Legends Have Advice to Give

Varied Views, Uncommon Successes

One of the highlights of last year's AAPG annual meeting in Houston was the DPA/SIPES luncheon address by Michel T. Halbouty. With a booming voice that belied his age — he was just three months shy of 93 years — Halbouty gave a moving tribute to the heritage of the petroleum geologist.

The guest list included the Who's Who of the international world of petroleum geology. Halbouty, an AAPG past president, and 37 other distinguished geologists were honored at the luncheon.

"I was always extremely proud to be a geoscientist, a student and disciple of the earth," Halbouty said in his tribute, as he described what it takes to be a successful exploration geologist:

"To put it in the common vernacular, unmitigated guts."

Each of the honorees hosted a table at the luncheon, rubbing shoulders with students, retirees and working geologists, and sharing their perspectives on where we've been and where we're going as a profession.

In conversation with several of the honorees, it became apparent that exploration geologists never really retire — these oil finders possess an intrepid spirit that drives them to reconfigure themselves, moving into new and valuable roles.

"Post-retirement" activities included starting new oil and gas companies, joining academia, and mentoring and training the next generation of oil finders.

Here's how four of them are keeping busy — and how they described their own legendary works.

Don't Stop Now

John Masters, an AAPG member honored at the luncheon, didn't take mandatory retirement at age 65 from Canadian Hunter Exploration lying down. "It was quite a blow," Masters said. "I had no intention of retiring."

Ten years later, Masters is now president of Denver-based DDX, an exploration company that he founded in the late 1990s. Masters' formula for success is capitalizing on the "technical soft spots in the industry." He built his career — and Canadian Hunter Exploration — by exploiting by-passed pay zones in the Elmworth/Wapiti gas field situated on the western flank of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin.

Elmworth/Wapiti, located in west-central Alberta and adjacent British Columbia, is the classic example of a deep basin (basin center) tight gas sands play. In 1979, Masters estimated the field to contain 440 Tcf of gas (AAPG BULLETIN, V.63, Number 2). Today, Masters admits that this 1979 figure was based upon a "sophomoric understanding" of Elmworth, and probably overstated the field's recoverable reserves.

"The size of the recoverable reserves at Elmworth," he said, "is a moving target. It's a damn big number, and probably exceeds 30 to 40 Tcf."

Please log in to read the full article

One of the highlights of last year's AAPG annual meeting in Houston was the DPA/SIPES luncheon address by Michel T. Halbouty. With a booming voice that belied his age — he was just three months shy of 93 years — Halbouty gave a moving tribute to the heritage of the petroleum geologist.

The guest list included the Who's Who of the international world of petroleum geology. Halbouty, an AAPG past president, and 37 other distinguished geologists were honored at the luncheon.

"I was always extremely proud to be a geoscientist, a student and disciple of the earth," Halbouty said in his tribute, as he described what it takes to be a successful exploration geologist:

"To put it in the common vernacular, unmitigated guts."

Each of the honorees hosted a table at the luncheon, rubbing shoulders with students, retirees and working geologists, and sharing their perspectives on where we've been and where we're going as a profession.

In conversation with several of the honorees, it became apparent that exploration geologists never really retire — these oil finders possess an intrepid spirit that drives them to reconfigure themselves, moving into new and valuable roles.

"Post-retirement" activities included starting new oil and gas companies, joining academia, and mentoring and training the next generation of oil finders.

Here's how four of them are keeping busy — and how they described their own legendary works.

Don't Stop Now

John Masters, an AAPG member honored at the luncheon, didn't take mandatory retirement at age 65 from Canadian Hunter Exploration lying down. "It was quite a blow," Masters said. "I had no intention of retiring."

Ten years later, Masters is now president of Denver-based DDX, an exploration company that he founded in the late 1990s. Masters' formula for success is capitalizing on the "technical soft spots in the industry." He built his career — and Canadian Hunter Exploration — by exploiting by-passed pay zones in the Elmworth/Wapiti gas field situated on the western flank of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin.

Elmworth/Wapiti, located in west-central Alberta and adjacent British Columbia, is the classic example of a deep basin (basin center) tight gas sands play. In 1979, Masters estimated the field to contain 440 Tcf of gas (AAPG BULLETIN, V.63, Number 2). Today, Masters admits that this 1979 figure was based upon a "sophomoric understanding" of Elmworth, and probably overstated the field's recoverable reserves.

"The size of the recoverable reserves at Elmworth," he said, "is a moving target. It's a damn big number, and probably exceeds 30 to 40 Tcf."

The key to the discovery of Elmworth/Wapiti in 1976, explained Masters, was the development of an innovative technical approach to identify by-passed pay in low porosity and permeability Mesozoic sandstones and conglomerates. Canadian Hunter led the exploration pack in the calibration of geological-petrophysical-reservoir engineering data to exploit basin centered gas.

"The rocks," he said, "were more significant than the electrical logs."

According to Masters, tight gas sands — or low quality reservoirs — represent the future of exploration in North America.

"Gone are the days that an explorationist will find 100 millidarcy rocks on top of large anticlines," he said, suggesting that basin centered gas, coalbed methane, oil shales, oil sands and gas hydrates will play a vital role in satisfying North America's projected appetite for energy.

Concerned by the growing trend of E&P companies that are being driven by a financial versus an exploration mindset, Masters lamented, "I think that explorationists in this country have lost their souls." This sentiment echoes his 1984 comments in AAPG Memoir 38, Elmworth — Case Study of a Deep Basin Gas Field:

"The discovery of a major oil or gas field onshore in North America is a significant event to geologists. But, the discovery of a super giant field in a subtle trap is so unique that it fulfills the fondest hopes of all explorationists and confirms their faith that the earth holds hidden treasures that cannot be known by statisticians or economists."

Ensuring the Next Generation

Robert J. Weimer, professor emeritus at the Colorado School of Mines department of geology and geological engineering, began his career with Union Oil Company of California, exploring West Texas and the foothills of northern Montana and southern Alberta. He later became a consultant specializing in the Rocky Mountains, the Green River and Powder River Basins.

Weimer, a 52-year AAPG member, reflected upon his exploration experience in the 1950s and 1960s, and how things have changed:

"Today, we have the advance of knowledge regarding the total petroleum fluid system," he said. "That helps explain why some traps are filled and others aren't.

"Back then, we had trouble convincing people that they should look at stratigraphic plays as having large potential."

He was, however, successful in selling some of his stratigraphic plays, leading to oil and gas discoveries in the Green River and Powder River Basins.

In 1957, Weimer joined the Colorado School of Mines and taught applied courses in petroleum exploration and stratigraphy. What prompted Weimer to leave exploration and go into academia?

"I thought it was better to train a couple of hundred oil and gas geologists than to continue working myself."

Under Weimer's tutelage, between 2,500 to 3,000 geoscientists have had the opportunity to take applied courses in oil and gas exploration, either on campus at CSM or elsewhere in the world. His courses usually involve a field component.

"I've always viewed training in the field as the ground truth," Weimer said. "Books are written by men and women, but they're sometimes wrong. The field is always right, if you can read it."

Retirement in 1983 from CSM marked the beginning of a new phase in Weimer's life — he went back to "hands-on" exploration. He also continued to teach the principles of petroleum exploration, and he served as AAPG president in 1991-92.

What advice did Weimer impart for the next generation of petroleum geologists?

"It's a whole different ballgame today," he said. "There's a strong emphasis for the young person to chart his or her own career path.

"Whatever position young geologists accept, they must excel in that position."

Equally important, Weimer advised young geologists to become knowledgeable in managing their finances so that they can ride out the cycles in the industry.

Finding the Niche

James A. Gibbs, another AAPG past president, is chairman of Dallas-based Five States Energy Company. He remembers a time when geologists, geophysicists and engineers were not allowed to talk to each other

"We've come all the way from working in rigid professions to total integration," he said.

Gibbs' greatest satisfaction has come from mentoring and training young people, and seeing them become successful geologists and independents.

"I have always encouraged companies to bring on student help," he said. "It's akin to the old guild system, like a geological apprentice."

Gibbs recommended that geologists find their niche in the profession of geology and develop their careers around it. He has developed his niche in the business side of the oil and gas industry.

"The AAPG," Gibbs said, "has always straddled the fence between science, the business and the profession — yet geologists are not trained well in capital formation."

Being able to work with financial people, however, has enabled Gibbs to get his prospects drilled.

Yeilding to Success

Legends in the petroleum industry take many forms: Included among the group of distinguished geologists was Cindy Yeilding, who was the leader of the BP team responsible for the 1999 discovery of Thunder Horse. Estimated to contain one billion barrels of recoverable reserves, it's the most significant discovery to date in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. Thunder Horse is situated in 6,000 feet fo water in the Boarshead Basin, some 125 miles southeast of New Orleans.

"The road that led to the Thunder Horse discovery was a team effort," Yeilding said. "We came out of a string of dry holes in the deep water; we went back to the basics; we ignored seismic amplitudes; we did an elephant hunt for structures that had good closure, fetch, focus and reservoir."

According to Yeilding, two critical factors led to the discovery of Thunder Horse:

  • Management remained committed — despite the string of dry holes — to providing resources to the exploration team.
  • Deepwater drilling technology caught up with the exploration play, enabling BP to successfully drill and test the structure.

"BP is a cool place to work if you like exploration," she said.

She was being modest. Yeilding was, by far, the youngest geologist honored at the luncheon that day.

"I kept thinking that it's not for me to be part of this group," she commented, somewhat in awe of her surroundings.

In her late 30s at the time of the Thunder Horse discovery, Yeilding has earned her stripes, joining the ranks of legendary oil finders. She is focusing on the next exploration challenge in her career.

Clearly, that's what legends do.

evrcartxtwrwex

You may also be interested in ...