Keith Gerdes is the current president of the AAPG Europe Region, and as such will be making some remarks in the opening ceremony for the AAPG International Conference and Exhibition, set Sept. 14-17 in Istanbul.
This article is part of a continuing EXPLORER series on the people who comprise AAPG Region leadership around the world.
EXPLORER: Where were you born, brought up and educated?
GERDES: I was born not far from the site of the Olympic Stadium in the East End of London and grew up in Dagenham in Essex. The area had a transitory and multi-cultural population that was continually replenished with groups from all over the world, and I think that initially sparked my interest in geography and travel.
It was a busy and exciting area to grow up in – devoid, however, of any inspiring landscapes to ignite a passion for geology. The people and their achievements were an inspiration, however, and the area produced an impressive array of talent during my childhood – World Cup winners, Olympic Gold medalists and Hollywood actors all grew up within a kilometer of my home. As children we grew up believing that if you worked hard, stayed out of trouble and were given the right opportunities you could achieve surprising results.
I attended my local primary and comprehensive schools – the latter was a busy place with over 2,500 children. I was a typical sports-mad child with football as my main interest, and from an early age I was training with a professional club and was chosen to represent London and my county. I was still focused on sport and playing semi-professionally in my final year at school when I came under the influence of some excellent, motivated teachers who encouraged me to develop my interest in science and think about continuing my education at university.
I then went to Durham University where I graduated with a degree in geology and geophysics.
During my undergraduate course I was fortunate enough to be selected for a research cruise to eastern Greenland and the North Atlantic. The experience of mapping sea floor spreading anomalies really got me hooked on the puzzle of how the Earth worked.
I subsequently applied for a Ph.D. unraveling the tectono-stratigraphic evolution of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. This involved two seasons of geological and geophysical fieldwork in the Eastern Desert of Egypt and a three month research cruise along the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, docking in Port Said, Djibouti and Bombay along the way.
I loved the combination of travel, often to challenging new places, meeting new people and trying to unravel the complexities of how the Earth worked, and I hoped to find a job which could provide opportunities to follow my interests.
EXPLORER: Who and what were early influences in your life?
GERDES: My parents were obviously a major influence when I was growing up. They had been evacuated from London during the Blitz and that had completely disrupted their childhood. They saw education as a privilege and an opportunity. They continually supported my sister and me in everything we did and encouraged us to make the most of every opportunity.
I also have been influenced by two other outstanding personalities that I have remained friends with over the years.
The first major influence was Sam Ramsammy, one of my schoolteachers and now an executive board member of the International Olympic Committee. Our headmaster was an avid anti-Apartheid campaigner, and when Sam was given 48 hours to leave his homeland, our teacher sheltered him in exile. Whilst in hiding Sam led the drafting of the Gleneagles Agreement, which ostracized the Apartheid regime from international sport and was the first step in disengaging the regime from the international community. He was a model of dignity and humility with a great generosity of spirit despite being separated from his family and friends for decades.
Sam returned to his homeland with the ending of apartheid, and in 1992 became the manager of the first post-apartheid South African Olympic team. Sam’s actions and personal sacrifice played a direct role in changing the lives of millions of people. His quiet determination to stick to his beliefs, fight injustice and improve the lives of people at often significant cost to himself is a constant inspiration.
My other early influence was another great educator, Tony Maxwell, who came into a tough London comprehensive and managed to make academic achievement “cool” – no mean achievement. He was passionate about providing opportunities for his charges and nurturing their potential, and was awarded an OBE for his services to education.
EXPLORER: What made you join Shell – and when?
GERDES: After completing my Ph.D. entering the energy industry just seemed a natural progression. At the time Shell’s reputation for geoscience excellence was unsurpassed – there were outstanding geoscientists in exploration and research whose work and ability to find oil and gas was respected the world over. Shell also had a reputation for treating its staff very well and nurturing talent, so it was an attractive proposition.
I subsequently left the company to further my career and then was invited to rejoin in 2003 when Global Exploration was reformed. I have worked in the Global Exploration head office assessing new venture business opportunities ever since.
EXPLORER: What have been your key jobs to date?
GERDES: I have been fortunate enough to have covered a broad spectrum of exploration and production roles, and I use elements of all that experience in my current role. My first role as a development geophysicist in a very active production department was a great place to start. This job gave me early exposure to the processing and interpretation of seismic data constrained by wells, well and seismic operations (onshore and offshore) and the drilling of oil and gas discoveries. I also was able to follow discoveries through to field development and appreciate the commercial and engineering aspects of a project lifecycle.
I then moved into a more new ventures role specializing in play-based exploration, basin analysis and sequence stratigraphy. This role also had the responsibility of creating and delivering geoscience courses both as lectures and in the field. I worked with some great geoscientists and visited some iconic field locations around the world. I found the global application of PBE fascinating and one of those applications led to the discovery of a new play in a frontier basin that delivered in excess of 5 TCF.
I then worked as an exploration manager responsible for all aspects of comprehensive, well-funded exploration programs. Initially this role covered a number of license blocks in a few countries but it eventually developed into a regional role assessing exploration, development and production new business opportunities in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I was basically responsible for most aspects of a functioning exploration office, ably assisted by a great team of consultants – from the purchase of computing systems to the design of work program budgets and the negotiation of contracts and, eventually, the interpretation of the datasets that had been acquired and processed to identify drilling locations.
I also was responsible for the HSE of all onshore and offshore operations. In that environment the quality of the business and corporate relationships you build is critical and I learnt a huge amount about the greater industry, the character of different companies and the management of people.
I eventually moved back to Shell and have been involved in new venture and play development ever since. I have found the breadth of my experience to be very useful when evaluating new upstream business opportunities.
EXPLORER: What makes you “tick” in a job?
GERDES: That’s easy – finding oil and gas. Sometimes explorers can lose sight of the fact that this is what we are here for, expanding the company asset base.
In the course of my career I have been fortunate enough to see my work lead directly to the opening of four plays in four different frontier basins on four different continents. Each one had the potential to transform the economies of the countries involved. There are not many professions that offer the opportunity to have such a positive effect on the lives of so many people.
I suppose I am still fascinated by the subsurface puzzle and feel privileged to have worked with some incredibly talented, motivated and enthusiastic people. I also enjoy mentoring the younger staff and interacting with academia – I co-supervise a number of Ph.D students and serve on Industrial Liaison Boards at three UK Universities.
EXPLORER: Tell us about your current role – the responsibilities, expectations, challenges.
GERDES: My current role in new play development is to identify new business opportunities that have the potential to be material for a company of the scale of Shell. As the business world gets smaller and the competition from NOCs and niche exploration companies becomes more intense, such opportunities become increasingly more difficult to find. The challenge in our team is to combine the best forensic geoscience with our collective global experience to discipline our subsurface creativity in the search for new plays.
The great thing is that it is still possible to succeed – work by our team identified the farm-in opportunity onshore Albania which led to the drilling of the oil discovery announced in Q4 2013.
EXPLORER: Tell us about your role as president of the AAPG European Region.
GERDES: My involvement with professional organizations such as the AAPG started when I helped colleagues organize conferences. I would give presentations, chair conference sessions and eventually I designed a number of technical programs. I have a good network of contacts in both industry and academia and I have always enjoyed engaging with people from the wider industry.
Eventually, I was asked to stand for election as president of the AAPG European Region. I have benefitted enormously from being a member of the largest geoscience organization in the world, and I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to give something back.
As president, I am effectively the CEO of the Region, which has a significant budget and an office in London with five extremely hard-working staff. Together with a great team of volunteer AAPG members they organize various conferences, educational events and workshops in places from Lisbon to Georgia. The London team look to our Executive Committee for guidance on managing the budget, what events to hold and where they should be held, what subjects should be covered and the “evergreening” of the substantial Education program.
The position also has a significant role in representing the industry to the public – I am regularly asked to present to a wide variety of groups and I have already acted as an industry expert on review boards for the UK Government on the distribution of research funds in the oil and gas sector. Our industry has the potential to transform the economies of countries and improve significantly people’s lives by finding new sources of energy.
I enjoy the challenge of getting that message across to the broader public, particularly the younger generation, and try to engage and inspire the scientists of the future to consider a career in the energy industries.
EXPLORER: What keeps you busy when you are not in the office?
GERDES: My wife and I have two children and we have passed on our love of travel, sport and natural history to them both. We enjoy nothing more than experiencing a new country or activity together and both of them are accomplished scuba divers. My work with the AAPG and universities also takes up some of my leisure time.
When I stopped playing sport competitively I decided to take up football coaching to counteract the withdrawal symptoms. I gained my UEFA “B” coaching license, which enabled me to work part-time in the academies of professional clubs. I still attempt to support the football clubs that played such a major role in my youth i.e. West Ham United and Dagenham & Redbridge, albeit remotely from the Netherlands. Given both the records of both clubs in snatching failure from the jaws of success, the buffer of the North Sea is very welcome at times!
I also try to keep reasonably fit with a combination of running, cycling and swimming and maintain an interest in most other sports.