Discovering new oil and gas resources and bringing them into production requires an understanding of the geological context and its challenges. To respond to the increasingly complex conditions in which the search for new hydrocarbon resources takes place, Total makes use of its state-of-the-art equipment and high level of expertise. Its exploration strategy draws on an ever-expanding knowledge base covering all major oil and gas issues. Today, the Group has all the tools it needs to combine its bold approach with optimized estimates of uncertainties and carefully controlled risks.

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Jean-Christophe Navarre

Exploration

Maximizing the potentiel of the exploration portfolio

Total’s hydrocarbon exploration strategy is based on a broad and diverse portfolio and the rigorous selection of high-potential prospects, with economic profitability criteria considered very early in the process. Implemented to ensure the Group’s exposure to risk is balanced and to optimize value creation, this strategy aims to facilitate the discovery of over 400 million barrels of oil equivalent per year, helping to replenish the Group’s reserves. A further 700 million barrels of oil equivalent should be obtained by acquiring discovered resource opportunities (DRO). The Exploration teams identify and study these opportunities with other Group entities in an effort to assess them and recommend whether they should be acquired.

A geographically and geologically diverse acreage portfolio

Total’s high-quality exploration acreage portfolio is a major asset. Its combined surface area – around 400,000 km2, one of the largest in the oil and gas industry – is in keeping with its O&G potential. This worldwide portfolio is also unusual in that it covers all the major geological environments encountered during the exploration process, whether conventional (rifts and grabens, large deltas, and foothills) or emerging (pre-salt carbonates, abrupt margins, and non-conventionals).

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A rich and diverse exploration portfolio.

Oil exploration: value creation comes first

Total’s exploration potential stands at more than 3 billion boe (risked mean of prospects, Total’s share) and is spread over almost 150 prospects that are considered to be the most robust in terms of value creation. These prospects are assessed using a single method that is applied by all the Exploration Division units, thereby allowing very different subjects to be compared on the basis of multiple criteria that include geological risks and uncertainties, resource volumes and profitability. This comparative method allows the entire portfolio of prospects to be considered so that projects can be selected both on a technical and economic basis when decisions are being made about drilling programs and budgetary allocations. The Exploration Division thereby focuses its immediate attention on those resources that will create the most value.

Carefully balancing risk

There is always a risk that an exploration project may fail, as shown by the global success rate for exploratory drilling operations, which stands at around one in three. At Total, managing these risks involves a strategy that prioritizes proven oil basins – extensive exploration in emerging areas (50%) and intensive exploration in mature areas (25%) – while also ensuring the exploration of new basins receives significant attention (25%). To optimize risk sharing, Total always works with partners when entering a new area.

2016-2018 high-impact exploration program.

A structure designed to perform

The Group’s Exploration Division comprises five highly independent Geographical Divisions (Americas, Africa, Asia-Pacific, North Sea and Russia, Middle East & North Africa & Caspian South Europe), which are supported by three cross-disciplinary functional units. The purpose of this organizational structure is to carry out the exploration program for each area and achieve its goals, to capitalize on regional knowledge (basin mastering), and to build relationships with the other regional players. In order to renew and develop its exploration portfolio, each Geographical Division is responsible for assessing and promoting new exploration acreages and for seizing discovered resource opportunities (DRO).

Total’s exploration portfolio figures in 2015

  • 401,000 km2
  • 52 countries
  • 6 geological main environments
  • Over 3 billion boe (exploration potential)
  • Over 100 top-ranked prospects
  • 43 wells (exploration and appreciation)
  • Finding costs of <$3/boe
  • $1.9 billion budget in 2015 - $1.5 billion in 2016

A three-stage exploration process

From seeking out new exploration acreages to managing exploratory wells, Total’s exploration process closely integrates cutting-edge expertise in the fields of geoscience, reservoirs and drilling, with input from reservoir engineering and production experts and economists during the studies to assess the economic value of projects.

Petroleum geoscience: constantly changing concepts

Oil and gas exploration must now deal with resources that are more difficult to identify and characterize than in the past. To direct oil exploration towards the most promising areas, Total’s geologists constantly improve and redesign exploration concepts so as to better anticipate the existence of prospects. All available accumulated and academic data and geoscientific expert assessments are used to assess the volume of hydrocarbon resources and the geological risks, ensuring that the prospects meet all the necessary criteria for hydrocarbon discovery.

 

6 key criteria for assessing conventional prospects

  • a source bed
  • sufficient quantities of hydrocarbons being generated and expelled
  • hydrocarbon migration pathways
  • a reservoir of sufficient quality
  • a trap
  • a sealing rock

 

An extensive knowledge base 

The international nature of the Group, which operates in every part of the world and in all the major geological environments, means that Total can compile extensive technical databases and continuously add to them. These exhaustive databases are essential for establishing and validating geological concepts. The Group’s knowledge also draws on its global presence to create value: for example, the knowledge acquired in the East Atlantic margin (in the Gulf of Guinea) is applied to Brazil, its “geological counterpart” in the West Atlantic.

 

Capitalizing on knowledge for basins

The geographical organization of Total’s exploration activities is key to the optimal integration of knowledge acquired on any potential or proven oil basin in the world. This basin mastering approach, which allows weak signals indicating the presence of hydrocarbons to be detected more effectively, also facilitates the rapid emergence of new geological themes. Consequently, the understanding of the issues relating to the Vaca Muerta basin (Argentina), made possible by developing tight gases and conducting extensive explorations of the Neuquén basin, has helped the Group position itself in high-quality unconventional resources. It led the Group to opt for shale gas and shale oil exploration licenses, which gave rise to exploratory wells in Argentina that were 100% successful.

 

Integrating all key areas of geological expertise

Total is one of only a few companies whose teams possess all the geoscientific skills needed to carry out exploratory activities, for example in geophysics: seismic data acquisition and processing in highly complex environments; and in geology: sedimentology and interpretation of clastic and carbonate systems, structural geology, organic geochemistry, remote detection, etc.

Gaining in-house proficiency in each of these areas of expertise is key to ensuring and monitoring their integration, guaranteeing the correct interpretation of increasingly complex geological environments, and more accurately describing geological risks.

 

Advanced modelling tools

Digital modeling is an important part of Total’s strategy. It is essential to ensure a better understanding of basin formation and to more accurately assess their potential. For several years now, the Group has been working to develop a 3D basin modeling tool and a stratigraphic and sedimentary modeling tool. Total is also developing the modeling tools of the future in order to “translate” geological concepts into basic physical-chemical processes (chemical, mechanical, hydrological, climatological, biological and diagenetic). The Group aims to improve its ability to model these processes, from the lithosphere to the reservoir, and gain a realistic representation of the deposit structure and the sedimentary facies distribution.

  • High-resolution 3D stratigraphic forward modeling of a platform. Applicable to reservoir scale modeling.
  • High-resolution 3D distribution and quantification of wave energy modeled at the reservoir scale.
  • Result showing the distribution of the bathymetry through time and space.
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New supercomputer: unprecedented computing power

The imaging of complex geological structures involves enormous volumes of seismic data whose processing requires huge amounts of computing power. Thanks to the very latest High Performance Computing (HPC) system, we can improve computing time, increase the resolution of seismic images using increasingly sophisticated algorithms and reduce the level of uncertainty. The HPC resources currently in place make Total one of the world’s leading companies in terms of computing power. HPC constitutes one of the levers that drive the company’s leading position in subsalt imaging, one of the most difficult geological settings to view through seismic imaging.

 

Innovative seismic acquisitions at the lowest cost

The optimization of acquisition parameters is only possible through this unequalled proprietary computing power, particularly in the case of challenging seismic surveys. The savings in terms of acquisition costs stand at millions, or even tens of millions, of dollars per year. Upstream of the seismic surveys, HPC has become essential for carrying out the end-to-end digital simulation of the geophysics process, from the acquisition of data to the construction of seismic images. This process allows the Group to find the best compromise between optimal design and acquisition cost, under the best possible safety conditions and without harming the environment.

This expertise was put to use in Angola during a vast 3D deep-offshore seismic acquisition survey undertaken in 2013-2014 over a 1,500 km2 area. This campaign was one of Total’s two biggest proprietary acquisition surveys in terms of the volume of data acquired and processed (27 terabits). It resulted in savings of around $25 million – the initial cost was estimated at $188 million – obtained by switching from a very dense Wide Azimuth Towed-Streamer (WATS) acquisition operation to two perpendicular and less dense (B-Wats) acquisition operations, while also offering a decisive qualitative improvement in terms of imaging.

 

One step ahead in seismic imaging

Constantly improved by a highly active R&D Division and designed to make the most of HPC to reduce computing time and optimize processing, imaging algorithms give the Group a tangible competitive advantage. For example:

  • Reverse Time Migration, a unique proprietary technology, considerably improves the smart selection of information during seismic depth imaging. Depending on the selection technique used, it is five to sixty times faster than the solutions found on the market.
  • The latest version of FWI (Laplace-Fourier Full Waveform Inversion), which produces a far more accurate and reliable seismic image, can be implemented far earlier in the imaging process and thereby deliver a high-quality velocity model for the first 3,000 meters of the subsoil, often the most critical section on land, and it does so twice as fast as the FWI solutions on the market.

 

Geoscience & Reservoir Integrated Platform

At Total, our geoscientific expertise is enhanced by the integration of major interpretation and modeling tools. Sismage®, a globally recognized seismic interpretation platform, has been extended to become a Geoscience & Reservoir Integrated Platform (Sismage-CIG). The only one of its kind in the oil industry, it is used to manage exploration and development projects, from seismic interpretation and geological reservoir modeling to the interpretation of dynamic reservoir simulations, while also incorporating 4D seismic data.

Thanks to the greater consistency between interpretations and models throughout the studies and the steady progress made in R&D, this integration within a single platform yields faster, more efficient studies, ensuring the ongoing optimization of the interpretation and modeling workflow in accordance with the new geological environments and concepts being studied.

The interpretation module of the Sismage-CIG platform is now the main interpretation tool used by Total subsidiaries and project groups for exploration studies. Its “spatial stacking” module is one of the proprietary tools that place Total at the cutting edge of Direct Hydrocarbon Indicator (DHI) detection, which is an important criterion in the prospect selection process. The Sismage-CIG platform’s geological modeling module allows “streamlined” 3D mesh reservoir models to be produced at a very early stage. These help quantify the value of an oil prospect very early on and better locate discovery wells, so that we can rapidly establish the development scheme.

Exploratory wells: high-performing yet low-cost

Proven expertise in well preparation

Designing exploratory wells that are perfectly adapted to their targets is a difficult process in which Total has built up extensive expertise.

The Group is particularly proficient in the methods for estimating the formation pressure that will be encountered during drilling, which is essential for the preparation of the well program. Based on a seismic velocity analysis, the accuracy of this estimate is vital for the safety of operations. It dictates the well’s architecture and the choice of drilling fluids and makes it possible to adapt safety margins in accordance with uncertainties, thereby contributing to safety and cost containment.

Total has been able to develop specific techniques that are more effective and accurate than those on the market. These techniques have proven their worth in different environments in which pressure variations constitute a critical part of the drilling process.

 

Digital technology used to implement exploratory wells

Mud logging and drilling monitoring benefit from the advantages brought about by digital technology:

  • GOALS (Geology Operations Active Learning System), an immersive simulator developed by Total, improves the training and skills-assessment of the Group’s operations geologists, particularly when facing hazardous situations;
  • a drilling monitoring smartroom allows experts at headquarters to contribute in real time to the coordination of monitoring operations on the most delicate wells from a remote meeting room that is connected to the rig: Total is one of only a few companies to optimize Downhole Fluid Analysis (DFA) acquisitions through decisions made by its fluid experts during operations. This results in fluid characterizations whose quality allows the company to avoid using onerous Drill Stem Testing (DST) in the first exploratory well in certain deep-offshore fields, thereby saving several tens of millions of dollars, while also making the drilling operation safer.

 

Unparalleled laboratory resources

Developed to ensure the right decisions are made as quickly as possible during exploratory drilling operations, Total’s range of “mobile laboratories” is unique: the Quick Analysis Device (QUAD) is used on all exploratory sites to characterize fluids; the Laser Induced Pyrolyzed System (LIPS), used for unconventional resources, is a core analysis tool that quantifies organic carbon and its distribution in the core; and the Hydrogen Sulfide Solid Sampler (HScube), simple and streamlined, is used to characterize and quantify hydrogen sulfide (H2S). These agile resources, which create savings and contribute to the teams’ responsiveness, are complemented by world-class laboratories at the Group’s headquarters, ensuring that we can better understand and assess the quality of the reservoirs and fluids discovered. For example, the geology laboratory has all the equipment necessary to carry out a qualitative and quantitative mineralogical analysis, from the scale of the core to that of the porous network. A gold-standard for conventional resources, it has also become a gold-standard for unconventional resources to help the Group make progress in this strategic area.

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