How the science of subsurface determines the future of the oil and gas industry

Written by
Katya (Ekaterina) Casey
How the science of subsurface determines the future of the oil and gas industry

Let’s face it: what really got hit badly across the oil and gas industry is the confidence of employees which comes with experience. Without confidence in what they are doing people get consumed by meaningless processes hoping they will lead them somewhere. Meaningful work is defined by building competencies which in turn provide an employee with autonomy and relevance to the common goal. What are the critical skills for a new generation of geoscientists?

Let’s face it: what really got hit badly across oil and gas industry is a confidence of employees which comes with experience. Without confidence in what they are doing people get consumed by meaningless processes hoping they will lead them somewhere. Meaningful work is defined by building competencies which in turn provide an employee with autonomy and relevance to the common goal. The feeling of contribution could be achieved only in an agile organization capable of managing complexities by adaptable processes fostering flexibility and creativity of the employees. Oil and gas companies today are strictly ”command and control” organizations calling themselves innovative enterprises. But most poor management cannot innovate themselves out of the organizations.

It is a budget period in most organizations these days and companies are trying to predict the employment market of 2021 and beyond. HR organizations are busy today designing the ideal organization of the future according to the budget they have and not sustainability of the company. It should be no surprise for many that AI is mostly used in social engineering today and HR departments get skilled in using simple rules to optimize staffing to the financial goals and liability parameters set for them. The questions come to mind:  What E&P organizations will be optimized for under current market conditions? How a geoscientist can differentiate oneself with lack of training and mentorship? How one can build new set of skills and insights been cut off from multidisciplinary active collegial collaboration? Many geoscientists complain that they do not understand the full cycle of the project and interactions between the disciplines required to make it a success. In the survey we have conducted in the spring of 2020 people envisioned the need for more multidisciplinary and collaborative teams after the Covid-19 lockdowns yet the isolation is with us to stay and staff reductions are decimating the ranks of mentors and integrators while preservation of skills in the corporations happens along even narrower specialized channels. Project geoscientists now see that following corporate guidelines and being a good soldier do not protect anybody during the staff reductions.

Geoscientists in E&P organizations today are facing many personal challenges and exhibiting a survivor behavior: keep their heads down, take “wait and see” approach, don’t challenge the status quo. But how one can secure his career without an opportunity to advance oneself beyond the current level of expertise? Recent focus on artificial intelligence exercises made management to believe that geoscience skills are not needed any longer. On contrary, for a foreseeable future, machine learning and AI are meaningful only with insights available from broad geoscience expertise and geological experiences. So what geoscience expertise are most critical to the quality of business decisions in E&P organizations aided by machine learning?

The most valuable skill developed by studying geology is understanding the concept of missing time when looking at geologic or seismic cross-section. Multiple phases of fault reactivation, unconformity and lateral and vertical variations of the missing section of the same age are hard to model in time and space and it is very difficult to explain to non-geoscientist.

None of my projects during of my 30-year long career were the same and required a lot of creative thinking. ML algorithms are similar in behavior to human brain (after all, neural networks are named after neurons and attempt to mimic human cognitive thinking process) and could not be taken without serious modifications from one basin to the other with apparently similar geologic record. So, the other critical skill that geoscientists develop through experience of working on multiple E&P projects is an understanding of why one is doing something on the project and how it is related to the big picture.

Now, I have a question to my reader: How ready are you to invest in yourself? Forget about the company paying for your training time. Many of us have personal trainers in the gym or financial advisors, so why not to invest in your own competency building? Both, time and money.  Are you ready to spend extra time and learn something new that will help you to differentiate yourself from others during the next project review or have a quick access to a wide network of experiences when you have a burning confidential question you have short time to research?

History is written by winners but we learn from our mistakes and knowing what didn’t work before might be critical to the project at hand. Now people with these insights ether left or are silenced in the organizations.

U3Explorepublications, small group virtual sessions and events are about development of the complex conceptual thinking and relating it to other disciplines and business activities of the company generating the value for the organization.

Future is difficult to predict. We can only analyze what has already happened so hopefully we do not repeat our mistakes over and over again.

I want to finish with a little bit of history. In light of great advances of the science at the end of the 19th century there were debates of the possibility of the future discoveries. In 1890’s the physicist Albert Michelson said at the inauguration of the Ryerson Physics Laboratory at the University of Chicago that “the great principles had already been discovered, and that physics would henceforth be limited to finding truths in the sixth decimal place”. How naïve this statement was just like the one made by Lord Kelvin, who had numerous contributions to the science and declared in 1902 in a press interview about the future of aeronautics: “Neither the balloon, nor the aeroplane, nor the gliding machine will be a practical success”. 

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Exploration
Exploration Strategy
Play/Prospect Risk Evaluation
‍Seismic Interpretation
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