Shell partnership for microfossil analysis

A better understanding of the geology will always result in more precise prediction with respect to hydrocarbon exploration. In a business where drilling operation costs can be easily over $1 million per day, this can have a huge impact.

Dr Katrin Ruckwied, Stratigraphic/Palynologist at Shell

Keeping up with global energy demand requires deep sea exploration for new sources of gas and oil. Shell’s explorations in the Gulf of Mexico involve drilling blind in deep water, several kilometres below sea level with little information about the environment, rock composition and the location of fossil fuel deposits.

In partnership with Shell, researchers are analysing microfossils in rock fragments from deep sea exploratory boreholes in the Gulf of Mexico, to facilitate more informed and precise drilling. Studying which species of dinoflagellates- micro-organisms from the plankton family- are present can tell us about the environment they inhabited and died in, including the depth of the water, temperature and salinity. Recording the composition of dinoflagellates in the rock strata enables us to create a picture of the rock layers that are being drilled into, and can go some way to indicating where and to what extent we will find oil.

A better understanding of the geology of drilling sites will allow for more precise exploration in the future. As we develop a greater appreciation of how these dinoflagellates can indicate the presence of oil, the need for uninformed exploratory drilling will reduce, along with the enormous economic cost, the risk of oil spills and other disasters, and the environmental impact.

This challenge-driven research is solving problems for a globally important industry, making an impact on energy security, environmental management, economic stability and making oil recovery from the Gulf of Mexico ultimately safer and more informed. Results are also adding to scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth’s evolution and fossil and rock dating.