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Saudi Aramco focuses on technology, exploration, and super basins at AAPG conference


A city known for its rich geologic surroundings served as the setting for the 2018 American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Annual Convention and Exhibition. Salt Lake City, a stone’s throw from the Green River Basin and its abundant natural gas reserves, was a good jumping off point for Saudi Aramco attendees, who participated in a pre-show conference field trip and then followed up with a high visibility show presence during the technical sessions, award ceremonies, and exhibition. The company was a diamond level sponsor.

Super Basins

A key highlight was Aramco’s participation in the greatly anticipated inaugural presentation of a new forum called Super Basins, which will become a mainstay of the annual show and include follow-up papers in show publications.

The forum is intended to bring new insight into petroleum basins with massive opportunity and capability for production over time. 

Hosted on opening day, the session featured Said A. Al Hajri, manager of Saudi Aramco’s Geological Operations Department, who presented “The Basins and Petroleum Systems of the Middle East.”

Al Hajri shared the historic significance and evolution of the Arabian plate, including the major petroleum basins, and Aramco’s innovation culture that is driving the next stages in fully maximizing these basins, as well as the Red Sea’s promise in both shallow and deepwater. Rounding out the story of Aramco, he touched on alternative energy — wind and solar — that are being pursued in the Kingdom.

Al Hajri also honored Saudi Aramco geology visionaries who blazed a trail during their careers and were well-known in AAPG circles — Ali Al-Hwaj, who passed away last week and was Saudi Aramco’s manager of Area Exploration, and Abdulla A. Al-Naim, who passed away in 2013 and was vice president of Saudi Aramco Exploration.

“AAPG is important not only for the quality of programming but also the quality of the friendships that are created across geographies, cultures, and companies,” Al Hajri said. “This year’s program was a strong one for Saudi Aramco, with our professionals being selected to present a number of papers and posters. This reflected well on our capabilities, as the content of the technical sessions was especially strong.” 

Field trip

A group of geoscientists from Aramco joined colleagues from TGS for a visit to Warfield Quarry. The quarry is near Kemmerer, Wyoming — where the elevation is 7,300 feet above sea level — and is a noted locality for fossil collection from the Green River Formation.

The Eocene-age Green River Formation is world-renowned for fish fossils and is one of the largest accumulations of lacustrine sediments in the world.

A series of basins developed as the Rocky Mountains were uplifted millions of years ago. Sediments were shed from the highlands and deposited into the basins. These basins contained freshwater and existed in a climate that was subtropical, as interpreted from fossilized fish, crocodiles, boa constrictors, and fossilized plants such as palm trees.

The Green River Formation contains the largest oil shale reserves in the world. Unlike conventional oil resources, oil is recovered from oil shale by using heat or dissolution techniques that currently are uneconomic.


Gretchen Gillis, geologist at Aramco Services and longtime AAPG member, received an Honorary Member Award, which is bestowed on individuals who have distinguished themselves by their service and devotion to the science and profession of petroleum geology. It is AAPG’s third highest award.

She said afterward: “It’s an honor to be recognized by AAPG and to represent Aramco. As a longtime member of AAPG, I am proud of what we as a company contribute to the industry in terms of technical leadership and support for ongoing professional excellence.”

Saudi Aramco was also recognized for its diamond level sponsorship of the Imperial Barrel Award (IBA), AAPG’s graduate student competition to evaluate prospective basins. Anwar M. Al-Beaiji, a geologist in Saudi Aramco’s Exploration Resource Assessment Department and president-elect of AAPG’s Middle East region, delivered remarks during the awards ceremony, congratulating all the participants and encouraging students to stay active by helping mentor the next year’s IBA team at their schools.

Exhibit floor

The company’s exhibit attracted strong attendance by fellow professionals, job seekers, and sponsored students. In-booth presentations included “Tracing Oil Migration” by Constantin Sandu and “Microporosity Technologies” by Lauren Stout, both of the Aramco Research Center-Houston.

Another notable aspect of this year’s conference was the technology being demonstrated on the show floor. “On the one hand, the show is heavily focused on deepening the understanding of plays, with the goal of discovering more,” said Al Hajri. “Yet, there’s also this major confluence of exhibitors, all showing their views of what’s next in technology.”

Technical participation

Aramco had a strong technical presence with numerous presentations, posters, and papers.

Susan Agar, geology technology lead at the Aramco Research Center-Houston and the AAPG Theme Chair-Energy Innovation, sat on AAPG’s Technical Committee for the conference.

Aramco’s ongoing role in supporting the AAPG agenda for the annual show, as well as regional and special topic conferences, is shaping the industry discussion and is part of the company’s commitment to industry leadership.

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