We have seen many changes in the oil and gas industry since AAPG’s founding more than 100 years ago. AAPG has also changed along with the industry in response to these changes. Our industry’s focus on various plays and areas constantly varies, while shifting product prices and sweeping changes in public opinion and governmental policy have a major impact upon companies of all sizes, as well as the geoscientists working for them.
Face-to-face networking holds tremendous value for us as geoscientists, but in the past it was the quickest source of industry news, and hence was an important facet of your job and career in the energy industry. Most people in the industry actively sought out and participated in face-to-face networking opportunities, including local society luncheons, study group meetings, major conventions, sectional conferences and geological field trips.
There is still no substitute for the insights you can gain by discussing a new concept with the author of the paper in which the concept was first presented. Nor do I think there is a better way to become familiar with a new technological breakthrough than discussing it on the exhibit floor with the company promoting its use. If you do not attend face-to-face meetings, I believe you are hampering your career and your understanding of our science. Besides, there are few things as fun as meeting friends and colleagues while attending a society meeting or a convention.
With the 24/7 instant news and technical information sources that arose when the internet was introduced, the importance of face-to-face meetings seems to have decreased for many in the industry. This has resulted in a decrease in attendance to many of these events. Attendance at AAPG annual conventions has dropped from a high of more than 12,000 in the late 1980s to around 3,500 recently at IMAGE.
Impact of Automation
Digital data, computer-assisted workflows and artificial intelligence have had a tremendous impact within the industry. I recently spoke to one company in which the geosteering data from each drilling well is instantly relayed to the company database. This data is then automatically interpreted by an AI program and the subsurface mapping database is immediately reinterpreted and updated from the data and the well is steered accordingly. Humans are supervising this process and will step in if they see a problem or if the AI program flags something. It is obvious to see how one geosteering geologist can supervise a large number of drilling wells at once with this system.
During each of the last several downturns, our industry has aggressively innovated new ways to do more with less expense and fewer employees. The decreased need for geoscientists contributed to the anemic hiring observed during the last oil and gas boom and is a key driver for decreasing membership in AAPG.
The decreases in hiring of geoscientists and the shift away from participation in face-to-face meetings by some of our members has had a predictably adverse impact upon AAPG. An additional unfortunate byproduct of this trend is the decrease in the number of AAPG volunteers we are able to find to help us in our governance structure, our convention committees and other membership-driven programs in AAPG.
As I’ve mentioned in previous EXPLORER columns, our staff is having an increasingly difficult time filling volunteer positions within our current governance structure. We still have a devoted core of enthusiastic volunteers within AAPG, but that core is shrinking. We are having to ask more of each volunteer in a shrinking volunteer pool, and some of those volunteers are getting burned out.
This problem is not unique to the AAPG membership. It is one of the main topics discussed when we have meetings with regions or sections leadership, local affiliated societies and other energy-related sister societies.
What Can We Do About It?
These industry trends, including decreasing membership, persistent operational losses and little indication of improvement lead many of us within the leadership of AAPG to think that the best way to address this and many of our other problems is to simplify and streamline AAPG, including our governance structure. I have outlined many of these financial and membership problems in my past EXPLORER columns.
We will supply as much of the data about these problems as possible tour members, the House of Delegates, the Advisory council, and other AAPG stakeholders as possible. We will be assisted by focused volunteer teams and the HoD and other stakeholders as we work toward a better understanding of our options and then aim toward consensus solutions as we reimagine an AAPG that is flexible and adaptable to the dynamic and rapidly changing business environment of today. To accomplish this, we will need our leadership to work in a collaborative and creative manner, and our membership to stay abreast of any proposals to address our problems as they become available. We are currently having an AAPG officer election and expect to have special elections in the future to address our problems. Please make your voice heard and be sure to vote.