'Bridesmaids' No More: University of Houston Wins IBA

When it comes to the AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Awards, now in their 13th year, you expect to hear terms like “bridesmaids” from faculty advisers and students who participate year after year but never quite get to pose with the big check. Nobody is Susan Lucci here – these are all accomplished schools and programs, and winning isn’t the only byproduct of IBA or why they compete – but one can start to detect some understandable frustration and disappointment.

“After John Castagna and I,” said AAPG Member Paul Mann, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Houston, “started co-advising the UH IBA team in 2012, our UH IBA teams had been the perennial bridesmaids of the Gulf Coast Section in 2012 (third place), 2013 (third place), 2014 (third place), 2015 (did not place), and 2016 (second place). In 2012 and 2014 we were third place in the Gulf Coast section behind University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL).”

But the team kept plugging, getting better.

“With each year and completed data set, the team improved on data analysis, slide preparation and flow and how to sell their prospects or play concepts to a critical audience. Our earlier UH teams were always strong technically but remained weaker in the area of presentation and ‘sealing the deal’ - an area in which some of our Gulf Coast competitors like ULL (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) excelled at. Getting the second place amongst a strong field in the Gulf Coast section in 2016 showed that the UH team had merged their technical analysis with an exciting and convincing delivery and was ready to move up from its usual, third place position.”

And this year, they did – all the way to this year’s IBA.

“The first big leap,” Mann said, “was finally winning the Gulf Coast section on March 17,” which meant beating perennial powerhouse ULL. It’s a tough region, anyway, the Gulf Coast, but up until this year, ULL was the Cleveland Cavaliers to UH’s Indiana Pacers.

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When it comes to the AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Awards, now in their 13th year, you expect to hear terms like “bridesmaids” from faculty advisers and students who participate year after year but never quite get to pose with the big check. Nobody is Susan Lucci here – these are all accomplished schools and programs, and winning isn’t the only byproduct of IBA or why they compete – but one can start to detect some understandable frustration and disappointment.

“After John Castagna and I,” said AAPG Member Paul Mann, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Houston, “started co-advising the UH IBA team in 2012, our UH IBA teams had been the perennial bridesmaids of the Gulf Coast Section in 2012 (third place), 2013 (third place), 2014 (third place), 2015 (did not place), and 2016 (second place). In 2012 and 2014 we were third place in the Gulf Coast section behind University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL).”

But the team kept plugging, getting better.

“With each year and completed data set, the team improved on data analysis, slide preparation and flow and how to sell their prospects or play concepts to a critical audience. Our earlier UH teams were always strong technically but remained weaker in the area of presentation and ‘sealing the deal’ - an area in which some of our Gulf Coast competitors like ULL (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) excelled at. Getting the second place amongst a strong field in the Gulf Coast section in 2016 showed that the UH team had merged their technical analysis with an exciting and convincing delivery and was ready to move up from its usual, third place position.”

And this year, they did – all the way to this year’s IBA.

“The first big leap,” Mann said, “was finally winning the Gulf Coast section on March 17,” which meant beating perennial powerhouse ULL. It’s a tough region, anyway, the Gulf Coast, but up until this year, ULL was the Cleveland Cavaliers to UH’s Indiana Pacers.

What made part of the 2017 competition more unique (and fun) for Mann and his team was that the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition was held in downtown Houston. It was, in every real sense, a home game, so to appear in the finals would be extra sweet.

They were ready – or thought they were.

Sealing the Deal

“Our team,” said Mann of this year, “came out of the Gulf Coast semifinals with a high level of confidence and was primed to compete in the finals on April 1.”

One of the quirks of the competition is that, according to IBA rules, after the semifinals are announced, no more modifications of the slide presentation are permitted. So, Mann and his team decided to spend what amounted to a two-week dress rehearsal, continuing to practice the existing slide presentation and working through long lists of potential questions that might be asked by the panel following their final presentation.

UH worked on the Taranaki Basin in New Zealand. The New Zealand minister of energy gave the team a boxed drive containing all of the subsurface oil-related data from New Zealand.

Each member had, at first, a specific role in the project, meaning the five-person IBA team had a basin modeler, geophysicist/petrophysicist, tectonics/structural geologist, seismic stratigrapher/sedimentologist and overall seismic interpreter/team captain/whip-cracker. Each team member started the process of building a 25-minute presentation by contributing the necessary slides on his or her specialty area.

Mann said, “By the end of the eight weeks, the divisions between specialties start to blur as each member begins to understand the roles of their teammates,” which is by design, actually.

There were some hiccups.

“We lost one of our five members (Andrew Steier) as the best man at his brothers wedding on the same day as the IBA finals – but the man down didn’t really matter in the finals. The other four members were able to step up, cover his presentation role, and ably handle the judges questions on his specialty area,” Mann recounted.

Specifically, the UH team consisted of five EAS doctoral and graduate students: Delaney Robinson (pursuing her doctorate), Walter Reed (master’s), Eric Lunn (doctoral and team captain), Andrew Steier (master’s), and Leiser Silva (master’s). The team’s faculty advisers include Mann, Castagna, Julia Wellner and Kurt Rudolph. Industry advisers include Mike Liebelt and Mark Richardson.

Mann said half the winnings – $10,000 – will be split evenly among team members.

“This amount per team member is consistent with the amount received by our UH winner for the 2017 AAPG Best Student Poster award, Lucia Torrado, who received a $2,000 poster prize payment.” (See related story.)

“The $10,000 balance of the IBA funds will go our UH AAPG student chapter, the Wildcatters, to help support their activities in coming years that include invited speakers, field trips, student travel to present at meetings, short courses, and other activities,” said Mann.

Not Just a Game

The point of all of this is preparing students for future work in the industry.

“Almost all of our UH IBA team members since 2012 are working in the oil and gas industry and demonstrate the practical value of the ‘IBA experience’ at UH. Our challenge now,” he said, “ is to continue to produce consistently strong UH teams year after year – and attempt to the win the Gulf Coast region and world finals for a second time.”

He mentioned how only one team has won the IBA finals twice since the start of the IBA program in 2006. You guessed it. University of Louisiana, Lafayette.

Get ready for the rematch in 2018.

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