Exploration is in fact a scientific enterprise – as well as a business: we make predictions and then test them with the drill bit. And we aim to learn from these tests. And try again.
On a recent vacation one of my Kindle reading items was Matthew Syed's book “Black Box Thinking”.
In it he uses a variety of examples to illustrate how learning from failure is critical to ultimate success, drawing on examples ranging from a boy called David Beckham learning firstly how to get to over 2000 “keepy-uppies” and then to take bendy free kicks to James Dyson trying over 5000 versions of his revolutionary cyclone cleaner before he got to one that worked perfectly.
This set me thinking about whether we Explorers have a system within which we can truly learn from failures (also known as drilling dry holes)?
In principle I believe we do. We assess risks pre-drill against a range of possible key factors (source presence, migration, reservoir presence, trap etc) and post-drill at least engage in a narrative as to why the well failed if it did.
Perhaps we are not as ruthless pre-drill as we might be, asking “if we drill and this turns out to be a dry hole, what will be the reason?”….what one of my ex-BP colleagues called ‘the dangling loose thread' which if you pull on it will make the whole thing fall apart.
But where we are not so good is learning from failures, I assert, especially because we do not share insights between companies either easily or willingly.
To this extent, the UK's OGA is to be given an A for effort in compiling a review of wells drilled in the Central North Sea/Moray Firth area, this involving persuading a good number of companies to show their dirty linen in public.
Unfortunately, I have to give them D for the outcome as the result is almost entirely narrative with no attempt at science. Why do I say that? Because it left me with absolutely no idea what I would do differently to succeed in that particular oil & gas region. Or whether the region was itself a waste of time...
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