Imperial Barrel Program Rolls Into New Orleans

57 universities from 18 countries in competition

AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Award program (IBA) continues to expand its global outreach as it offers a unique opportunity for earth science students from around the world to analyze real geologic, geophysical, land, economic and production data.

Now in its third year, this year’s IBA program, which will culminate in the finals at the upcoming AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in New Orleans, will include participation by 57 universities from 18 countries, representing all six international Regions and all six U.S. Sections.

Latin America and Middle East Regions will enter the competition for the first time.

Like no other student program, the IBA program gives students experience interacting with and learning from industry leaders and mentors; it has the power to jolt the career path of students anywhere in the world.

The IBA Committee, led by former IBA coordinators Steve Veal (chair) and Ken Nemeth (vice chair), oversees the global program. IBA Committee member Tim Berge is responsible for the IBA datasets plus coordination of software donations and support.

The committee, working with headquarters staff, is implementing fundamental program improvements this year by embracing new technologies and instituting a clearly written, comprehensive “Rules, Regulations, Operations Manual.”

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AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Award program (IBA) continues to expand its global outreach as it offers a unique opportunity for earth science students from around the world to analyze real geologic, geophysical, land, economic and production data.

Now in its third year, this year’s IBA program, which will culminate in the finals at the upcoming AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in New Orleans, will include participation by 57 universities from 18 countries, representing all six international Regions and all six U.S. Sections.

Latin America and Middle East Regions will enter the competition for the first time.

Like no other student program, the IBA program gives students experience interacting with and learning from industry leaders and mentors; it has the power to jolt the career path of students anywhere in the world.

The IBA Committee, led by former IBA coordinators Steve Veal (chair) and Ken Nemeth (vice chair), oversees the global program. IBA Committee member Tim Berge is responsible for the IBA datasets plus coordination of software donations and support.

The committee, working with headquarters staff, is implementing fundamental program improvements this year by embracing new technologies and instituting a clearly written, comprehensive “Rules, Regulations, Operations Manual.”

Simultaneously, industry recognition, involvement and support of IBA are on the rise, with new datasets contributed and additional service companies offering free software downloads, training and technical support to universities and IBA teams.

At the local Section and Region level, IBA coordinators recruit schools to participate in the program, secure corporate sponsors and organize sectional/regional IBA events.

For 2010, eight out of 12 IBA coordinators are returning for the second year – a combination of experience and fresh ideas that has sparked several IBA “best practices.”

Mobilization

There are reasons why the IBA has the power to mobilize companies, affiliate societies and educational institutions.

The program’s focus is on development of exploration skills. Central to the IBA competition is analysis of regional-scale (approximately 100 square kilometers) datasets, presented in the program as project “problems” or “new business ventures.”

“This year,” Berge said, “we were able to offer seven completely different IBA project ‘problems’ from five geographic areas – the Danish North Sea, Norwegian North Sea, onshore Australia, U.S. Gulf Coast offshore, Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the Barents Sea.”

It is Berge’s role to carefully modify donated datasets to ensure every IBA team has an equivalent challenge and learning experience. Every project contains real geological data including well curves, 3-D or 2-D seismic data, gravity and magnetic data, Landsat imagery, geologic reports or studies, geochemistry and core data.

“Thanks to our industry partners, affiliate societies and university partners that have donated these datasets,” Berge said, including Maersk, Texaco, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Imperial College London, University of Oklahoma and Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA).

IBA rules restrict students to one IBA event during their university career, although any university can enter a new IBA team each year. To avoid giving a returning university an unfair advantage over a first-time university, Berge’s management of the datasets guarantees that each school’s team has a completely new project that is from a part of the world that is unfamiliar to them – even if the university is a previous IBA participant.

Inherent in a global program are variations in hardware, software and bandwidth available to universities from state to state and country to country. Berge makes sure the data are in formats that are understood and usable by the different universities.

The ability to offer a range of software choices, he said, is only possible through the generous support of Schlumberger, SMT, Paradigm and OpendTect, all of which have donated software to the IBA program.

Technical Improvements

In previous years IBA datasets were loaded on portable thumb drives or USB keys, then shipped to university contacts in diverse locales – and with equally diverse mail delivery systems.

This year, nearly 100 gigabytes of IBA project data are hosted on and can be downloaded from the AAPG FTP site. Project datasets are usually in the 1-4 gigabyte range, although some can be as large as 14 gigabytes.

“The FTP site allows us to assign each IBA participant team a password, which enables them to see and download only the project to which they are assigned,” Berge said. “With this technical improvement, participants can access the data more quickly and more reliably.”

Another technical improvement directly benefits the IBA Committee and the program’s historical records. Mike Mlynek, AAPG, assistant manager, (Student Programs) has capitalized on new Web-hosting technology to create a single source for all IBA documents and materials.

Best Practices

Three IBA program practices deserve special mention as “best practices” for adding value to the IBA experience of students and businesses alike.

What are they?

Readers are encouraged to view expanded accounts of these practices on the IBA Web site at http://www.aapg.org/iba.

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