Imperial Barrel Award: Do we start drilling here?

Geology student Leila Sulaisman is an intern at Tecpetrol with a tale to tell about how simulation is used in the industry, an experience that earned her team second prize in the regional heats of a major international competition.

The annual contest held by the prestigious American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), known in the industry as the Imperial Barrel Award (IBA), this year has a Tecpetrol employee among its finalists. Leila Sulaisman (23), an intern working at the Energy Transition Department, is on the team that made it to second place in the regional heats, after a successful experience simulating an initial prospection in the industry.

This first round of the contest lasts two months. Teams of up to five geoscience students, or recent graduates, are tasked with carrying out a basin analysis for prospective purposes in the context of hydrocarbons exploration. This year, all the participants received the same dataset and location: the North Slope area in Alaska. As Leila explained to Tecpetrol Hoy, "We had to apply what we knew to the location’s geological history and propose a set of analyses to back up our presentation."

Leila, who is just about to graduate as a geologist from the School of Natural Sciences at the National University of Buenos Aires (UBA), was the captain of the team which also included Nicolás Gori, Gonzalo Parada, Juan Ignacio Ledesma and Lucía Laurencena Gisbert. The team was supervised at all times by UBA professor Dr. Luis Stinco as Faculty Advisor, as well as by two industry experts, Pablo Giampaoli (YPF) and Luis Vernengo (Pan American Energy). The UBA team tested their mettle against another eighteen universities from the region, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Suriname, Mexico and Bolivia as well as Argentina.

After two months of virtual and face-to-face meetings as well as numerous software licensing procedures, the team presented their in-depth study analyzing the Canadian basin. They gave a 25-minute online presentation accompanied by a powerpoint in English, which was evaluated by three international judges.

“We located three prospects in two different areas. One of these was a sedimentary structural trap (where variations in rock types create accumulation spaces, making it a site with economic potential) while the other two were delta-shaped,” explained Leila, whose job at Tecpetrol involves analyzing satellite images to evaluate the possibilities of a salt flat producing lithium.

So, would they drill there? “I’d say that they should start drilling, as all the conditions are favorable, and there’s a bright spot, which indicates the existence of fluid,” confirmed Leila. This year, the jury judging the contest added a new requirement: the need for the teams to implement a sustainable measure. In their presentation, the UBA team, which shared the podium with the Industrial University of Santander (Colombia) which took first place, and the Central University of Ecuador in third, highlighted the area’s potential for exploring methane hydrates, involving carbon capture as an alternative source of energy.


"It was a total immersion into the world of work," concluded Leila about her experience, and singled out the importance of teamwork, "which is what teaches you the most." The competition created a dynamic that is very similar to the flow of real events in the industry. "It helped me understand what things take precedence over others, and how to manage timing, in addition to trusting in and owning our interpretations and conclusions without the validation of a teacher to pat you on the back and tell you you’re on the right track,” she concluded.

From left to rightLeila Sulaisman, Gonzalo Parada, Phd. Luis Stinco, Juan Ignacio Ledesma, Nicolás Gori, Lucía Laurencena Gisbert.

Experience at Fortín de Piedra

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