AAPG Pacific Section Convention 2019

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The San Joaquin Basin – A California Super Basin

Abstract

The concept that breakthroughs and innovation are achieved by applying new ideas and technologies is nothing new, nor is it unique to any industry or business. One of the most spectacular technology revolutions in recent decades occurred in the energy sector with the rise in oil and gas production from mature basins, principally in the United States, from low porosity-permeability unconventional reservoirs. This has transformed the worldwide energy industry, and indeed global politics by disrupting the conventional oil and gas supply relationships that have existed for decades. The upstream sector is focused now on those mature basins worldwide with rich petroleum systems, utilizing technologies such as horizontal drilling and multistage hydraulic fracturing to recover oil and gas from stratigraphic horizons that just a few years ago were considered non-reservoir due to their low porosity and permeability. The concentration of investment in extracting hydrocarbons in low-risk, mature, hydrocarbon-rich basins, now known as super basins, comes at the expense of traditional higher-risk exploration. To classify as a super basin, a petroleum producing basin must have produced 5 billion BOE to date, have 5 billion BOE remaining potential, have two or more source rock intervals, have adequate infrastructure and markets, have an adequate service and supple sector, and have favorable, or at least non-restrictive petroleum laws and regulations. California’s mature San Joaquin basin meets all these criteria and classifies as a super basin. The richness of the basin is driven predominantly by the world-class Monterey formation source rock. Production, however, has declined over the last decade and has not seen the resurgence that other onshore producing areas have experienced like the Permian and Williston basins. California was the third largest producing state for many years, and only recently has slid to seventh as production surged in the other US onshore petroleum provinces. The San Joaquin basin has the rich petroleum systems, the service and support sectors, in-place infrastructure and a ready market in California to support the investments required to turn the production decline around and make the state a leading oil producer again. Both Industry and the state of California need to recognize this opportunity.