An interview with Bill Goodway

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra
Bill Goodway

Bill Goodway is one of Calgary’s better know geophysicists, through his development of new seismic methods such as MegaBin 3D acquisition and Lambda-Mu-Rho (LMR) analysis. A brief encounter with him would impress anyone by his technical savvy, strong work ethic, his intelligent opinions, and above all, his unbridled enthusiasm for geophysics.

The RECORDER was privileged to snatch some of Bill’s valuable time to gauge his views on various issues ranging from his background to current trends in the industry. Bill was kind enough to share his opinions and impressions. The following are excerpts from the talk.

Bill, would you like to tell us about your early education and background?

My interest in geology and physics started in high school, and led to a degree in geology. In those early days geophysics was not offered as an undergraduate program - so I had a choice between physics and geology. I probably would have preferred physics but I thought my mathematical ability was not up to it, so I chose geology, though I had been accepted into the physics degree program. However, after placing well in the first year physics options that I took, maybe my math was not as bad as I had thought! By then my path was set and I was destined to end up in geophysics.

My geology degree led me into the oil industry. Fairly early on in my career I was drawn to seismic, and eventually was transferred from the UK to Calgary. In 1985 I joined PanCanadian. I’ve been there since, and I consider myself very lucky. I’ve had job stability and a supportive management with the chance to do some interesting applied science rather than being at the mercy of various remote corporate decisions.

What made you choose Geophysics as a profession?

Well, as I said, the starting point was my wide interest in the sciences in high school - Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Geology and Astronomy. Physics was and still is my real love, and I wonder to this day whether I should have been a physicist. But geology was interesting because it covers such a wide range of subjects, anywhere from Biology to Physics. I ended up in geophysics through geology because exploring for hydrocarbons, especially in marine exploration, is nearly impossible with geology alone - we need seismic. So that was the door that opened the world of Geophysics up to me.

You have been a successful professional in industry, and of course have also made significant contributions to it. Can you distill the essence of your experiences, and provide an inspiring message for your fellow geophysicists?

Well I think from my perspective, staying with the technical aspects of geophysics, rather than the general oil company activity of interpreting geology, has been the key in my career. In terms of any scientific pursuit, it’s good to keep in touch with the theory, to force yourself to read the journals, and to keep current with the mathematical language of your field; in our case understanding the processing techniques that are applied to the data is very important. I have found the most satisfaction in trying to bring the physics within Geophysics into a more deterministic method of interpretation.

Seismic data can be quite surprising - I believe that there is significant opportunity to extract more subsurface reservoir information than is initially obvious. I have always been amazed that reflected seismic waves contain believable geological images when recorded back at the surface.

In the Canadian seismic industry (and elsewhere) I think there is a distinct separation between the interpreters and the processors. How does one bridge this gap? Basically that is my position at PanCanadian. But I think the onus is on every individual to try and bridge that gap, otherwise this knowledge gap may lead to serious errors. People use seismic data that has been processed with algorithms of which they have little or no “feel” for. The saying within processing contractors that “you really don’t understand an algorithm until you have programmed it” holds true even to the ultimate end user - the interpreter.

My message to fellow geophysicists is to remain enthused with the science throughout your career, keep technically abreast of new and changing methods and persist in paying attention to detail.

Since the early 1990’s we have seen an increase in multidisciplinary integration within oil companies. To what extent has this happened within your company?

I’d say we do it very well on specific projects. We made a conscious effort to integrate teams within the Landmark platform some years back. We also have significant interpretation technology such as a visualization centre, which is essential for complex geology - Gulf of Mexico, North Sea and Canadian East Coast. Our teams use the visualization technology frequently - we really use it to solve complex multi-disciplinary and interpretation issues. Our Executive VP of Technology, Gerry Macey, made sure that this technology was pushed - many companies don’t have this ability, at least not many Canadian companies. We’re also very lucky at PanCanadian to have Dave Cooper as Chief Geophysicist, because he loves geophysics, believes in its effectiveness, and has really built a culture that values and supports it.

Generally however, geologists and geophysicists work well together in the business units while engineers remain somewhat distant, although that’s changing. We’re still a long way from full multi-disciplinary integration in a routine sense. The worst situation in our company is actually between myself, the geophysical expert, and the experts in geology and engineering. That integration with geological or engineering equivalents is very difficult. I think it may be a case that the business unit model works well, but at the expense of other types of communication. Having said that, a lot of my AVO and LMR work, has been and continues to be well integrated within the petrophysical specialist’s realm.

We have seen a trend within the world of geophysics where companies are patenting their technology. Some notable examples are BP Amoco’s Coherence Cube, and more recently, PanCanadian’s LMR technique and MegaBin acquisition scheme. Do these patented technologies play an important in-house role at PanCanadian?

Yes, we have a patent on MegaBin. The original reason for getting the patent stemmed from there being various patents on acquisition designs out there - we didn’t want to have any conflict with someone patenting an idea that we published. So we had to patent it and use it. In terms of in-house use and understanding, we feel we have benefited by using it i.e. cost reduction and quality improvement. The industry doesn’t necessarily see it that way, but this was not the reason for our patenting it. Although we understand that since we have the patent, the licensing option is there. Currently there is an effort internally to understand whether or not there is something we can do with any PanCanadian technology and whether we should be in the patenting business. The reason we did this in the beginning was to protect ourselves, but now it has gone one step further - there are always philosophies present in a company which equate the value of a business unit with the amount of revenue it generates - so automatically the MegaBin patent is seen as having revenue potential. But in a larger sense within PanCanadian, there are engineering patents, and the money involved with those is far, far greater.

Multi-component technology appears attractive as it provides independent shear wave data which can be correlated with compressional wave data. However, in spite of all its promise, it has not become a standard technique. What do you think about it? Are you adopting this technology?

We’ve been with the CREWES consortium since its inception and we’ve experimented with land 3C-2D and 3C-3D; we’ve also been acquiring our own 3D converted wave surveys - but yes, I agree, it really hasn’t caught on yet. I think the problem is that with land data you get fairly good and consistent resolution from basic P-wave data, especially in Western Canada. Multicomponent converted wave data doesn’t have quite the same resolution and it’s been hard to convince people to acquire it at increased recording costs. We have some cases, in Saskatchewan for instance, where P-wave data frequencies are exceeding 140 Hz.; in these cases we can get converted wave data with good resolution up to 70 Hz. This converted wave data could be the best in the world, but even so, the reservoirs are quite thin, so we are still wondering about the value it adds. P impedance we know works well and AVO extraction of shear impedance information may be adequate in most situations.

I believe that converted wave acquisition and processing in Calgary, especially with CREWES and people like Rob Stewart and Peter Cary, is technologically beyond the rest of the world.

The understanding and development of converted wave technology for land applications is well established through all these efforts. The recent OBC trend we see now has promise. Initially it was used to image below gas chimney problems, and this has been clearly demonstrated offshore. We definitely needed it in that situation, but I do believe it has shown promise and will continue to have more value in areas such as AVO constraints and lithology identification.

What new technologies are being embraced by your company for exploration of hydrocarbons?

In terms of the offshore, because that’s pretty much where we are going, it’s a mixture of AVO, LMR and kinematics - in other words more sophisticated use of velocity fields. We’re making an effort in migration and AVO to obtain consistency in terms of the velocities versus impedances. One difficulty is that pre-stack migration, depth or time, has difficulty in preserving amplitudes. I think that the new technology we’re all grasping for would be something where we get some more believable velocity information - in other words combining tomographic travel time arrivals with reflectivity. Berkhout has always predicted something like this, he describes migration as a global process, preserving correctly positioned amplitudes on a local scale. With the traditional approach NMO is just a knob with which you attempt to flatten your data within CMPs. The resulting velocity field doesn’t necessarily make sense; other processes such as AVO will result in different and unrelated velocity fields. They should relate, things should all tie together and make sense as “kinematic reflectivity”.

This goal is of course not just one of PanCanadian’s, it’s like the Holy Grail of our industry. We’ve seen a number of papers published with some interesting results.

An E&P company can create value in three basic ways: skillful use of technology, ability to manage large projects, and willingness to deploy risk capital. How would you analyse PanCanadian’s mix of these three ingredients?

I think we’ve managed large projects fairly well. Our WCSB shallow gas drilling project is definitely large and successful. Large projects require cost efficiency. I think we do that well.

I believe PanCanadian has acquired the most land 3D seismic in Alberta (more than 150 townships). We manage that efficiently and costs have come down in the last five years. In terms of using technology that is applicable, I think we’ve done fairly well, but I’m sure we can do better. Our current marine effort has only been around for a few years but we are preparing ourselves to be in that business for a long time. As I’d been out of the marine side for a number of years, I had concerns when we got back into it - concerns that we’d be lacking the technology and experience, and would be at the mercy of our partners. But that has not transpired. So I think we have skillfully used new technology – technology which is essentially contracted.

We have maintained risk capital spending, even during downturns. An exception to that was the big crash of ‘86 but in any downturn since then we have actually maintained capital spending quite successfully. I think about a quarter of our expenditures are in areas which are generally considered high risk / high reward, such as W5 in Alberta, Canadian East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, North Sea, Australia, Libya.

Do you think R & D is necessary for an oil company. How much is done at your company?

Our R and D efforts are not done in the internal, secretive style of some majors. We rely on working with contractors, for example like the relationship we have with Scott Pickford for LMR, because we can’t do it all internally. Internally, we have 4 or 5 people within a “special projects” group. I heard last week that some large majors, even after significant downsizing, still have something like 30 R & D geophysicists with IT and programming support. They also do all their pre-stack migration and AVO work internally. Companies like BP/Amoco have shed most of these people, but they still have more than us. Most big companies are moving in that direction. Other companies which are not as big have maintained significant internal efforts - they must feel that this gives them an advantage. We never had a full blown internal R & D effort in geophysics, but we do see an advantage in having people like that internally. We rely on interacting with contractors and universities - a more open style of R & D.

The other thing I would say is that we are not the only Canadian company that has this lean R & D perspective. When we’re working with a mix of Canadian and US partners, I’m the PanCanadian expert on migration, on AVO, on anything geophysical, and I feel like I can’t do it justice at times. But these other Canadian companies, like Talisman, Husky, Petrocan and AEC, have even less people devoted to being geophysical experts. This is still a big difference between Canadian and US companies. We’ve evolved from being small WCSB companies and we still rely heavily on the outside world. Canadian companies haven’t had a long history of international involvement. Once they get into international perspectives they need a wider range of expertise. So I think you’ll see PanCanadian and its Canadian peers evolve further in terms of R & D effort, and perhaps the US majors evolving in the other direction, that is outsourcing some of their R & D and doing things more in our style i.e. working with contractors on specific problems.

It is generally opined these days that competitive advantage comes not from the development of technology, but rather from its application. What are your views on this?

I agree with that. We’ve always interacted with our contractors, focussed on a problem, and come up with interesting solutions. We worked with contractors on a lot of new technology, for example sparse radon transforms, we even collaborated on a 5 component decon project early in the game in an effort to get a match between land and lake data over the Lake Newell 3D. More recently with Geo- X we’ve worked to understand transmission effects better, especially coal transmission effects. We had papers with Kelman on similar issues affecting decon design. And as I mentioned there has been collaborative work on LMR with Scott Pickford and also Veritas. So there is a whole history of our individuals being involved with contractors on focussed problems.

How is it that, despite extremely high oil and gas prices, E&P companies are putting a proportionately lower investment back into exploration?

I would say that this is largely a US phenomenon. Every time I go to Houston, I hear companies aren’t spending. But in Canada, the price of gas has been up for a long time, and this has kept companies here spending on exploration even though in other parts of the world this wasn’t happening. The impression I have is that in the last two years the spending hasn’t been a disaster, hasn’t actually dropped much, and that once prices rebounded, Canadian companies responded faster. In Calgary there’s definitely been an increase in exploration budgets and spending this year. As far as our spending goes, our seismic budget is around $120m, which is the largest in our history.

We do respond to prices, but we see ourselves as being an aggressive company, and generally I’d say other larger Canadian companies like Talisman and AEC are similar. The multinationals have been focusing more on mergers than exploration the last few years. That and the fact that mergers have meant less companies are in the game may have resulted in a situation of less net exploration, but that doesn’t mean that companies such as PanCanadian are sitting on their hands. We have aggressively maintained our exploration efforts.

In the past a commitment to learning was a desirable personal trait, but recently it has become a necessity for career growth. There is an awareness that the best training and finest credentials depreciate in value if not continuously updated. How much time and money do you feel a company needs to devote to technical employee training?

Well I look back over the last 12 years and prior to the University courses I’ve taken, seismic theory was at times a mystical thing and math quite unintelligible. People I’ve worked with, such as Arnim Haase, would talk to me about the wave equation and now I can ask intelligent questions such as, “Exactly what wave equation do you mean?” Doing my Master’s and having to tackle theory head-on has given me inner confidence, I understand more of the realities involved in data processing or what imaging improvement algorithms manage to achieve. I encourage young grads coming in to PanCanadian, who are probably sick of University after completing their B.Sc. or M.Sc., to continue taking post-grad courses. I understand how they feel though - they want to establish a career, start making money, and apply what they’ve learned without the detailed theoretical rigor. Despite this the new grads do take evening courses in the Geophysics department at U of C., and are gaining a new and deeper insight into seismic exploration. This knowledge is practically useful as PanCanadian is involved in plays and reservoirs where these skills are key, skills such as simultaneous surface 3C-3D VSP’s.

In terms of time and money we have a flexible view. People are encouraged to take courses internally, as well as University courses and industry courses. The company provides around $4000 per geophysicist per year towards education.

What are your aspirations as an explorationist?

In terms of career seniority, I’m probably almost at the top of what I can do at PanCanadian. But my technical goals are what really motivate me. My aspiration as an explorationist would be to solve old exploration and production problems with a more unique use of seismic methods. We have dwindling and dying reservoirs with remaining reserves that have a lot of ambiguity and risk in terms of ongoing economic development. But these reservoirs also represent a tremendous technical challenge and the larger reservoirs have major investments to consider, such as the Weyburn CO2 miscible flood. In this case detailed seismic work can help us reduce the cost of horizontal drilling in the wrong place.

In a general sense, I’d like to better understand the elastic description of the subsurface and its seismic expression, addressing issues such as kinematics with AVO, that I mentioned, and how to deal with pre-stack migration of converted waves. For example, given the depth of successful technology that’s developed in P-Wave migration, such as accounting for anisotropy with propagation angle, so the incident P-wave component of converted waves would have greater benefit from such considerations. This stems from the faster P-wave angle increase as the slower converted shear wave angle decreases away from the symmetric P-P mid-point reflection. Researchers at BP-Amoco, such as Leon Thomsen, have pioneered this anisotropic perspective and what I’ve read and worked on makes me think I would like to push the envelope further and routinely incorporate these corrections, especially in 3C- 3D analysis.

You remain so busy in your work, how do you manage your time?

I manage time badly. In fact time manages me! Lack of time, I think, is my biggest problem. We have rushed processing and drilled only to realise that all we had to do was to wait, and maybe not drill. And we continue to drill prematurely despite these experiences and some of the blame for this pressure must rest with the project management. Acquisition has a relatively hard fixed time limit and we know that limit. Rigs need advance planning - they have a fixed lead time frame too. So the processing in between gets squeezed - it’s assumed nothing can go wrong and we know exactly what processing flow will solve all the imaging problems. At times things do go wrong and we know they are going wrong but we don’t have time to recover; we carry on and only in hindsight realise how bad these problems were. And I know that other companies experience these types of situations also.

Apart from your busy schedule, how do you entertain yourself at home?

Mostly between my family and kids as well as running or rowing. If I had more time I would like to read more, especially the history of science and physics. I have books stacked by my bedside but I find it impossible to get to them!

What is your impression of the ‘RECORDER’? What are your expectations and where would you like to see it going in the future?

I think it is an excellent magazine, a Canadian equivalent to the Leading Edge. There is a definite need for the RECORDER, something beyond the more technical Journal, just like the Leading Edge complements Geophysics. Very few people have the time to really get into a Geophysics paper. But if the essence of a paper can be captured in a RECORDER article, then that is very valuable. I’m not sure if you get enough papers coming in to the RECORDER; the Leading Edge can certainly draw on a much larger base of potential authors. Your January issue seemed like a good idea, the one where you published several articles on the one topic of inversion. I found it far easier and more efficient to read the combined articles than if they were spread across a number of issues.


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