Tech 101

Leveraging Technology to Win in the Deepwater Gulf of Mexico Wilcox Plays

Andrew Rawicki, Chevron

The focus of my past few years has been on a technology-driven play in the Lower Tertiary-Age reservoirs of the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM). These Upper, Middle, and Lower Wilcox reservoirs represent a large resource base in an infrastructure-rich basin. Chevron-operated production will begin from the Wilcox reservoir in 2014, when the company’s Jack/St Malo subsea development is commissioned. In addition, Chevron’s two most recent deepwater GOM discoveries have been in the Wilcox, and the company continues to hold a very strong lease position for future exploration.

Technology Management System Across Chevron: The “Focus Area” Model

Like most integrated energy companies, Chevron has evolved a system of technology governance that suits the enterprise. To ensure the technologies critical to providing competitive differentiation are identified and advanced, the company developed a “focus area” model. Decisions are made by governance bodies composed jointly of energy technology company (ETC) and operating company representatives. Strategic drivers are identified and validated for the various Technology Focus Areas (such as exploration, reservoir management, or deepwater development), and technology initiatives are funded on the basis of a technology’s risk/reward profile and its alignment with the strategic drivers. These initiatives are managed by technology practitioners within ETC, ensuring that the technologies that are developed and the lessons learned coincident with early deployment are easily shared throughout the enterprise. Business units are allocated their fair share of the cost to develop each technology, and most development projects managed within the focus area process contribute to the common good (or at least the good of a significant sector) of the corporation.

In certain cases, particularly when the business challenge is materially different from those typically found in the rest of the enterprise, an asset-specific supplement to the focus area model has proven to be beneficial. The Wilcox reservoir presents such a challenge.

The Wilcox Challenge

The following are some of the challenges Wilcox operators face in improving recovery from Wilcox reservoirs and reducing the cost of Wilcox developments:

Response to Wilcox Challenges

The leaders of Chevron’s two GOM-based business units and ETC envisioned that a portfolio of high-impact technologies be managed as an integrated project. The top leaders of those three organizational units comprise the sponsor body for the Greater Gulf of Mexico (GGOM) Wilcox Challenge Technology Plan, an entity chartered to advance this portfolio.

The purpose of the plan is to ensure the right technologies are identified, resourced, and progressed to meet Wilcox-specific challenges facing the business units. The objective of the plan is to make these technologies available at the required time to intersect critical business needs, delivering increased production rates, increased ultimate recoveries, and lower development costs.

Fig. 1 shows accountability for plan delivery. However, it is a sketch only. For example, many of the reservoir characterization and surveillance technologies required to enable optimal reservoir management are hidden between the lines. It has been shared at Chevron’s highest corporate levels, as well as with the external investment community. This type of exposure demonstrates to executive management and stockholders that we are committed to dramatically improving recovery factors through technology. This also serves as a motivator, with plan practitioners knowing their efforts will receive appropriate attention.

Plan Scope

The scope of the plan is across the full upstream portion of the value chain, from exploration through appraisal, development, and operations. The plan includes projects that are considered strategic research—from idea generation through proof of concept and component testing. Other elements also included in the portfolio can be termed technology development (continuing advancement through prototype testing and identifying opportunities for deployment).

The plan includes a number of projects that were being (and continue to be) managed by ETC personnel as part of the common-good focus area model. In these cases, project managers can now depend on strong ties back to the two GOM business units as they advance their scientific discovery process. One strategic research project, involving sweet-spot mapping of the Wilcox reservoir based on an integration of seismic data, core data, and various Earth modeling techniques, is in continual iteration with ongoing drilling of development wells at Jack/St Malo—a relationship that bears great relevant-time fruit for a project that is still low on the technology maturity scale.

The plan also includes supplemental projects that are being advanced within a business unit if they are required to maintain alignment with major capital project milestones. Managing technology projects outside of the ETC carries the challenge of ensuring rapid and broad deployment beyond the GOM. For this reason, such supplemental projects involve ETC personnel in their development. Regardless of where the technology management resides, project leaders often leverage involvement from partners such as other energy companies, top universities, service providers, and national laboratories.


Similarly to the focus area, governance bodies—decision review boards and technology management teams—across the Chevron enterprise, the GGOM Wilcox Challenge Technology Workgroup (TWG), and Technology Steering Team (TST) strive to ensure that relevant business and technology company personnel are appropriately engaged in the delivery of technology. While participants in the focus area governance bodies necessarily represent all Chevron business units, the governance bodies of the GGOM Wilcox Technology plan are focused on the business needs of the two GOM business units. To ensure alignment between the GGOM plan and the focus area process and that the needs of the GGOM are addressed as the focus area process determines common-good funding, GGOM TWG and TST members are common members of the governance of the key focus areas whose portfolios impact the Wilcox challenge.

The GGOM Wilcox Challenge Technology Plan’s model of governance, which complements the enterprisewide, common-good focus area framework, contains three levels.

The following are some of the key responsibilities of members representing those bodies:

Plan Sponsor

Plan Owner

TST Member

TWG Member

Technology Topic Area (TTA) Focal Points (Select Business Unit Representatives of the TWG)

Concluding Observations

The following are some of my key observations as plan owner for the past 26 months:

Andrew Rawicki writes as the outgoing technology manager for deepwater exploration and projects at Chevron North America Exploration and Production Company. He earned a BS degree in petroleum engineering from The Pennsylvania State University. Rawicki has held varied technical and management positions in the US, Australia, and Warsaw, Poland, where he recently became operations manager at Chevron for onshore Europe. He is a past chapter president of the American Association of Drilling Engineers.