PESGB March 2018

Wed 21 February 2018

Category: Magazines

Highlights include:

  • EVENTS: GEOLiteracy 2018 Ullapool Field Trip: Registration now open
  • NEWS FEATURE: Papua New Guinea – A review and forecast of exploration and production
  • NEWS FEATURE: Southeast & East Asia production to decline by nearly 3 million boe/d by 2025

Plus much more inside

Oil is found in the minds

There is that horrifying moment in your career when you realise that you are the most knowledgeable person in the room. Whereas previously you may have known that there was someone else you could rely on to impart the wisdom of hard-won experience, now you are exposed as the guru with the grey hair. All eyes are on you as you frantically recall that pressure kick you saw in a well in 1999, that report you diligently wrote and drafted with pencils in the pre-PowerPoint era, that vital reservoir analogue you spotted in a Spanish outcrop following a wine-soaked lunch in 1987 …

And yet the value of knowledge and human experience may be diminishing. Our industry is eagerly attempting to catch-up with the internet pioneers of “big data” and the power of so-called “digitisation”. There is no denying that the way in which the harnessing of data and a new wave of machine learning could transform our business towards greater efficiency. We certainly need to be in that game. There will be a role for robotics, sensors, automation, analytics and artificial intelligence in achieving the margins that the industry needs to survive.

In 2016, PwC released a strategy report tellingly entitled “Not Your Father’s Oil & Gas Business: Reshaping the Future with Upstream Digitisation”. I sincerely try not to be the Luddite paternal figure in the title of this report, but I remain sceptical that we can replace all aspects of our business with technologies such as artificial intelligence, particularly the areas of upstream science that exist at the edge of data calibration and stretch into uncertain white space. We may be able to teach a machine to interpret faults in a well-imaged seismic volume, but the prediction of a source rock trend on conjugate margins through inference may be an altogether different proposition.

There are people trying to bring this to our attention. At the recent Berks, Bucks and Oxon Branch PESGB meeting in Henley, Guy Loftus from K2V Limited presented his case for the value of acquired knowledge, the application of cognitive bias and the range of experience-based outcomes derived from a crowd (which he terms “knowledge stacking”). He writes frequent blogs on the subject, so find him on LinkedIn if you would like to know more.

While we look to a future of digitalisation and unchallenged information, are we forgetting an aspect of our past? Downturns tend to purge the industry of experience. Acquired knowledge amounting to thousands of experience years simply walk out the door never to be heard from again. The PESGB was recently contacted by a society member entering semi-retirement. Rather than just book plane tickets and head for the most distant sun-kissed beach, he had noted the tragedy of the ongoing brain drain and wanted to do something about it.  He offered ideas such as “experience lectures” for Young Professionals, and an “oldies experience register” (which may coincide with some of Guy Loftus’s ideas for spatial knowledge registration – a CV on a map). Watch this space for more on this topic.

I am sure that we all have stories of knowledge loss with the passage of time. When I worked in Oman, the company library contained hundreds of hard-copy geochemical data reports. The real value was not necessarily in the data, but in the report margins, where several generations of retired petroleum system analysts had hand-scrawled comments and observations in black ink or pencil. Sadly, upon closure of the library for cost and digitisation reasons, those reports landed in a skip. Years of informal knowledge gathering and observation simply disappeared.

Perhaps it is time to update Wallace Pratt’s well-known axiom for the 21st Century. “Oil is to be found in the minds of women, the memories of men, and the learning of machines”. This is a deliberately provocative modification and one that brings me to the topic of my next “word”…

I welcome your comments on any of the above, which we can share through the PESGB Bulletin or PESGB Blog.


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