N270 Conventional and Unconventional Potential of Source Rocks: Methods and Applications in Exploration Projects (Basque-Cantabrian Basin, North Spain)

Course Facts

Course Code:
5 days
Physical Demand:
4.0 Continuing Education Units
40 Professional Development Hours
Certificate Issued Upon Completion


The course presents a comprehensive methodology for the analysis of the characteristics and exploration potential (conventional and unconventional) of marine source rocks. The Lower Jurassic marine organic shales and marls, a proven regional source rock in the Cantabrian area and a potential candidate for shale gas and shale oil in Europe, will be analysed in detail in well exposed outcrops with a detailed stratigraphy, and correlated with subsurface data. A large geochemical dataset will be integrated and the results combined in a petroleum systems model.

Duration and Training Method

A five-day combined field and classroom course based in the Basque-Cantabrian Region (Northern Spain),  Classroom instruction  and exercises that are combined with field visits to representative outcrops. The field to classroom ratio is approximately 65:35, with the classroom itself being split 50:50 between lectures and computer simulation exercises.

Participants will learn to:

1. Evaluate the geological elements and processes involved in conventional, shale oil and shale gas plays.
2. Synthesise the geological characteristics (stratigraphy, sedimentology, mineralogy and texture) of organic facies and source rocks.
3. Appraise the different geological and geochemical techniques and parameters necessary for the evaluation of conventional and unconventional exploration plays.
4. Assemble and evaluate datasets to develop an integrated petroleum system model.
5. Rate the commercial software packages for the development of integrated petroleum system models.
6. Assess the technical risks and calculate potential resources of projects.
7. Select prospective exploration areas based on the results.

During the course, the participants will integrate the stratigraphy, sequence stratigraphy, sedimentology, palaeoecology and organic and inorganic geochemistry of the Lower Jurassic organic facies in a depositional and paleoceanographic model. They will analyse the conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon potential of the succession, the maturity of the facies across the area, the timing of generation and expulsion, and a migration/retention model through the analysis of the stratigraphic and structural relations with potential reservoirs of the area. 


Day 0:
Participants arrive into Bilbao in time for a course introduction, safety briefing and an introduction to the Geology of the Basque-Cantabrian Basin. The day will finish with a group dinner.

Day 1:
A morning lecture session will discuss the general definitions and characteristics of source rocks. Then the group will depart the hotel to spend the remainder of the day in the field  reconstructing the basin using a regional transect from deepwater to platforms and basin margins, and identifying potential source rocks in different depositional environments and systems. The group will then travel to the hotel near Aguilar de Campoo, Northern Spain.

Day 2:
After classroom sessions on “Conventional vs. Unconventional petroleum systems” and “Source rock evaluation techniques” the group will spend the remainder of the day looking at and working around the Lower Jurassic sequences and their characteristics as source rocks. Back in the hotel the group will perform exercises on source rock identification and characterization in outcrops and well logs using real geochemical data from the area.

Day 3:
A morning lecture will discuss a petroleum system modelling workflow and the main software applications. The field stops for the morning concentrate on the burial history of the marginal areas of the region and source rocks. After lunch, participants will return to the classroom for further lectures on modelling of petroleum system processes followed by a computer session using the observations collected in the morning.

Day 4:
Similar to other days, we will start with classroom lectures on petroleum geochemistry of oil and natural gas before departing for the field. The stops will focus on the analysis of the burial and thermal history and the petroleum system processes in a generative depocentre. A short visit to the producing Ayoluengo field  will be made before returning to the hotel for further computer modelling sessions and geochemical correlation exercises using real geochemical data from the analysed source rocks and related oils.

Day 5:
This will be a predominantly classroom day focussed on techniques for volumetric calculations and risk assessments. A final discussion of modelling results and conclusions of the course will be carried out before departing and travelling back to Bilbao. The course will finish in Bilbao with a group dinner.

Day 6:
Participants are free to travel home at any time on this day.

Some of the key topics that will be studied throughout the week include:

1. Introduction. Conventional versus Shale Gas Petroleum Systems
Petroleum Systems definitions
Elements and processes
Similarities and differences

2. Stratigraphy and sedimentology of organic facies and source rocks
Cyclicity and sequence stratigraphy in organic facies
Sedimentary facies and microfacies

3. Key Geochemical parameters for the evaluation of source rocks
Organic Content (TOC)
Source Potential
Kerogen Type
Analytical techniques, interpretation guidelines and restoration techniques

4. Products
Oil, gas residue
Analytical techniques, interpretation guidelines and correlation studies

5. Modelling of Petroleum System processes
Commercial software
Modelling of maturity, generation, expulsion/retention, accumulation and preservation of hydrocarbons

6. Risk assessments and resources calculation
Risk factors
Resources calculation: volumetric and geochemical calculations

7. Comparison to other mudrock petroleum systems
Depositional settings
Depositional processes
Stratigraphic framework
Source rock quality
Reservoir lithology
Reservoir quality

Who should attend

The course is aimed at geoscientists and other technical staff interested in the evaluation of the conventional and unconventional potential of source rocks.

Prerequisites and linking courses

It is recommended that participants have some industry experience working in exploration and/or unconventional reservoirs before participating in the class.

There is no particular prerequisite class to take however, N084 (Petroleum Generation and Migration) contains a good introduction to hydrocarbon source rock compaction whilst, N082 (Appraising and Developing Unconventional Gas Reservoirs) covers many themes of  unconventional reservoir studies.

Useful follow on classes that provide additional analogues and examples of Unconventional Reservoir plays include N010 (Petroleum Geochemistry and Basin Modelling), N162 (The Geology of a Devonian Gas Shale play: A field workshop in the Appalachian Basin, New York and Pennsylvania, USA), N245 (Sedimentology and Stratigraphy of Lacustrine Systems: Reservoir and Source Rocks, Great Salt Lake and Green River Formation, Utah and Colorado, USA) and N241 (Depositional Processes, Fabrics and Stratigraphic Framework of Mudrocks: Applications to Shale Reservoirs, Colorado and Wyoming, USA).

The physical demands for this class are LOW according to the Nautilus Training Alliance field course grading system. The class requires basic fitness levels. The majority of the stops are a short walk away from the vehicles.

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Santiago Quesada

An exceptional demonstration of the workflow required to fully evaluate the shale hydrocarbon potential of a basin including field work.