Creaming Curves and Exploration: Use through the Basin Lifecycle

Hello and welcome back to the Cognitive Whiteboard. My name’s Kirsty and today I want to talk to you about creaming curves and how we in the oil industry use them for exploration. First off, what is a creaming curve? Well, a creaming curve is when we plot the cumulative discovered volumes in a basin against the number of new-filled wildcat wells.  We do that to minimize the effect of oil price fluctuation on our interpretation.

When we start plotting these curves for basins around the world, we start to see common factors and common patterns occurring. These patterns are these hyperbolic style functions that we see here, where we’re getting large discoveries and then as we drill them out, we see a tail forming on the play.


We see inflection points as well where new large discoveries were made in the basin. And, in the case of the Norwegian North Sea like I’ve got plotted up here, these tend to be geological. But, they can be other factors as well. For example, as we all know, the technology in the oil industry has moved on so much over the last 30 or 40 years and we’ve moved from being able to drill on-shore and shallow marine to deep water. Or in the case of on-shore U.S., we’ve opened up really interesting new plays by being able to access unconventional oil and gas.

We can also find that some of these upticks and fluctuations can be because of the economics. For example, we’ve got the infrastructure in the basin, so now plays which weren’t accessible have now become economic. Or even political factors opening up new basins in new countries.

So, how can we use these creaming curves as explorationists to make money for our company? Well, we do have to be a bit careful. Here I’ve plotted the creaming curve for the deep-water Gulf of Mexico. And, if I look at it in this gross function like this, I can see inflection points, I can draw some hyperbolic functions, and I can start to make some inferences from those.


For example, I might look and say, “Well, this is great, this basin’s still growing. There’s more exploration to be done here.” But, looking at it, I don’t think my most recent play is still adding very much volume. Actually, from my interpretation, it looks like these older plays are the ones that are adding the volume. But, can I really make that assumption from this dataset? Well, no, I can’t. As an explorationist, I probably need to go in and look at the data in more detail and actually find out what discoveries are adding these volumes and which plays they come from. And if I separate out the plays, that’s where I can add real value to my company.

Looking forward, where in the world am I looking to see really interesting exploration happening? Well, I mentioned political factors opening things up. The Mexican side of the Gulf of Mexico has opened up recently and some big experienced players from the U.S. side of the Gulf of Mexico are in there exploring. So, I’m really expecting to see some big new discoveries and a really interesting uptick in the creaming curve for that basin.

I’m also really excited to see the basins that are in the early part of exploration where they’ve seen their first big discoveries recently and how they’re going to develop. For instance Guyana, and Suriname where Kosmos are drilling this year, and also over in West Africa. And, other places I’m interested in are those mature basins. There’s going to continue to be lots of interesting exploration in the North Sea and also in Atlantic Brazil, where Petrobras are looking to open a new play in the really mature Espίrito Santo Basin.

So, those are the places I’m looking. I’d be really interested to hear what you think about it and how you use creaming curves for exploration, and also where you’re excited to see the next wells be drilled. Thanks for joining me at the Cognitive Whiteboard. I look forward to seeing you here again soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *