The following is an edited version of an interview conducted recently with Cathy Martin. Conducting the interview were Satinder Chopra , Oliver Kuhn, with Vince Law taking photos and occasionally getting involved in the discussion. The interview quickly became a relaxed, pleasant, interesting, and above all intelligent discussion, a direct reflection of Cathy’s personality.
[Oliver]: Cathy, could you tell us a little bit about your background – personal and educational?
[Satinder]: (laughter). That’s good – you know me too well – that’s my question!
I studied math and physics at the University of Waterloo and taught high school for two years before moving west and joining the oil industry through Amoco. So it was quite a change from teaching high school math and physics to practising geophysics, but I’ve never regretted it. I graduated in ’76, went to Teachers’ College, taught for 2 years and then moved to Calgary in ’79 to join Amoco full-time.
[Oliver]: Did you grow up in Waterloo?
No, in Hamilton.
[Satinder]: Tell us about your work experience.
I spent five years with Amoco and experienced the NEP downturn, like everyone else in the early ‘80s. I decided I wanted something a bit more active because Amoco was still pretty slow, even by ’84. So I left to go to a small company called Merland under Chuck Sawyer, who was the Chief Geophysicist at the time, I learned a lot from Chuck, both about the business and about interpretation. Merland merged with North Canadian Oils and I spent a total of ten years with those two companies. When NCO merged into Norcen, I jumped ship and started consulting. I consulted for a couple of years and then joined Chancellor Energy which became……I’m wondering if I’m going to remember the whole litany of companies that came after that! Chancellor became HCO, which became Pinnacle, which went into Renaissance, and I again jumped ship after nine months on contract with Renaissance Pinnacle. I then went on contract to another small company before going to Pan Canadian, and I’ve been on contract there for four-and-a-half years.
[Oliver]: Now EnCana.
Now EnCana, that’s right.
[Satinder]: Where do you fit in now? How do you find working as a consultant different from working as a regular employee in an oil company, for example?
Well the way I work as a consultant is on a long-term contract, because I do like the continuity and teamwork, and being able to follow up on your recommendations. I’m not the kind of consultant who, if it’s Monday, I’m at EnCana; if it’s Tuesday, I’m somewhere else. I like the relationships that you build within the long-term contracts. But as for being a consultant, the reason I’m on contract is I like time flexibility. I’m usually off for a good period of time over the summer and a lot of time over Christmas too.
[Satinder]: Right. In terms of your professional growth and your professional experiences, has there been any difference between being a consultant versus a regular employee? More or less responsibility perhaps?
Hmm. I think as a consultant, you can get less involved in the political or HR type issues and concentrate more on the job at hand. So you get less distracted by corporate issues and just focus on the geophysics, which is what I prefer.
[Oliver]: You started with a really big company and then were with a series of smaller companies, and now you’re back consulting long-term with a really big company. Any comments on that?
Well, I really thought long and hard before joining Pan Canadian because it was so large and I’d grown used to being, in some cases, almost a lone wolf geophysicist. Which is good and bad. You are the ultimate authority if you’re the only geophysicist in the company but I enjoy the support, the training and the knowledge that comes with being in a company like EnCana.
The resources that I have to draw on at EnCana are just fantastic, from computer support to geophysical support; it’s a wonderful environment for learning and being exposed to more people, and more ideas. So I like both large and small companies. Right now it’s working well for me to be in a large corporation.
[Oliver]: Which group are you working?
I’m in the Peace River Group working in the Grande Prairie area. I remember one of my first assignments when I joined Merland in 1984 was to look at some 2D data and try to figure out what the Wembley Halfway field was all about. I hadn’t a clue back then as to what I should be looking for and now it’s quite fascinating to be working the same area with 3D information, and have it almost interpret itself.
Back then Halfway porosity was quite a subtle thing to see on 40 Hz 2D data, and very difficult to get a 3D perspective on depositional models. Higher frequency 3D data has made my job so much easier.
[Satinder]: Can you tell us about the initial challenges that you faced when you started off in your career?
Initial challenges? I suppose learning the art of geophysics. My background had been mostly astrophysics. I had one geophysics course in university where I learned that P-waves travel through water and S-waves don’t. That’s about all I remembered from that geophysics class. I learned it all on the job and Amoco was a fantastic place for that.
[Oliver]: So you picked up all the geology on the job?
That’s right. Amoco was a terrific training ground to learn geology and geophysics. In 1979, they were hiring anyone who knew what a double integral was to be a geophysicist. I’ve long since forgotten what a double integral is but I’m still learning about the art of interpretation!
[Oliver]: Do you think that’s been a loss in our industry, the fact that the majors don’t hire new grads en masse, and provide really good training?
I can’t speak to that as I’m not really familiar with what’s happening now. I know there aren’t as many new grads coming out as there were. I see it as the normal waxing and waning of the industry.
[Oliver]: It seems like there are so many people in our generation that entered the industry with Amoco, Shell, or somebody like that, and they were exposed to all the steps – acquisition, processing, and interpretation, so they have a really good grasp of how everything works. Whereas now, processors generally have no exposure to interpretation and vice versa.
That’s true, but it wasn’t perfect back then either. When I was being trained at Amoco, I knew there was a geologist I was working with, but it was never a part of my daily tasks to talk to him; it was almost as if geophysics was being interpreted in a vacuum. It was a case of, “Here’s some data, go interpret it.” Once in awhile, we’d talk…but it wasn’t really a team endeavour.
[Oliver]: Yes. On the other hand, nowadays, sometimes you hear interpreters saying that they miss the times when they had a Geophysical Department because now they’re a single geophysicist working in a team, with no other geophysicists to bounce ideas off.
Ideas! Again, that’s one bad thing about being a lone wolf; when I was the only geophysicist at an oil company, it was important to keep up outside contacts. Norm Cooper was very instrumental in helping me keep current. Norm did a lot of the field work with me when I was a young geophysicist and I learned so much from him.
[Oliver]: Was that at Amoco?
Partially –Yes, he was my team leader at one time there, but then he went off to Voyageur and I went off to Merland. After he started Mustagh Resources, I would consult him for modeling acquisition parameters, field tests and that sort of thing.
[Oliver]: He’s a great example of a person that’s really well rounded.
Yes, fantastically. Norm’s an excellent interpreter and he’s got the field knowledge too. He knows what makes sense technically; how far to go on the effort side in the field to satisfy what technical needs you have, and how much it should cost.
[Oliver]: He’s not too shabby on the processing side too! Would you consider Norm one of many mentors that you have worked with?
I would. He’s been influential both from a technical point of view and an ethical one, because Norm is a very fair player. He wants everyone to make money in the business, and that’s the idea – “Let’s all win at this; let’s not grind down the price to a point where neither the processors nor the acquisition people are making any money.”
[Oliver]: No argument from me!
You don’t want somebody working for you, acquiring or processing your data who’s not really reaping any benefit. There were times in the ‘80s and early ‘90s when that was the case. Companies were forced to discount their services so heavily, that you felt they weren’t making any money from it.
[Oliver]: Any other mentors along the way?
Well I mentioned Chuck Sawyer. I learned a lot of very good business skills from Chuck. I learned how to make quick decisions. He was a very decisive person, sometimes a little black and white and I perhaps helped him see a little gray! But he was very supportive and he allowed me to do some things that he didn’t necessarily agree with. For example, when Easton Wren gave his seminal talk, I think it was in 1984, about AVO and how much potential information we’re losing by stacking, and how much more we could learn from the prestack data, I was quite enthusiastic. Chuck was a bit iffy on AVO, but he allowed me the leeway to investigate it and, in fact, we participated with Hampson-Russell on the initial development of their AVO modeling and analysis package. So Chuck was fair-minded, and I learned a lot from him, both in a business sense, and a technical sense.
[Satinder]: What has been the most difficult challenge, professional challenge, for you in your career that spans 25 years or so?
Professional challenge. Hmmm. Well, my first exposure to the thrusted Cardium play was a big challenge in two ways, both technically and personally, because I interpreted the seismic wrong. Our first well, which was supposed to have caught the upper sheet and the lower sheet of a Cardium thrust, barely hit the front edge of the upper sheet and missed the lower sheet altogether. That was both a technical shock and a personal shock to me! I learned that it’s better to admit that you made a mistake, but I also learned how to fix the technical problem and after that my success ratio on that play was extremely good. To drill the right spots in that Cardium play I pushed the seismic far beyond whatever reasonable limits there might be. I decided to display at something like 50 inches per second and one trace per inch to best analyze which trace or half trace to drill to catch the best overlap of the upper and lower sheets. I knew I was pushing it beyond reasonable limits of resolution, but damn if it didn’t work! So I had terrific success with that. That was with HCO and Pinnacle that I was doing that work. So I learned – I learned that it’s OK to admit you made a mistake and I learned how to fix that technical mistake.
[Satinder]: What has been the most memorable event or moment in your life?
In my life? The most memorable event in my life?
[Satinder]: You can come back to it.
Uh-huh. Well I’ll have to let my subconscious work on that for a while.
[Oliver]: How about at work; what are some of the highlights?
Certainly, the success I had with that Cardium play after my initial seismic work was quite a lot of fun; I really enjoyed working that play and understanding the subtleties.
It was most memorable leaving Mother Amoco too; that was quite a tug at the heartstrings. I remember my exit interview – I was told I was making a horrible mistake, but I was very glad to go from a shop of 85 geophysicists to a shop of two. My growth in terms of business learning and geological learning was greatly accelerated by that decision. But definitely leaving Mother Amoco was a pretty tough move.
[Satinder]: Cathy, can you tell us about some of the new technology that you have brought into work as you progressed?
The technical side is not my strong point, but being at PanCanadian/EnCana, I’ve learned so much about LMR analysis, for example, that I can now say I’m quite comfortable with that. I understand the technology and its application to both clastics and carbonates. It used to be the general understanding that AVO didn’t work in carbonates, but the truth is it’s there, but it’s just more subtle. You just have to work harder at analyzing it.
[Satinder]: Have you used some of the new depth imaging technologies, such as incorporating anisotropy, perhaps in the thrust plays you mentioned?
Well, I must say that anisotropy is not something I’m very comfortable with, nor depth migration. I’ve never interpreted a depth section, I’m embarrassed to say. But certainly prestack time migration was one of the things that allowed me to believe I could push that data as far as I did, displaying at 50 inches per second and one trace per inch. But I’m stronger on the interpretive side than the technical side.
[Oliver]: I have a question about the Cardium play you’re talking about. What’s the difference in your interactions with the geologists on a structural play like that versus a purely stratigraphic one? Would there be quite a lot of difference? Would the structural geologists guide you as to what physical models would be possible in a particular situation and what to look for, or do you pretty much have to interpret it yourself?
Oh no. For sure, there is always a lot of geologic give and take. I feel that with the Cardium play, the emphasis was more on the structural regime and what to look for, and where to actually drill: Do we want to drill on the maximum curvature? Do we want to drill on the front of the sheet? So we did a lot of work with some of the structural specialists in that field. But in terms of interaction with geologists, no, a stratigraphic interpretation requires as much interaction as a structural one.
[Satinder]: I was talking to an interpreter a few days ago and he felt that using seismic attributes really didn’t help in the interpretation. He felt the techniques make colourful displays to show to management, but all the information you need as an interpreter is there in the regular seismic. I wonder if you could comment on that?
I would agree with that, but anything you can do to enhance the attributes is helpful, and that’s what visualization is about. We’ve come a long way from enhancing your interpretation by unrolling the paper section and looking sideways at it; all the way to attribute analysis, colour displays and being able to squeeze and stretch it as much as you want on the screen. It’s all good; it’s all other ways of looking at the data; it’s all visual enhancement to help pattern recognition. So I would agree that there probably isn’t any more information in the attribute analysis than there is on the section, but it’s a lot easier to see.
[Oliver]: The information’s there but maybe with the human eye and conventional interpretation techniques it’s not going to be as obvious as with some of the new technology – visualization, attribute analysis, and so on.
Yes. I find attribute analysis is probably done less now than it was ten, fifteen years ago, because now we have the display capabilities that can make patterns much more recognizable. It’s fantastic; I just love working with workstations and colour and the new technology is even better than that.
[Satinder]: Cathy, what have been your aspirations as a geophysicist?
There was one time in my tenure, my ten year tenure (!), at North Canadian that I thought I wanted to go into management. Luckily I had a very wise Vice President who didn’t put me in that position because I’ve learned that I really do want to stay on the interpretive side. I would miss it way too much. And I certainly would be a better people manager now than I was then when I had those aspirations. But my career aspirations are quite modest at this point. I’m actually trying to work less rather than work more at this point, and take on less responsibility. Retirement for my husband may be two years away, but I’d be loathe to leave my coveted work station in two years! I would miss the technical challenges and the intellectual challenges, of seismic interpretation. And the satisfaction that comes from doing it well; that’s a big thing.
[Oliver]: What sorts of things do you do outside of work that you spend that extra time on?
Well I’m very much into music and theatre; I actually met my husband doing amateur theatre.
He was the producer of the first play I acted in in Calgary, and I tell people I had to sleep with him to get the part, but that’s not true in amateur theatre! We enjoyed working in an amateur theatre group for some time. Now we don’t do that as much anymore; it takes up a lot of time and I just can’t drink that much scotch anymore.
[Oliver]: You drank a lot of scotch!? After the play?
After the play, after the rehearsals, whenever! But I’m still quite active in singing. I sing in a women’s choir and in the last year and a half, I’ve joined forces with two of my compatriots from the choir to form a trio and we sing wherever we can. We love to sing in three-part harmony. Singing is a massage for the soul as far as I’m concerned.
[Oliver]: Well, we got our daughter a karaoke machine for Christmas, and I would describe our singing as a form of S and M. It was awful. My daughter was horrified; she was so embarrassed she wouldn’t come upstairs; she went to the basement, it was so bad. But you were telling me earlier about your trio – you’re called the Alto Egos, is that right? And I understand that because all three of you are altos, you’re frequently singing outside your natural range.
In some cases we transpose – we switch around a lot so we all get turns at singing lead one song and then singing the back-up for the next song or two. But we are stretching our vocal limits. Sometimes we have to sing really low to get that three-part harmony in and sometimes higher than we’d normally be comfortable with, but it seems to work Some of the feedback we’ve had is that because all of our voices are alto voices, it tends to be a warmer sound. Soprano voices are lovely and bright and high but the alto voice tends to be warmer.
[Oliver]: What is the really high voice, beyond soprano? Is that a mezzo-soprano?
Mezzo soprano is the middle vocal range between soprano and alto.
[Oliver]: Well, I’m amazed that people can sing that high.
I don’t think it’s really all that high; it just sounds higher. I think it’s more a tonality difference.
[Vince]: My wife sings Chinese opera, and she has a singing voice that is really, really high, really high. They say it’s only one in a hundred people that has the voice for Chinese opera.
[Oliver]: But getting back to the Alto Egos, what sort of performances do you put on, what is a typical venue?
Well wherever; we’ve sung at weddings, we’ve sung at Annual General Meetings, we’ve sung at Olympic Plaza; we’ve sung at coffee shops. But I should mention our website: www.altoegos.com.
[Vince]: How much do you charge?
We’re not in it for the money, we’re not about to quit our day jobs, we all enjoy our day jobs too much but we just love to sing. Nor are we interested in singing in smoky bars every Saturday night. But we charge two hundred dollars an hour and if it’s a longer gig, we’d make special deal. And for you Vince, also a special deal! But if you go to the website, there’s information, including some demo songs.
[Satinder]: I’ll ask you another question. Have you ever considered volunteering for the Geophysicist’s Society?
In fact I have volunteered. I was Treasurer of the CSEG.
[Oliver]: Oh, I remember that. Was that in ’94 – ’95? We were totally bankrupt, weren’t we?
The year sounds about right, but, no, we were far from bankrupt! Rob Stewart was Past President, Barry Korchinski was President, and Norm Cooper was on the Executive as well.
[Oliver]: And how did you find that, was it a rewarding experience?
Oh it was a very good experience. It really wasn’t much work, I must admit, since most of the work was done by the CSEG administrator and by the accountant. But I did get involved in helping to organize a number of events, including “Before the First Shot”, one of the first subsidized seminars that the CSEG put on. It was about all the front end work that goes into seismic acquisition.
[Satinder]: Have all the ups and downs of our industry affected you?
I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a couple of buy-outs. I got a package from North Canadian Oils, and when HCO merged into Pinnacle, there was quite a stock options bonanza. I’ve been quite lucky in that I’ve weathered those upheavals well.
Either I’ve been the only geophysicist and they couldn’t get rid of me or the company was solvent enough not to worry about it. But it’s nice when you can cash in on some of your experience and pay off the mortgage and then pay off the second mortgage! It’s a pretty generous industry and I’ve been lucky enough to have benefitted from some of those buy-out packages.
[Satinder]: So do you think we’ve covered more or less all the subjects you expected or have we left out something?
What’s my favourite colour?
[Oliver]: I never considered that one (laughter).
[Oliver]: What do you foresee in the future, maybe not personally but for the industry? Where do you think we’re going?
Well, I see a continuing oil industry; the only question is what will the price of oil be? And, I can see the role of geophysicists just becoming more and more important as the resource becomes harder and harder to find. There’s lots of oil and gas out there, it’s just a question of how much you’re willing to pay to find it.
I do see significant challenges and I’m face to face with some of them right now working in the Grande Prairie area. Many people really do not want the oil industry in their back yards, a sentiment I can wholeheartedly understand. So, I think the industry is going to have to tread more lightly, especially from an environmental point of view. The better the job we can do on leaving behind as little an impact as possible, the better for all concerned.
[Satinder]: In your experience, what are the specific areas of friction between the oil industry and landowners?
I think noise is a big issue. When you’ve got a compressor on a producing well, it’s not a nice thing to have to listen to at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. And emissions are a big concern, especially flaring. The impact of drilling is really pretty temporary and the construction of pipelines usually involves only a very temporary disruption as well. Cutting down trees is a longer-term concern, and so we try to do as little of it as possible.
[Oliver]: How about more specifically on the geophysical side of things; are we doing a pretty good job at minimizing the impact?
Regulations have made it such that we have to do a better job, but there’s definitely a fine line between having a clear enough space to get good phone plants and equipment access, and saving as many trees as possible. But thank goodness, long gone are the days of five-metre wide seismic lines and straight line cuts through the forest. The industry is doing a much better job than it did, but it has to.
[Oliver]: Okay, since I stole Satinder’s first question, I’ll ask his last one too! What words of advice do you you have for young entrants into the industry?
Advice, that’s so “growing old”! Don’t be afraid to ask questions or admit that you don’t know something. I wish I’d had that advice earlier on because it was a big fear of mine to appear to not know all the answers. I felt I needed to know it all and if I didn’t, my job was in jeopardy, and that’s not the case. I think it’s more important to admit what you don’t know than what you do know. And, just be yourself. You don’t have to put on a façade and be what you think other people want you to be. “To thine own self be true”, to quote a Master. Enjoy what you do and be good to people.
[Satinder]: Great. Well thank you, Cathy, very much for giving us this opportunity to talk to you.
You’re welcome. It’s been fun.