Hold On (ALABAMA SHAKES). Oh What I Wouldn’t Do! (SERENA RYDER)

An interview with Doris Ross

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra | Photos courtesy: Melanie Bauce
Doris Ross

Doris Ross has been engaged in the oil and gas industry for over 20 years, bringing extensive knowledge and experience in geosciences, information and scientific technology, business and consulting management in order to solve complex technical and energy industry problems. Beginning her career with Petty Ray Geophysical, Denver, a service company, Doris has worked for both service and oil companies namely, Oryx Energy, Canterra Energy, Landmark Graphics, Burlington Resources Canada, and ConocoPhillips, Canada and US. She has tried to optimize the use of workstation technology to generate prospects, and evaluate existing producing properties through 3D and 4D seismic interpretation and attribute analysis, rock physics, geomodeling, and 3D visualization, geomechanics, and stratigraphy.

Doris has also demonstrated exemplary leadership and enthusiasm in leading teams in raising the technology and business performance bar by mentoring, and leveraging global level knowledge networking.

When the RECORDER approached Doris for an interview, she readily agreed, saving us the usual persuasion that follows the initial reluctance of many interviewees. Following are excerpts from the interview.

Doris, please tell us about your early education and your work experience.

I was raised in Bowness – yes, an actual Calgary native – and went to St. Francis High School (academics, track and basketball – better at academics). I then held 2-3 part time jobs (at the same time), while putting myself through University, while carrying a full course load with a minimum of 3 lab courses. I worked at Foothills as a unit aid, at Woodwards, for whoever remembers that, at Heritage Park selling train tickets in the park, had occasional beer slinging stints at Dinny’s on campus and one lucky opportunity with a summer job at HBOG. I graduated with no debt, no extra wealth, and I have no idea where I found any time.

So, you first joined a service company, and then you went to an oil company, i.e. Canterra Energy, then again joined a service company, i.e., Landmark Graphics, and then joined Burlington, which became part of ConocoPhillips (COP). How did you make these choices at each point?

Much of this journey is less about choices and more about what opportunities existed and/or disappeared during the $9/bbl oil era. Fortunately I was never laid off, but some of the alternative positions I obtained were not always ideal. I had some wonderful people helping me gain experience (Dr. Don Lawton, my brother and the late Vince Cuschieri). In the end, I gained a great life and work experience. I know I need to pay it forward as people do make a difference for others.

know a lot of young people today are discouraged embarking on their careers and the apparent lack of opportunities. I try to, at the very least, help them do the networking to develop their own path. My journey took me places that were interesting, not always what I thought I wanted, but eventually you discover it is all about the journey. If you follow your passions as I did – geology, geophysics and technology – you will find your own personal success. Processing data, field work, geology, software, workstations, databases, being part of an asset team and mentoring have all folded into the many things I have achieved.

How much did getting an MBA degree help in your work?

Truthfully, I do not believe our educational systems prepare science students for a business environment. Not to be disparaging, but even engineers get better business and project management experience. We science graduates get out of school expecting the world to understand how cool our science or technology is. In reality, the business world gives us the “so what” question, one we cannot often effectively answer. Getting that background gave me the language to communicate how what we see in science can change the world in business terms that could potentially save lives or make money.

How did you decide to get your MBA degree from the University of Phoenix, when the Haskayne Business School is here in Calgary?

Can you say, ‘3 small children at home equals making online education a feasible option while supporting a family’? I deliberately chose an online experience, which Haskayne did not offer at the time. I acquired some really cool skillsets such as learning how to collaborate electronically on projects with people from all over the world with all sorts of technical backgrounds. The best was seeing how Boeing engineering classmates handled a behavioural and statistical psychology course. Tee hee! As with most engineers, they tried to invent the wheel and did not realize this type of science mixes theory, methodology and theory. Fortunately, as a scientist I could move very fluidly into other and different thinking spaces and did really well. As an added data point, this was before Facebook and the rise of the social networking tools we know today. Now that we have these tools and much more, this reinforces with me the concept of networking and learning from others from as many viewpoints as possible. The power of many can get you much farther than the power of one.

Since your days at Burlington, you have been active in the application of technology and geoscience to exploring for oil and gas. Do you think the 14 long years you spent at Landmark Graphics helped you master the software applications and later at Burlington you were able to apply them easily?

Of course having the experience at Landmark has helped me – and those years were not as long as you might think. With my 10 years’ experience at Burlington and ConocoPhillips Canada, the best part for me was the ability to help others by being an internal mentor for the software, mentoring summer students and new hires. The carpenter is not defined by the tools he/she uses, but if you know how to use them well you will construct great things.

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What personal qualities do you think helped you achieve all that you have achieved so far?

My love of technology, innovation and science has led me in very interesting paths within the energy industry. With beginnings in seismic data processing I learned much about computing, managing big data, networks, programming and the reality of acquisition, noise reduction, static and phase corrections and what really goes into a final image.

I got to switch gears from processing and worked for a software company where I learned and engaged in interpretation, more data management and the beauty of relational databases and how to teach other professionals how to use the software tools. The roots of my passion to mentor, support others, ability to network and the ability to influence began with those experiences. As a side bar, the development of a thicker skin and a sense of humour came with those years by having to deal with different personalities and business environments.

How would you describe yourself in five words, one word for one personal trait?

Positive – I try to maintain a positive outlook with my approach to life and business. Negativity can poison environments and outcomes.

Energetic – One has to have energy to balance a career and a family, training for half marathons, working out, and continuing one’s education.

Innovative – Bring on new ideas to apply whether through the use of software tools or bringing technology to efforts in oil sands.

Determined – One can’t be innovative without being determined, new ways of doing things involves influencing people and bringing a technology forward.

Focused – One has to be able to cull out the noise when managing your life and career and put your energy where you can get the most benefit.

In the last 30 years or so that you have spent in the oil industry, tell us about one or two of your most exciting successes?

The ERCB Submission 10 for Surmont Phase 2 – This was a large submission to the ERCB that needed to be complete with all SIRs addressed. We covered topics around geomechanics, operating strategy and maximum operating pressure, cap rock integrity and the study. It was a piece of work that required a lot of collaboration with many experts and diverse disciplines. We had to dig deeply, to get the best technical work and report we could, without delaying a huge project. Aside from the geotechnical work, I learned a lot about reservoir engineering and how our relative roles in the energy industry are closely entwined. Also I learned how safety, health and the environment are preeminent for our government and for my company. We need to continue with this philosophy and work such that Canada is recognized as a leader in safety and environment.

Networks of Excellence – geophysics network lead – I love being involved with knowledge share and being recognized as one of the most active networks in COP. You already heard my rant about networking and the power of many – it really works and I am proud of everyone involved with our knowledge networks.

Would you like to share with us a disappointing experience also?

Not being able to get a job straight out of school and missing the opportunity of doing a master’s degree under Tom Davis at CSM. I had lost my heart to pursue geophysics and science but it really is where my passion exists.

In the last 5 years or so, the oil companies have turned to exploitation of unconventional resources. How did you reconcile with that change at ConocoPhillips?

Unconventional will be the next conventional. All kidding aside, I like how what seemed crazy 20 years ago (developing the source rock which is at best a bad reservoir seal, such heresy!!) is now a story of innovation and tangential thinking. Scientists should always be testing the boundaries of what is considered the norm and I am grateful we are in a world where the norm can and will be challenged. We as scientists should always be pushing boundaries of what is considered common knowledge, challenging technology, safety and health and environment boundaries. I feel that at COP, as well as many Canadian oil companies, we are comfortable with coming forward with challenges and should continue to do so.

That brings me to the next question. What has been your philosophy towards your professional growth?

As a life-long learner (certificated paralegal in Texas, Dean’s list at Tulane studying information systems, MBA – online) the worst thing one can do is to stop educating yourself and keeping up with the technology and trends.

Secondly, it is important to pay it forward, support our peers, support the new people entering our industry, support our schools encouraging the path to a career in science, and encouraging young women (for example, many years of supporting Operation Minerva) to engage with sciences and math.

The ability to hold on, be persistent and consistent, do the right thing – are all also traits that build professional character.

Last, keep a philosophy of optimism and stay positive. With all the ups and downs we experience in the energy industry you really need to keep your chin up and take on the next set of challenges.

Let us hear about one or two of the most challenging projects you worked on.

Multi-component seismic – A lot of Surmont 3D data was collected with multicomponent geophones, so with some of the advances in layer stripping processing (S-wave splitting) in anisotropic environments, we thought we would give it a shot as a multicomponent reprocessing project. I learned an immense amount about multicomponent data and the challenges of processing it through some brilliant geophysicists working this project. There is so much to be gained and learned with a good project, such as advanced reservoir characterization, getting Vp/Vs from seismic, depth registration of the PS data, asymptotic binning, elastic wavefield seismic stratigraphy and for rock physics. Sadly, the old saying about garbage in, garbage out, is true. The data was noisy and really acquired for optimization as a PP data set. My lesson learned – if we ever redo the test we need to make sure the acquisition was appropriate for multicomponent data.

Passive microseismic – We were testing to see if we could detect any early warnings for potential breach of cap rock in our SAGD project with the use of passive seismicity. The lesson learned there was the sound levels of activity in SAGD operations are too low to be detected by the current state of microseismic technology. These projects are also challenged as the economic impact is more difficult to defend when you are avoiding risk rather than apply something that affects production directly.

What keeps you motivated and charged up at work?

Challenging projects and great team mates!!

Tell me about your contributions to seismic interpretation, as it has been what you have focused on more in your career?

The use of seismic attributes, volume interpretation and earth modeling, both in the line of my duties working WCSB and Oil Sands, as well as teaching and supporting people with the use of those workflows and technologies. The attributes that are the most exciting for clastic environments are related to spectral decomposition, curvature, coherence and excellent for building the story of fluvial environments.

Volume interpretation is a step change in building an interpretation rather than staying in 2 dimensional models and also in that it makes it easier for those that do naturally grasp the 3D picture to see. The use of immersive technologies and team work spaces strongly support the building of a coherent 3 dimensional model for use in reservoir characterization and exploration.

Lastly, earth modeling plays a significant role in building exploration plays. It highlights how working closely with your local friendly processor around potential geologic models can impact your final imaging product.

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There is a certain amount creativity that is required for doing effective seismic interpretation. Do you agree with that statement? Please elaborate.

All scientists need to show some level of creativity and openness when analyzing data. A systematic approach – understanding how the data fits into larger and smaller schemes and be able to build a compelling, tight story which is supported by observations, all contribute to what we call an interpretation. This picture we build can be somewhat fluid with the introduction of more data. The level of fluidity is what I believe people call interpretation.

Interpretation is also personal and based on an interpreter’s experience. Not all experiences are the same. Interpretation is telling a story which is based on facts and data and being able to fill in the white space where there are no facts yet. Interpretation is a test of a theory based on past experiences and knowledge.

Theory is a contemplative and rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking. Depending on the context, the results might, for example, include generalized explanations of how nature works. A theory is not the same as a hypothesis. A theory provides an explanatory framework for some observation, and from the assumptions of the explanation follows a number of possible hypotheses that can be tested in order to provide support for, or challenge, the theory.
Wiki quote

In the end a good interpretation is a product of a good theory that has strong support from the existing data that you are patient enough to find.

Apparently, 4D seismic is being used for reservoir monitoring now. Tell us about the successes of such projects and their development strategies.

4D monitoring is being used heavily in SAGD in oil sands which holds significant value in reservoir conformance but globally the application does vary, from finding unswept zones that provide direction for future well development program and define reservoir geometry, to well pad conformance.

Cost effectiveness is the challenge. Questions like how to determine how often to survey, permanent arrays or not, tight reservoir rocks, all need to be addressed. Also how effective is 4D for carbonates, history matching, do we know exactly what we are measuring? Can it be combined with other types of geophysical 4D acquisition (SEM, Gravity)?

4D is most useful if we understand pad versus well performance, and how saturation logs, tracers, formation pressure tests compare with your 4D measurements.

You are now in a senior position, a leadership role, mentoring youngsters. Could you give us an example from your own experiences of how leaders should manage failure?

Failure is the way we learn. I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. (Thomas Edison) Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (Samuel Beckett)

Einstein also said: A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new” and “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In a nutshell, make mistakes, but learn from them.

Doris, you have a huge amount of experience under your belt. I notice that you do not present or publish much, even though as you are aware we all gain through the writings and presentations of others. What is your take on this?

There are more ways than publishing and presenting to share your knowledge. At COP we have a huge commitment to knowledge share, so much so we are recognized in the Knowledge Share (KS) communities as MAKE winner (Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise). Through COP’s networks of excellence, subsurface excellence – my current team as part of the research group at corporate COP – I feel that KS contributes to our greater scientific gain more powerfully than individual contributions. Being the geophysics network leader for the past 4 years as well as part of the Knowledge Share Leadership Team, Canada, Subsurface is my way of adding to the way we gain from each other. I like to enable the sharing – plus there are many people way smarter than I am.

Do you ever get stressed out at work? What is your biggest turn-it-off approach?

Everyone gets stressed at work or out of work. There are things within your control and those that you cannot control. First, take a look to see if you can affect whatever stressor is occurring. If it is huge, break it down into parts you can affect. Magically, it seems, once you get going you realize you can get it done. Inaction and worrying just makes it worse. If the stressor is something you cannot control (the price of oil? the loonie?) just take a deep breath and carry on.

So take a deep breath. It is yoga and running for me. Sometimes the running goes as far as a marathon, but it is a meditative experience for me. Taking a deep breath is different for everyone but finding it and the time to do so is critical.

What other interests do you have?

I love music, from operas to outdoor alternative festivals. I also play accordion (not so very well, though I put my husband to sleep when I play), engage in personal fitness, ski, cooking and love dogs.

Do you any words of advice or inspiration for young people considering a career in Geophysics?

Hold on – a career in science will never be boring. Your learning begins with your experiences and is better when you surround yourself with positive people.


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