AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition

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The History of Oil and Gas Exploration and Development in the Wessex and Weald Basins, Southern England


It is interesting to go back in time almost 100 years when the precursors of British Petroleum fresh from their success in drilling large anticlines with carbonate reservoirs in the Zagros mountains of the Middle East finally turned their attention closer to home and to the large surface anticlines in Southern England. It is easy to reflect on the obvious attraction and similarities. Large undrilled Jurassic anticlines and numerous surface seeps such as at Mupe Bay and Osmington Mills on the Dorset coast. Add this to historical evidence of gas production from Heathfield Station in the Weald from a well drilled in 1896 and the mining of the oil shales of the Kimmeridge Clay Formation in Dorset which had been retorted to provide gas for street lighting in the mid 19th century. All the planets were seemingly aligned for a successful exploration campaign or were they? In this paper we will explore the exploration history of the Weald and Wessex Basins from the largely unsuccessful BP campaign in the 1930s to the hugely successful Wytch Farm discovery in 1973 - the largest onshore oilfield in Northwest Europe with over 1 billion barrels of in-place resources. We will discuss the key success/failure factors for conventional petroleum particularly the part played by modern 2D seismic and petroleum systems analysis. Finally we will touch on the potential for Shale Oil & Gas in the Weald and Wessex basins.