A Parting Interview with Roger Slatt, Ph.D.

Title: A Parting Interview with Roger Slatt, Ph.D.

Author: Ginger S. Dodson

Publication: The Outcrop, September 2000, p. 1, 8, 12

During the past eight years Dr. Roger Slatt was Director of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). In July Dr. Slatt left Colorado for Norman, Oklahoma, where he will be the new Director of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Oklahoma (OU).A9R1vh7o6v_17nw2yx_4p8

CSM is well known as an international university. Now Dr. Slatt will join a group of Oklahomans committed to expanding the OU international campus. Negotiations proceeded for almost two years until Dr. Slatt was satisfied that he had the full support of the university administration, faculty, alumni and staff before accepting the position. OU President David Boren (former United States Senator and Oklahoma’s ex-Governor), AAPG President Marian Downey, and several prominent alumni and faculty were influential in his decision.

Many local geologists have enjoyed their dealings with Dr. Slatt. He has led field trips, published numerous articles, and even edited a book for the RMAG (“Compartmentalized Reservoirs in Rocky Mountain Basins”). Before leaving Colorado in July, Dr. Slatt took time to answer some questions about his history and future plans.

OUTCROP: You’ve spent over 20 years with Cities, ARCO, and CSM pushing for integrated, numerical geological studies. If geologists publish more such studies, do you expect that more engineers will read the papers?

DR. SLATT: The onus is on geologists to provide information in a form that is usable to engineers. For example, an engineer finds little use for a qualitative fades map; a map of permeability heterogeneity or distribution is much more meaningful. That is a reason that computer-based geologic modeling (stochastic, object-based) has become so popular.

OUTCROP: One tool of quantitative geology is “flow units”. Can one flow unit include strata that are similar, or can it separate dissimilar parts of one stratum?

DR. SLATT: The concept of the flow unit, as I use it, dates back to Hearn and others (1984, JPT). More recently, Gunter and others (1997, SPE 38679) refined the concept to derive flow units from interval thickness, porosity, and permeability. Permeability is quite sensitive to geologic fades and diagenetic history. So using these three parameters to determine flow units does not lose the geologic factors.

OUTCROP: How necessary and practical is 3D visualization technology for industry?

DR. SLATT: I think that 3D and 4D visualization is the wave of the future. After all, we live in a 3D and 4D world. Since 1995, when I helped organize an AAPG/ SEG conference on visualization technologies (AAPG Bull., v. 80, 1996, p. 453-459), visualization theaters, caves, and the like have become common in major oil and gas company facilities, as well as in some universities. The ability to stand inside a virtual reservoir and watch how reservoir fluids flow past you provides new insights and ideas on reservoir performance. Visualization facilities are becoming cheaper and smaller, and will find a greater place in university facilities.

OUTCROP: Your work on deep-water deposits dates back to a 1982 publication, covers the globe, and spans the Paleozoic to Quaternary. What is left for you and other geologists to do?

DR. SLATT: Today, the most active exploration and development efforts globally are for turbidite (deep-water) sandstones, particularly in the deep Gulf of Mexico, offshore West Africa, North Sea, and offshore South America. Early models for deepwater “fans” have been shown to be overly simplistic. [There is so much progress that] it is a major task just to keep up with the new literature. Our research efforts in the Lewis Shale gas play of Wyoming and Colorado are toward quantification of reservoir architecture.

OUTCROP: At your recent RMAG talk, Dr. Thomas Thompson asked what was the depth range for lower Lewis Shale deep-water elastics. While he was satisfied with your answer of 4-6000 ft., many Rocky Mountain geologists don’t believe that the Cretaceous interior seaway was ever deeper than hundreds of feet. Can you elaborate?

DR. SLATT: One of the key concepts in our Lewis Shale program is that sequence and chronostratigraphic correlations are much more robust and interpretable than lithostratigraphic correlations.

The stratigraphic thickness (after decompaction) of shelf and basinal strata along any time-equivalent datum provides a minimum water depth at deposition. In my RMAG talk I mentioned that for the Lewis Shale in the Washakie and Great Divide basins, the decompacted thickness between shelf and basinal fades along a bentonite or correlatable shale bed ranges up to almost 4,000 ft.

There are other factors that lead us to a deep-water interpretation in the Washakie, Great Divide and Sand Wash basins, in addition to the physical features of the Lewis sandstones. For example, the upper Cretaceous is anomalously thick in these basins (Cross and Pilger, 1978, Nature, p. 653- 657), indicating there was more or less continual subsidence. This concept also applies to the Steel Shale and suggests that turbidite deposits might also be present within that interval, as observed by us at some outcrops.

OUTCROP: You’ve documented your work in many dozens of publications and worked with some great geologists. Can you describe your professional relationship with Dr. Paul Wiemer from CU Boulder?

DR. SLATT: Actually, I have published about 100 papers. Dr. Weimer and I work well together in the area of deep-water (turbidite) reservoirs. He is oriented mainly toward large-scale interpretations, at the exploration scale. I am oriented more toward the reservoir scale. This helps in the very popular course that we co-teach. This fall we will teach that course for the GCAGS and the U.S. Minerals Management Service. In 2002, we will teach the course at the national MPG convention. Our work has led us to begin preparing a book titled “Petroleum Geology of Deep-Water Depositional Systems”, which we hope to publish through AAPG. My moving to Oklahoma is not anticipated to disrupt our joint efforts.

OUTCROP: What do you view as your greatest accomplishments at CSM? Any disappointments?

DR. SLATT: CSM hired me to improve the petroleum geology program. I think it is fair to say that the department petroleum program now ranks in the first tier of U.S. universities. The undergraduate program now offers a senior-level course in integrated petroleum geoscience/engineering, which could be unique. The graduate petroleum program is as well integrated as any in the U.S. The department has about 240 undergraduate and graduate students, placing it in the upper 10% of programs in the U.S. I have graduated over a dozen M.S. and Ph.D. students.

The CSM PTTC has set the standard for the other nine centers in the U.S. The PTTC has offered numerous courses and has provided the department with two first-rate computing labs and a petroleum software library. Dr. Sandra Mark, who has taken over my directorship of the CSM PTTC, certainly deserves the credit for building the Computer Training Center into the gem that it is.

The faculty gets considerably more research funding than before, and attracts industry sponsorship and support. The department is in the top rank of deep-water petroleum-geology research programs. For example, this year in MPG/ SEPM publication (MPG Memoir 72), a full 25% of the chapters were from CSM students and faculty.

The completion of a web-based course on Geologic Reservoir Characterization is a major personal accomplishment. It took two years, which was longer than originally anticipated.

In terms of disappointments, I would cite a generally slow response to incorporating visualization technologies in CSM’s curriculum. I am disappointed that CSM did not receive the visualization facility that ARCO donated to a university. I also regret the lack of closer departmental ties with alumni.

OUTCROP: The OU earth-science program already is diverse, with programs like the solid earth study of the interior. How will you proceed in building up the program?

DR. SLATT: I have a lot of plans. I am going there at the start of the “School of Geology and Geophysics 2nd Century” event, so there will be get-togethers with alumni designed to seek advice. The School has an excellent faculty and student body, and an alumni organization second to none.

I want to institute a Geoscience Visualization Center, courses on the worldwide web, and a world-class petroleum program meshed with OU’s School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering. Plans to accomplish these goals include recruiting top students, buying visualization facilities, encouraging faculty to branch into web teaching, and building on the reputation of the school.

Being associated with the Sarkeys Energy Center and the Oklahoma Geological Survey will help. I look forward to participating in the many global activities of the Sarkey Energy Center, which houses the School of Geology and Geophysics. It is indeed a high-rise building, for Norman. I’ll have a commanding view from my 7th floor perch. The new Noble Natural History Museum is a world­-class facility.

I have moved quite a few times during my career, and had fully intended for Golden to be my last stop. However, the new career challenges were just too tempting.