PROSPEX 2019 Review

By Dean Baker, Senior Geoscientist, RISC Advisory

Now in its 17th year, the PROSPEX conference, run by the PESGB with  the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) as the main sponsor, is a key event in the UK oil and gas industry calendar. PROSPEX 2019, once again held in the Business Design Centre, Islington, provides an important opportunity for networking and to bring together Promote Licensees, oil and gas companies and governments to market their prospects and meet with potential investors. This year’s event was well attended, with a total of 800 attendees and over 60 exhibitors. Always an event of optimism and energy, PROSPEX 2019 was no different, and one really gets the sense now that the recent dark years of our industry are truly behind us. Oil price is likely to be ‘lower for longer’ as is so frequently stated, but the oil price environment has stabilised and organizations have adapted and become more efficient. Exploration is no longer a dirty word.

And so, to the conference and Day 1 was opened with a Keynote speech by Nick Richardson from the OGA outlining the very important role of exploration in the future energy transition. In his presentation Nick outlined the current performance of the UKCS with gradually increasing production volumes and efficiency since 2014, as well as highlighting some of the key changes the OGA have made in order to encourage and promote new activity in the UKCS. It was pleasing to see an increase in exploration well count in 2019 (18) compared with 2018 (7) and the well activity forecast for 2020 suggesting almost as many exploration wells are planned (17).

On the subject of the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables, it is clear that the oil and gas industry will have a huge part to play in supporting this transition. In the UK specifically there is a fine balance to be found between maximizing the recovery from the UKCS and reducing our fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The role of the OGA will be key in facilitating research and collaboration between industry and the government in this regard.

The Day 1 morning sessions continued with some more focused presentations on UKCS discoveries and prospects from various operators and service companies with emphasis on the West of Shetlands (WoS), an exciting hub of exploration activity and still with significant remaining potential. Dr Can Yang of Seismic Image Processing, provided an interesting talk on how a new artificial intelligence – machine learning workflow can be adopted to identify and de-risk amplitude anomaly exploration targets in the WoS, saving time and cost, as long as the input data is high quality and the limitations are understood. Digital technologies are more and more likely to form part of the explorationists tool kit in years to come.

The Afternoon sessions featured presentations covering a multitude of exciting development and exploration opportunities from several sectors of the UKCS and of various stratigraphic horizons. A perfect reminder of the diversity of the geology of the UKCS and the opportunities to unlock value from previously disregarded discoveries and for new ideas and innovation to explore for new plays. Hopefully, these presentations generated some interest in the room and were followed up with discussions at booths and on the conference floor. Day 1 was rounded off with the evening drinks reception, a great opportunity to network and catch-up with old colleagues and friends.

The programme for Day 2 had more of an international focus with morning talks covering the Norwegian Continental Shelf (Torgeir Stordal, Norwegian Petroleum Directorate), The Dutch Basin, Netherlands (Linda Janssen, EBN B.V.), Poland (Piotr Nowak, Polish Geological Institute), Ireland (Hugh Mackay, Europa Oil and Gas and Dr Kara English, Petroleum Affairs Ireland) and the Faroe Islands (Barbara Biskopstø Hansen, the Faroese Geological Society). A summary of UK and Norway exploration trends by Alyson Harding (Westwood Global) was a highlight of the morning session, emphasizing that despite the increased activity success rates have dropped. A reminder that resources are becoming harder to find.

The afternoon sessions featured exploration interests from further afield including Georgia (Angelo Ricciato, GEPlan Consulting), Senegal and Guinea Bissau (Dr Michael Bourne, CNOOC International), Latvia (Thomas Haselton, Odin Energi Latvia), Malaysia (Dr Rahim Masoudi, Petronas) and Croatia (Dr Deepti Bisht, CGC – Geoprospect) amongst others, all of which made for a very interesting and varied Day 2 programme.

Congratulations and thanks to both the PESGB and OGA for putting on another successful PROSPEX conference. Here’s looking forward to exploration success in 2020 and the next PROSPEX conference!