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Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Malcolm Ross

We sat down with Malcolm Ross ahead of his upcoming GeoLogica course  Transition Skills: From Oil and Gas to Geothermal (E573)

What is your field and specialization? 

I am a geologist by training, with a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD, and I’ve worked a lot in the geothermal area. My master’s degree was in plate tectonic modeling, and paleogeographic and paleoclimate modeling, and when I worked for Shell, that’s what they hired me to do. But I wanted to get into the innovation side at Shell and so I joined a team called Gamechanger, which is an angel investing entity within Shell. That got me into the innovation space. From there, I wanted to move into geothermal energy because I thought it would be a way to have a positive impact on the energy transition while using my geological skills.  

Tell us a bit about your journey into teaching.

When I finished my master’s, it was a downtime in the oil and gas industry, so I said to myself, ‘OK, I’ll go get my PhD.’ But by the time I finished my PhD, the oil industry had gone through a full boom-bust cycle, which is fairly typical, and it was another downtime. I always thought I would be a professor, but many university departments weren’t hiring. So, I started my own company and did a bunch of my own work. But I had always wanted to teach – I wanted to pay it forward. So, I persuaded Rice University to let me teach there as an adjunct professor; I didn’t receive pay because it would have been a conflict of interest with my other jobs. Plus, it would have just made for more tax paperwork. I asked them to take what would have been my minimal salary and use it to pay a graduate student to help me as a TA. I did that for over a decade. It has been really rewarding to hear either through LinkedIn or back channels that a student has transitioned their career based on my teaching. Just the other day, a student told me he was in my class because another student had told them it was the best course they had taken. That student said it was the most useful course they ever had at Rice, and it had nothing to do with what they were studying, but now they use GIS every day. That’s very rewarding.  

When I got into the geothermal space, I wanted to help university students who felt a little trapped in their oil and gas career path. This generation’s inner psyche is much more sustainability- or green-oriented, and they feel guilty about getting into oil and gas. They’re looking for a way to apply their skills – just as I saw an opportunity to use those skills in geothermal. I didn’t even know that geothermal existed when I was at university; I didn’t even know there was an opportunity there. I am trying to make as many of them aware of the opportunity as I can. 

Tell us about a favourite memory from fieldwork or field training? 

I have a couple, but let’s go with the one with my PhD advisor, a guy named Peter Vail, who is quite a famous stratigrapher. During my PhD, my advisor suffered a major brain trauma and nearly died; it was touch and go for quite a while. He returned to Houston, received a lot of physical therapy, and recovered to the point where he could go back to teaching. He was fully paralyzed on one side of his body. When he got back to teaching, he needed someone to help him because he really had no way of retaining short-term memory. If students asked a long-winded question, by the end, he would lose track of what they said at the beginning of the question. His long-term memory was perfect – better than mine – but it’s one of those brain trauma things where you never know how the brain is going to respond. Anyway, my favorite memory from fieldwork is that we arranged for him to go out in the field in this state where he was pretty disabled. We organized a field trip to the Guadalupe Mountains out in west Texas, which was sort of his home turf, his favorite fieldwork area, and a great place to take people to see sequence stratigraphy. We had a group of students and some scientists from an oil and gas company, and we were able to visit roadside outcrop. The bus would pull up to an outcrop right on the side of the road and he would use his cane to indicate the different rocks and what was visible in the outcrop. The joy that he felt being able to get back out there when he had mentally written that off as just not possible! So, my favorite memory of going out in the field is not anything to do with the rocks. But the personal connection and the joy of seeing someone who’s suffered trauma and never thought they’d get to do something again when they get to do it. The joy and the excitement that they felt in the field was special for me. I continue to see him – he is in his nineties now and still functioning, although still paralyzed on one side of his body. I’m having lunch with him after this interview! 

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

The course is about the fundamentals of geothermal energy. The point is to take people quickly through my journey from being an oil and gas expert to becoming a geothermal expert. What are the fundamental skills needed? What transferable skills do you have? What skills need to be slightly refocused to do geothermal? The target audience is people in the oil and gas world who want to make that transition. Some of them might be coming straight out of school, and some of them might have 20–30 years of experience. However, all of them will be looking for an understanding of the opportunities and how their skills might fit. That’s the point of what I’m doing. 

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

You can probably tell that I’m kind of comfortable in front of the camera. And the reason is that, as an undergraduate, I did a double degree in geology and theatre! So, I’m actually a teacher with acting training. I had to choose whether I would go do my master’s in geology or fine arts and theatre. I struggled with that decision for a long time. Eventually, I picked geology because I thought there’d be more jobs available. There are a lot of unemployed actors out there, right? Remember that old joke: How do you get the attention of a good actor?  ‘Waiter! Waiter!’ Well, in Houston, both when I graduated with my master’s and when I graduated with my PhD, the running joke was: How do you get the attention of a good geologist? ‘Waiter! Waiter!’ So, I was not sure I made the right decision! But I think the teaching I do is a form of theater. It’s improvisation. It’s technical improv, but it’s still improv. And that’s what I specialized in when I was an undergraduate – improv, stand-up comedy, and Shakespeare as well. But I won’t do this interview using the iambic pentameter! The acting comes through in answering students, responding to students, and energizing students – it is a form of theater.  

I actually continued acting during my master’s degree work; I did some outside theater work and performed in Houston while I was doing an internship there. It was a show that was going on the road to Broadway and they asked me to quit school and join the cast. Again, I struggled, but eventually, I said no. I wanted to finish what I had started. I went back to my master’s thesis. When the show went on to the next town, Indianapolis, it collapsed, so I was glad I’d made the right decision that time! But, anyway, the fun fact is that I could have been on Broadway. I could have been a contender! 

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

The biggest challenge in the geothermal sector is scaling – geothermal currently provides just 0.4% of the energy into the grid, which is essentially nothing globally. That’s a little bit unfair because geothermal energy actually has two parts – one is making electricity, but the other is the direct use of geothermal heat for heating homes and doing industrial work, etcetera, and they never talk about that. That’s really the better way to use geothermal energy because it uses 100% of the energy; while converting it to electricity, you normally get less than 15% efficiency. You waste 80% or more of the energy in the conversion. If geothermal is going to have an impact, though, it’s going to have to scale up and that means going to different parts of the world, rather than just the spots where you see boiling water coming out of the ground, like in Hawaii, Iceland and California, and around the Ring of Fire. You have to be able to go everywhere. That’s really been a focus of what I’ve been doing, trying to figure out how to make geothermal work everywhere and then, if it’s successful, how to grow it. For example, one of the companies I work with is called Eavor. They’re a closed-loop geothermal company. They have a project near Munich, Germany, that will start producing power in the third quarter of this year, to power and heat a town outside Munich. If it works, they have dozens of new projects lined up who have said they’ll sign on the dotted line. If they are successful, the challenge will not be ‘Can Eavor do this’, but rather, ‘How are we going to service dozens of customers at the same time’, especially when it takes a year to drill each well for each customer and there’s not enough land rigs in Europe to do that. 

The challenges are growth-related challenges at first. Then, once we can show it’ll work, it’s how to make it widespread. The only way to do it is to transfer human resources from some of the oil and gas work to geothermal energy. You’re not going to build it from scratch. It’s going to take too long.  

So, that’s why I’m doing this class. I’m feeding the beast. We’re trying to get it to grow. It’s a growth-related challenge; it’s not a dying industry. It’s a ‘Where am I going to find my next job?’ kind of problem. 

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

I’ll tell you something – and this advice may not be so much for juniors but actually for some of the people who might be coming to this class and transitioning their career from one area to another, and that is this – I mentioned that I worked for Shell in their Gamechanger team, angel investing, taking ideas from the back of a cocktail napkin and turning them into something investable – that was the target. So, I had a business card that said my title was ‘Gamechanger’, and I would hand that business card out and people would say: ‘Gamechanger, that’s a cool title – what do you do?’ And that’s what a business card should do. It should start a conversation and be memorable. And people would come back, years later, and say, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who had Gamechanger on your card, right?’ Titles matter, and if your title says Geophysicist or VP for Marketing, or something like that, it’s not as memorable. So, when I took my last job at Shell, they allowed me to create my own job and my own title. The title I selected was based on the fact that I needed to encourage people to ask me to tell my story. So, I gave myself the title ‘Black Swan Detector’. That had levels to it. So, Black Swan is an event. For example, COVID was a Black Swan. No one expected it. It was huge. But once it happened, people said, ‘Oh, it was obvious that it would happen sometime.’ And that is what defines a Black Swan event – large, unexpected and, in hindsight, predictable. I was looking for Black Swan ideas that Shell could invest in – ideas that no one thought would work but eventually were shown to work and then, all of a sudden, it was a big deal. That’s what I think closed-loop geothermal is – a Black Swan idea – it’s unproven, unexpected and could be an enormous opportunity if we can apply it everywhere. By the way, I also chose that title because I liked the acronym ‘BS detector’ – that described a lot of what the job was. It is, as you may know, about being able to realize when it’s never going to work; it doesn’t obey the laws of physics, so forget it. I had to use a bit of a BS filter.  

Now, my title is Geothermal Evangelist, and that’s what my business card says. And again, it is the same thing, people ask: ‘What’s a Geothermal Evangelist?’ So, my advice, and this is kind of a little weird kind of thing, but it works, is pick a title that will cause people to ask what you do.  

Recently, after hearing about my title, a couple of guys I was presenting to were whispering in the back row, and eventually, they introduced themselves – one was a Chief Marketing Officer and the other was the Chief Financial Officer of a startup. They went on to ask their CEO if they could change their titles, and he said, ‘Sure!’ So now, if you meet these two guys and see their business cards, the Chief Marketing Officer card now says, ‘Chief Storyteller’, and the other guy, who was the CFO, took the title ‘Chief Truth Teller’. And so, they go out and hand out their business cards together, and it is memorable, right? And that’s the key. That’s the key element. It’s kind of a strange piece of advice, but get a title that makes people want to know more about you. 

Give us your best/worst geology joke? 

Depending on how you interpret best . . . I’ll even make it a geothermal joke. How about that? 

What do wind turbines think about geothermal energy? 

They’re big fans. 

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).

Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Richard Swarbrick

We sat down with Richard Swarbrick ahead of his upcoming GeoLogica course: Seals, Containment and Risk for CCS and Hydrogen Storage (E570)

What is your field and specialization?

I’m a geologist. My interest in geology started when I was probably in my early teenage years. I was somewhat influenced by having an older brother – quite a lot older – who was a geologist and who went to do geology in Australia as a Ten Pound Pom. I inherited some of his rocks and some of his books and friends tell me that he influenced me. I was also really interested in geography. I thought that if I went to university to do a geography degree, though, I’d end up teaching geography. So, I chose geology. I could see that it had the potential of a profession, so after getting a First in my geology degree, I went on to do a PhD. My PhD involved mapping southwest Cyprus to try and understand how it fitted into the bigger eastern Mediterranean picture, particularly its relationship to the uplifted ocean crust (the Troodos mountains in the middle of Cyprus). I had a great time. I had a van and big water container and some food, a tent and mapping equipment. Off I went on my own for a week. I’d return to town, spend a night in a youth hostel, collect mail, collect more food and water and then go back into the field. I did that over three field seasons for a total of eight months and mapped the whole of southwest Cyprus in quite a lot of detail. You won’t be able to do it on your own anymore for safety reasons, but it was great fun.  

Tell us a bit about your teaching journey.

After 10 years in the oil industry, I realized that I loved working in the industry but I didn’t enjoy living in London. I knew I was going to be in London for most of my career and I just hated commuting. I took an opportunity to go to Durham University as a mid-career move into an applied geology area and I spent thirty years teaching and researching. My research was linked to understanding subsurface pressures, which was poorly known from a geological point of view. It was generally seen as an engineering challenge rather than something that needed understanding from a geological point of view. From there I started professional development courses teaching small groups of professionals. My first teaching assignment was with JAPEC (the Joint Association of Petroleum Exploration Course) run by the Geological Society and the PESGB. Very soon after that, I was commandeered to work for Nautilus and had an extensive period teaching quite a lot of Nautilus courses in Europe, USA and SE Asia. 

I thoroughly enjoy working with small groups of professionals who are really interested in the topic, and who themselves have quite a lot of personal experience to bring to the table. We have lots of discussions, which are particularly good if there are geologists and engineers present, since each learns from the other – after all, the petroleum industry is very much a multidisciplinary area of science. More recently, I’ve become much more interested in the energy transition and helping people understand how subsurface pressures can be applied to carbon dioxide sequestration, hydrogen storage, and compressed air storage and recovery, to find new ways of dealing with the climate change challenge. 

What is your favourite memory from fieldwork or field training?

When I was working for Mobil, I really wanted to work in frontier exploration, and I asked for a posting in an area where frontier exploration was underway. I was transferred from the London office to the Dallas office and worked for the Alaska division there. The Alaska division was looking for new oil and gas opportunities in basins where previously there had been nothing other than a stratigraphic well drilled, purely to find out what the rocks were. So, I became involved in some of the very first oil and gas exploration wells in new basins where there was no infrastructure, not even any meteorological records. It was very exciting. One of the things I did at the same time was attend a field exercise collecting geochemical samples in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the last year in which the Alaskan authorities and the federal authorities would allow people to do such work. We were helicopter supported, we lived in a tent and we collected geochemical samples across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge right on the Alaska North Slope, overlooking the Brooks Range. The Arctic ice shelf was just offshore. It was extremely exciting. There were polar bears, midges, moose, elk; it was a landscape that I’d never experienced before – tundra – and had geological and ice features that I’d never seen. It was just the most extraordinarily visual and exciting opportunity to see a region that is very little visited – to see it from the air, to see it from the ground up and then to be able to take all that back and try and fit it together from a geochemical and geological point of view was extraordinarily exciting. It was a great bit of outdoor field work combining my love of the outdoors with my passion for geology. 

Organic sediments, North Slope, Alaska.

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

So, the course is intended to give geoscience and engineering professionals a feel for how rocks and fluids behave in the subsurface, with specific reference to the containment of CO2, hydrogen and compressed air at a suitable storage site. For example, how and when might CO2 leak into the ceiling rocks of the container, and at what rate. Is it through the pore network of the seal, or could it be by generating new pathways, such as hydraulic fractures or via chemical reactions? Another element of the training will be to address what the changes are that take place when injecting hydrogen into a storage site repeatedly. What is the effect of putting hydrogen in, increasing the stresses inside the container, then reducing those stresses, and repeating the pattern over and over again? What are the maximum volumes that can be stored safely? And in this context ‘safely’ means with no leakage or, as a minimum, such a slow rate of leakage as to be acceptable to regulatory authorities.  

In terms of who might attend the course, geoscientists will find it especially relevant, with their background and the knowledge they need to define rock behavior. I would also argue that engineers, particularly those who are responsible for modelling reservoirs for storage sites and injection programs, will find it very relevant. The course will link very closely to their discipline area. The style of training and my background will allow engineers to engage with the material without having to have a detailed geological background.  

 

Calcite cement – indications of fluid flow.

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

In 1972 I took at gap year working on a tin-mining project in Niger, Southern Sahara, before starting my geology degree. Outwards, I made my passage on a cargo boat of the Palm Line from Liverpool to Lagos. Months later, I returned overland across the Sahara Desert by buying lifts to Algiers, then hitching back through Europe. Budget £100. Returned with 50 pence! 

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

I think my advice to anybody graduating with a degree or a further degree in geology would be to look very carefully at what’s going to be needed when there is no oil and gas. If we accept that all the oil and gas that has been discovered now is probably sufficient to see us through energy transition, then the question to answer is, ‘Where does geology fit into the new framework of the energy industry, particularly of energy storage?’ I would recommend graduates look very critically at mining or the source of rare earths and metals.

I also think there is a shortage of skilled hydrologists – we know water is an essential part of life, but it’s going to be far more challenging in the future with changes in weather and the loss of the glaciers in upland areas. Understanding underground fluid distribution and, hence, where the best aquifers are and how they could be accessed is going to be incredibly valuable. 

Give us your best/worst geology joke?

Question: What is a geologist’s favorite accompaniment to their morning coffee?
Answer:  Rock e-rode!

New Professional Partnership

GeoLogica and Redlands Fault Geological Consulting partner to provide new and innovative courses to industry.

GeoLogica is delighted to announce a partnership with Redlands Fault Geological Consulting (redlandsfault.com). Combining GeoLogica’s technical, logistical and health and safety experience with Redlands Fault’s expertise is an exciting opportunity to provide the highest-quality training to the modern energy industry.

Redlands Fault was founded by Russell K. Davies, who has over 33 years’ experience working for the oil and gas industry, in exploration and development, and technology consulting services for research and development. He is a leading global expert in fault seal analysis where the concepts are applied to oil and gas but are also directly relevant to carbon capture and containment. After a career with Shell and ARCO, Russell founded and managed the US subsidiary of Rock Deformation Research Ltd (RDR). Following RDR’s acquisition by Schlumberger in 2014, Russell was appointed global advisor for Schlumberger, during which time he worked on many oil and gas projects worldwide. More recently Russell has been involved in subsurface projects working on new energy systems and carbon mitigation measures. Since the launch of his consultant company, Redlands Fault Geological Consulting, Russell has been working with clients on high-level structural geological challenges in trap and seal analysis, natural fracture characterization and structural modelling.

GeoLogica’s team has over 80 years’ combined experience in designing, managing and delivering training to the energy industry worldwide. With a passion for sharing knowledge and a dedication to excellence, GeoLogica are excited to collaborate with like-minded individuals and companies.

The first collaborations between Redlands and GeoLogica will be in-person courses scheduled for 2024: Trap and Seal Analysis – Theory and Application in Houston; and Structural Styles and Fault Characterization in Exploration and Production in the field in Moab, Utah.

Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Katriona Edlmann

We sat down with Katriona Edlmann ahead of her upcoming GeoLogica course: Hydrogen Masterclass – Production, Geological Storage and Operational Engineering

 

What’s your field and specialisation?

My research has focused on the sustainable utilisation of the subsurface for low carbon energy applications. So, this will include things like carbon capture and storage, energy storage, particularly hydrogen storage, unconventional hydrocarbons and geothermal operations. And then, for my own work, I design and build experimental equipment that recreates the subsurface conditions, effectively creating a window into the subsurface from the laboratory. It means we can look at what changes are going to happen in the subsurface rocks and fluids during any of these low-carbon energy applications. For example, I can look at what geochemical changes might be induced when hydrogen is injected into a porous depleted gas field. We can use these experiments to unpick the underlying controls, such as how pressure might influence the rate of reaction. These experiments will really help us select the best storage sites and manage them most effectively to avoid negative impacts on storage integrity during the storage operations.

Tell us a bit about your teaching journey.

I started as a PhD tutor while still doing my own PhD, and I’ve loved that part of my academic role ever since. I really enjoy teaching classes, but I prefer it when we can be interactive (with the students). One of the aspects of teaching that I really enjoy, therefore, is working with students on their dissertation projects, where I get to see them grow in confidence and watch them embark on their exciting careers after graduation.

I’m a fellow of the Higher Education Authority and I did a postgraduate certificate in academic practice to really develop my teaching and reflect on and improve my practice. So, I’m constantly learning from the students.

I don’t know what else to say about this one… I just really enjoy it!

What is your favourite memory from fieldwork or field training?

That’s an easy one! When I was doing my master’s degree with Heriot-Watt [University], we did a field trip to the Book Cliffs in Utah, which is HEAVEN for a geologist. Just being there was phenomenal – the exposure is extraordinary – but during the day we happened to come across a fresh rockfall that had revealed some dinosaur footprints, and we were seeing those for the first time since they had been imprinted in the mud all those millions of years ago. And that was, from an emotional point of view, just spectacular.

And, at the end of the day, while drinking beer at a microbrewery (which are so good in Utah!), we were treated to a very impressive, particularly bright fly-past from the Hale Bopp comet. That was fantastic.

Being someone who spends most of my time in the lab, I also want to add here the fact that not all geologists regularly work out in the field and not all geologists actually like being out in the field. Some of my absolute favourite moments have been in the lab! When you’ve drawn something on a piece of paper, then designed it, built it, it works exactly as it should and you gain new insights or perhaps see something that you weren’t expecting to see – THAT to me is as fantastic, as rewarding, as any fieldwork.

A photo from one of Katriona's favourite outcrop visits, to Arches National Park, Utah

(Image: A photo from one of Katriona’s favourite outcrop visits, to Arches National Park, Utah)

 

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

As we pivot to a world away from fossil fuels and move to more sustainable energy solutions, which we absolutely need to do, hydrogen is increasingly becoming recognised as a very important part of this future low-carbon energy system. It provides essential energy storage to support increased capacity for renewable energy. We’re looking to switch the energy balance from the current 70–80% fossil fuels and 20–30% renewable electricity to the opposite of that: 70–80% renewable, 20–30% another energy vector, which is most likely to be hydrogen.

My course will really highlight the role that hydrogen can play in supporting our journey to net zero – how it can support increased renewables and how it can decarbonise or tackle some of those harder-to-electrify sectors, such as industrial heat or heavy-duty transport. My hydrogen masterclass dives into the complexities and opportunities for hydrogen, looking at production, geological storage and the intricacies of the operational engineering and its integration into the energy system. It offers theoretical knowledge and practical insights.

In terms of who the course is aimed at, I would say it’s suitable for geologists, geophysicists, engineers, regulators and policymakers – anyone, really, with an interest in the emerging hydrogen economy.

We cover everything from the basics through to the more complex. The aim is for you to have a wider appreciation of the role of geoscience within the hydrogen economy and the contribution that hydrogen can make to the energy transition.

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

I really like restoring old cars. So, I spend an awful lot of my time looking after my 1984 Citroen 2CVthat I am managing to keep going on the road. She has recently passed her MOT with no defects so I’m feeling pretty chuffed about that. She’s getting a bit rusty now but we’ll get there – my job for the winter!

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

From where I sit, there has certainly been a shift in awareness that we need to cut our emissions from energy. However, translating that into action is really challenging. For me, I think the most important thing we need to do is bring the public with us –change public perception– highlighting the community benefits that can come from hydrogen storage and taking away that element of fear or uncertainty.

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What would be your advice to geoscientists who are just starting their careers?

So, I’m the careers coordinator for geosciences [at the University of Edinburgh] and I ran a careers event yesterday because a lot of the big environmental consultancies start their graduate recruitment in November–December for the following September. There are plenty of opportunities out there but it’s really just a case of understanding how you can connect with people. I suppose, therefore, the main piece of advice I give to anybody starting their career is to begin to build that professional network; join LinkedIn, join organisations, attend conferences (especially the free industry ones) and connect with your peers and with professionals who are working in that field. Don’t be frightened to reach out to someone – what’s the worst that’s going to happen? They might ignore your request but, equally, they may get back in touch with you, and once you’ve got that, it’ll open the door to job opportunities or possibilities for collaboration.

Secondly, this field is changing particularly quickly. Three years ago, nobody would have even heard of you if you’d said you worked in hydrogen, whereas now, they can’t get enough people working in hydrogen. So, from a geoscience point of view, keep up-to-date with current research and attend workshops, conferences and webinars. Maintaining that up-to-date and broad knowledge base and network will help.

Lastly, just try always to remember why you started [geoscience] in the first place. Keep passionate about the subject you do and remain adaptable in that ever-changing job market.

Give us your best/worst geology joke?

This is so bad.

Q: Did you hear about the geologist who was reading a book on helium?

No…

A: She couldn’t put it down.

That’s terrible

You asked for it!

Hydrogen Masterclass: Production, Geological Storage and Operational Engineering by Katriona Edlmann will be running from 23 – 27 October 2023.

Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Howard Feldman

We sat down with Howard Feldman ahead of his upcoming GeoLogica course: Introduction to Clastic Facies

What’s your field and specialisation?

My PhD was originally in palaeontology, but I spent decades in the petroleum industry where I specialized in stratigraphy, a little bit in carbonates, but mainly siliciclastic stratigraphy, siliciclastic facies and sedimentology.

Tell us a bit about your teaching journey.

I’ve been teaching since I was in grad school in the 80s, so you know, that kind of dates me! I taught for a year at Clemson University in South Carolina, then occasionally at the Kansas survey, but when I got to Exxon, they just threw me into teaching since I was an experienced hire. I taught many classroom and field courses at Exxon every year for 26 years. I can’t even tell you how many I taught.

I really like the Exxon approach to teaching: you’d give a presentation or lecture, then present a data set to work as an exercise to emphasize the direct business application of those concepts. I think that approach to teaching is particularly valuable, so that’s the way I teach now.

What is your favourite memory from fieldwork or field training?
Well, I have a strong memory of my very last bit of fieldwork before I left the Kansas survey. I was just learning the first principles of sequence stratigraphy and what incised valleys were. There was an outcrop that I’d been to a couple times with one of my colleagues – it was just a metre-thick marine shale. I was also working in the subsurface in that area and I was using the principles of sequence stratigraphy to show that there were limestone beds that were truncated by sandstone-filled incised valley. I called up my colleague and told him that we needed to go back to the outcrop because there had to be a soil there – the valley interfluve should have a soil or some evidence of subaerial exposure. He really laid into me because we had already been to the outcrop and it had been a pretty hellacious outcrop to get to. It was also the middle of August in Kansas so it was very hot. I told him I was going anyway, and he came along not wanting me to go alone. It was a long slog down the middle of the stream through lots of brush and stuff, and we turned the corner and looked at the outcrop and we both immediately saw the paleosol! The lesson there is that you don’t see things that you’re not looking for. The more models you have in your mind and the more open you are to alternative interpretations, the better you’re going to be at making observations. It’s really important to continue to read the literature, and continue to learn new models because they suggest observations you might not have thought to make.

Describing core, which is one of my specialties, isn’t just about a methodical engineering-type approach. To record the sedimentary structures you have to have an open mind. You have to be open to seeing things and to making observations that you might not otherwise have thought to make. And, as you describe core, you should constantly be testing alternative models of what you think is the depositional and stratigraphic architecture and how can you use that to make a prediction of what you should see next. But to do that, you have to have in your mind a vast toolkit of depositional and stratigraphic models, and the larger that toolkit is, the better you’ll be at your job.

One of Howard's favourite outcrops: An incision in the Castlegate Sandstone in Tusher Canyon, Utah

(Image: One of Howard’s favourite outcrops – An incision in the Castlegate Sandstone in Tusher Canyon, Utah)

 

Tell us about your upcoming course with GeoLogica – what is it about and who is it for?
My course is for any geoscientist or engineer who needs to know something about clastic facies and the implications for reservoir architecture. I start from a very basic level, assuming essentially no knowledge about how clastic facies work. From that basic level, we move on pretty quickly into how you can make observations and subsurface predictions.

The course focuses on making observations in core, so I go through all the depositional environments, including contourites, and all the standard depositional settings, and we look at a lot of core photos. We’ll progress through all of the different environments with an emphasis on making interpretations from core, and using those interpretations to make predictions about what’s happening in the subsurface.

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

When I was in grad school, I had a fellowship for my master’s and PhD, but I ran out of funding because it was taking me too long and so I had to get a job. The job I took on was measuring and analyzing kidney stones, and so I’ve measured, analyzed and photographed thousands and thousands of kidney stones!

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

I think the biggest challenge today is the global impact of burning hydrocarbons. I think we absolutely need to switch away from petroleum, but I don’t see it happening in the next few decades. There are steps we can take to get us to a transition and one of those steps is being more efficient at finding hydrocarbons that burn cleaner. I think there’s still a place for petroleum but I think we have to have our eyes open about the impact on the world, and we also have to have our eyes open to what the alternatives are and what we can do to solve that problem.

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What would be your advice to geoscientists who are just starting their careers?

Well, it’s an entirely different economic environment than when I entered the petroleum industry. The environment today from a business perspective and from a world perspective is so different; it’s much more challenging.

But putting that aside, my advice is don’t stop learning. I knew so many people working in petroleum whose depositional or structural models dated back to their last days in grad school. And you know you can’t do that if you want to be good. You need to keep up with the literature, and you need to find a way to discriminate the literature so you know what’s worth looking at. You need to keep learning all the time and keep your mind open to new concepts and new ideas. It’s great to learn new things from new projects – every time you’re in a new project, you learn new things – but you have to do more than that, and there’s just no alternative to reading the literature.

But it is also important to get out into the field and go on field trips. Sometimes even going to the same outcrops but with a new person with new perspectives can open your eyes. There are always new interpretations of classic outcrops. One of my professors used to say that the best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks, and I think that is absolutely true!

Give us your best/worst geology joke?
So there was a guide at the museum who was taking people through the exhibit on the dinosaurs. And throughout his talk, he kept saying that the dinosaurs died 65 million and two years ago.

At the end I asked him, “Why are you saying 65,000,002 years ago? How can you be so sure?”

He replied, “Well when I got my training I was told the dinosaurs died out 65,000,000 years ago… but that was two years ago!

Introduction to Clastic Facies by Howard Feldman will be running from 30 October – 02 November 2023.

Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Alex Bump

We sat down with Alex Bump ahead of his upcoming GeoLogica course: Geologic Carbon Storage for Geoscientists and Engineers

What’s your field and specialisation?

My background is structural geology and tectonics. I have worked in petroleum exploration and my current field is CCS. At heart I am an explorer, wanting to know what’s over the horizon and how things work.

“If you drill here, what are you going to find?”

“How does this work as a system?”

“How do I put ranges on what I’m likely to find?”

“What is the performance likely to be using minimal data?”

I bring the eyes of an explorer to CCS thinking.

Tell us a bit about your teaching journey.

I started teaching geology as a grad student 30 years ago . . . and, at first, I was terrible at it! But I wanted to be good, so I watched good teachers and I read about it, studied it and was fortunate to work with some really excellent instructional designers. I went on to teach courses for BP, the University of Arizona, members of the public, and I’ve continued teaching different audiences and subjects at the University of Texas.

What is your favourite memory from fieldwork or field training?

You know, I’m hard pressed to identify a particular favourite, but I’ve got a collage of wonderful memories of being high in the mountains, gazing out over a valley of beautifully structured geology, just pinching myself that I actually get paid to do this stuff! And, you know, I’ve described this job sometimes as getting paid to go play in the mountains and solve puzzles. And those are the days when there is no better job in the world.

Cretaceous strata of the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

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

The course is about the subsurface aspects of CCS, the geologic components of CO2 storage, and it’s effectively trying to adapt petroleum expertise for CCS. It’s aimed at geologists, geophysicists and engineers. It’s part geology, part modelling, part surface monitoring.

My understanding initially, coming from petroleum geology, was that CO2 seems fairly simple: it’s a buoyant fluid and we’re talking about subsurface fluid flow with reservoir seals and traps. How different can it be? And the answer is actually really different. First, you’re injecting at industrial rates, so pressure build-up is a major constraint. Second, the economics are very different. It’s a low-margin business, so you’re far more constrained than when dealing with petroleum. And third, you don’t want it back. The goal is sequestration, which opens up a whole new series of plays and concepts that work, and also risks. So all together, these components ripple through the entire system and make you rethink all your ideas of what ‘good’ looks like.

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

Outside of geology I am a lifelong endurance athlete, woodworker, dad and caffeine addict by necessity!

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing your sector at the moment as a whole?

Oh, that’s a good question. You know, as much fun as I have working on the subsurface, as much room as there still is to optimise subsurface geology, and as much of a need as there is for geoscience, the big barriers to CCS are above ground. In different parts of the world, it varies a little bit, but it’s a combination of economics, permitting and public acceptance.

In the US, the economics have radically shifted over the last couple of years so that is no longer the big barrier – now, it’s public acceptance and permitting. These things will get worked out eventually but it’s early days and a new industry. The public is unfamiliar with it and are – fairly enough – distrustful. Permit and regulators are new to this game and are, again, proceeding with appropriate caution. But those are the big barriers in the US. In other parts of the world, economic incentives vary dramatically and so, in those countries, economics is the primary barrier. But if you find a way to pay for it, then the other things become much more significant.

I grew up in New England, one of the oldest parts of the US, where you commonly see farmhouses that are a couple of hundred years old. Behind every one of those farmhouses, like the one where I grew up, there would be a pile of rusting cans and bottles, which harks back to an age when municipal trash collection was unheard of. And it actually wasn’t very long ago – say 50–60 years. But nowadays, municipal rubbish collection is almost taken for granted. And that was, in some ways, the first step in a journey toward pollution control. It continued with cleaning up the general practice of dumping industrial waste into the nearest waterway. In the US, the Queen Water Act of 1974 started the era of underground injection of hazardous waste, and that has continued, right? We’ve cleaned up sulphur dioxide emissions and chlorofluorocarbons – the sources of acid rain and ozone degradation. In some ways, CCS is just the next step in this journey, of realizing the impact of widespread dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere. And, you know, just like those other things, there is a learning curve and a public acceptance curve and a remuneration curve that all has to come together before it works at scale – this takes time. We’re low on that curve in CCS but you can see the day coming when it’s simply a routine part of doing business.

What would be your advice to geoscientists who are starting their careers?

I gave this one some thought and I would say, “Learn to think in terms of systems but learn to talk in terms of stories.”

Geology is governed by a fairly simple set of processes. There are lots of processes at work and they can combine in complex ways. So, by stepping back and thinking in terms of systems, you’ll be a much stronger interpreter. Think “How does the system work here?”, but also think about how you link the observations you make to an outcome via reasonable geological processes. So, it’s thinking about systems, linking the observations with a story that incorporates reasonable geologic processes, and that is a powerful QC on interpretation.

With regards to talking in terms of stories – scientists think in terms of facts, but people communicate in terms of stories. Those who talk in terms of pure facts tend to lose their audience. So, learning to tell stories is a really powerful way to connect with an audience and communicate research in a way that lands. It’s critical: brilliant research routinely falls flat because it simply wasn’t intelligible to the audience or didn’t connect with them.

Give us your best/worst geology joke?

Q: Why was the sandstone so cheap?

A: It was on shale!

That is truly awful.

Well, when you start telling geology jokes, you really know you’ve hit rock bottom.

 

Geologic Carbon Storage for Geoscientists and Engineers by Alex Bump, Seyyed Hosseini and Katherine Romanak will be running from 25-29 September 2023.

Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Richard Jones

We sat down with Richard Jones ahead of his upcoming GeoLogica course: An Introduction to Geospatial Workflows

What is your specialisation?

I’m a structural geologist, though I’ve lectured and run workshops in a number of other things such as programming and artificial intelligence, especially natural language processing and also in geospatial technologies as well.

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching and consulting in one form or another for the last 30-35 years

Can you recall a favourite memory from the field?

I’ve been to several places which have blown my mind over the years, but to give just one I’ll say the Zagros mountains in North-Eastern Iraq. Staggeringly beautiful scenery and amazing geology. Because the geology is so young, it’s topography- forming. So when you’re standing on top of a mountain in Kurdistan you can see all around you the geology and the structural geology, and the structure is forming the topography. So that’s very special for a structural geologist and it’s very beautiful. I’ve been there for many, many months over a 10-year period and so many times I’ve sort of pinched myself and thought, “my God, I’m being paid for this!”. What a privilege.

Richard Jones in the Field

Tell us about your upcoming course with GeoLogica. What is it about and who is it for?

So the next one up is E510 – An Introduction to Geospatial Workflows. This is an introductory course for people who would like an overview of Geo-informatics, for people who want or need to use spatial data, particularly in the context of the Geo energy transition. So it’s aimed at both post-grad students soon to go out into the workplace and professional geoscientists who are looking to expand their skill set and learn to use spatial data in spatial workflows.

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

I used to be a very keen runner and orienteer – I’ve run in the World Orienteering Championships and in the World Hill Running Championships.

And…hmm… what would be obscure enough? I’ve been in the winning team for Jukola & Tiomila – the curious can look into what they are!

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

Oh that’s indulgent – that makes me feel old and important and worldly wise!

H.H. Read said, “The best geologist is the one that’s seen the most rocks.” And of course if you take that literally, it’s not necessarily 100% true, but it conveys a really important message. So “Get up from the computer and go out and see some real rocks” would probably be the best advice I could ever think of.

Don’t let the technology dictate the science. Make sure the technology serves science. That’s another tremendously important one.

And what else…? Just be passionate about geology. Geology’s super important to society – be proud of the role that geology plays in society.

Tell us your best (worst) geology joke.

Q: How fast does a fault move?

A: A Mylonite!

Richard Jones taking a photo in the Field

Richard will be teaching E510 An Introduction to Spatial Workflows from 04 – 06 September 2023.