980s malaise) is optimism. Geologists are in an integral position to create that optimism. Do not be afraid of the naysayers. Faith, determination, and a strong will to win are the keys to success. The one factor that the explorer must have to succeed (is) the strength of his convictions to take a chance. Have no fear, continue and you will find your success."

Such were the words of Michael T. Halbouty, President of Michael T. Halbouty Energy and a Beaumont native son, addressing geologists at a field trip to Spindletop sponsored by the Houston Geological Society. Extensions of technology have tamed the gushers, but the thrill of success is still present. When the well is tested, the flow shakes the rig with a rumble and roar as the jetting flare lights the sky. This is the experience that propels us in our search for new resources. It is proof of our concepts and humbling to those who doubted.

Insist that your management allow you to experience a flow test on your next prospect. It connects you with our wildcatter heritage and infuses purpose into the quest for crude.

Life-cycle cure

As early oil industry practices show, humans have done a lot to churn the upper layers of the earth and use its elements for civilized purposes, often leaving behind a mess. However, the earth's physical system recycles everything over time and wastes nothing. Wastes from one activity are basic inputs into other processes.

This cyclicity is gradually being extended to industrial processes, as society requires us to shorten the natural cycles. Allowing nature to corrode or reprocess byproducts has limited acceptance. Industrial items and wastes will need to be fully accounted in the life-cycle economics of all future activity.

This life-cycle maxim is being applied more and more to oil field equipment and products and is driven by the need for accountability for the long-term effects of their use. This sensitivity to and enhancement of natural corrosion and redistribution processes adds to project costs. As long as society will accept the additional expense and pay for its implementation, recycling will go forward.

In the short term, it will limit the number of fields developed to those that can carry the extra cost burden. The tools and equipment we employ, as well as the byproducts, will eventually develop into full life-cycle processes that use wastes as inputs. It happens now, but the conversion is not fast enough for many of our societies.


EXPLORATION

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West Greenland well
Although the Quelleq-1 off Greenland was a duster, there was encouragement. Late Cretaceous age sandstones were found at the bottom of the 2,937-meter hole. These sandstones prove that reservoir rock exists off the coast and sets another piece of the basin's puzzle in place as exploration of the region proceeds.

New Zealand survey
A joint venture between the Institute for Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd. and TGS-Nopec plans to gather a 2D grid of data in the Taranaki Basin northwest of the northern island. The shoot will occur in 200-2,000 meter water depths and cover 7,000 line-km on a 10-km grid. The grid will be tied to five existing wells on the shelf.


TECHNOLOGY

Contracted services
Online equipment procurement is just getting established as a new business process to reduce costs. The next step is to streamline the bidding process for contracted services. In January Enterprise Oil plc conducted the first sealed bid tender for seismic services via theoilsite.com plc out of London. A digital "key," issued to potential bidders, unlocks the Internet software so that tender documents can be downloaded and bids can be uploaded.

Multiprocessor power
Spectrum Energy and Information Technology of Houston, Texas, is expanding its 200 CPU supercomputer cluster to 1,200 CPUs, creating the world's 17th largest supercomputer. The extra processing power will be capable of 0.96 teraflops that can run under either Windows NTtrademark or Linux operation systems.

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