Soldo: 'Unraveling Paradigms' a Labor of Love

Finding value in interdisciplinary approaches

Juan Carlos Soldo, who just recently led the successful IX Hydrocarbon Exploration and Development Congress in Mendoza, Argentina, knew as a teenager he wanted a career in geosciences.

Soldo hails from Ushuaia, Argentina, “the world’s southernmost city” and home to the Southern Center for Scientific Research. It’s surrounded by the Martial mountain range and Southern Ocean – and it is the perfect breeding ground for a budding geoscientist.

Soldo was interested in science in school, and before graduation he read an article called “10 Careers of the Future,” which included careers in geophysics.

His path was set.

He earned an undergraduate degree in geophysics from the National University of La Plata in Argentina, a master’s in reservoir engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires and a doctorate in geophysics at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Soldo said South America is a great place to work for geophysicists – particularly for those interested in unconventional resources.

Argentina is second in the world for shale gas potential and fourth for shale oil – and now, following a period of slowed activity, seismic acquisition is increasing at an exponential rate.

YPF has acquired 4,500 square kilometers of 3-D seismic in 2014 – and that is only for one company.

Though unconventional reservoirs attract attention, they are not the only areas of interest in South America, according to Soldo. He cited great potential for offshore and pre-salt exploration in Brazil and strong development opportunities in the Andean cordillera of Bolivia and Peru. In areas like these, data acquisition takes some work.

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Juan Carlos Soldo, who just recently led the successful IX Hydrocarbon Exploration and Development Congress in Mendoza, Argentina, knew as a teenager he wanted a career in geosciences.

Soldo hails from Ushuaia, Argentina, “the world’s southernmost city” and home to the Southern Center for Scientific Research. It’s surrounded by the Martial mountain range and Southern Ocean – and it is the perfect breeding ground for a budding geoscientist.

Soldo was interested in science in school, and before graduation he read an article called “10 Careers of the Future,” which included careers in geophysics.

His path was set.

He earned an undergraduate degree in geophysics from the National University of La Plata in Argentina, a master’s in reservoir engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires and a doctorate in geophysics at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Soldo said South America is a great place to work for geophysicists – particularly for those interested in unconventional resources.

Argentina is second in the world for shale gas potential and fourth for shale oil – and now, following a period of slowed activity, seismic acquisition is increasing at an exponential rate.

YPF has acquired 4,500 square kilometers of 3-D seismic in 2014 – and that is only for one company.

Though unconventional reservoirs attract attention, they are not the only areas of interest in South America, according to Soldo. He cited great potential for offshore and pre-salt exploration in Brazil and strong development opportunities in the Andean cordillera of Bolivia and Peru. In areas like these, data acquisition takes some work.

“I am drawn to technologically challenging projects,” he said.

The love of technological challenges is perfect for Soldo’s current position as technical leader in geophysics in YPF’s Exploration and Development Division.

YPF has geophysical leads for both operations and technology, so while his counterpart handles the permits, licensing and administrative aspects of exploration and development, Soldo focuses on the technical aspects needed to make those projects a reality.

Soldo said the most challenging aspect of his job is learning all possible methods available to geophysicists – and knowing which one to employ at the appropriate time.

“We have to use interdisciplinary geophysics to be effective. We use quantitative interpretation methods, rock physics for shales, full waveform inversion, non-seismic methods as well,” he said. “Not all geophysics is 3-D seismic.”

Soldo said one of the most rewarding aspects of his position is the opportunity he has to work on multiple company projects simultaneously.

He provides transversal management of all efforts involving geophysics, from deepwater exploration in offshore Uruguay, to offshore and onshore projects in the Golfo de San Jorge Basin, to supervising unconventional projects in the Neuquén.

“I’m jumping from project to project,” he said. “It’s a crazy amount of work.”

Heading the Congress

Soldo’s work does not stop when he leaves the office. His second full-time job is as president of the IX Hydrocarbon Exploration and Development Congress, held Nov. 3-7 in Mendoza, Argentina.

The Congress, organized every three years since 1989, traditionally is organized by geologists with decades of experience.

For the 2014 Congress, Exploration and Development Commission of Argentina’s Oil and Gas Institute chose the 41-year-old geophysicist to run the event.

“I felt honored that the Commission chose me,” Soldo said. “They must have wanted new blood.”

Soldo’s team titled the conference “Unraveling Paradigms,” and they implemented changes starting from initial planning stages. They also moved the Congress from the traditional location in Mar de Plata to Mendoza, a petroleum province famous as a wine-producing region and for the nearby Aconcagua, which is the highest mountain in the Western and Southern hemispheres.

“Mendoza is a perfect setting for a conference on hydrocarbons,” Soldo said.

While the 2014 event continued the tradition of oil and gas professionals exchanging ideas about exploration and development, it also added an intense focus on unconventional resources.

Primary conference objectives included:

  • Promoting interdisciplinary interaction. 
  • Conducting systematic analysis.
  • Review of methodologies for the characterization of non-conventional reservoirs.
  • Discussing technological and conceptual challenges for energy growth.

A special feature was a 12-meter-long, four-meter-high cross-section model of the Vaca Muerta formation. Experts from nine companies stood along a seismic line illustration drawn on the model and explained their work in the area.

Soldo said examining and discussing the cross section was a perfect method for understanding the formation and explaining how to work effectively in the Neuquén Basin.

“We wanted to facilitate discussion and allow everyone to contribute. We wanted to open people’s minds,” he said. “I’m convinced that the only way for companies to be profitable is through sharing knowledge.”

The Congress received unprecedented global attention. Attendees included AAPG President Randi Martinsen as well as officers and representatives from SEG and the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers.

Soldo hopes this international, interdisciplinary presence will lead to a useful discussion on the many types of unconventional reservoirs present in the world today as well as the technology used to explore them.

“Now we have many types of unconventional resources, from tight gas, to coal bed methane, to shale oil and gas. Unconventionals really aren’t so unconventional anymore,” he said.

For a geophysicist passionate about technology, the Congress was an excellent opportunity to work toward developing methods for exploration and development.

“One of the biggest challenges of our discipline is implementing what once were cutting edge technologies into technologies that we use every day, that become our common currency,” he said.

“It’s time to change our perspective,” he added, “to start thinking outside the box – to start making unconventionals conventional.”

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