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The Exploration Play - What Do We Mean by It?

Doust, Harry 1
1 Tectonics, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Among the oil and gas exploration community the “play” has an almost mythical status - the successful play is the thing of which legends are made and “play-makers” are regarded as heroes of the industry. But what is the play exactly and why do we need it? Curiously, considering the long period it has been in daily use it has never really been unambiguously defined and, as a result, it can mean - within fairly broad limits - what people wish it to mean. Although the term is in common use therefore, in practice its imprecision often leads us to simply ignore its significance as a concept in our rush to concentrate on prospect definition. So the questions arise: Do we really need the play and can we gain by defining it more precisely? I strongly believe that the play concept is such a valuable one that it should be central to exploration decision making: Clustering petroleum accumulations into natural families helps us to manage the risks inherent in new and existing venture evaluation. However, I believe that plays can help us in this way best if they comprise meaningful, natural groups that we can use both for reliable analogue comparison and in meaningful statistical analysis. In this review I propose a three tier hierarchic framework for play definition based on (a) the petroleum charge system (b) the reservoir/seal formation pair or lithofacies and (c) the trap type. These tiers can be related to the geodynamic, sedimentary and tectonic events that drive stages in basin evolution, thus placing the concept directly in its geological context.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90090©2009 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, Denver, Colorado, June 7-10, 2009