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New research may save millions in exploration costs

CSIRO : 14 July, 2003  (Technical Article)
A new technique, applied to oil exploration for the first time, has the potential to save exploration companies millions of dollars in wasted effort. The approach uses, a highly sensitive method of determining the thermal history of the rocks in the Earth's crust, from which oil is generated. Petroleum companies need thermal history information to assess the most likely prospects to drill, or perhaps more realistically, where not to drill.
The technique, called U-Th-He thermochronology, first developed by academia, is now being implemented by scientists from CSIRO and Geotrack International for application in the petroleum industry.

'This method has the potential to save companies millions of dollars in wasted exploration effort by enabling them to withdraw earlier from unwarranted drilling programs,' says Geotrack scientist Dr Paul Green.

'What we do is to save time elsewhere by eliminating some of the uncertainty and providing firm thermal history constraints. Most companies spend days modelling different scenarios and risking the outcomes. The application of this technique can reduce the time required by showing which scenarios are likely and which are not possible,' says Dr Green.

CSIRO Petroleum Resources scientist, Dr Peter Crowhurst, says the technique allowed information to be obtained at lower temperatures than ever before. It can also identify the most recent event that occurred in a basin and its possible effects on petroleum migration.

'Of particular interest to clients is our ability to determine U-Th-He ages on single crystals of apatite and zircon,' says Dr Crowhurst. 'This offers greater precision than work on multiple crystals because it reduces the risk of contaminated samples or a mixed age.'

'The improved definition of the timing and magnitude of paleo-thermal episodes provided by this integrated approach means an improved definition of areas where timing of oil generation post-dates formation of structures, resulting in more efficient exploration.'

CSIRO Petroleum - in a commercial and research alliance with Geotrack International, involving New Zealand's University of Waikato as a collaborator, have become the first in the world to directly apply this technique to practical thermal history issues in the petroleum industry.

The technique has the potential to generate commercial business from petroleum companies and geological surveys around the world. Several pilot studies and commercial analyses using this technique have been successfully completed on basins in Australia, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea and Colombia.

Project partner Geotrack International is a world leader in providing fission track and thermal history solutions for the hydrocarbon exploration industry. Geotrack has successfully carried out some 850 studies in locations including North America, Australasia, Africa, Middle East, Far East, Latin and South America and Europe.
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