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Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Rachel Newrick

We sat down with Rachel Newrick ahead of her upcoming GeoLogica course, which she is co-leading with renowned professor John Randolph: Practical Seismic Interpretation (G027)

What is your field and specialization? 

I am an exploration geophysicist with a specialty in seismic interpretation. Effectively, I analyze seismic data to advise where to locate drilling rigs to maximize the chance for success in finding hydrocarbons. In classes, I explain that we are investment advisors to our companies. 

Tell us a bit about your career in geoscience and your road to teaching. 

Wow, that’s a big question. Back in high school in New Zealand, I’d always loved science, particularly physics, so I started in a combined chemistry and physics degree at Victoria University of Wellington. To fill in some classes I took geology because you got to take up to three field trips every year. I thought that sounded fantastic because I love hiking and being outside. During my second or third year, someone said, ‘Why don’t you take geophysics? If you do a geophysics field trip, you get to blow stuff up.’ That sounded pretty cool! Aside from that, geophysics really quantified the geology for me. I had more of a mathematical / physics type brain – I want concrete answers. In geology, you can have a lot of big questions but in geophysics you tend to try and quantify things a little bit more. So, I did my undergrad in geophysics and then, being a good New Zealander, I went backpacking around the world for the next three years, travelling to Central America and Europe followed by nearly a year in Africa. 

When I got home, I found I couldn’t get a job because I’d been out of school for three years but had no experience so didn’t fit any job requirements. My honours supervisor in New Zealand suggested I get a graduate degree to reset my education – I could then try to get a job straight afterwards – so I headed to the University of Calgary, Canada. Once there, I enjoyed my time so much and travelled so extensively for conferences and internships that my supervisor threatened to take away my passport, so I would finish the actual degree! One of the things I loved most, and I was good at, was teaching. I always had teaching assistantships and was asked, for example, to help teach an igneous field school down in Death Valley, California. And, as I said, I’m a geophysicist – why wouldn’t you pick a geologist? He said, ‘Well, because you can teach.’ So I said, ‘What type of rocks are we looking at? Dacite? Andesite? Basalt?’ He replied, ‘See, you know more than most Canadians about volcanics because New Zealand has lots of volcanoes!’ It was great, aside from the heat.

I feel as though I could learn to teach anything. If you asked me to teach you how to ride a motorcycle, I could. Anything I can do, I can teach someone else to do. As a teaching assistant in 4th year Geophysical Interpretation for Dr Larry Lines, I commented that it was ridiculous for students to spend hundreds of dollars on multiple textbooks and we should have one textbook and that we should write our own. I encouraged Larry to write a textbook and he said I would have to co-author it. So, before I got my PhD, I had a published textbook – too funny! 

My undergrad degrees were in geology and geophysics, so structural geology forms part of my background and the co-supervisors for my PhD were Dr Deborah Spratt, structural geology, and Dr Don Lawton, geophysics. So, I’ve always had that crossover. During my PhD, I had internships with Oxy, Exxon and Veritas but started working for Nexen in their New Growth Team when I graduated. We looked at Canadian opportunities in the foothills, fold and thrust belts, the plains and shale gas basins. I became certified first as a professional geologist and then as a professional geophysicist with APEGA and truly sit on the boundary, being able to talk in both languages and live in both worlds. It is really helpful.  

As a new graduate working for a new company, I always loved to share information. If I was looking at my seismic data and saw something that was absolutely fascinating, I’d write a one page note and send it out to all the geophysicists in the group, division or company. Or, I’d I just take a screenshot and write a note about what I thought it was and I’d put it on the wall and say to everyone walking by, ‘What do you think this is?’, and if no one at the company I was working at had any idea what’s going on, I’d phone Apache or I’d phone Talisman or I’d phone another company and say, ‘Hey, buddy, do you know what’s going on?’. So, with that in mind, I started organizing lunch and learns, or impromptu lunch gatherings. I did a talk series with Paul Anderson, from Apache at the time, called ‘Strange but True Stories of Depth Imaging’ and ‘Strange but True Stories of Synthetic Seismograms’. We got people in the industry together and we showed them random anonymous case histories and asked them to look at the wacky things that happened, so we could all learn. These were voluntary, just a love of sharing and helping other people learn. For my own learning. That’s just sort of a natural trait.  

Then Nexen sent me to the UK on an expat assignment in London and I lived there for two years working in the North Sea, which was absolutely fantastic. But I wanted to explore the frontier so when I had the opportunity to work for Cairn Energy in Edinburgh I took it. Talk about a career highlight! I loved my job; I loved the people I worked with. I loved the environment. It was absolutely phenomenal. We drilled a number of frontier wells in West Greenland, not with commercial success, but certainly with enough indicators to be interesting. I then got promoted to Exploration Manager for the Mediterranean and North Africa, while still working on technical geophysics challenges for the company. Flying to places like Cyprus, Greece and Morocco to meet with different people and discuss projects had me in my element because I got to share information, to learn and to transfer knowledge back to the company. What I learned I wrote up as tips and tricks. If I saw something interesting in a data room and thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great way to do that’, I’d write it up – it didn’t matter whether it was specifically associated to my field or a communication thing or a soft skill; I felt that we needed to learn from it. 

After three years in Scotland, my partner and I decided we really wanted to get back to Canada – we’d only done two skiing trips in five years and we were used to skiing every weekend, so we moved home and I started consulting so that I could have more flexibility as to how I control my time. Not long after returning to Canada I got a phone call from John Randolph. There was a quite well-known Calgary based geophysicist, Bill Nickerson, who had been teaching an introductory course in seismic exploration who sadly became unwell and subsequently passed away. As he pulled back from teaching, he was asked who could teach his course and he named me. John and others started asking around and my name came up a few times, so they reached out and said, ‘Hey, would you be interested in teaching?’ 

I just loved taking courses that were taught by people who worked in the industry, someone who’s been there. So, likewise, I can stand up in front of a class and talk about why it’s so important to get a well tie correct or why we need to identify this funny-looking thing because we’re going to be spending $120 million on a well seeing if we’re right. So, doing due diligence in the geoscience analysis is really important. You never want to say, ‘Oh, yeah, well, I guess I knew we could have found volcanic rocks instead of the prognosed…’. You’ve got to be able to quantify the risk, or at least acknowledge the variables. I feel I’m able to bring some of my experience from frontier exploration, shale gas exploration and other interactions in the industry. Also, because I love teaching and love having people actually grasp the material and have ‘aha’ moments, I work really hard to make sure that everyone in the class has a good experience and takes enough away that they can continue their learning journey after the class. John moved on to Geologica and I’ve now been asked to co-teach this class with a view to potentially teaching it on my own on the future. 

Give us some highlights of your time out in the field

The bulk of my job is spent at a computer interpreting seismic data, so the opportunities to get in the field are for general professional development, site visits to look at project specific geology or during drilling operations. I’ve taken professional field courses in France, Colombia, Egypt, Montana and Alberta, and every single one of them has stuck with me. Early in my career Nexen sent us on a new graduate field trip every year, that we had to participate in planning and teaching: to Quebec, the East Coast and Saskatchewan. I thrived being outside trying to unravel the mystery of the rocks.  

Aside from professional development, getting into the field to better understand the petroleum system is critical for cementing ideas, and for allowing the team time to think as they work together on the challenge. I found this to be especially true on the West Greenland project. In West Greenland the outcrop is phenomenal because there are very few trees, and you’re able to step through all of the rocks within the petroleum system: the source, reservoir and the seal, if there’s no cloud! For the most part, it was spectacular. Two non-geological things, stuck with me: the sense of scale is missing so distances and elevations are incredibly hard to judge, and it is so ‘white’. I’ve never looked at anything white again thinking that it was really white. The scale, well that messes with your mind: when a Zodiac takes people to shore, because the bigger boat won’t get there, you watch it and you’re thinking, ‘Oh they are going be there in a few minutes.’ And it gets smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller and you’re thinking, ‘When are they going to get there?’ It’s absolutely incredible. 

The last aspect of getting out in the field, for me, includes visiting drilling operations for projects that I’m involved with. I was on both the drill ship and semi-sub rig drilling the Atammik wells in West Greenland, and overheard one of the tool pushers say, ‘What the hell are we doing out here?’ Those were his exact words. So, after confirming with my boss, I asked the driller, who’s basically in charge of the operations, whether they would like me to put together a presentation on what we’re doing out here. ‘Sure.’ So, I put together a somewhat generic 30-minute presentation about petroleum exploration from start to finish. ‘This is what a petroleum source migration pathway is . . . hydrocarbon travels through the sub surface, it gets trapped at this location, it gets sealed in. And my job as a geophysicist is to identify that on seismic data, work with the geologist to understand the migration pathways and petroleum system. And, along with the entire team, we estimate that our best chance for finding hydrocarbon is *here*. So, right now we’re drilling this well . . . We’re in a frontier basin and we’re going down to test whether there’s any hydrocarbon in this trap at this location. And once we get down there, we’ll need to do the wireline logging operations to collect data from the well so that we know what’s going on there and plan what we can do next.’ It turned out that because the well wasn’t a commercial success the guys were thinking, ‘Why are we not just packing up and going home?’ I explained, ‘If we pack up and go home, we’ll have just spent $120 million sticking a 6-inch borehole in the ground down to 3.5 kilometres. But if we take our time and go right down to the bottom and we measure all the properties of the subsurface, we measure the resistivity, the conductivity, the sonic velocity and the radioactivity, then we can calculate rock properties, and if we take these measurements really carefully, we can do a good job of characterizing the subsurface. We can say, “This is what we believe the rocks to be, and they have these properties.” These are the details of the hydrocarbon indicators that we found and we can use that information along with the seismic data to have a better chance of success when we go to drill the next well. So, although we might be spending a couple of million dollars and a few extra days collecting data and you may think, “What are we still doing here?” it actually makes it a worthwhile exercise.’ I did that talk twice – for the day and night crews as they came off shift – and the mood on that rig shifted. The entire team was more engaged in what we were doing. Even if they were just turning a wrench somewhere on the rig, they were helping get that valuable information to help us have a better chance of success with the next location. A number of people came and thanked me afterwards, and, more importantly, we got great wireline data from that crew. They took their time, they were diligent and if something didn’t seem to be right, they didn’t just keep going past it, they notified us and we went back and reran sections and it was absolutely fantastic to feel the sense of camaraderie on that rig where everyone was working together. 

I think that every single rig operation should inform all their workers what and why they’re doing what they are doing every time. When I was in Yemen working for Nexen, I did the same thing. I would talk with the drillers, etcetera, and explain to them exactly what the petroleum system was, what our concept was, why we were doing what we were doing. And now they’re not just turning the drill pipe to get into the ground, they’re searching for the X formation and they’re helping contribute to this massive project. I think that was a teaching highlight for me – I think that presentation was actually titled ‘What the hell are we doing here?’

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know 

Well, if I wasn’t a professional geophysicist, I would be a professional motorcyclist, whether that be a motorcycle instructor, a racer, a tour guide, a motorcycle-something! I. Love. Motorcycles. And between my partner and I, we have ten in the garage, including my MV Agusta Brutale that has 144bhp at the rear wheel and will go from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds or so, not with me on it! I love riding. I’ve ‘ice raced’ (with studs in the tyres) on a lake at -26°C. I love flying through the air on a motorcycle. I like back-country riding. I’ve ridden across Canada twice on a motorcycle, and down to Mexico and back. In my first year of riding in New Zealand, on a Yamaha FZ250, I rode 32,000 kilometres. I love to ride.  

Tell us about your upcoming course with GeoLogica – what is it about and who is it for? 

What it’s about is fairly easy. It’s a journey from learning where seismic data comes from, how it’s acquired, how it’s processed, how we get it to a state where the interpreter can look at the data and gain meaning from what they’re seeing. But it’s also understanding the physics behind it, how we get the different wave forms we’re looking at. It’s understanding the pitfalls – how could we be looking at something that’s misleading us? And then it’s understanding the subsurface and the petroleum system enough to say, ‘You know, we think there’s a trap here; we think there’s some source rock here; we think there’s a seal.’ And then thinking about how we are going to take that knowledge, with our interpretation and present it in a way that can be understood by our team. We’re doing this while looking at both conventional and unconventional petroleum systems, stratigraphic traps, structural traps, along with many challenges that a seismic interpreter may face. 

It’s intended for a new graduate, early career geophysicist, or someone who may find seismic interpretation to be of general interest i.e. people who work in the team such as engineers or geologists. Team members need to be able to speak the same language and ask the right questions. If they know that it’s possible to modify the depth conversion to get a slightly different image, the team can have an informed discussion about the uncertainty in the depth and size of the trap. Aside from early level career petroleum scientist, I can also see, for example, management taking the course. Someone with, say, 20 years’ experience but it’s been a long time since they’ve actually sat down and thought about the geophysics and various aspects of seismic interpretation. We get a variety of participants on the course and the reality is that, depending on who’s on the course, there’ll be a slightly different tone or focus to the material that’s presented. I find that, if I get a lot of engineers and some managers and geologists, rather than early career geophysicists, I’m giving more of a generalized presentation of some parts of the material. If the course is full of early career geophysicists, then it may be more technically focused on some specific aspects that they’re interested in. I always take a poll at the beginning of the class and find out what everyone’s experiences are. We cover all the material, but I make sure that I delve into the areas that the class are interested in and work on the fly – just like we have to do in the petroleum industry. 

Tell me about your recent Canadian Distinguished Lecture Tour

For 2022–23, I was honored to be nominated as the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG) Distinguished Lecturer, which basically meant I was sponsored to create a one-hour lecture on a subject of my choice to be presented at as many universities and geological surveys across Canada as possible. I decided to make it a road trip and ended up speaking at 24 different locations. For me, it was a career highlight to engage with students and faculty across the country on a topic that I felt was important. Initially, I was going to talk about some aspect of petroleum exploration, like synthetic seismograms or the phase and polarity of seismic data, but quite frankly a lot of people working in geoscience departments have no real interest in petroleum or seismic, so I took on the challenge of looking optimistically at a future in geoscience with ‘Geophysics…the future is so bright, we have to wear shades’. Sadly, students are too young today to remember the song! Regardless of what happens to the petroleum industry, geoscientists, geophysicists and geologists are going to be required in every aspect of our lives moving forward. Maria Capello and co-authors compiled a Geophysical Sustainability Atlas mapping out the link between geosciences and the 17 United Nations sustainability goals.  They illustrate that geoscience can be mapped to every single one of them, like finding energy, finding water, government policy, etcetera, and call for all geoscientists to share that message. I think it’s really important for people to know that the skills they’re gaining in geoscience are valuable for every aspect of life on this planet and it’s a really worthy thing to continue as a career, so I used my CSEG DL to bring that message to students. I enjoyed having conversations about a sustainable future with people across the county and continue to have the same conversations in my classes. 

What would be your advice to junior geoscientists starting their careers today?

I think the two most important things for anyone in their career is to always have a sense of curiosity and to be responsible for your lifelong learning. I often see people sent on only one course a year and think they can’t take any other courses. But we can teach ourselves in many ways – walk in and have a conversation with a colleague. If someone else has taken a course, ask them what they learned from it or what were their best takeaways. I truly believe that every person who takes a course should go back to their company and do a one-hour lunch and learn on the course they just took. As part of the courses I’ve typically been teaching, I have all my students do a two-minute presentation on what they felt was an important aspect of the course and how they’re going to take it back to their office. On Monday morning, they can hit the ground running and try a new concept that they hadn’t thought of before. 

So those would be my two big things – curiosity and being responsible for your own lifelong learning. If you’re always learning, then you’ll always find yourself positioned to take on new challenges and you’ll be resilient when you need to be. And resilience is key in any industry. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the sector today from your perspective? 

How controversial do you want me to be?  

GeoLogica: As controversial as you like. 

Honestly, I think a big challenge right now, quite frankly, is public sentiment. For years, petroleum geoscientists have provided the energy needs for the planet, and we continue to do so. But there seems to be a bit of demonization of what we’re doing and for hydrocarbon itself. Hydrocarbon is portrayed as the evil of the world. The reality is, people around the world would not have the standard of living, not be able to survive in cold climates and not be able to drive or fly in the manner that they’re able to without it. How else do you fill up your car in 3 minutes and drive for 1000 kilometers? It’s an absolutely incredible resource. I fully believe that we should do everything as environmentally friendly as we can. No one wants to destroy the planet. No one wants to hurt the environment. Not a single person I’ve worked with. But we do have to take risks in order to utilize the resources of the planet and it’s really hard to be demonized at the moment. So, I think that’s a challenge for people coming into the industry and often, as the public sentiment declines, people are looking at other options. But we should realize that the petroleum industry is still making a massive contribution to what’s required on the planet. And it’s not just petroleum for energy, it’s petrochemicals for plastics, synthetics rubber and fibres, adhesives, paint, clothing, medicine and all the other requirements for hydrocarbon. We should be very proud of that and proud of being part of that supply chain. The better we do our jobs, the more efficient and effective we are as geophysicists and geologists, the more we reduce risk, the more we use less resources to find the same hydrocarbon. If I can work on a technique or on an area and only drill three wells to find the same amount of hydrocarbon instead of using seven wells, then I’ve prevented four wells from being drilled. To benefit our companies and the planet, we should work in the most effective way possible. I believe that all geoscientists should read The Geophysical Sustainability Atlas and get a sense of how we contribute and how we may personally contribute in the future. I think people should be proud to be a geophysicist or a geologist. I’ll stay proud to be any type of geoscientist.  

Give us your best / worst geoscience joke?

I don’t have a geoscience joke up my sleeve, but I’ll tell you my favourite chemistry one: 

Two chemists walk into a bar. 

The first chemist says to the barman, ‘I’ll just have some H2O.’ 

Her buddy says, ‘You know what, I’ll have some H2O, too.’ Then drops dead shortly afterwards.


Find out more about Rachel and John’s upcoming course here: Practical Seismic Interpretation (G027)

Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Richard Worden

We sat down with Richard Worden ahead of his upcoming GeoLogica course: Carbon Capture and Storage Masterclass (E502)

What is your field and specialization?

That’s an interesting question and not that simple to answer, actually. My field is broadly the area of sedimentary geology and within that my specializations are quite wide-ranging, including geochemistry, sedimentology itself, petrophysics, even moving into geomechanics. In terms of area of application, of course carbon capture and storage is my focus, but these days I have also applied it to hydrogen storage and, though this might seem like a stretch to some people, nuclear waste disposal in low-strength sedimentary rocks. That was working with Nuclear Waste Services, which is an arm of the UK government. We are working together to develop a repository for the UK’s medium- and high-level nuclear waste deep underground, away from any possible exposure for thousands to millions of years – so an incredibly long timescale.

Tell us a bit about your teaching journey

OK, I’ll take it right back to the beginning. The first teaching I ever did was as a postgraduate demonstrator to undergraduates when I was a PhD student at the University of Manchester. I enjoyed it, but I soon realized at the tender age of 22 that dealing with 18-year-old undergraduates can be quite a challenge! They’re a surly, unresponsive bunch at times – you have to work hard to explain things to them and you need different ways to explain them.

The next thing I did was teach on a course called Reservoir Quality Prediction for BP. I worked for BP from 1989 to the mid 1990s and the team I was part of delivered the course to different teams around the world. One of the most memorable occasions was when I ran the course in Yemen, of all places, in 1991 or 1992. It was quite an interesting place to go in those days – a sort of Wild West!

I left BP and briefly became a temporary lecturer on a three-year contract at Durham, but I was almost immediately offered a permanent job at Queen’s University Belfast. The peace process was in full swing and it was a lovely place to be. So, I was a lecturer in geology at Queens Belfast for five years, then I left there and came to Liverpool in 2000, which is where I’ve been teaching ever since. I’ve been giving professional training courses since 2006. The very first one I gave was to a company called CEPSA in Madrid, Spain, and it was a course called Reservoir Quality Prediction. No surprise that it was a similar area to what I taught for BP. Technical content was vastly different 10 years later, though. I’ve been teaching carbon capture and storage as a master class and offering courses in geochemistry of carbon capture and storage. I’ve been doing that for 2 1/2 years or so and I’ve given the course many times – 37 times, in fact, to more than 600 people.

What is your favourite memory from fieldwork or field training?

I’m going to give two because the first was as a participant. I didn’t really like the way I was taught field geology as an undergraduate, and it was only when I joined BP and received their tailor-made field training that I really enjoyed it. Although, just to back up a little bit here – the field training I received as an undergraduate seemed a bit ad hoc, but the mapping dissertation I did, which was in glorious Snowdonia in North Wales during the weirdly hot summer of 1983, was a baptism of fire. I loved it. Absolutely. When I started to do my undergraduate mapping I was not a geologist but I finished it as a geologist. I fully understood by the end what it was all about.

And then I joined BP and I went on a number of field classes. The most memorable was a two-week field class called Sedimentology 1. We travelled from roughly the Chesterfield/Sheffield region all the way up to Berwick upon Tweed, stopping at four different locations over two weeks. In the mornings, we did a bit of classroom work – (there was a flatbed lorry following us along the route taking core, believe it or not) – and then we’d look at rocks in-situ as well. The rocks gave us 3-D, the core gave us 1-D and the theory filled in the gaps. I thought it was the most amazing field experience I’d ever had. It really brought everything together. It has informed the way I’ve done field teaching ever since.

I used to run a field class on the south coast of England in Devon and Dorset called the Wessex Basin field class. Many, many people have given courses like that. My own evolved over the years and developed quite a unique flavor – I know people have gone on my course and then subsequent courses, and they appreciated what I delivered. But my favorite memory of field teaching, in terms of giving and designing a course, was a two-week field class on petroleum reservoir geoscience that we used to run at Liverpool for the MSC course. It covered all the way from Brora and Helmsdale up in north-east Scotland to as far as Flamborough Head. We visited reservoirs of all sorts of different ages, lithologies and depositional environments. We had wireline log equivalents for all the outcrops. The students could work on the outcrop and we’d have short lectures. Guess what we based that course on? Yep, the two-week field class from BP. The big difference was the access to core. No one would have paid for a flatbed lorry to be following us around and we just don’t have that material available at Liverpool!

Tell us about your upcoming course with GeoLogica – what is it about and who is it for?

It is a Carbon Capture and Storage Masterclass (E502) and it’s a mature course. It’s had its rough edges knocked off – not that there were that many to begin with! But as a teacher you realize some parts of a course can work better than others. And as you get little bits of feedback and comments, you realize where students need more information and sometimes where they need less. The needs of every class are different and that also requires thinking about. I have found that when I give the course to an individual company, they ask lots and lots of detailed questions, but when it’s an open course with people from many different companies and backgrounds, they are much more reticent and there is less discussion. That means there’s slightly more time available for exercises or it can feel less squeezed – fitting the material into a five-session slot is a bit of an art, to tell you the truth.

The course kicks off talking about the very reason we need to undertake carbon capture and storage – we are emitting greenhouse gases at an incredibly fast rate, much faster than nature can draw them down. And it looks like we aren’t able to stop using fossil fuels without causing a social catastrophe, so we need a way of mitigating or ameliorating the gases that are emitted. The objective is to inject them underground as much as possible and as soon as possible. On the course we deal with geophysical aspects, seismic analysis of carbon capture and storage sites, especially 4-D seismic and imaging a CO2 plume moving through a saline aquifer. We deal with log data, we deal with sedimentological data, we deal with geochemical data and geomechanical data, and aspects of all of these pertaining to carbon capture and storage. It is hugely focused on carbon capture and I dip into all and every discipline necessary to give people a holistic understanding of it.

The course is designed for people with at least some experience of the subsurface, preferably geologists or petroleum engineers. I’ve also taught people with more of a chemistry and physics background; so long as they’re mentally alert enough with enough background knowledge, they can keep up, too. (I wouldn’t recommend the five-session course to people without a technical background, though.) There are lots of exercises that provide a break from listening and discussing, and this is where the attendees can test their knowledge. What I find is that the discussion that goes on between attendees when they’re put into breakout rooms to work together is where lots of shared learning happens, because people have caught on to different aspects and they seem to almost always get to the answer, which is very pleasing.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know

First and foremost, despite working for BP, despite my area of research and all the papers I’ve published, despite giving all these courses, my PhD was in hard-rock geology, metamorphic geology. It is a huge departure to go from that PhD topic to what I’ve done ever since. Most people would not even guess it. So, there’s one fact. What other facts? I go swimming at least five times a week. I swim outdoors as much as possible, including in the sea in Pembroke. Interestingly, it wasn’t that cold when I went in last week, but the waves were very high and my wife got quite nervous for me. She started waving her arms like a maniac and I thought she was saying, ‘Hello.’ She was actually saying, ‘Come back before you end up in America!’ I go to yoga sessions at least three times a week and between yoga and swimming I’m trying to keep myself hale and hearty, despite the fact that I’m not 100% at the moment. But one does one’s best. I’m also a vegetarian and have been for more than 40 years, which people are often quite surprised about because some people think vegetarians are a joyless and dour bunch of people and that is most certainly not me in any regard whatsoever! So, there we go. There’s a few facts.

Why did you change tack after doing a PhD in hard rock geology?

Well, that takes me back to the previous comment. I was slightly uncomfortable during the PhD about the lack of application to the work I was doing. There is a need for theory, there is a need for work that doesn’t immediately have an application, and you could argue my PhD was preparation for what I’m doing now, but did the work lead to or was it part of a movement that changed the world? I really struggled to say yes to that. I like waking up in the morning and thinking I am going to do something today that somewhere along the line might help someone say, ‘Yes, we can use that. Now we can make practical decisions. This will help us with our day-to-day decision making.’ That is what I love. I love that notion – making a difference. That’s what I changed.

What is the biggest challenge facing the sector today from your perspective?

Where do we begin? Continuity of government initiatives is one. The biggest risk to the world, as far as I can see, and this might be a bit political, is a change of presidency in the United States and bringing in someone who eviscerates the Inflation Reduction Act and removes the incentive for carbon capture and storage. That would have knock-on effects around the world because the United States is very much leading what’s going on at the moment, with other countries following very close on their heels. But the USA is pushing very, very hard. I think we have our own issues in the UK with continuity of government initiatives and motivating companies to engage in carbon capture and storage. There was the so-called ‘Lost Decade of CCS’ from about 2010 to maybe 2017, when there had been lots of initiatives promoting companies to advance CCS and then the UK government removed the incentives and lots of projects withered on the vine. Some may never come back or have only lately started to come back. If we’d done these things 10 years previously, the problems that we are now facing would have been a lot less.

I think public acceptance of carbon capture and storage cannot be assumed. We saw what happened with fracking. I think it was right that fracking was objected to by the public as it would have been exactly the wrong time to develop a new fracking industry in NW England, for example, but the decision not to go ahead wasn’t driven by policy and by decision-making, it was driven by a somewhat hysterical public reaction. We must make sure the same thing doesn’t happen with carbon capture and storage.We need to get out there and talk to as many people as we humanly can about what is going to happen and what the risks are. And we should be realistic with people, rather than hiding the facts from them. We also need to talk about how good carbon capture and storage needs to be in order to be effective. It isn’t just good enough to put ‘quite a lot’ of CO2 underground. We need to put the vast majority that we are producing underground. There are other problems as well. For CCS to work, we need to get away from using point sources of burning fossil fuels. I’ve got the central heating on at home because it’s very cold, but we can’t capture that carbon dioxide. If the house was heated one way or another through electricity from a central power station, then we would be in a much, much better position to capture that centrally generated CO2 and dispose of it. And that’s the drive behind heat pumps and so on, because they will be driven by electricity. What we need to do is insulate houses effectively to make the heat pumps vital. We need to move to electric cars and electric vehicles in general. I think that is a major problem and the government is not dealing with it at all in terms of costs, feasibility, supply of electricity to houses to charge up cars and so on.

What would be your advice to junior geoscientists starting their careers today?

Interesting question . . . Persevere.

Be prepared to go outside your comfort zone. Trust in the wider world. Don’t cut options off too early. Be prepared to change your career direction, as I did after my on PhD, because it can be incredibly fruitful and rewarding. My own motivation, I’ve realized increasingly as time goes on, is to make a difference. To start with, the first motivation for most people is just to keep body and soul together, earn enough money to have somewhere to live, put food on the table and stay warm. Once you’re beyond that and you are heading towards mid-career, you can think about making a difference to the world around you. I think we geoscientists are in a prime position to help with some of the world’s major problems. So, think about that and stick at it. Don’t give in too early.

Also, be prepared to move. If you are a home-bod who just wants to stay in your immediate vicinity, then you might struggle. In terms of a meaningful career, it’s important to move. Once you’re in a position of strength, you can start determining where you live, as opposed to just being buffeted by where the jobs are made available, but at the beginning of your career, you need some flexibility in terms of where you live.

Give us your best/worst geology joke

Q: What’s the definition of a geologist?

A: Someone who drinks too much and has a bad sense of time!

RW – Whoops. I wasn’t prepared for that at all!
GeoL – The cornier the better!

Find out more about Richard Worden’s upcoming course: Carbon Capture and Storage Masterclass (E502)

Seals, Containment and Risk by Richard Swarbrick

Seals are barriers to fluid flow – sometimes highly effective (such as when hydrocarbons have been trapped underground for long periods of geological time) and sometimes stopping migration for only short periods. Since evidence of leakage is commonplace, we know that many seals fail naturally allowing fluids (and gases) to escape elsewhere in the associated rock sequence or to the surface. This has been identified from both natural surface seeps and changes in remote data quality, such as on seismic records in the subsurface.  The new challenges of containing unwanted CO2 from the atmosphere and/or directly from industrial processes, as well as nuclear waste, create a new imperative to understand where seals are located in the surface and how effective they will be for long-term storage. Massive investment in long-term storage is planned globally to mitigate the long-term effects of CO2 as a greenhouse gas – seal analysis is a critical component in defining the most suitable underground repositories that meet the criteria set by regulatory authorities.

[above] Multiple tensile fractures in Marcellus Shale, a brittle source rock of Devonian age, found in the Appalachian Mountains, Upstate New York. Fractures represent a seal breach risk (photograph by Richard Swarbrick).

From a geological point of view, seals can be usefully divided into membrane seals (fluid escapes due to high buoyancy pressure) and hydraulic seals (fluid escapes along new pathways of fractures and faults) – the starting point for this is a new applied training course with GeoLogica, Seals, Containment and Risk for CCS and Hydrogen Storage (E570). What are the similarities and differences in these two groups of seals? What data are needed to assess the distribution and rock properties of seals? The course will illustrate the main processes of seal formation and the data required to diagnose those rocks that could be considered as seals. It will explore the worldwide distribution of seals, largely based on detailed characterization of rock-fluid systems from borehole data, which will also be developed as case studies and exercises to reinforce learning. Since leakage is commonplace, what are the risks of leakage (seal breach) from reservoirs injected with CO2 for long-term sequestration and storage, and/or hydrogen and compressed air repeatedly stored and released for electricity generation at peak times? How do the predicted leakage rates match regulatory requirements for storage?

The course tutor, Richard Swarbrick, has been conducting professional development courses globally for over 30 years, mainly concerning the description of rocks and fluids as they relate to sealing in the subsurface. Former participants on courses have praised his teaching style, making complex issues more easily understood and reinforced with relevant exercises for participants to work through independently or in groups.

For more information on the course and to sign up please click here.

[left] Oil seepage/leakage from sandstone along the coast of California, indicative of membrane seal failure (photograph by Richard Swarbrick).
[right] Multiple tensile fractures (now filled with white cement) in Cretaceous source rock shales found in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, North Alaska. Fractures filled with cements may be a more effective seal than the un-fractured shales (photograph by Richard Swarbrick).

What is happening to the world’s largest ice sheet?

Antarctica contains over 90% of Earth’s glacier ice, with ~58m of sea level equivalent stored in the Antarctic Ice Sheet that covers virtually all of the continent.

Over the last few decades, mass loss from Antarctica (via iceberg calving and melting) has exceeded mass gains (via snowfall) and its contribution to sea level rise has accelerated. The largest imbalances are found in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds a sea level equivalent of 5.3m. Recent estimates indicate that it lost over 2,000 gigatonnes of ice between 1992 and 2017, contributing ~6mm to global mean sea level over this time period. Rather than atmospheric warming, mass loss is attributed to warm ocean currents melting the underside of its floating portions, causing the ice margins to thin and retreat, and increasing the discharge (flow) of ice into the ocean.

The vulnerability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was recognised by scientists as early as the 1970s, prompting much research that continues unabated. In comparison, much less work has focussed on the vulnerability of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is somewhat surprising given that it is ten times larger than West Antarctica and contains a massive 52.2m of sea level equivalent. Its perceived stability perhaps stems from the fact that we know large parts of it have persisted for at least 30 million years, since widespread glaciation of Antarctica in the Oligocene. We also know that parts of it can actually gain mass in a warmer climate, due to enhanced snowfall from a warmer atmosphere. Indeed, some early numerical modelling simulations suggested it was likely to grow under climate warming not exceeding ~5°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

Although the East Antarctic Ice Sheet continues to be viewed as more stable than the West, recent observations are beginning to challenge this paradigm. The latest efforts to measure its mass balance have raised the possibility of overall mass loss since ~2014 but, due to its sheer size, the measurement uncertainties are much larger than for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Different methods sometimes give different answers as to whether the ice sheet is even gaining or losing mass.

Importantly, however, nearly all studies detect a clear signal of loss in one particular region of East Antarctica, known as Wilkes Land, bordering the Indian Ocean. This is particularly concerning because the ice sheet in Wilkes Land sits over a deep subglacial basin (where the ice is up to 4.5km) that alone contains 3.5m of sea level equivalent. Moreover, recent measurements show that warm waters appear to be affecting the outlet glaciers in Wilkes Land in a similar manner to West Antarctica, with evidence that the ice sheet is thinning and that glaciers are retreating and contributing to sea level rise. Of further concern is that there is a growing body of evidence that these same glaciers retreated during past warm periods, such as the mid-Pliocene, around 3.2 million years ago, and possibly during some warm interglacials of the Quaternary period (last 2.5 million years). Future simulations of the Antarctic Ice Sheet also predict multi-metre sea-level contributions from East Antarctica over the coming centuries, if the Paris Climate Agreement – to limit climate warming to well below 2° C – is not met. There is, therefore, an urgent need to answer the question in the title – what is happening to the world’s largest ice sheet – for the benefit of both science and society.

GeoLogica Tutor News – Prof Chris Stokes

Over the last decade, Chris has been leading a research group based at Durham University and specifically targeted at improving our understanding of the response of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet to future warming.

One of their first papers on this topic was published in the prestigious journal Nature and demonstrated that East Antarctic outlet glaciers were far more sensitive to ocean-climate forcing than previously thought:

More recent work used over 5 million km2 of high-resolution satellite imagery to detect a record 65,000 meltwater lakes on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, attracting considerable media attention and suggesting that the floating parts of the ice sheet may be highly sensitive to future atmospheric warming:

You can find out more about climate change and the impacts of global warming on glaciers and the oceans on Chris’s course entitled E523: Ocean and Cryosphere Responses to a Changing Climate: Past, Present and Future

Collecting geoscience data does not de-risk projects. So why collect it? And what does risk mean?

Geoscientists need to advance their skills in predicting how an exploration prospect may fit into its mineral system and portfolio, knowing the possible value from future data acquisition programs and understanding the likelihood of them happening. This is future-facing exploration.

By Graham Banks, Route To Reserves and Southern Geoscience Consultants

There are numerous statements in exploration industry, corporate and academic literature about projects and exploration prospects being “de-risked” by additional data, analysis or analogues.

Unfortunately, this message is not correct. After gaining more information and knowledge, organisations may still proceed with unwise decisions, or continue along a course of action that erodes value for the benefactor/investor. In terms of “de-risking” a mineral prospect, additional information does not change the “risk” that the prospect could become a discovery. The dice were rolled by Nature millions to billions of years ago. The extra information serves to reaffirm or change the team’s perception about the success and failure scenarios of their prospect.

Let’s continue with the way industry uses “de-risking” for one more paragraph. One would assume that a mineral deposit would be “de-risked” after >$100 million had been spent over a decade drilling tens of kilometres of core, conducting a positive feasibility study and receiving the go-ahead to start mining. Yet we see news articles reporting how some ore reserves shrink after mining has started, despite all that data collection and modelling.

Two other common statements in exploration literature and corporate statements are that: (a) early exploration is “high risk, high reward”, and (b) progressing an exploration project reduces the risk. Statements like these may persuade investors to fund geoscience surveys and analyses, but high risk events can arise any time between early stage exploration and mining e.g.:

  • A mine event leading to injuries or fatalities.
  • Political decisions to raise mining sector taxes.
  • Economic conditions leading to commodity devaluation.

These types of erroneous statements may originate from an inaccurate understanding of “risk” amongst geoscientists. Or worse, a variety of inaccurate definitions and uses of “risk” amongst geoscientists. The implications can be severe: disagreement, reluctance to co-operate, overconfidence in a questionable prospect, hazards at the drilling rig, confused investors, wasted dollars, loss of credibility, etc.

Exploration geoscientists frequently use words like risk, value and uncertainty to promote their work and projects to management, investors, policy makers, etc. Therefore, it is crucial that geoscientists use these terms correctly and consistently. What is your definition of geological risk: a landslide; the drill bit not getting through the permafrost; not enough soil geochemistry data? Inconsistent vocabulary doesn’t help decision makers.

Few geoscientists are taught the implications of using words like risk, value, probability and uncertainty during university geoscience classes or professional development courses. Which is strange, because universities and training courses deliver standard definitions and categories for lithologies, species of fossils, sediment deposition settings, chemical formulas of minerals, etc.

So, where do geoscientists learn to use such terms accurately and appropriately? This Holistic Exploration Workflow for Critical Minerals Exploration course led by Graham Banks and Steven Fehr bridges a knowledge gap between higher education and the minerals-mining industry. Graham and Steve have spent most of their careers conducting and QCing exploration programs and business opportunities, through the lens of geoscience integrated with strategy, risk, uncertainty, probability and value of information analysis.

This professional development course guides attendees through the correct uses of risk, value, uncertainty, probability of success for critical mineral exploration and modelling. It also informs attendees about biases, the mineral system, deterministic and probabilistic approaches, accuracy versus precision, different types of value, and the value of acquiring new geoscience information.

Three other subject matter experts share their industry knowledge during the course to broaden its themes into a holistic exploration strategy:

Amit Sharma (Mining Sector Lead, Matrix Solutions Inc.) will explain the Environmental, Stakeholder and Governance considerations (ESG) required at each of regional, district and local exploration phases. Incorporating ESG into the early exploration phase is important to: raise additional capital; check the future mining operation could be feasible; practice environmental stewardship; ensure correct stakeholder engagement; understand the regulatory landscape, water resources and climate adaptation, etc.

Colm Murphy (Chief Geoscientist, Bell Geospace) will show how full tensor gravity gradiometry is adept at mapping sub-surface structure.

Robert Hearst (Consulting Geophysicist – Americas, Southern Geoscience Consultants) will summarise the use of geophysical techniques to identify mineral system ingredients.

Most mineral exploration courses and tasks are about increasing interpretation detail and precision for already-collected data. Usually in a small geographic area. Often located next to historic (i.e. not presently viable) mines. This is history-facing exploration. The big-picture consequence is that “conventional” mineral exploration and prospecting is not efficient. Only a few big discoveries are made each year, despite $ billions spent. According to Rio Tinto, the chance of a greenfield mineral target becoming a “world-class” mine is 1 in 3333. Many exploration and geoscience projects should have stopped at an early stage. In recent years, the industry generated $1 for every $2 spent. Investors are not receiving sufficient return on their investment. And now, mineral exploration needs to go deeper under sediment-vegetation cover and into under-explored regions. How can geoscientists help decision-makers better allocate budget into a deep rock volume with sparse information?

Geoscientists need to advance their skills in predicting: (a) how an exploration prospect may fit into its mineral system and portfolio, (b) the possible value from future data acquisition programs and (c) the likelihood of them happening. This is future-facing exploration: the drilling programs and results haven’t happened yet. Geoscientists need an efficient method to increase exploration chance of success, e.g., rate exploration programs and portfolios by a mineral system’s possible extent and value. Exploration expenditure may have most impact when directed at the weakest links in the team’s success case model. Graham Banks and Steven Fehr’s course teaches the foundations of that logic:

  1. Understand some of the techniques and tasks of an industry exploration geoscientist.

  2. Put a mineral exploration project into province, mineral system and play context.

  3. See mineral exploration as a high-risk game of chance, that requires a probability of success estimate and approach.

  4. Adapt best-practice exploration techniques from other commodities into the critical minerals sector.

  5. Create and efficiently communicate maps and cross sections to estimate the migration pathways and deposition locations of commodities.

  6. Design a mineral system framework and translate it into the data surveys that would improve confidence in an exploration project.

  7. Recognise the value of collaboration, multiple working hypotheses and the team’s range of experiences (the opposite of precision).

  8. Identify and mitigate the (often detrimental) biases that geoscientists bring to projects.

  9. Integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into the exploration workflow at their correct timings and scales.

  10. Add value (not just cost) to the decision-making process, to improve Decision Quality.

Let’s return to the first question of this article. Why do geoscientists seek more data if it does not “de-risk” a mineral prospect or change the “risk” that the prospect could become a discovery? Some reasons to acquire information should be to: (a) provide decision-makers with more confidence and certainty when making decisions, (b) narrow the uncertainty range of each parameter in the success case geological model, (c) reassess and revise how business opportunities have been ranked.

If the topics in this professional development course resonate with your exploration tasks and requirements, or address your team’s challenges, book a seat while you can.

Graham Banks (Route To Reserves, Southern Geoscience Consultants)

Steven Fehr

Amit Sharma (Matrix Solutions Inc.)

Colm Murphy (Bell Geospace)

Robert Hearst (Southern Geoscience Consultants)

Energy and Power Density: the deepwater advantage

In the oil and gas industry, the size of a discovery matters. And these days, so does the environmental footprint of extracting its resources. As the world continues to research sustainable energy sources, one geologist – in a rare twist – is looking to giant deepwater oil and gas fields as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem. Based on an article by Heather Saucier that appeared in the April 2020 AAPG Explorer, this version was edited by Henry S. Pettingill and Dr Paul Weimer.

In the oil and gas industry, the size of a discovery matters. And these days, so does the environmental footprint of extracting its resources. As the world continues to research sustainable energy sources, one geologist – in a rare twist – is looking to giant deepwater oil and gas fields as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem.

“If we’re looking for efficient sources of energy with manageable environmental footprints, deepwater may be the place to look,” said Henry S. Pettingill, consultant and former geologist for Shell and Noble Energy. “While most of the media focus seems to be on the environmental strain related to consumption of energy, we should also consider the environmental cost of extracting and producing that energy.”

Pettingill is seeing deepwater oil and gas production in a more favorable light – both to the industry and to the environment. Most notably, about half the reserves of the deepwater giant fields are natural gas, which emits far lower emissions than coal or oil. Since there is abundant supply and the economics can be favorable, many see it as the bridge fuel between now and the day that renewables and safe nuclear can provide a more substantial portion of our global energy mix.


Pettingill has been studying deepwater giant oil and gas fields, comparing their reserves to their surface areas, ranking them according to their “reserve density”, or their volume in hydrocarbons per square meter. ”Because hydrocarbon volumes are expressed in energy equivalents (e.g. barrels of oil equivalent or “boe”), reserve density is also energy density, and this allows us to visualize how much energy is concentrated in one place, and generally speaking, points to the level of economic and environmental efficiencies associated with extraction of those reserves.”

His first step was to produce a chart of the giant deepwater fields to determine which fields have the largest and smallest reserves per areal footprint (Figure 1). These fields were chosen because they represent the diversity in areal footprint and net pay thickness. From this visual technique, we can appreciate fields with vast areas but relative low net pay – “pancake-shaped” – from those with smaller areas but relatively large net pay – “pipe-shaped”, with the latter having higher reserve density. The Mars-Ursa complex in the northern Gulf of Mexico topped the list with an estimated 2.3 billion barrels oil equivalent contained within an area significantly less than 100 square kilometers, giving it a reserve density of about 40 barrels per square meter. The Mars field occupies an area smaller than most Houston neighborhoods, or about 70% of the area of Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“Mars is a unique field,” said Dr Paul Weimer, who was Pettingill’s co-author in a presentation on the topic at the AAPG Global Super Basins Conference in February 2020. “It has a minimum of 14 reservoir levels in a very small area, and they are all stacked on top of each other.”

Figure 1: Areal footprints of select Giant Deepwater fields, along with their net pay thicknesses, all drawn at equal scale. Left: Field with Deep marine sand reservoirs. Right: Field with Carbonate reservoirs. Arrows denote the Reserve Density in barrels of oil equivalent per square meter (boe/m2).

Egypt’s Zohr gas field is close behind Mars, with more than 23 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas distributed over an area of roughly 100 square kilometers, and a reserve density of about 38 barrels per square meter.

At the other end of Pettingill’s spectrum, the Scarborough gas discovery off the northwest coast of Australia has a reserve density of just 1.5 barrels of oil equivalent per square meter – its area spanning a vast 800 square kilometers, with recoverable volumes of 7.3 trillion cubic feet. Scarborough would occupy about half of the entire Houston metropolitan area. It is notable that this appraised discovery has yet to come onstream 42 years after discovery.

Figure 2: Reserve Density in barrels of oil equivalent per square meter (boe/m2).Red = Gas Fields, Green = Oil Fields (most with associated gas).


Robert Bryce, in his 2010 book “Power Hungry”, defined power density as the amount of power that can be generated per square meter. Using the reserve densities of each field, Pettingill calculated their “power density”, in both watts and barrels of oil equivalent per day.

He then produced a power density chart comparing deepwater fields to a host of other power sources in a quest to learn which provided the most power and simultaneously took up the least amount of space (Figure 4).

Figure 3: Flow rates from Deepwater fields. Since barrels of oil equivalent is an energy equivalent and power is energy per time, this is a comparison of the power output of individual wells.

The Mars-Ursa field is the standout example, delivering more than 500 watts per square meter. Also, impressive, Israel’s Tamar gas field, because it has a high reserve density and flow rate, produces about 100 watts per square meter.

In contrast, a typical two-reactor nuclear plant from South Texas produced 56 watts per square meter, while in 2010 the average onshore U.S. gas well produced roughly the same amount.

Farther down the efficiency line are sustainable energy sources. The average solar plant delivers about 7 watts per square meter, whereas wind farms deliver about 1 watt per square meter. At the lowest end, cornfields used for ethanol deliver less than one-tenth of a watt per square meter.

“Wind farms, solar energy and unconventional hydrocarbons require very large amounts of area per megawatt generated,” Pettingill said. “A deepwater field with a small footprint is much more economically and environmentally efficient.”

For example, to replace the Mars-Ursa power output with corn ethanol, an area about one-half the state of Texas would have to be covered in cornfields, he said.

And, unlike many shale plays – which often require an extensive pipeline network connecting many wells over many miles – offshore fields use limited pipelines and do not rely on a steady stream of trucks on the road to support drilling, hydraulic fracturing and production operations and in some cases oil evacuation.

Figure 4: Left: Power Output of typical fuel sources used to generate power, including the Mars-Ursa Complex of the Gulf of Mexico deepwater and the Tamar gas field of the deepwater Levant basin. Right: Power Density of typical fuel sources, shown in comparison to the deepwater fields Mars (U.S. Gulf of Mexico), Tamar (Israel Levant) and Scarborough (Northwest Shelf, Australia)

Because deepwater is known for very high flow rates, hydrocarbons can be quickly pumped straight to a processing facility. “It gets to the user much faster, which in turn provides an economic advantage, with lower environmental burden from extraction than some other forms of energy,” Pettingill said.

Recalling his time at Noble Energy, he said, “The day we turned on the Tamar gas field, Israel was able to replace coal with natural gas as the primary feedstock to their power plants. Prior to that day, they never had a substantial reliable natural gas source, and now they are exporting gas.” Noble stated at a 2013 conference that “The amount of coal removed from Israel’s energy supply is the equivalent to taking every car off the highway in Israel for 17 years.”

He added that if Israel were to replace the power generation of the Tamar gas field with corn ethanol, then cornfields 11 times the area of Israel would be needed for the same amount of power.

Pettingill does acknowledge that offshore production can only be considered environmentally sound if strict measures are followed to prevent spills, leaks and damage to the seabed, and other forms of harm to wildlife.

In reflecting on the history of the industry, in which economics has always driven exploration and development, Pettingill suggests that reserve density and power density be factored into the equation, especially as the world gravitates toward projects that balance economic development with environmental needs.

“Oil and gas are still good. What we do matters,” he said. “We are delivering something that cannot be replaced in an economically competitive way. But the message here is that deepwater production is economically friendly and environmentally manageable.”

Pettingill teaches two courses with GeoLogica, one in the field and one in the classroom. His field course in the Pyrenees of Spain, Sand-rich Turbidite Systems: From Slope to Basin Plain (G016), examines the types of deposits that form the reservoirs in many of the fields discussed in this article. His classroom course is Creativity and Innovation Skills for E&P (G029). It is co-taught with Niven Shumaker and explores the types of “out of the box” thinking that Henry used to develop the energy density views presented above.

April, 2020

Training in the Time of Corona

As the world continues to adapt to the restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown, training companies are having to investigate new ways to educate and engage clients. The lessons GeoLogica learn may provide new insight into how our business emerges in the post-Corona landscape.

For some years now portions of education, training and learning have been moving into the online realm, most notably through self-paced methods, including reading, pre-recorded lectures and quizzes, and these have proved useful for some fundamental topics. While we feel there is nothing better than direct interaction with an experienced instructor, in a world where direct interaction is off the table, we want to access the next best alternative.

We see a solution in remote delivery where the online teaching is live in real-time and combined with periods of self-paced learning through reading and quizzes. A key challenge will be to establish the optimal length for each element. Traditional lectures and meetings generally last no longer than an hour or so, in order for peoples’ attention to remain focussed – any shorter and the topic may not be sufficiently developed, any longer and concentration can wander. Online attention spans are thought to be considerably shorter – the ideal length of time for a talk or lecture may be only 30 minutes before breaking for a quiz, exercise or Q and A session. Live sessions could perhaps last 60–90 minutes if there are plenty of breaks and thought is given to issues associated with staring at screens for prolonged periods of time. Materials for self-paced learning also need to be thought-out – they should be well-structured and broken into smaller sections to tie-in with the live learning and ensure not too much is crammed into the time between lectures.

A key consideration for us is working with each instructor to find the model that works best for him or her. Some will prefer numerous short and punchy lectures, while others will opt for longer sessions that allow for more in-depth treatment of a topic. Some will rely heavily on interactive exercises and others on demonstrations. In every case, we want a solution that allows for live visual and audible feedback from course participants to maintain class momentum and enthusiasm.

Taking all these factors into account, GeoLogica is pleased to announce that we can offer online training as an in-house option for most of the courses in our portfolio. Topics range from Fundamental to Advanced courses in Basin Analysis, Resource Plays, Structural Geology, Geophysics, Evaluation Methods, Geophysics, Reservoir Characterization, Depositional Systems and Reservoir Engineering. Most of our courses can be tailored to fit an individual company’s needs and the delivery method can also be modified to suit. You can download a list of our latest online course offerings here or contact us with your requirements.

All of us at GeoLogica believe the most effective teaching is face-to-face – yes, it is more expensive but, in the end, people learn best through direct, human interaction and experience. Attending a classroom course with your peers and colleagues also provides an unquantifiable stimulus of human interaction, which helps develop a deeper understanding of the topic. And in the field, the full sensory immersion of observing outcrops provides an unbeatable learning environment. Nevertheless, there is a space for online leaning, so long as it is designed to be efficient, effective and engaging. Advantages can include reduced need for travel, less time away from the office for participants and cost savings. And, in these challenging times, social distancing.

‘Experiential’ learning, whether face-to-face or online, is thought to be fundamental to human understanding of the world around us. It is unlikely that online methods will completely replace traditional teaching methods but perhaps there is an optimum combination of online and face-to-face methods. Time will tell.

New Ideas on the Timing and Paleogeography of Salt Deposition in the Gulf of Mexico: Mark Rowan

Mark Rowan discusses evaporite deposition in the Gulf of Mexico and how new ideas on its timing have important implications for both pre- and suprasalt exploration.

The Gulf of Mexico (GoM), despite being one of the most studied salt basins in the world, remains an enigma in terms of the timing and paleogeography of evaporite deposition. But new data and ideas are changing how we think about the deep framework of this prolific basin.

The salt has traditionally been considered to be Callovian (upper Middle Jurassic), but with effectively no supporting data due to suprasalt strata with no age control and a lack of presalt penetrations. Recently, though, Sr isotopes have yielded ages ranging over roughly 5 my from the Bajocian to the Callovian. Well data from the southern GoM onshore and shelf show that the cessation of evaporite deposition was gradational, with interbedded carbonates and anhydrite that continued into the Oxfordian and Kimmeridgian in a hypersaline sabkha environment with up to 3X normal ocean salinity. In coeval salt basins from onshore Mexico, Sr and biostratigraphic data indicate ongoing evaporite and minor carbonate deposition from the Bajocian through the Kimmeridgian.

Other traditional views are that the salt was deposited near sea level and that the salt was almost pure halite. But these are being challenged by new ideas triggered in large part by the much improved imaging provided by modern seismic data. More researchers are coming around to a model in which the salt basin had considerable relief, ranging from close to sea level in proximal areas to 2 km or more in the basin center. However, whether the basin was filled mostly with brine or mostly with air is still a matter of debate. Moreover, the salt appears to be a typical layered evaporite sequence with at least locally significant proportions of non-halite lithologies. This can be seen in folded intrasalt layers within the cores of deep anticlines in the NW and SW GoM and in the “Sakarn” series in the NE GoM (with an equivalent offshore Yucatán), a deformed layered sequence coeval with at least part of the Louann/Campeche salt.

These new ideas have critical implications for subjects ranging from both pre- and suprasalt exploration, to plate tectonics and Jurassic paleogeography. They, along with the fundamentals and styles/processes of salt tectonics, will be addressed in Salt Tectonics – From Concepts to Application (G020), the GeoLogica course running in Houston from 16–19 November, 2020.

Coronavirus – Implications for Training

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is causing considerable uncertainty regarding people’s travel plans and schedules. and GeoLogica is actively monitoring the situation and reviewing up-to-date advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The current and dynamic world-wide Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is causing considerable uncertainty regarding people’s travel plans and schedules. GeoLogica is actively monitoring the situation and reviewing up-to-date advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and relevant government advisory websites (some of these are listed below). The reality is that in the United States and most of Western Europe the risk of infection is low outside of local hotspots but this may change rapidly and we are watching the situation daily.

At present we are considering our program of training courses with an emphasis on those classes that are 1) due to run within the next quarter (up to June) and 2) those that require participants to travel – i.e. field courses. Depending on the locations and amount of travel involved, we will be working proactively with our tutors and clients to schedule courses to ensure no unnecessary risks are taken. We anticipate further developments in the next week and will provide updates as required.

Some useful sites:

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Reflection on the Ongoing Controversy of the Pre-Salt “Microbialite” Reservoirs of the South Atlantic: Paul Wright

Paul Wright shares his insights on the pre-salt “Microbialite” reservoirs of the South Atlantic.

The Cretaceous Aptian Barra Velha Formation of the Santos Basin (offshore Brazil), often referred to as “Microbialite” reservoirs, has hosted over 30 discoveries, with recoverable reserves estimated as > 60 BBOE. This limestone unit, up to 550m thick, with equivalents in other offshore South Atlantic basins, is now considered perhaps the largest chemogenic (chemically formed, not microbial) carbonate deposystem in Earth history, covering at least a third of a million square kilometers. Besides having no modern or ancient analogues, much of the porosity is the result of the dissolution of magnesium clays.

Two opposing views are held as to where these carbonates formed.

One view, based on sedimentological and geochemical evidence, has interpreted the reservoirs as having been deposited in hyper-alkaline shallow evaporitic lakes, affected by some syn-depositional tectonism, but later significantly affected by post-depositional deformation immediately before, during and after salt deposition. This model interprets the local relief on the top of the reservoir of often 1km or more, as structural in origin, with age-equivalent carbonates in down-thrown areas as being of the same facies.

The other model interprets the relief as reflecting the formation of the reservoir carbonates as isolated carbonate build-ups separated by deep lake deposits likely lacking reservoir-prone facies.

A consequence of this second model is that platforms are regarded as areally differentiated with various companies populating reservoir models with different facies assemblages. In contrast, in the shallow lake model, individual facies are envisaged as being laterally very extensive and layer cake. The crux of the controversy seems to be to what extent seismic geometries should be interpreted as expressions of sedimentological features, versus where a detailed structural analysis, linked closely to detailed sedimentological and geochemical analyses, has been carried out. The implications for exploration and reservoir development are enormous.

Discussion of this topic will feature prominently in the GeoLogica field course – Modern and Ancient Carbonate Lakes of the Western U.S.: Lessons for Interpreting the Cretaceous Pre-Salt Reservoirs in the South Atlantic (G030) 02 – 05 November, 2020. Paul’s other upcoming GeoLogica courses include: De-risking Carbonate Exploration (G008) Houston, 15 – 18 June, 2020, and Fundamentals of Carbonate Depositional and Diagenetic Systems Field Seminar: Lessons from the Permian Basin (G007) 8 – 13 November, 2020 (co-led with Kate Giles).

Paul’s recent work has included various publications and workshops relating to the pre-salt of the South Atlantic as well as the investigation of facies stacking in Cretaceous hydrocarbon-bearing intra-platformal basins.

Recently published articles include a study of reservoir architecture in the super giant Karachaganak field in Kazakhstan (with Simon Beavington-Penney, Stuart Kennedy and Mark Covil): 2019 Integration of static and dynamic data and high-resolution sequence stratigraphy to define reservoir architecture and flow units within a ‘super giant’ gas condensate and oil field, Kazakhstan. Marine and Petroleum Geology 101 (2019) 486–501.

Paul was also invited to write an article for GeoExpro (September 2019, 28–31) on the controversy over the seismic models used to interpret the pre-salt carbonates offshore Brazil.

In conjunction with Andrew Barnett of Shell, Paul has provided a practical methodology for characterizing the unusual textures found in the pre-salt Barra Velha “Microbialite” reservoirs of offshore Brazil (Facies, 2020 released December 2019).