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1st Subsurface - the TROVE decision support tools for exploration managers

Friday, October 30, 2020

UK subsurface consultancy 1st Subsurface provides the TROVE decision support tools for oil and gas exploration managers based on public data, and a knowledge of what exploration managers would find most useful.

1st Subsurface, a UK consultancy specialising in subsurface management, exploration and asset strategy, is providing public subsurface data 'curated' in a way to make it most useful to exploration managers.

It is able to do this because it has many staff members who are former exploration managers themselves, and so know exactly what exploration managers look for.

Managing director Mike Cooper is a former subsurface manager with E&P companies Lundin and EnQuest. In these roles he had responsibility for subsurface aspects of a number of oilfields in the Central North Sea, West of Shetland and Northern North Sea.

The 20 employees include 'a bunch of former exploration managers from North Sea companies,' Other companies formerly employing his staff include Maersk, Taqa, Centrica and Talisman.

The company works exclusively with released public information - and as a result is able to sell its entire curated TROVE 'KnowledgeBases' to all customers. Databases are structured datasets whereas we refer to TROVE as a KnowledgeBase as the various analytical tools, dashboards and required graphs are built in.

The employees spend time searching and indexing data from wherever they can, including from industry press, competent person reports (CPRs), academic publications and filings with regulatory authorities. All data is indexed back to its source, so there is an audit trail.

One particularly good source of data, on the UKCS, are public relinquishment reports, which are put together when a company relinquishes a certain block and provides what it knows about the block to the regulator.

Supplied as a spreadsheet

All of the data is compiled into enormous spreadsheets, which are available to purchase for permanent use.

For example, all the Central North Sea fields and discoveries data is sold as a 3.21 Gb spreadsheet.

Customers can pay extra for subsequent updates, with an annual charge of around 30 per cent of the initial cost per year. Companies can also just keep using the initial spreadsheet without paying for updates if they wish. 'The advantage of annual renewals is simple - there is diminishing value in out-of-date information' Mr Cooper states.

'Everybody has got Excel, knows how to use it, Mr Gates maintains it, and everyone can take the data and manipulate it,' he says. It is 'like having your own oil and gas Wikipedia on your desktop.'

The data can be provided via geographic information system (GIS), but then people's ability to work with the data is only as good as their GIS skills, Mr Cooper says. 'In our experience, most people can do basic tasks in GIS, but they can't necessarily write the SQL code to investigate complex enquiries.'

For example, if you want to do a task like search through all the North Sea oilfields to find fields with Jurassic reservoirs, containing oil, and which are currently in production, that is a data manipulation task most people would find easer in Excel than in GIS, Mr Cooper says.

1st Subsurface describes itself as an information management company, since it collates vast amounts of data but does not, yet, develop software.

Hubs

A pillar of 1st Subsurface's approach is building tools to help exploration managers work out the best locations for hubs in the North Sea.

Mr Cooper strongly believes that the future of field development will be about picking the right production hubs, taking into consideration the number of fields nearby which can feed into them, and predictions about how long fields will keep producing and how long assets will be in operable condition.

'Hub analysis is the future of mature basins like the North Sea,' he says.

'There are over 1000 discoveries across the North Sea that have not been developed. The UKCS map shows 2400 prospects and leads, while we drill only about 20 a year.'

Some observers ask the question, 'if we can't develop what we have already found, why are we looking for new ones?' The answer is that using analogues found in TROVE, significant new finds will be made, some in large stratigraphic traps or re-thinking non-conventional plays.

The reason that many discoveries are unsanctioned is usually, of course, because of their small size. But if you group together fields with the same sort of hydrocarbons which are in close proximity, you can design new concepts for hub developments.

'The future of the North Sea is hub-based, it has to be, it is the only way we're going to be able to move so many stranded resources forward,' he said.

'The quest is to find economic projects, rather than reporting technical successes.'

The hub analysis tool is also useful for people considering buying or selling oil and gas fields, if they can be better advised about other available discoveries nearby, how big and how far away they are, and what they contain, this adds incremental value.

Indexing

The core work is entering all available data about oil and gas fields, which makes it possible to search for oilfields according to many different parameters.

For example, for every drilled asset in the North Sea, data (if available) is entered about subsurface factors such as resource/reserves size, geological age, oil density, pressure, temperature, depth etc. Data is also entered about operational factors such as asset age, operator, project status, water depth, distance from the hub location etc.

This builds up a database which an exploration manager can use to search for fields with certain parameters.

Many countries provide databases of oilfields in their own territorial waters, but 1st Subsurface's database can be used to search across national boundaries.

So you can see data for UK, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland and the Faroe Islands, on the same map - including every oilfield, gas field and discovery ever made, covering 1500 fields and discoveries. It is possible to look across the North Sea in its entirety, including all the way to the Barents Sea in the north. 'This might be the first time anyone has been able to show this with such a level of technical subsurface detail,' Mr Cooper says.

For example, you can see all the gas condensate fields in the North Sea, or every field which goes into the Forties pipeline, or all the unsanctioned discoveries without maps being truncated at international boundaries.

You can see every discovery / prospect within 30 to 200km from any chosen point in the North Sea, sorted by (say) size, fluid type and pressure regime. This would be useful if you are considering tie-backs to a hub, or where future hubs should be situated.

You can see fields in terms of current remaining reserves (updated Quarterly) and the ultimate recovery, so a measure of how mature they are. This gives a useful pointer to how long they are likely to act as a host for tieback opportunities.

Value from analysis

The analytic tools in TROVE can reveal insights about operations which are not revealed on public data. Here are some examples.

People might be interested to know the remaining reserves for a certain region, and what stage of 'maturity' fields and hubs in that region are in - early, mid-life, late life, decommissioned etc.

You can look at all the production profiles, and extrapolate trends, to predict how long the oilfield looks like it will be operating for, with both oil and gas, and so predict cessation of production, and estimate ultimate recovery and recovery factor.

Estimates of tanker requirements for the entire North Sea, or how much the ultimate recovery will be from a field for recovery factor determination. Individual companies will have this data about their own fields, but when the infrastructure involves a number of fields connected to a pipeline system, it is a different situation.

'We can combine all of that into one view, for somewhere like the Brent province. You can see there's a lot of fields which have either been abandoned or are late in life. There are very few that would be called greenfields.'

You can map trends in pressure and temperature, oil column heights, porosity, permeability, across multiple fields, or multiple fields of a certain geologic age.

You might want to know which fields have the closest analogues to the fields you are looking at, or where the best discoveries are in a certain part of the world.

Companies considering buying an asset can find out more about the assets around it. During an asset sale, exploration and subsurface managers get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of detail in the specific asset's data room. But they will probably not have time to assess all surrounding opportunities there might be for future growth, Mr Cooper says.

Some interesting observations emerge, for example that explorers in one country's waters have found fields at two different geological ages, but explorers in the neighbouring country have only discovered fields of one age, so may be missing out.

In another example, from analysing data from the oilfields in the Gannet complex, it becomes clear from interpreting the production data that the platform is at its limit for water handling, Mr Cooper says. To produce more oil via the Gannet platform, requires reducing produced water either by water shut-offs or increasing water handling capacity (maybe hydrocyclones, possibly subsea separation).

Comparison to other analysts

There are a number of analyst companies active in the oil and gas industry, but they usually provide their insights in terms of finished reports or presentations, rather than making their interpretation available for scrutiny, Mr Cooper says.

But having the basic subsurface numbers, graphs & extrapolated decline curves means that exploration managers, commercial managers and field development planners can assess the quality of the forecast for themselves.

Independent assessment of future production forecasts using consistent analytic techniques offer the most up-to-date and unbiased and systematic reserves estimates.

Other sectors

TROVE databases also cover LNG, renewables, pipelines and terminals, gas storage, energy storage, and CCS (carbon capture & sequestration).

You can also find out about pipeline and terminal status, relevant to a field development and strategic area plans.

The wind farm database is useful to offshore oil and gas companies looking to use renewable electricity to provide power for oil and gas platforms, or generating power from gas offshore, and exploring only transporting the power to shore, via a power cable.

The company also provides TROVE KnowledgeBases for over 100 countries around the world. It has indexed data covering the whole of the African continent, the entire Mediterranean and the whole of offshore Europe, offshore North and South America including the Caribbean & Gulf of Mexico, and Oman to Myanmar. The company's approach to Future 'Wells to Watch' is an innovative approach for both E&P operators and the supply chain. Enabling planners to instantly see worldwide not only the when and where, but what the project entails and who to contact, is every business development managers dream!

TROVE may soon be able to link in data from other analysts - for example a data set about company share price, executive renumeration, so you can see how it compares with booked reserves & resource, is a possible near-term development. Such metrics would enable investors to assess the intrinsic value proposition for a company.



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