Exploration is the foundation of the oil and gas industry, and not in the way you might think

It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day bustle of oil production, but its roots are inquisitive minds and explorative instincts

Exploration, Eni, ADNOC, Snoc

The word “exploration” has lost its meaning in the upstream oil and gas sector. Yes, in the literal sense, upstream firms perform geological surveys and make assessments to determine the commercial viability of a particular block and, to use the term, they explore it for hydrocarbons.

But exploration covers much of the upstream sector—it is an industry rooted in exploration and one that can only be advanced by inquisitive, curious and sharp minds. Whether that means exploring new, more sustainable techniques for extracting hydrocarbons, exploring the benefits (and risks) of digitising operations, or exploring ways to produce more with less, the upstream oil and gas sector is one that should never be static.

Producing hydrocarbons is safety critical, requiring rigorous control, knowledge and training, but it is also the domain of scientists, innovators and explorers. The ultimate good of exploration is not in reaching a predetermined goal—in the process of exploration, new, previously hidden paths open up and suddenly seem viable. Not long ago, the extraction of unconventional resources in Saudi Arabia, which lacks fresh water, seemed highly unlikely.

In our cover feature this month, we speak to Halliburton’s senior vice president of the Middle East and North Africa, Ahmed Kenawi, who tells us about bringing lessons learned in North America to the Middle East, and how the company’s research and development centre is looking for solutions to keep Saudi Arabia’s unconventional gas flowing at a lower cost.

It is a shift that has wide implications; as the world transitions to gas, the region’s vast unconventional gas resources could push it into the forefront of the transition—arguably, where it should be as a global energy hub and home to the world’s largest oil company, Saudi Aramco. But it also feeds into oil and gas producers’ plans to diversify their portfolios for short-term profit gains and long-term survival. In tough times, oil producers with downstream assets generally fare better.

Meanwhile, US shale producers, small and nimble as they are, have countered OPEC’s decisions, which ultimately attempt to rebalance supply and demand. Will shale production give Middle East producers that deft maneuverability? Maybe not. But as they venture out to explore new possibilities, the region’s NOCs are trying to shake off the perception that they are old, conservative and resistant to change.

Devoted readers of Oil & Gas Middle East will have noticed a stronger focus on digital technology since I took the helm of the magazine last September. This is not because it is trendy, or just for its own sake. Digital technology is just one of the many avenues for change available to oil and gas producers in the region. Energy mix diversification is another avenue, value chain integration is yet another.

The energy sector is undeniably central to almost every aspect of daily life. That it should continue to evolve, learn and explore is paramount not only to its own growth, but to fuel change across the globe.


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