Carrots, Sticks Are Good Tools

Wildcat Recollections

In 1969, Shell Oil began looking for places where its new "bright spot" technology could be useful in the onshore of the United States. Armed with a list of rock and fluid criteria, I began making a search for places where this novel technique could be as useful to Shell in the onshore USA as it was in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our California Division seemed to have some areas that fit our technical criteria. In addition, California economics allowed us to search for gas, which is much easier to find with "bright spots" than is oil.

I spent several days in California describing the principles of "bright spot" hydrocarbon exploration, as developed by Mike Forrest and others in the Gulf of Mexico.

Local management was very cool to the idea of redirecting exploration efforts toward "bright spot" searches, and had little confidence in my reports of Gulf of Mexico successes. I returned to headquarters dismayed that my data and arguments had not convinced our local management to join the direct detection bandwagon.

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In 1969, Shell Oil began looking for places where its new "bright spot" technology could be useful in the onshore of the United States. Armed with a list of rock and fluid criteria, I began making a search for places where this novel technique could be as useful to Shell in the onshore USA as it was in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our California Division seemed to have some areas that fit our technical criteria. In addition, California economics allowed us to search for gas, which is much easier to find with "bright spots" than is oil.

I spent several days in California describing the principles of "bright spot" hydrocarbon exploration, as developed by Mike Forrest and others in the Gulf of Mexico.

Local management was very cool to the idea of redirecting exploration efforts toward "bright spot" searches, and had little confidence in my reports of Gulf of Mexico successes. I returned to headquarters dismayed that my data and arguments had not convinced our local management to join the direct detection bandwagon.

I discussed my failure with my boss, Gerry Pirsig. He offered little sympathy, but said:

"Remember Pavlov's dog?"

I returned to California, emphasized that budget approval for drilling and geophysical work would be dependent on technical work being refocused toward "bright spot" anomalies, and we established a new team of geophysicists and geologists to investigate and validate the Gulf of Mexico work.


Elwood (Woody) Hardeman became the leader of the new group, which included Roger Baker, Tom Baird and Dennis Sparks. In a matter of weeks, Woody's team had given a "California validation" to the Gulf of Mexico work, and were in hot pursuit of "bright spot" opportunities.

Don Collins had an interesting geologic concept of multiple stratigraphic traps from Tertiary sandstones infilling the 2,000-foot thick Markley Gorge. Todhunters Lake gas field appeared to be an analog. Baird and Sparks modeled Todhunters Lake Field and compared their model to available reprocessed 1941 single fold coverage.

The comparison convinced the team that they had a tool for direct detection of hydrocarbons by seismic techniques, and an expanded seismic acquisition program was approved and started.

Wayne Morford devised an algorithm to provide a calibrated gray scale output on the seismic sections for the hydrocarbon-bearing horizon. Tom Hanrahan was able to select numerous bright spot anomalies, and the "bright spot" team joked that they could validate Shell's land purchases in the Sacramento Basin on an acre-by-acre basis.

The team was expanded to include Bob Weiner as party chief, and it discovered Rio Jesus, Sacramento Airport, Conway Ranch and Putah Sink. The only dry hole in the play was a deliberate test of an unusual reflector that turned out to be a conglomerate lens.


And what did I learn from watching this Sacramento Basin exploration play?

  • I learned that it may be difficult to emplace new technology that is ... "not invented here."
  • I learned that "carrots and sticks" are more powerful for changing attitudes than reason or arguments.
  • I learned that great staff and great technology make exploration easy.

Is that the way it really happened?

Maybe not, but that's the way I remember it.

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