Experience RS

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Explorers in the Gulf of Mexico have utilized technology over the past three decades to unlock this geologically complex basin with numerous reservoirs spanning various ages (Figure 1). Early exploration focused on the near-shore, gassy and geologically young reservoirs; but, in search of bigger and better prizes, explorers set their sights on the mid-to-deepwater, where large oil-filled structures are intertwined with salt.

FIGURE 1 | Stratigraphic Column of the Gulf of Mexico

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Source | RSEG, company reports, FactSet

The discovery of the Lower Tertiary play provided the basin with several large oil discoveries and helped offset a trend of declining annual discoveries following a peak in the early-2000s (Figure 2).  The emergence of the Upper Jurassic Norphlet play over the last decade also helped rejuvenate the maturing basin. Today, these plays account for the majority of all major deepwater discoveries in the basin (Figure 2), illustrating the shift in operator focus to these geologically older reservoirs.

FIGURE 2 | Major Mid-to-Deepwater Discoveries by Interval in the GOM

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Source | RSEG, company reports, FactSet, BOEM

New technologies allow operators to drill in deeper water and, as seismic interpretation becomes increasingly sophisticated, mature basins continue to evolve and grow. The introduction of the Lower Tertiary and the Norphlet is a key reason why the GOM is the second fastest growing oil basin in the United States today. We anticipate future large-scale discoveries will be dominated by these “new” plays, presenting a new exploration frontier in an otherwise aging basin.


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