September 11, 2023
6:00 - 7:30 pm
Note: ETGS members will receive an email with info for attending/logging into the meeting.
Petroleum Systems Analysis and the Shale Revolution: A Career Perspective
Petroleum Systems Analysis (PSA) is a geological sub-discipline or "technical specialist" role in most oil and gas companies. The technical work is very different from what most geologists do in oil industry jobs. Most are "prospecting" geologists, doing the standard analyses associated with the task of finding and developing oil and gas prospects. These tasks typically involve structural geology, stratigraphy (with emphasis on sedimentary geology and processes), as well as log analysis and seismic analysis. All of these tasks are brought together in various maps of the subsurface: structure maps, reservoir isopach maps, porosity and/or "net pay" maps, etc., and documentation of all surrounding oil and gas drilling activity that may inform the risk level of the prospect being proposed. PS analysts do work that supports the prospecting geoscientists. This work involves basin modeling, in order to understand the generation history and movement (migration) of petroleum fluids in the basin over time, as well as geochemistry, in order to understand the nature and quality of the source rock. They also do geochemistry of the oil and gas in the basin in order to characterize the quality (composition) of the oil and/or gas for which prospectors are searching. Ultimately, PSA is a risk assessment exercise to ensure every prospect has each of the 5 elements that a "working petroleum system" requires: 1) source, 2) reservoir, 3) trap, 4) seal, 5) charge access.
In the early to mid 2000s, the advent of the "shale revolution" not only changed the world order in terms of the United States' place on that world stage, but it raised the profile and value of the petroleum systems specialist and their work. The shale revolution turned prospecting work on its head - the source rock (shale) was now also the reservoir! Now, everyone wanted to know, in detail, all about the geochemistry and maturity of source rock-shales that were being considered as drilling targets. Petroleum systems analysis became a sought-after and highly valued skill-set in the industry. Serendipitously, I had just made a career-direction change from a prospector role to a petroleum systems analyst role in 2005, just as the shale revolution was getting under way. The impact of the shale revolution on the discipline of petroleum systems analysis and on the trajectory of the U.S. oil industry on the world stage will be discussed.
Tony McClain grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee during the 60s and 70s. After high school, and a brief period pursuing his first love - baseball, he discovered a new passion when he took his first geology class at Florida State University. He was "hooked" from day one. He went on to earn B.S. and M.S. degrees in geology (BYU/'82 and Texas A&M/'85, respectively) before embarking on a nearly 36 year career in the oil industry from early 1985 to late 2020, retiring back home to Oak Ridge in October of that year. After working the first 15+ years with ARCO Oil and Gas Company, BP acquired ARCO where he finished the last 20+ years of his career. He worked in most of the onshore U.S. petroleum basins during his career, and after the beginning of the shale revolution, focused on exploration and development of many shale plays including the Eagle Ford of South Texas, the Haynesville of East Texas/North Louisiana, the Bakken Shale of the Williston Basin, and the Wolfcamp and Bone Spring plays in the Permian Basin. He also worked on shale plays in Mexico and Canada.
Like most of us, he feels fortunate to have had a career in a subject that would have been his hobby, had it not been his job. Tony and his wife Jana have been married 43 years, have three sons and 9 grandchildren.
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Page updated May 08, 2023