Managing Changes in Uncertain Times

Our industry, while based on the fundamentals of good scientific and engineering practice, is nonetheless sometimes subject to the same tendency towards fad and dogmas that afflicts our society as a whole.

Decision makers, if not careful, may anchor their views from recent experience, current headlines or market demands. However, if there is one thing I have learned in my 35 years as an AAPG Member, it is that change is the norm and what is out of favor today may one day become conventional wisdom.

I can remember the paradigms that once held that geologists would never need computers on their desktops, that there were no river systems capable of delivering reservoir sands beyond the shelf and into deepwater settings, and that large oil molecules would never flow through very small pores in shales. Now these three paradigms underpin several hundred billion dollars per year of global capital investment and form the basis for what most of AAPG’s roughly 30,000 Members do on a daily basis.

Having experienced firsthand these profound changes in how we practice our profession, I have come to believe that charting a successful career as a petroleum geoscientist requires flexibility, a mindset to courageously face change when required and a commitment to lifelong learning to provide the tools needed to stay competitive in the job market.

A Perfect Storm of Paradigms

Two of today’s most frequently cited paradigms are “Lower for Longer” and “The Great Crew Change.”

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Our industry, while based on the fundamentals of good scientific and engineering practice, is nonetheless sometimes subject to the same tendency towards fad and dogmas that afflicts our society as a whole.

Decision makers, if not careful, may anchor their views from recent experience, current headlines or market demands. However, if there is one thing I have learned in my 35 years as an AAPG Member, it is that change is the norm and what is out of favor today may one day become conventional wisdom.

I can remember the paradigms that once held that geologists would never need computers on their desktops, that there were no river systems capable of delivering reservoir sands beyond the shelf and into deepwater settings, and that large oil molecules would never flow through very small pores in shales. Now these three paradigms underpin several hundred billion dollars per year of global capital investment and form the basis for what most of AAPG’s roughly 30,000 Members do on a daily basis.

Having experienced firsthand these profound changes in how we practice our profession, I have come to believe that charting a successful career as a petroleum geoscientist requires flexibility, a mindset to courageously face change when required and a commitment to lifelong learning to provide the tools needed to stay competitive in the job market.

A Perfect Storm of Paradigms

Two of today’s most frequently cited paradigms are “Lower for Longer” and “The Great Crew Change.”

The first, of course, refers to the collapse in commodity prices following OPEC’s decision in November 2014 to aggressively pursue market share, with all of the wreckage to the upstream industry that followed as companies have struggled to shore up balance sheets and restore profitability, and the prevailing view that a return to higher prices is likely many years away (if ever). The second refers to the impending retirement of the Baby Boom generation that makes up a large portion of AAPG’s membership, and the need to grow the ranks of Millennials in industry and leadership positions.

These two paradigms intersect at employment levels — a leading indicator of the health of our profession and a subject of great interest to our membership. The “Lower for Longer” paradigm serves as a catalyst for reducing employee headcount in order to protect corporate bottom lines from an unknown but potentially harsh future, while the “Great Crew Change” paradigm reinforces the need to attract, retain and develop talent to prepare for a future where experienced professionals may be in great demand.

While it isn’t clear how these forces will play out over the next several years, we may already be in the midst of a perfect storm as early retirements in the current market may be accelerating the “Great Crew Change.”

Emerging Paradigm: Multidisciplinary Skill Sets

I certainly do not have an infallible crystal ball on what the future holds, but I do believe there are fundamental forces that geoscience professionals should contemplate when charting their own career strategies. One of the potentially most powerful is the increasingly interconnected and interdisciplinary nature of the work that geoscience professionals do.

A geoscientist working in deepwater exploration needs to master management and interpretation of large seismic datasets, develop a deep understanding of global geologic analogs and capably perform careful risk analysis from seismic data calibrated by relatively few wells. A geoscientist working in unconventionals must develop a deep understanding of reservoir sweet spots, how to drive maximum recovery from the combination of reservoir architecture and engineering optimization, and the ability to execute drilling campaigns of perhaps hundreds of wells.

What is common to both is the increasing need for technical and non-technical breadth, which requires a basic level of awareness and competence of the multiple disciplines required for business decisions. This will be increasingly true where geoscientists will need to work across the life cycle of a project, from early opportunity identification, to exploration and appraisal, to field development and production surveillance. Skill in each part of the life cycle better allows the geoscientist to become better-rounded and more valuable to his or her employer, and in my opinion, will provide an increased measure of job security for an uncertain future.

Anniversary Events

So why is this paradigm of interest to AAPG’s Division of Professional Affairs?

The DPA sponsors multiple programs aimed at helping geoscientists in their professional development. Multiple DPA events will be featured at the 2017 Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston next April, which will be a celebration of AAPG’s 100th anniversary and also the DPA’s 50th anniversary.

The DPA is planning two Discovery Thinking Forums (the 17th and 18th since the inception of this popular event in 2008), and has already lined up some fabulous papers from a multitude of geologic settings throughout the world. These talks should inspire explorers everywhere with lessons on how major impact discoveries were nurtured from concept to economic reality.

The DPA will also honor the Heritage of the Petroleum Geologist at its annual luncheon devoted to the legacy of AAPG legend Wallace Pratt, which will include issuing a second volume of the popular DPA publication “Heritage of the Petroleum Geologist” (which can be found on the DPA websitedudzeezsrrexbvtcddasfddatdevabdccdvuuv).

The DPA will co-sponsor (along with the Division of Environmental Geosciences) a special forum on “Future Best Practices for Extraction Industries in a Lower Carbon Environment” to help members gain insight on the standards of operating practice that may be emerging to meet more stringent regulatory standards and maintain our industry’s “License to Operate.”

Finally, DPA’s short courses will aim to help geoscientists gain breadth and professional skills with offerings in professional ethics and the business side of geology.

So wherever you work, whatever your specialty and whatever your level of experience, there will be a DPA-sponsored event that can inspire you and help you become a more well rounded professional.

I look forward to seeing you in Houston!

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