Loading the Dice for Offshore Exploration


There’s something quite literally earth-shaking about geology, especially at Saint Mary’s University, where two geoscientists have just received more than $450,000 in research funding to blaze a trail in the search for offshore reserves of oil and gas.

Equipped with innovative geoscience methods, Drs. Andrew MacRae and Georgia Pe-Piper will build on their contributions to Nova Scotia’s Play Fairway Analysis (PFA), a digital atlas that plots the potential for petroleum (gas and oil) in deep water in the southwest of the Scotian Basin. Initiated by the Offshore Energy Research Association of Nova Scotia (OERA), the analysis revealed an encouraging potential for offshore reserves and was one factor resulting in $2 billion in work commitments for future exploration by Shell and BP.

“Deciding where to drill for petroleum isn’t simply a roll of the dice,” explains Dr. MacRae. “There’s a geological context for where petroleum occurs. Understanding that context loads the dice in our favour.”

Dr. MacRae will be using a $244,000 research grant from Encana Corporation, the owner of the Deep Panuke offshore natural gas project, to search the Scotian margin---not for oil and gas---but for the salt deposited there at the time of the dinosaurs as the Atlantic Ocean began to open.

“The salt deposits control most of the structures containing oil and gas,” he explains. “Understanding the movement of salt gives us a better understanding of the plot of this story.”

Thanks to roughly $230,000 in grant money from Encana as well as matching funds through the federal Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Development program, Dr. Georgia Pe-Piper and her team will be studying the changing sources of sediment supply to the southwestern Scotian Basin and assessing the risk of encountering low-quality petroleum reservoirs.

“The quality of the reservoir, and the amount of petroleum it can hold, depends, in part, on the types of minerals present,” says Dr. Pe-Piper.

Both Pe-Piper and MacRae are enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue the research they conducted for the Play Fairway Analysis project. Not only is the work rewarding on a scientific level, but it also offers unique opportunities for Saint Mary’s student researchers, many of whom have gone on to leverage their university internship experience to rise to senior positions in the energy sector.

“This vitally important research by Drs. Pe-Piper and MacRae is an excellent example of how research carried out by professors, students, and post-doctoral fellows at Saint Mary’s can address extremely important issues of our day and have significant positive impacts on the lives of Nova Scotians” says Dr. Kevin Vessey, Associate Vice President Research at Saint Mary’s, and current Board member of OERA.

“The story we’re trying to unravel has broad implications---and not just for Nova Scotia,” says Dr. MacRae, “but also for the whole central Atlantic. From an exploration point of view, this is a really important opportunity, and we wouldn’t have it without Encana’s support.”

(Saint Mary's University)