November 2014

What's new in exploration

Training for the downturn

William (Bill) Head / Contributing Editor


Last month, I stated, “Another down cycle in the works? I hear that some exploration companies are thinking of slowing down their expenditures.” This month, we now are starting to see it.

Of course, price cycles are not new. I caution my fellow oil-finders to remember that George Mitchell’s crew worked on horizontal enhancement of wells that were flowing very little during the price struggles of the early 2000s. The result of all that innovation and hard work was the shale oil boom. While recent shale production success worldwide may be driving down prices, such innovative thinking or vision also transformed the industry.

I also would point out that when Oilco and Serveco lay off their talent at the high end of the pay scale, there are darn few younger faces to replace the retired or displaced when prices go back up. Remember, too, that when prices go back up, and they will, your better talent, that you thought you kept, will leave you, unless you continue to invest in them. That is a fact from every other past, cyclical upturn. Survivors will inherit the earth and higher wages.

Once upon a time, a geophysicist would get about five years of training before being allowed to make a competent map. That person was put on a seismic crew for the summer, or a year. Then he would spend three months to two years in processing. Another six months or a year were spent well-sitting. Along the way, youngsters would be mentored by somewhat-understanding senior explorationists. None of that approach has existed since the 1990s, or perhaps the disastrous summer of 1986.

A geologist would get similar treatment. Geos were sentenced to lots of slipping logs, sitting wells, and marking core. Building cross-sections came next. Then, maps were fictionalized from tops. Balanced sections were for structural delight. Paleo interpretation was for stratigraphy. Geologists usually got the better AAPG courses, such as the Banff Canada structural and Bahamas carbonate classes. Most all of that went away with $2 gas and $14 oil.

So what is new? Training is coming back, big, but it’s not organized as a journeyman’s school by any particular company. I encourage those who worry about being laid off, or have been laid off—and that includes just about anyone who has been in this business any length of time—to take this opportunity to invest in yourself. Your skills need to be honed, continuously. Once you make a quality investment in you, no one can take it from you.

There has been an explosion of training being offered across the industry, for just about anything that has something to do with oil. Training is growing, from the overview for management (I never understood how management could become management and still need an overview) to classes on kitchen recipes for mixing various types of mud. Training classes are available online, in your office and in workshops. The Internet has made materials available everywhere. The brick-and-mortar institutions, which have fought this change for so long, now embrace it to survive.

Here are some excellent examples. As you might expect, the University of Texas at Austin trains for all levels of professional oil company skills: Texas community colleges, such as Lee College in Baytown or this one near Dallas, train for critical technical support roles:
Program_Offerings//Oil_and_Gas_Production.html. Even a major producer in Iraq trains for knowledge transfer to its in-country workers:

There is anti-fossil fuel training at universities that take Federal tax money: Or, if you are the opposite of most readers of this magazine, skip to the front of the “blue” line. You can find community organizing for anti-oil training in, Oakland, Calif.:

More positive skill improvement can be obtained with an Internet course from SEG, ”Integrated Interpretation of Seismic, CSEM and Well Log Data for Reservoir Characterization.” The real knowledge base issue resides where it always has been. No one can run a business without the right people. Our industry will always need intelligent, thinking, good judgment people.

What’s new in technology, and which items to buy? This is a serious question, since technology is both expensive and valuable. How does one calculate value, when no one claims their technology will fail? As budgets get cut over the next year or two, service will get limited, and training by your company may disappear.

When I was a V.P. at Meridian Oil, I performed a survey of state-of-the-art technology, and state-of-the-practice available at that time. I included everyone’s claims to fame, and then tempered back what we knew works, from experience, and how well it worked for our applications. I created a flow chart and had the crew chew on it. Using that flow chart, we controlled how, and when, we would use technology. That meant technology that we should buy or license, and technical expertise that we should hire. We included seismic processing software, seismic library vendors, and a host of attribute imaging products. We cataloged who could, and then would, shoot our next round of 3D, etc. That became a guidance tool that kept us more or less on the path, and out of the rocky thorns.

Speaking of rocks and thorns, I will attempt to compile some key technologies presented at the 2014 SEG International Exposition and 84th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colo. in an upcoming exploration column. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
William (Bill) Head
Contributing Editor
William (Bill) Head is a technologist with over 40 years of experience in U.S. and international exploration.
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