BY TOM KEYSER
Respected Geologist Enjoys Aggressive
One of the oilpatch's best-known geologists, Calgary's Tom
Boreen, P.Geol., PhD, is the type who can generally write
his own ticket. After all, he shares credit for the discovery
of Ladyfern, a major natural gas field in northeastern B.C.
Recently, Dr. Boreen became intrigued with a new natural
gas exploration strategy at Suncor Energy. So he contacted
Suncor Vice-President Roger Smith, P.Geol., to ask whether
the team had room for one more.
Smith jumped at the chance to hire the exploration specialist.
Tom Boreen, P.Geol., PhD. . .getting high-end, drill-ready
prospects to market.
-Mike Sturk photo
And since joining Suncor's Prospect Generation Services
group last year, Dr. Boreen is having the time of his life. "This
is the only group in town that has a mandate to develop,
capture and market high-end and drill-ready prospects to
industry,” he says.
Headed by Mr. Smith, Suncor's 15-member team of professionals
is on a mission to shift gas exploration and research efforts
The reason? As Canada's fourth-largest oil producer and refiner,
Suncor expects to extract 215,000 barrels a day this year
from the Northern Alberta oilsands. The company will roll
out at an operating cost of $11.75 a barrel – much
of which represents the cost of natural gas needed to fire
"Prospect Generation Services is helping to provide a
natural hedge within the organization," Mr. Smith explains. "Our
exploration and production side wants to find and produce
as much gas as we ever expect to consume within the organization,
and that's a lot."
Over the long term, Suncor's appetite for gas will only intensify.
As new production facilities ramp up, Suncor oilsands are
projected to produce more than 500,000 barrels a day by 2012
at the latest.
"We work to develop prospects and opportunities. Then
we take them to the street to find companies that are interested
in drilling them," Mr. Smith explains.
In a nutshell, the team covers land and seismic costs, often
reprocessing voluminous stores of older seismic data with
the latest technological tools.
A Payoff of New Drilling
The strategy works. Last year, Prospect Generation Services
partners spent in excess of $40 million on new drilling
projects and the current year’s activity has the
potential to dwarf that.
For his part, Dr. Boreen is enjoying his position at the
heart of the action – which is another addition to
an already impressive resumé.
He started in the oil business as a field operator at Lloydminster
in the early 1980s. After returning to academia and completing
his PhD thesis at Queen's University, he re-launched his
oilpatch career in 1994. During the late 1990s, he and his
Shell Canada exploration team zeroed in on Ladyfern, after
mapping the Upper Devonian Slave Point Formation about 100
kilometres north of Fort St. John.
Dr. Boreen and Kelvin Colquhoun, P.Geoph., who’s now
with Apache Canada, had detected traces of hydrothermal dolomite, "with
a small amount of porosity" in a 20-year-old abandoned
"Our exploration model indicated that there could be a
high-impact play," he remembers. "And after 18 months, we had
done enough work to convince management to buy the rights
on the prospect and shoot seismic."
Subsequent 3D seismic mapping proved the scientists were
on to something. In fact, it pointed to the largest onshore
North American gas find in nearly two decades.
Meanwhile, by the end of 1999, Apache Energy had acquired
Shell Canada's drilling rights, along with the services of
Dr. Boreen and his entire exploration group.
"Apache took us over at the end of November," he recalls. "And
on Jan. 1, we drilled the Ladyfern discovery well. Apache
aggressively developed the field with partners Murphy Oil
and Beau Canada, but the technical success of the discovery
was directly attributable to the exploration expertise developed
at Shell Canada."
Today, with natural gas prices in the lower stratosphere,
other energy companies have realized it makes economic sense
to go fishing in the "depleted" Western Canada
Dr. Boreen, for one, remains convinced there is plenty more
gas where Ladyfern came from. "There are more big discoveries
to be made, no question," he says. "We don't talk
about if we hit another monster field. We talk about when
we hit it.”
Suncor's oilsands processors, it appears, will have the natural
gas to meet their needs for many years to come.