President’s Column – May/June 2001

Title: Finding Oil and Natural Gas 101

Author: Susan Landon

Publication: The Outcrop, May/June 2001, p. 3

RMAG is hosting the 2001 AAPG Annual Meeting in Denver. In commemoration of this event we are publishing a special convention issue of The Outcrop. In my column I would like to talk about the value of the convention and what it means to RMAG members.

The AAPG Annual Meeting has two basic elements. It is a forum for presenting “cutting edge” ideas related to petroleum geology, exploration, exploitation, and allied sciences. Professionals have a chance to exchange and debate ideas and results. The papers and posters represent a staggering amount of work by hundreds of people with diverse skills. The short courses and field trips augment the information presented in the technical sessions. In addition, the hundreds of exhibitors are presenting state-of-the-art technology and improved methods for finding and exploiting hydrocarbon reservoirs. It is also a social opportunity for friends from across the country and around the world to meet again.

But why are we attending the convention? Many of us are scurrying from one talk or poster to another with an intricate schedule scribbled on the margins of our program. Some of us have even managed the art of mining the digital program and have neatly printed schedules guiding us through the convention center. But what are we all seeking? Most of us are looking for key ideas that will provide us with a more effective method of finding gas or oil accumulations. We are learning, refining our techniques, and adding new tools to our kit.

Our industry has changed dramatically since I went to work for Amoco twenty some years ago. After participating in a workshop sponsored by the American Geological Institute recently, I began to think about how we learn to be oil-finders. The decrease in the number of major companies has impacted how young geologists, beginning a career in petroleum, are trained. Geologists are now less likely to get their post-graduate training with a major company prior to joining a smaller organization. Some of those smaller companies are seeking new geologists from the crop of new graduates.

Recently, I was talking with Steve Natali at Barrett Resources about the changes we had seen in our industry since we were both at Amoco starting our careers. Steve posed a good question: How do we teach those well-trained geologists the art of exploration? Steve and I agreed that one of the best ways to learn this art is by listening to the experiences of the great explorationists. I was lucky to have Jim Vanderbeek show me what exploration meant and teach me to manage and be comfortable with risk. Similarly, Steve values the stories he has heard from Bill Barrett. As I look through the program for the convention, I see that there are many opportunities to hear the stories of some successful explorationists.

Part of being a successful oil-finder is an understanding and comfort with managing risk. As I speak at universities across the country, one of the questions I frequently get from students is on the impact of drilling dry holes. How many professions expect failure more often than success? Of course as professionals in the industry, we know that there is no such thing as a dry hole, only an economic failure that provides valuable information to guide our exploration and development.

I testified at a public hearing on federal land-use planning many years ago. At that meeting, a member of the public stood up and said that he wasn’t opposed to finding and producing oil and natural gas but that he didn’t think that companies should be allowed to drill all those dry holes! There have been times when I think our industry is beginning to have the same mindset of that rancher from Montana.

RMAG would like to thank the hard-working committee that put together a great meeting. We especially thank the authors, field trip leaders, and short course instructors who are willing to share their work and ideas with us. I hope everyone enjoys the meeting. I also wish everyone good luck in finding the key that will help them discover and produce natural gas and oil successfully!

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