March 2022

What’s new in exploration: What went wrong is too normal

Bill Head says he was wrong. The Gulf of Mexico is not the last legal place to explore. West Africa is.
William (Bill) Head / Contributing Editor

Editorial: I was wrong. The Gulf of Mexico is not the last legal place to explore. West Africa is.  

Court actions. Recall January 2021, days after Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the U.S.—Biden signed an Executive Order, stopping new oil exploration permits on any U.S. federal land. That order was overturned in Louisiana on June 15, 2021, by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in March 2018. 

Fig. 1. Since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian military forces have blown up a number of oil terminals and depots, similar to this one on the Black Sea coast. Image: Naftogaz.
Fig. 1. Since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian military forces have blown up a number of oil terminals and depots, similar to this one on the Black Sea coast. Image: Naftogaz.

However, not to be outdone (according to CNN) on the anniversary of the Biden Executive Order—Jan. 27, 2022—not one day sooner or one day later, Rudolph Contreras, a U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia, “invalidated” an existing GOM 80-million-acre lease sale. This federal judge rescinded actual exploration contracts between the U.S. and our industry. While I believe Judge Contreras does not have that constitutional authority, the law does not seem to be a barrier for politicians. 

Interesting bedfellows. Judge Contreras was appointed by Barack Obama in March 2012. Surprised? Contreras also was appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court in May 2016. Still surprised? Contreras served as a justice of the secret FISA court, all through the Michael Flynn/Russia/FBI/Clinton impeachment of Trump. Contreras was a communicant of the FBI’s dishonored L. Page and P. Strzok, immediately after Trump won the Republican presidential nomination. During the next five years, not enough of the U.S.’s elected fiduciary seemed to care.  

The Trump admin had approved the GOM lease sale in question. What hurts, as well, is the new “Biden Blue” Interior Department (DOI) leadership. Waiting as obstructionists during previous administrations, deep-state DOI employees came forward to reverse their positions in the dispute. Named defendants in 2021, they became friends of the court, that is friends of the plaintiff—Earthjustice. West Africa is also under attack from the same U.S. green intervenors, who brag openly about interfering in foreign government decisions. Can’t they just stay home and enjoy ABC’s “The View?”  

Russia/Ukraine angle. Who gains from politically manipulated price markets in oil? Certainly not exploration. Tell me Mr. Durham (R)! John Durham was first appointed as special prosecutor in 1999 (for Bill Clinton[D], U.S. President) examining the corruption of New York mobster Whitey Bulger. Seems Durham has the instinct to look at politicians. Don’t expect to hear much, since the world that raced to green has a great cover story concerning war “chess moves” by Russia, Fig. 1. That’s Russia, the guys who supply fossil energy to Europe. Innocent people do die in this business.   

Problems with cement. Speaking of mobsters, that reminds me of cement! In the days of RPSEA, we awarded about $35 million per year in industry collaborative research. Besides safety and increased production, cement issues came up consistently in our efforts—so much so that we spent more money on cement practice outcomes than on any other problem. 

I have said for some time that we leave more oil behind casing than we find. Cement understanding is, in the opinion of industry experts, absolutely critical for successful production. A finding we had at the University of Houston, after spending six months examining in-well “smart cement,” was that the cement had not set to industry standards. The object of the study was to find better tools to monitor wellbore cement sealing characteristics. The cement was, at that point, nowhere firm enough to hold pressure.  

I noted this SPWLA course, “Cement Evaluation from the Basics to the Advanced.” “Course description: The evaluation of cement bonding and zonal isolation is a challenge that the oil and gas industry face as wells are drilled deeper and within more hostile environments. This seminar will cover the use of both sonic and ultrasonic tools to determine the presence or lack of a cement sheath. The quality of the cement sheath is not only important for completion efforts but may also be needed to satisfy regulatory requirements. The cement Basic tool theory, quality control, interpretation of field logs, and methods of evaluating both complex cements and difficult environments will be covered. Both new and well abandonments cement examples will be examined and evaluated.” 

Make the best of your reservoirs while you can. WJH.  

About the Authors
William (Bill) Head
Contributing Editor
William (Bill) Head is a technologist with over 40 years of experience in U.S. and international exploration.
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