Petroleum Geology of Northwest Europe: 50 years of learning – a platform for present value and future success.
History of the Petroleum Geology Conferences
The London-based petroleum geology conference series began in 1974. The first conference was described in the foreword to the proceedings of that conference as “the most important and significant geological conference ever presented in the European area, and possibly in the world, in view of the great importance of the North Sea development in the total world energy picture”. The conference was seen as unique because most of the presentations came from the oil industry, rather than from academia, and most of the material was previously unpublished. Proceedings of the conference, edited by Austin Woodland, were published to critical acclaim and were the first of a series that have become essential reference works for geoscientists working the NW European hydrocarbon basins.
Every conference has followed the successful pattern of the first; a conference with outstanding scientific talks and posters and a multi-national attendance of delegates, followed by a comprehensive conference proceedings publication containing ground-breaking knowledge and techniques introduced at the conference.
The first conference was held in Bloomsbury, London and hence the early conferences were referred to as ‘the Bloomsbury conference’ whereas later conferences have been known as ‘the Barbican conference’ although the most recent event was in fact held at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster, London.
The second conference was held in 1980 and as before it was organised by the Geological Society with other organisations including the Institute of Petroleum (now the Energy Institute), PESGB, Institute of Geological Sciences and UK Offshore Operator’s Association. More than 1000 delegates from 12 countries listened to papers describing the emergence of the North Sea as a major oil province. David Howell, then UK Secretary of State for Energy, commented on how the discovery of new oil reserves would depend on new ideas and a fresh approach. His talk anticipated the licensing of previously unexplored deep water areas west of the UK and highlighted the need for new discoveries to sustain UK hydrocarbon self-sufficiency into the 1990’s. As before, the conference proceedings, which were edited by Leslie Illing and Douglas Hobson, formed an invaluable reference volume for geoscientists exploring the North Sea.
The third conference took place in 1986 in arguably the first major downturn experienced by the modern petroleum industry, yet the conference was still a success. In his opening address, Alick Buchanan-Smith, UK Minister of State for Energy, presciently observed the cost in human terms of the industry downturn, with the great loss of skilled personnel from the industry. In the proceedings volumes, the editors Jim Brooks and Ken Glennie commented on the technical and commercial advances achieved by the industry and the progress in understanding the petroleum geology of NW Europe.
The fourth conference was held at the Barbican Centre in London in 1992 and attracted 1,230 delegates including 350 from 15 overseas countries. This was the first event to feature a Core Workshop which proved immensely popular, displaying some 600m of cored rocks. Conference Chairman Jim Brooks observed in his introduction that whilst the major companies had dominated in the early days of North Sea exploration, independents were increasingly involved in the exploration, development and production of offshore fields. Brooks underlined the ongoing North Sea success story; a success owned by all those working the province. The proceedings of the fourth conference were edited by John Parker.
Held in 1997, the fifth conference was the last to be focussed exclusively on NW Europe. Andy Fleet and Steve Boldy edited the two volume proceedings which again provide to be essential reference works. Highlights of this conference were the increasing integration of disciplines – both within the geosciences and of geosciences with other disciplines, the development of 3D and 4D seismic techniques, the development of reservoir modelling and the ongoing refinement of sequence stratigraphic approaches.
The sixth conference in 2003, was the first to explicitly broaden its perspective and content to encompass international activities. Entitled ‘North West Europe and Global Perspectives’ the conference aimed to both import ideas and concepts from the international arena as well as exporting to other parts of the world ideas and concepts developed in the North Sea ‘laboratory’. Editors of the conference proceedings, Tony Doré and Bernie Vining, observed that the continued maturing of the North Sea provinces, first noted in the 1992 conference, had posed exploitation challenges which had lead to many of the advances since the Fifth Conference. A focus on value creation through infrastructure-led exploration, tail-end production and field rejuvenation were new themes for the NW Europe industry. The emergence of gas as a fuel for the future was marked by a section dedicated entirely to gas.
The seventh conference in 2009 built on the successes and format of the previous event with a broader remit and more global focus. The time was right for the Barbican conference series to become more international, sharing insights, techniques and success stories on a truly global basis. The NW European province continued to mature and break new ground, particularly in small pool exploration, development and exploitation. The extensive subsurface datasets prevalent in NW Europe and the response of the industry to the challenges it faced provide a rich stream of valuable models, lessons, techniques and ideas which had both local and international applicability. Hence the focus and content of the seventh conference included sessions on a number of global hydrocarbon provinces as well as sessions on passive margins and unconventional resources, reflecting a truly international and global feel to the event. The conference proceedings edited by Bernie Vining and Steve Pickering supported by a team of co-editor continued the success of previous volumes and yet again marked a major milestone in scientific publications that is widely used and referred to.
The eighth conference will bring the focus back onto the North Sea and surrounding onshore areas, as well as exploration frontiers in the North Atlantic and the Barents Sea. The conference theme will be “50 years of learning – a platform for present value and future success”. It marks a major 50-year milestone since the first UK North Sea discovery of the West Sole gas field. Emphasis will be placed on presentations that will transfer the learnings from the past 50 years in the North Sea and surrounding areas for the benefit of current and future generations. Technical sessions will focus on what we have learned from past successes, finding and developing more oil and gas in both mature basins and new plays, optimising recovery to extend the life of existing fields and re-develop old fields with a look to the future and its challenges. The event will also feature a display and presentations around classic core material from a wide range of fields and discoveries. The eighth conference is a major opportunity to refresh our knowledge and learning from our past successes and use these to look ahead at the challenges of the future and how subsurface knowledge and technology can help explore for new resources, increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the development and production of existing fields and discovered resource – an exciting challenge!
John Smith, the then UK Under-Secretary of State for Energy, commented in his opening address to the first conference in 1974 that “the successful exploitation of North Sea hydrocarbon resources with the new data and technological innovation it will produce, will lead…to worldwide development of offshore petroleum in waters that have until now seemed impossible to work”. The eighth conference is timely as it not only lies close to a major milestone being 50 years since the first UK North Sea discovery- the gas field West Sole but also comes a time when increasing effort is being placed on the efficient recovery of new and existing resources in the North Sea and surrounding onshore areas, as well as exploration frontiers in the North Atlantic and the Barents Sea. It also honours Smith’s observations with the objective of sharing leading edge petroleum geoscience, how by standing on the shoulders of giants we have learned from past successes and used this knowledge to find and develop more new field and resources in both mature basins and new plays and to optimise recovery and extend the life of existing fields and re-develop old fields.