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Our Exploration strategy has five main pillars, one of them being a strategic focus based on the study of key petroleum basins. Basin-mastering teams are sharing knowledge and are assessing plays on specific basins to support basin entry choices to ensure a strong and well-balanced exploration portfolio. We meet Johannes Wendebourg, Total’s Expert for Petroleum Systems, to discuss this concept.

Johannes Wendebourg


What is basin-mastering?

Johannes Wendebourg: Basin-mastering is a way to build a better understanding of the basins in which we work. It is a real challenge as we are sometimes either unfamiliar with the basins in question or - lack crucial data (unless we have worked on them for many years and already have major production from them).

It is similar to what is more widely known in the industry as PBE (Play-Based Exploration), as both involve a shift in focus: plays, rather than prospects, become the basic unit of exploration.

The basin mastering approach has another advantage as it forces us to assemble all we know about a basin. It is therefore also a formidable knowledge sharing and knowledge capitalization effort and will help us to keep and organize our knowledge that has accumulated over many decades.

Why this new focus?

J.W: A play is an area containing hydrocarbon accumulations or prospects of a given type that have a similar geological history and that are genetically related. A successful play will contain a reservoir, a source, and a trap.

If you have identified all the elements of a play, it should work in many different places. Meaning that with your play map, you can map a whole region that may be prospective, not just a single object or a single prospect.

How do you create these play maps?

J.W: There are three independent elements: charge maps, reservoir maps and seal maps. In a play that works, all of the elements have to work. If one of these elements does not work in a particular area, the play there does not work.

To generate our play maps, we use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) extensively because play elements by definition are spatial. So we bring all these elements together in different combinations. By selecting and mixing, it helps us to come up with new observations and insights.

It is a very important spatial tool, as the play maps help us to prioritize and rank areas.

So you can make strategic decisions.

J.W: A play is totally different from a prospect.

A prospect can be identified and mapped from seismic data. In that case, we quantify its geometry and look at its properties such as porosity in order to determine its volume, which allows to determine a prospect risked economic value.

Basin-mastering shifts the exploration focus to regional analysis and play identification which in turn helps de-risk entire areas and sequences of prospects.

It helps us to be proactive: when you have identified a promising play, you can play the forward game and then anticipate the value. So we need to use it to anticipate, not just to react to an opportunity that is offered.

The challenge with a play approach, not just within Total, is that the focus is regional, and in contrast to a prospect very hard to put a risked volume and monetary value on as it involves multiple objects that are mutually and conditionally dependent.

What are the next steps for basin-mastering?

J.W: We aim to introduce the notion of uncertainty when we create play maps. A very popular product of play-based exploration is Common Risk Segment (CRS) maps that use traffic light colors to identify sweet spots. But they are way too simplistic as they may condemn entire areas because they do not include any notion of uncertainty.

Our basin-mastering effort helps to overcome this limitation. A pilot is actually working on that: if successful, we want to deploy it globally.


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