Hydrocarbon reservoirs : physical models and natural analogues
Submitting InstitutionRoyal Holloway, University of London
Unit of AssessmentEarth Systems and Environmental Sciences
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Earth Sciences: Geology, Geophysics
Engineering: Resources Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy
Summary of the impact
The Fault Dynamics Research Group (FDRG) have designed and executed
analogue experiments to replicate the 3D/4D geometry of oil and gas
exploration targets. The main beneficiaries are the international
petroleum industry. The research is "pivotal to British Petroleum's
subsurface developments" (R. Humphries BP 2012) in determining the
number of multi-million pound wells required to access reserves. FDRG
models "changed the way seismic data (was) interpreted" (Chief
Scientist, Geoscience Australia 2012) in particular in the NW
Australian frontier with "BP Exploration (Alpha)....work program(s) of
$600 million" (Chief Scientist, Geoscience Australia 2012).
Nature of the research
The Fault Dynamic Research Group led by McClay (employee since 1986)
has involved twenty post-doctoral research assistants, eight MSc and forty
PhD students. The research program integrates physical and numerical
modelling to improve our understanding of the 3D geometry and 4D evolution
of oil and gas reservoirs using: (a) Field-based case studies (e.g.
western USA; Gulf of Suez-Red Sea; Turkey; Andean fold belts)(e.g.,
Munoz et al 1994), (b) Remote sensing studies (e.g. E African
rift; Zagros fold belt, Iran), (c) 2D and 3D seismic studies (e.g.
NW Australia; Niger delta; North Sea; west African margins; S Australian
margin) (e.g. Francowitz & McClay 2010, DeVera et al 2010)
and scaled physical 3Danalogue models.
The scaled physical 3D models are created at Royal Holloway in
world-leading, custom-made laboratories using powders and polymers as rock
analogues. Experimental simulations of natural crustal deformational
environments are performed at 1x gravity and digitally recorded using
laser scanning and image correlation techniques to quantify displacements
and strains (McClay et al 2002). Results are calibrated and
integrated with outcrop analogues and industry sub-surface seismic data
sets. This produces new 4D evolutionary concepts (Wu et al 2009)
that can be applied to the exploration and exploitation of petroleum
bearing structures in the UK continental shelf and worldwide (e.g.
Australia; Indonesia; Egypt, Nigeria) (e.g. Francowitz &
McClay 2010). 2D and 3D seismic studies are carried out using
industry-standard interpretation software (e.g., Landmark, Paradigm,
Schlumberger and Petrel) to emphasize reservoir scale structures (e.g.
Wu & McClay 2011). 3D visualization is a key component in
transfer of results to the hydrocarbon industry. Results are integrated
into atlases, toolboxes and case studies that can be applied to specific
exploration targets, interpretational problems and structural analyses of
hydrocarbon structures by supporting companies. For example, "being
(a) member of FDRG has provided Nexen with access to leading edge
principles of structural geology....of oil and gas fields in the North
Sea, Norway, Yemen and Western Canada" (D. Leckie, Nexen Chief
Geologist, 2012). Peer-reviewed publication in international
journals disseminates this knowledge internationally (McClay et al
2000, 2002; Duerto & McClay 2009, Hardy et al 2009, Wu & McClay
2009, 2011, DeVera et al 2010).
1) New 3D models of rift systems showing fault initiation, growth
and linkages for orthogonal, oblique and segmented rifts, strain and
displacement distributions and 3D reconstructions (e.g., McClay et al
2002, Wu et al 2009, Wu & McClay 2011).
2) Models of propagation and evolution of basement faults systems
and formation of extensional fault-propagation folds (McClay et al
3) New Analogue and numerical models of fault system nucleation,
fault propagation and fracture systems in foreland fold and thrust belts (Duerto
& McClay 2009; Wu et al 2011).
4) 3D models of strike-slip fault systems (Wu et al 2009).
5) New models for the initiation and growth of thrust faults in deepwater
fold and thrust belts and for the structural styles of the Niger delta (Wu
et al 2011).
6) New models and case studies of salt diapirism and associated fracture
systems that provide analogues for North Sea diapir structures.
References to the research
Hardy, S., McClay, K. & Muñoz, J. A., 2009. Deformation and fault
activity in space and time in high-resolution numerical models of doubly
vergent thrust wedges; Marine and Petroleum Geology, 26; p.
McClay, K.R., Dooley, T., Whitehouse, P., Mills, M. & Khalil, S.,
2002. 4D evolution of rift systems: Insights from scaled physical models.
Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. 86,
Wu, J.E., McClay, K., Whitehouse, P. & Dooley, T., 2009. 4D Analogue
Modelling of Transtensionall Pull-Apart Basins; Marine and Petroleum
Geology. 26, 1608-1623.
De Vera, J., McClay, K.R., & Granado, P., 2010. Structural evolution
of the Orange Basin gravity-driven system, offshore Namibia; Marine
and Petroleum Geology, 27, 223 - 237.
Duerto, L. & McClay, K.R. 2009. The role of syntectonic sedimentation
in the evolution of doubly vergent thrust wedges and foreland folds; Marine
and Petroleum Geology, 26, 1051-106.
McClay, K., Dooley, T., Ferguson, A., & Poblet, J., 2000. Tectonic
evolution of the Sanga Sanga block, Mahakam delta, Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Bulletin American Association of Petroleum Geologists. 84, 6,
Research funding for STAR (Structural Analogues for Reservoirs)
consortia (Total ca. £3.55M)
STAR1 (2006-2009) `Structural Analogues for Reservoirs'. £2.55
million — International Petroleum Company consortium: BG Group, BP, BHP
Billiton, ConocoPhillips, ENI, ONGC, Nexen, PDVSa, RepsolYpf, Shell,
Statoil, & Talisman.
STAR2 (2011 to date) `Structural Analogues for Reservoirs 2'. ~£1 million
— International Petroleum Company consortium: BG Group, BHP Billiton,
ConocoPhillips, ENI, Marathon, Nexen, Shell, & Talisman (more
Details of the impact
Since 1993 the FDRG has developed collaborative research programs with
the international petroleum industry and the `Structural Analogues for
Reservoirs' consortia (2007-2014) has involved thirteen petroleum
companies. Key long-standing research collaborations (e.g., BP, Shell,
ConocoPhillips, Nexen, BG Group, Apache) led to new approaches to
petroleum exploration and an understanding of the 4D spatial and time
evolution of petroleum structures. The FDRG models provide a level of
detail for hydrocarbon-bearing structures that was hitherto unavailable.
Overall FDRG models directly impact on "the cost and viability of new
oil and gas prospects from exploration through to commercial
development" (bp — R. Humphries 2012).
FDRG industry-funded research has had widespread impact. "Professor
McClay's research spans many aspects of Structural Geology of interest
to industry, and has a truly global focus. ... No other current
industry project.....has as comprehensive a suite of deliverables.
Materials include: comprehensive atlases of numerical and physical model
experiments; toolboxes summarizing specific structural styles (e.g., the
lnversion Toolbox that comprises a comprehensive review of styles and
mechanisms behind inverted basins with interpreted seismic examples from
around the world, including an in-depth seismic review of the classic
`Sunda Folds' from the Natuna Sea); field-work reports (e.g., Gulf of
Suez, lran, lraq); case histories (e.g., Australia, Niger Delta). All
materials are delivered to sponsors in a timely manner via a secure
web-site...FDRG (has) great impact and (is) used often and widely
throughout industry. Professor McClay also provides...short
courses, field trips.....and review meetings that all augment the
research deliverables". (Hooper, Marathon Oil Company, 2012)
2008-2013 specific impact
a) Bight Basin Australia: Geoscience Australia "relied heavily
on [Royal Holloway] models on gravity tectonics in deltaic
systems. The structural interpretation of the gravity slide system
underpinned our improved understanding of the geology and structural
history of the basin, including fault reactivation and the likely risks
to petroleum systems.... The acreage was awarded to BP Exploration
(Alpha) Ltd in 2011, with a ...work program of $600 million" (Totterdell
& Foster, Geoscience Australia 2012)
b) Arafura Basin Australia: FDRG "work on extensional and
inversion fault architectures allowed [Geoscience Australia] to
understand the extremely complex geology of the Goulburn Graben. This
structural framework allowed [Geoscience Australia1
to] develop a robust sequence/seismic stratigraphic interpretation for
the Goulburn Graben and Northern Platform. ...This step change in
understanding underpinned the 2006 Acreage Release of exploration areas
in the Arafura. ... Part of the region released in 2006 was subsequently
taken up by Samson (with ConocoPhillips), with a guaranteed work program
of $7 million." (Chief Scientist, Geoscience Australia 2012)
c) Carnarvon Basin Australia: FDRG predictive models provided
templates for seismic interpretation and cross-section
balancing/restorations (Francowitz & McClay 2010). FDRG
established new concepts of tectonic evolution of this extended passive
margin which underpinned new approaches to hydrocarbon exploration.
Overall FDRG has "changed the way seismic data is interpreted on
rifted margins" (Chief Scientist, Geoscience Australia 2012)
d) Niger Delta: "Work in the toe thrust zone of the Niger
Delta allowed ... understanding.. of faulting, which is key to
understanding petroleum accumulations in the region" (VP global New
Ventures & Geoscience, CGGVeritas 2012).
e) Collaborative industrial partnerships: These focus on
modelling of salt (Conoco Norway), salt diapirs (Shell UK),
rift systems (Shell UK) and deepwater folds belts (Shell international)
(De Vera et al 2010).
1Geoscience Australia is Australia's national
geological survey and in that role is involved in the discovery and
development of energy resources and provides geoscientific information
All research results are delivered to consortia partners via the internet
thus maximising potential economic benefits. Earth Sciences FDRG staff
have immediate use of models and field case studies as analogues of
reservoir structures. Publications by the research group are widely used
by the international petroleum industry (e.g. Apache, BP for the Gulf
of Suez rift system). Animations and 3D visualizations of physical
models combined with field case studies greatly aid interpreters in
identifying structures as well as an understanding of how they form and
change through time (Hardy et al 2009, Wu et al 2009) (e.g. modelling
of fold-thrust systems used in the analysis of deepwater fold belts by
Shell Nigeria and Shell NW Borneo). The compendium of structural
styles developed by FDRG is widely used by the petroleum industry (e.g.
BP, BG Group, ConocoPhillips, Talisman, Nexen) in exploration as
well as in their training of geologists and geophysicists. Company
geologists attend the regular training courses (both lab and field based)
given by FDRG (e.g. BHP Billiton, Shell, Nexen, ConocoPhillips).
Sources to corroborate the impact
Supporting letters are available from :
- Geoscience Australia: Verification of the high impact the
Fault Dynamics Research Group has had on economic resource exploration
in Australia can be obtained from the Chief Scientist, Geoscience
- Marathon Oil USA: Confirmation of the overall impact of the
Group's `comprehensive suite of deliverables' on the oil industry can be
provided by the Senior Technical Consultant, Upstream Technology,
Marathon Oil Company
- Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Australia & University of Western Australia: The Group's
impact on structural geology and industrial applications can be
confirmed by the University of Western Australia
- Nexen: Evidence of the impact, "applicability and usefulness
to the oil industry" can be obtained from the Chief Geologist, Nexen,
The following may be contacted:
- Shell: The Manager Exploration Technology at Shell
International in Houston can corroborate the usefulness of the analogues
provided by the Fault Dynamics Research Group and the STAR project for
hydrocarbon exploration in fold and thrust belts as well as in rifts and
passive margins. The use of the appropriate analogues are essential
particularly in regions of poor seismic data as well as also to
understand the 4D evolution of hydrocarbon traps in complex terrains.