Kemp: Improving the Odds - Why Shale Really is Revolutionary

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The shale revolution will broaden the petroleum industry to include new companies and new countries


LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) – Exploring for oil and gas is like gambling: it's all about playing probabilities, and using technology and skill to improve the odds.

Until a well is bored into the ground – possibly thousands of feet below the surface, at a cost of millions or even tens of millions of dollars – it is impossible to know for sure whether it will find hydrocarbons in commercially producible quantities.

Some exploratory wells prove to be "dry holes" or "dusters". Others find some useful oil or gas but often in only modest amounts. Only a few turn out to be "elephants". Success in the exploration business depends on maximising the number of profitable elephants while minimising the number of costly dusters.

Exploration companies spend a fortune on seismic, gravity and magnetic surveys, as well as acquiring old well records and employing massive computers to crunch all the resulting data to improve their odds of finding large accumulations of oil or gas, a process known in the industry as "de-risking".

Some of the world's fastest supercomputers are owned and operated by companies such as ENI, Total, BP and Saudi Aramco to help search for oil and gas, and are run by some of the world's brightest mathematicians and scientists.

Oilfield services companies such as Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes offer incredible data interpretation and visualisation software to help other firms decide where to drill.

In the end, though, the only way to prove the oil or gas is really there is to hire a drilling rig and wait nervously until it reaches the target depth. With the best preparation in the world, there remains a large element of luck.


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