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Redrawing the map of oil and gas exploration potential – a goal as stimulating as it is demanding – is also crucial for the world’s future energy supply. We are mobilizing the very best of our geology expertise to attain it.

Stéphane Raillard


Reconsidering and expanding our exploration acreage

A major challenge for our R&D teams is to update our geological concepts and turn them into meaningful tools that will expand our exploration horizons. This requires reconsidering the potential of proven reserves and figuring out which structures are likely to offer the greatest potential as new petroleum provinces.

We are taking a new look at the fundamentals of petroleum geology (structural, sedimentary, and fluids concepts) by setting them against our understanding of the overall geodynamics of sedimentary basin formation. Our aim is to rethink the conditions conducive to the formation of petroleum systems and reservoirs, in light of recent advances in the Geosciences. This new understanding will guide our exploration efforts efficiently toward the discovery of new types of plays or petroleum provinces.

From defining innovative geological concepts to multi-scale modeling of the processes involved in trapping hydrocarbons, our R&D efforts are underpinned by a chain of excellence. The overarching aim of the work under this Program is to optimize our management of risks as well as costs.


We are approaching the challenge from three main angles:

  • A comprehensive – multidisciplinary and multi-scale – grasp of the Geosciences, drawing strongly on our modeling and simulation capabilities;
  • An “open R&D” philosophy that allows us to build ambitious partnerships with world-renowned research institutes for periods of five years or more;
  • A pooling of large volumes of high-quality field data provided by oil and gas operators in disciplines ranging from drilling to 2D and 3D seismic, within the framework of these partnerships.

Program priorities

The research under this Program focuses on three high-potential topics consistent with the exploration strategy of Total’s E&P branch:

  • Continental margins from the conventional offshore to the distal regions, highly complex zones that have become major targets of exploration and production activities;
  • Carbonate reservoirs, which are mostly of biological origin and are estimated to account for some 30% of global Yet-To-Find (YTF) resources;
  • Onshore convergence systems from intracratonic basins to foothills, which are still among the least-explored domains in the world.

Four R&D Projects

The Program is organized into four R&D Projects. Three of these are dedicated to updating the geological concepts that apply to the Program’s priority topics.


From Rifts to Passive Margins

This Project aims to acquire comprehensive knowledge of continental margins, the transition zones between land and the ocean floor. It focuses on understanding critical events, geodynamic evolution and the filling of sedimentary basins, complex traps and reservoirs.

The research conducted under the PAMELA program (for PAssive Margin Exploration LAboratories) feeds into this Project. PAMELA is co-led by Total and the French oceanographic research institute Ifremer, and involves a network of academic partners. It is an extensive and multidisciplinary program dedicated to the study of margins and catchments (as sediment sources), and also covers sediment deposition areas in the deep offshore.  It will pave the way to important scientific advances by acquiring new types of data through a series of surveys that total several hundred days at sea.


From Convergent Margins to Foothills

For compression zones, revisiting what we know requires us to gain an overall understanding of mountain ranges to improve our ability to predict the hydrocarbon potential of foothills, which are formed by folded sedimentary layers.

To refine our existing geological concepts and formulate new ideas concerning these structures, we are drawing in particular on the Orogen research project, which we are pursuing in partnership with the BRGM (Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières, the French geological survey) and academic research. The Orogen project focuses on the Pyrenees mountain range, its sedimentary basins and fluids of all origins.


Carbonate Exploration

The team of geologists working on this Project is developing innovative concepts. When coupled with a geophysical interpretation tailored to the carbonate context, these new concepts will enable us to meet the major challenge of carbonate exploration, namely, identifying which basins are likely to contain carbonate systems with high reservoir potential combined with prolific petroleum generating systems.

These studies bring into play a multidisciplinary approach spanning geodynamics, climatology, oceanography, physiography, geochemistry and more. The aim is to understand and calibrate the parameters that govern the distribution of carbonate reservoirs around the world. The Project is expected to improve our understanding of the physical and chemical processes that occur at the scale of sedimentary basins, to guide exploration efforts efficiently toward new targets and provinces.


Exploration Earth Modeling

The ambition of this Project is to translate our geological concepts into fundamental physical-chemical processes to make them easier to model and allow us to better predict what the reservoirs contain.

This multi-process approach (chemical, mechanical, hydrological, climatological, diagenetic, biological, etc.) is used in conjunction with models on multiple scales ranging from the global lithospheric scale to the reservoir scale. At stake is our capacity to achieve more realistic, more accurate simulations.


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