Our Exploration & Production (E&P) business is in charge of our upstream oil operations. E&P leverages a broad range of knowledge and skills to meet steadily rising global demand and develop increasingly complex fields, as oil becomes less accessible and tougher to produce. Only a handful of international companies are up to the challenge.
A still plentiful resource
Since the dawn of the oil era a century and a half ago, some 1 trillion barrels of oil - about 159 trillion liters - have been produced. Although this is a colossal amount, production to date has not come close to exhausting the world's stores of black gold. Based on current technological capabilities, it is estimated that another trillion barrels could still be extracted from known fields; this oil is referred to as proved global reserves. That amounts to about a third of the oil in known reservoirs, because current production techniques are capable of recovering an average of 32% of the oil in place. Besides these reserves, potential sources include future discoveries, estimated at 1 trillion barrels, and so-called unconventional oil. Heavy and viscous, unconventional crude is critically important, since it could supply up to a trillion barrels, or as much again as proved conventional oil reserves.
Expanding the scope of possible reserves
However, the era of "easy oil" is behind us. The most accessible, easiest-to-produce fields were tapped to supply the oil markets of the 20th century. With demand growing by an average of 1 to 1.5% a year, it is now imperative to ferret out oil in environments that were barely considered feasible just a few years ago. Reservoirs buried more than 4,000 meters below the surface, fields lying below the seabed or hard-to-reach mountainous terrain, oil traps under the Arctic ice and immobile heavy oil in the cold ground of Canada are all challenges we must meet to achieve the necessary growth in global production.
New frontiers in exploration
You might reasonably assume that oil exploration has already circled the globe, but you'd be wrong. Like other sciences, geology is constantly advancing and refining its understanding of how oil traps are formed. Total E&P's geologists work in a combined total of 20 specialties, studying source rocks, the sedimentary deposit processes that create reservoirs, the structure of oil basins and reservoirs, the micro-organisms in sediments and many areas. To top it off, seismic technology is allowing geophysicists to locate new targets deep within the Earth's crust. Vibrations ripple belowground and are partially reflected back to the surface by the geological strata they encounter, yielding millions of data that are processed to recreate a 3D image of the subsurface. Sophisticated data acquisition methods and ever more powerful supercomputers are opening up horizons whose existence was unsuspected in the recent past.
The art of appraising finds
Finding oil is just the beginning. E&P's geoscientists then have to answer a multitude of questions, including: How much total oil does a reservoir contain? How is it distributed among the deposit's stacked strata? What are the temperatures and pressures from top to bottom of the reservoir? Is the oil light or viscous and does its composition vary based on position? Are there faults will impede or, conversely, facilitate its production? State-of-the-art laboratories, proprietary software applications and expertise honed by experience all go into what is, for the uninitiated, an unfathomable step that will ultimately predict how many barrels can be produced over the life of a field.
Producing more, more efficiently
Today, oil is not just more difficult to extract, but also more expensive to produce. It can cost over $10 billion to develop some sites. Total E&P is a past master at bringing on stream these gigantic industrial puzzles requiring scores of construction sites worldwide over stretches of several years. Technological innovation - wells drilled several kilometers deep to reach geological strata a few meters thick, production equipment installed on the ocean floor and operated remotely by onboard electronics - is pushing back the boundaries of what our teams can do and countering the natural decline in production from mature fields. Coupled with these challenges is E&P's firm commitment to minimize as much as it can the environmental impact of its industrial activities, especially on water and air.
2000: First oil from Sincor, an immense project to produce heavy oil in Venezuela. At the time the majority shareholder in the operating company, since rechristened PetroCedeño, Total pulled off the ambitious gamble of extracting the field's viscous oil by pushing conventional production techniques to the limit.
2001: Total brings Girassol on stream in Angola, paving the way for deep offshore oil production in the Gulf of Guinea with the largest development undertaken to that time, in 1,400 meters of water. The world's most active operator in the extreme deep offshore environment, we currently operate 11 fields - either in production or development or under study - in the deepwater Gulf of Guinea.
2009: Total makes a takeover bid for Canada's UTS, a partner in the project to develop Fort Hills, an integrated oil sands mining and upgrading project. The move solidifies our top-tier portfolio of assets in the Athabasca region of the Canadian province of Alberta, which have tremendous long-term potential.