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Geology of the Future

May 29, 18:26 UTC+3
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The ever-growing appetite for fossil fuels and other commodities, coupled with the ongoing depletion of traditional deposits, puts increasing pressure on geological exploration. Innovative technologies are the right tool to address these challenges.

Experts believe that in 1995–2014 global energy consumption increased by 50%. By 2030, this figure is expected to go up by another third, despite the rapid development of energy saving technologies and alternative energy sources. This makes new exploration a key to ensuring further progress.

According to Wood Mackenzie, in 2015, the volume of petroleum exploration dropped to a 70-year low due to the depressed oil prices. The newly discovered oil reserves amounted to a measly 2.7 billion barrels, i.e. about one tenth of the average annual exploration volume. According to BP’s estimates, the global oil reserves had shrunk by 2.4 billion barrels by the end of 2015.

  • The Russian oil and gas industry is of strategic importance for the country’s economy. The proven domestic oil reserves are estimated at 14 billion tonnes, while the reserves of free and associated gas on the State Register of Mineral Resources amount to 73.2 trillion cubic metres. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, Russia has been able not only to replenish its oil and gas reserves over the last decade, but also to increase them at times.
  • Alexander Novak, Russian Minister of Energy, believes that the country's oil and gas resources, including those on the Arctic shelf, are enough to go by for another 50 years.

The global demand for other minerals is growing, too. Those include rare earth metals that are the core material for a variety of modern microelectronic components.

The growing demand combined with the depletion of easily available resources has become a new challenge for exploration geologists.

  • Now the focus is on the exploration of deeper-lying reserves.
  • More attention is being paid to the prospecting and development of shallow deposits, with waste dumps becoming a valuable source of much needed minerals.
  • Offshore exploration is also gaining momentum (primarily in the Arctic).
  • The long-term plans go as far as to extra-terrestrial exploration of Lunar and Martian resources, with the developed countries currently making investments to that end.

Moving in this direction is impossible without cutting-edge technologies that require both changes in the corporate approaches and significant investments. 

  • This primarily refers to the active development of geographic information systems with digital mapping and data analysis capabilities (including spacecraft-based remote sensing).
  • The Institute of Petroleum-Gas Geology and Geophysics of the Siberian Branch of the RAS has teamed up with Rosneft to develop 3D seismic tomography solutions to prospect for deposits in the Arctic and High North. This will enable the Russian companies to defy seasonality and continue exploration undisrupted throughout the year.

The main challenge for the Russian exploration programmes is the insufficient government funding.

  • The 2017 government budget allocations for exploration are expected to stand at ca. RUB 30 billion, down from RUB 35 billion in 2016.

The investments from subsoil users are roughly ten times as much.

  • In 2016, they shelled out some RUB 295 billion, while their 2017 investments are projected to rise to RUB 339–354 billion.

On the negative side, private funds are primarily spent on quick payback projects with low industrial diversification, whose outcomes often fail to be added to the national geological database.

Moreover, such projects are often bashed by the ecologists for their extensive environmental impacts.

ROSGEO launched the Foresight “Geology of the Future-2050” project seeking to develop a comprehensive approach to exploration development in Russia and assess its relevance going forward. The company is going to present its Geological Exploration Roadmap up to 2050 at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

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