The Importance of Guyanese Geoscience Expertise for the Country’s Energy Future
Updated: May 17
15 May 2023 – Georgetown, Guyana – The oil discoveries offshore Guyana Stabroek block by ExxonMobil continue at pace, with a new offshore bidding round in progress. Development of Guyanese geoscience expertise, equipped with the data and software technology to be an equal voice in how the country’s hydrocarbon reserves are managed over their lifetime, will become increasingly critical in an uncertain energy future. There is now confidence in having at least 7 floating production and storage vessels (FPSOs) active offshore by the end of the decade. The current attitude of the government to ‘get it out of the ground’ is aligned to ExxonMobil and its shareholders. While this approach aligns with today’s industry consensus, there is an alternate future, one supported by a number of experts, where oil remains a critical and significant part of the energy mix for decades to come. And this oil will likely increasingly expensive. It is this scenario, where the current approach leaves more than half of the oil in the ground, that the country must anticipate and prepare for. That preparation requires Guyanese geoscience expertise, data, and interpretation technologies.
An Aligned Government and Energy Operators
In a presentation at the recent International Energy Conference & Expo Guyana, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo made clear the government’s thinking as it relates to the pace of the oil exploitation.
Vice President Jagdeo remarked, “The energy policy, if we look at it, the first issue is oil and gas development. We are unapologetic from the government side in saying we want this sector developed as quickly as possible. We want more exploration, we want us to move from proving reserves to developing those reserves and we are working to facilitate that…”
Jagdeo continued, “Our interests are aligned with the oil companies, who want to move and develop these resources quickly, and we want to do so…. There has been a big debate as to when we will reach peak oil….We want to make sure that before that happens, before you see a decline in the fortunes of the industry, that we can get the oil out, and transform…. the resources below the ground to financial resources and deploy those resources in the development process.”
The Vice President provided a concise summary; “Realize the commercial value of the oil as fast as possible, before the uncertain future of hydrocarbons as an energy source plays out.”
This is a great summarizing statement. However, that 'uncertain future of hydrocarbons ' may also be one of continued use at higher prices.
Advances in alternative energies and pressure to reduce hydrocarbon use continue. However, targets that drive declines in hydrocarbon use are well into the future, with a number moving even further. A future where oil demand continues at present levels, or declines marginally over decades is certainly possible. Production rates from reservoirs around the world decline at approximately 5%-7% per year, such that the Guyana addition finds a welcoming environment.
“ExxonMobil is to be commended for developing the Stabroek block reserves at a price range of about USD 28-35 per barrel", commented TOTALTEC CEO Lars Mangal. "However, higher development cost options in design and technology usage could be considered, for example yielding USD 50 per barrel, with longer production life and increased recovery. This situation would likely be more favorable for Guyana."
Mangal continued, "Guyana should work with urgency to have the geoscience competence to investigate, and possibly advocate for such options. This could be in well numbers, types, and positions, or technology used, for example installing artificial lift techniques in the initial well completion."
The Ingredients: Geoscience Skills, Subsurface Data, Software Technologies
The case can be made that Guyana has a major opportunity in oil that will be left in the ground through the current development strategy and production plans of ExxonMobil.
The major operators, driven by their shareholders, will not take this ‘recovery driven’ approach today, rather pursue maximizing accelerated profits.
There are 3 ingredients for Guyana to develop its geoscience capabilities:
To have a voice in such ‘increased oil recovery’ options, it is crucial for Guyana to have deep expertise in geoscience. This requires accelerating the recruitment and training of geoscientists - through private industry, universities - both in and outside Guyana - and government. Government is key. There are a number of options to drive this, in particular through local content legislation.
These Guyanese geoscientists will require their country’s data. The government should establish a center with all of the offshore subsurface data available, with a view to not only monitoring operator activity - presently ExxonMobil, and use in licensing rounds, but also to enable local experts to have a deep understanding of the offshore assets, and have an equal voice in discussing future plans.
The major international service companies offer their geoscience software at no charge to local universities. This is commendable, with the true motivation that local graduates will be familiar with service company software and will be biased in supporting its commercial use once they begin their careers. Examples are SLB Petrel E&P Software Platform and the Halliburton Decision Space 365 on the industry standard Open Subsurface Data Universe Platform (OSDU).
Regarding software technology and data, Mangal remarked, “The major service industry softwares are important for Guyana geoscience experts to master. However, a weakness for Guyana is the availability of data from analogue reservoirs around the world - to learn from, benchmark. With service company softwares, our scientists would only be able to see our own data."
Mangal continued, "ExxonMobil and the major service companies have access to data from reservoirs around the world, including deepwater. They use this knowledge in developing field development and recovery strategies, benchmarking performance, and making decisions, from field development planning through to abandonment. Guyana must find a way to have data from analogue reservoirs around the world. There are options.”
Mangal continued, “An example of a technology that overcomes this is the Digital Analogue Knowledge System from C&C Reservoirs. It contains complete data sets from analogues to the Guyana reservoirs from around the world, and is relatively straightforward to deploy and learn.”
Local Content Legislation and Building Geoscience Capacity
The Guyana local content legislation has an important role to play in developing geoscience expertise. The next phase of the legislation should be crafted to include specific requirements for international companies working in Guyana to train Guyanese in geoscience.
Guyanese today are being trained and working with data and interpretation technologies for the work at hand. However, this is different from developing a group of experts that would represent Guyana in the long term, work in parallel, with international companies. Such a team's role would include understanding various options for exploiting the hydrocarbons, which could lead to challenging operator strategies, ones driven by international company shareholder profitability.
Mangal commented, “Developing Guyanese geoscience expertise is a long term investment and must be driven by the government. Setting local content objectives for geoscience expertise is challenging, but earlier drafts of the legislation provided ideas. For example, there can be ‘shadow positions’ with operator and service sector geoscience experts, or analysis responsibilities required of local experts from the country’s data center, or mentored special projects assigned to government experts. The key is to set local content legislation objectives now. As we have seen, local content objectives gets results.”
Mangal concluded, “Guyana should be prepared for a future with steady oil demand over an extended period of time at premium prices. To realize the opportunities of this situation, Guyanese geoscience experts who can recommend techniques and technologies to recover more oil are required. This will extend the life of our offshore fields and bring significant revenue to the country.”
Background on Oil Recovery Rates
This section provides background and references on the subject of reservoir drive mechanisms and recovery.
The majority of oil wells in the world are on land, and are actually water wells. Water is injected to increase oil recovery, and forms the bulk of the fluid returning to surface, often 90%+ in mature land fields. The wells are basically rinsing the reservoir with very low oil production rates (can be 10 BOPD or less). Land operators have a low cost base, with the flexibility to start and stop production based on oil price. They can change a producing well to an injection well, and vice versa, based on reservoir understanding and experimentation.
Deepwater reservoirs are at the other extreme of production rate and recovery. Accessing deepwater wells over their lives, as production changes, is expensive. A rig is required. Because of this, a production strategy is decided at the time of field development planning, determining the production life and ultimate oil recovery. The goal is to not have to intervene in wells at all - just produce, then ultimately abandon.
Oil recovery in deepwater reservoirs can range from around 10%-50%, depending on geology, development, and production strategy.
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Wiki provides a good reference on various reservoir drive mechanisms and their resulting oil recovery: https://wiki.aapg.org/Drive_mechanisms_and_recovery
As usual, Wikipedia provides a good summary of petroleum reservoirs; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_reservoir
TOTALTEC Inc. is a majority Guyanese owned and operated company focused on the success of the energy industry in Guyana for the benefit of the country, its people, and partner companies. It does this through three areas: people, partnerships, and facilities. Qualified and motivated Guyanese develop through the TOTALTEC Academy, where more than 1,600 have been trained to international standards. Partnerships prioritize products and services that are starting points to grow from, creating Guyanese led companies, for example Jaguar Oilfield Services. Facilities include multi-client offices, open yards, workshops and storage areas operated by TOTAL-BASE Services Guyana Inc., adjacent to Guyana Shore Base Inc. (GYSBI). A complete range of services to onshore/offshore operations is provided on TOTAL-BASE facilities. The TOTALTEC 96% Guyanese workforce includes 6 nationalities with more than 160 years of international oilfield experience. https://www.totaltec-os.com/
The above image is an example of a reservoir analysis using the SLB Petrel E&P Software Platform. The Petrel Platform enables users to interpret seismic data, perform well correlation, build reservoir models, visualize reservoir simulations, calculate volumes, produce maps, and design development strategies to maximize reservoir exploitation.