“Anticipate Change...”

An interview with Doug Campbell

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra | Photos courtesy: Tyler MacFarlane
Doug Campbell

Douglas Campbell is a wellknown name in the Canadian oil patch, and a man with a proven record of success in Western Canada. After serving at different companies such as Suncor Energy, Numac Energy/Westcoast Petroleum, Wintershall and Apache Canada, Doug has been working at Devon Canada/ Anderson Exploration since September 2000.

Committed to high quality geophysical interpretation and prospect identification Doug has been responsible for geophysical exploration and exploitation in many areas of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. He is passionate about combining technical expertise with strategic thinking and in the process building and testing successful exploration opportunities.

Doug is an active volunteer, be it a science fair, a commuter challenge event or with the professional societies such as the CSEG and APEGA.

The RECORDER approached Doug for an interview, which he sportingly agreed to. Following are excerpts from the interview.

Doug, please tell us about your educational background, employment and experience.

I attended the University of Calgary, and graduated with a B.Sc. in Geophysics in 1980. I have been working in the Calgary Oilpatch for 32 years, for intermediate Companies such as Suncor and Numac, small companies like Wintershall, and as President of my own consulting company, Talon Geophysical, for a couple of years.

How did you get into geophysics at the time?

I was very interested in physics and auto mechanics in High School and started off in a mechanical engineering route for a couple of years at U of C. After seeing that mechanical engineering in Alberta was mainly oriented towards pipelines and compressors, I took an introductory Geology course. This prompted me to transfer into Geophysics, which had more of a Physics background. My interest in auto mechanics was transferred into my hobby activities, rebuilding and maintaining cars.

You have been in the industry for over 30 years. What changes have you witnessed during this period in terms of job prospects, work environment or other aspects you would like to tell us about?

I would compare Geophysics when I entered the industry to starting off in the Stone Age and progressing into the Space Age. My first day at work in the industry, I was handed a timing ruler, a pencil, and a stack of paper seismic sections. My assignment was to manually "time" a number of seismic horizons at each shotpoint, and make a hand drawn map based on my "picks". Given that all the seismic sections were plotted at 7.5 inches per second in those days, accuracy was dependent on how well your eyeball could judge dividing a space of about 2 millimeters into ten milliseconds!

As well we were only picking times at the shotpoint locations and ignoring all the traces in between, so much of the data detail was ignored. The sections were plotted in wiggle and solid black variable area, so any amplitude variation had to be pretty large to be noticed. Most of the interpretations and plays were pretty much structural in nature back then. The industry had not exhausted all of the low risk structural plays yet, so stratigraphic plays, being higher risk, were often pushed to the back burner.

Job prospects have changed a lot over time as well. Initially, when the interpretation work was done by hand, the industry needed a huge number of geophysicists to handle the workload. When I started, companies were hiring anyone with a math or physics background and training them in-house to meet their needs. Today, the universities offer specific courses in interpretation and processing geophysics, so recent graduates are much better prepared to work in the industry.

I think the time consuming and inaccurate nature of manual interpretation has been one of the driving forces behind automating and computerizing seismic interpretation to where we are today. The move from 2D to 3D seismic interpretation really pushed the industry to develop computerdriven interpretation to handle the huge volumes of data that were being generated. Now that the picking part of the interpretation process takes so much less time, that is allowing us to investigate more deeply into the attributes of our seismic data.

You worked at Suncor for 7 years, at Numac for 9 years, and now you have been at Devon for the last 12 years or so and are still continuing. What made you have the longest stint at Devon?

Most of the work changes, or opportunities in my career, have been driven by industry downturns, corporate takeovers, and management changes. As anyone who has been in the Calgary oil patch as long as I have knows, the industry is a bit of a rollercoaster, with its highs and lows, based on commodity prices. It takes persistence and flexibility to stay in the industry and keep working in your area of interest.

After experiencing large companies, small companies and consulting work, I have gravitated towards intermediate sized companies, such as Devon. They seem to have a more consistent activity level and provide the opportunity to work in new areas and on different plays, without changing companies. At Devon, I started out working the Devonian, exploring for large reefs and sour gas. Lately, with gas prices where they are, I've been working on oil and liquids plays in the Deep Basin area of Central Alberta, such as the Cardium and Mannville sand plays.

Tell us about the differences in the work cultures that you have experienced at the different places you worked?

In my experience, the cultures of the different sized companies vary greatly. In larger companies you tend to work on a specific part of the exploration process, such as the interpretation part only. In small companies you are responsible for planning in acquiring the data, field supervision, and processing the data, before you even get to the interpretation stage. The larger companies are more bureaucratic and regimented. You may have to run your ideas up several layers of management before getting approval to proceed, whereas in smaller companies you may be working directly under the company president and have a more personal working relationship. I have found that small companies generally reflect the personalities and interests of their founders. Devon is an interesting case, where despite its size, it is still run by its founding President, and his values are reflected down through the organization. The company is organized into small geographical groups that work as independent units, with their own goals and budgets. Each group contains all of the disciplines of Engineering, Geology, Geophysics, and Land, so you don't have to deal with remote departments to get things done. With smaller groups, you also feel like you are a significant part of the team, not just a cog in a large machine.

What is it that you love about the oil and gas industry?

It's exciting to work in an industry where you risk spending millions of dollars, shooting seismic and drilling wells, to find oil and gas. Every well has some risk associated with it, and it is a challenge to use geophysics to reduce that risk to the lowest possible level with all the scientific resources at your disposal.

I like working in Alberta where you can drill dozens of wells each year, compared to perhaps only one high cost well in an offshore environment. Working in a mature basin also means your wells get tied in quickly, so you see the production results sooner and can use that information to improve your future prospects.

We all basically have a driving goal in life. What has it been for you?

I have found that my goals over my career have constantly evolved. Initially my goal was to gain experience through exposure to different plays and different areas. Later my goal was to become more of an expert in specific plays in the Western Canada Basin, such as the Viking and Mannville. Lately my goal has been to mentor junior geophysicists and summer students and bring along the next generation of explorers. I usually take on a summer student each year, to give them the industry experience that will help them find a job when they graduate, whether with Devon or with other companies. This is my way of giving back to the industry that has been so helpful in my career.

What career accomplishments are you most proud of?

I would say my most satisfying accomplishment was starting a geophysical consulting practice from scratch and working for over a dozen companies over a two year period. It is a bit of a leap of faith to put your skills out there, and hope that companies will recognize your abilities and hire you on, to work on their projects. It was very helpful to have a lot of industry contacts, developed through activities with organizations like the CSEG, to find the opportunities that were out there. Consultants generally work for the smaller companies, and it was interesting to work on projects that had a larger impact on their success.

Why did you go back to working for individual companies on staff after that?

When you are working for smaller companies, sooner or later their growth or success requires them to take on staff geophysicists, which poses a dilemma for the consultant: Do you go on staff or drop them as a client and move on? At the time, I was presented with an offer that was too good to refuse, and decided to move back into the staff geophysicist role with one of my client companies.

What has been your most challenging project?

The most challenging projects are always the wildcat drilling prospects, where the chance of success hovers around perhaps only 20%. At Anderson we were successful in developing a Nisku Inner Shelf reef play that started off as a geological concept, and resulted in a series of successful pools. It was a challenge to convince management to keep drilling wells in an area where they had previously drilled an unsuccessful well that turned out to be a low velocity shale instead of a low velocity reef. A new geological model and the supporting geophysical interpretation convinced them to drill another well, and make a discovery.

Tell us about some of your memorable moments in your professional life and also a success story you might want to share with us, if the two are different?

You never know where the people working under you are going to go, or how successful they will be. When I was at it is a matter of economic improvement. The role of geophysics in horizontal drilling is to keep the drill bit in the zone, to maximize productive pay in the well, and to minimize the time required to drill the well. In our recent Cardium development program at Devon we've improved our success rate of staying in the pay zone from around 75% to close to 98% over the last few years, by improving our time to depth conversions and smoothing out the path of the drill bit, so that the drilling crews can spend more time "rotating" which is faster, and less time "sliding" or drilling with the bit motor, which is slower. These things have reduced our costs and improved our productivity, so we can compete for drilling dollars within the organization's overall budget.

What is your retirement dream?

I would like to do more travelling, and attend more of the Formula One races that are held in interesting places around the world. If I can do that, I will have visited just about every major country in the world by the time I'm done.

How would you describe yourself in five words?

Experienced Interpretation Geophysicist – Geological Mindset. I believe to be a good Geophysicist, you have to keep in mind the Geological setting that you are working in to be successful. If you don't have the correct geological model you may be thinking beach instead of channel, move in the wrong direction, and drill a dry hole. I think that studying modern day geological analogues also helps in the success of exploration, and may even open up new opportunities by looking at plays with a new idea in mind. Modern analogues also help you with the concept of scale. Sometimes you may be focused down onto the few sections that you are drilling, and don't understand how your play fits into the big picture. If you understand the big picture, you can translate your one off success into a trend of successes!

Most of your exploration and prospect generation has been for areas in and around Alberta? Any specific reason for this, or was it the comfort factor that you had developed with experience?

I've mainly worked for companies exploring in Western Canada, and I've done work in Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. There have been enough challenges in Western Canada to keep me busy, so I haven't looked at moving onto international plays. As time has progressed, I've become an expert and focused on plays in Central Alberta, where there are multiple overlying prospective zones, which increases your chance of success. Also in the Deep Basin area of Central Alberta, the entire Mannville section is hydrocarbon charged with little or no water. This means that if you can find a reservoir, you can have a successful well. With horizontal drilling and completion techniques these days you really only have to find the porosity, and the Engineers take care of the permeability!

Are you a firm believer in new technology?

Yes, you have to keep on top of new technologies by attending courses, such as the ones offered through the CSEG's Doodletrain, to find out about, and how to apply these new technologies. Technology is constantly moving from the realm of research to becoming available for commercial use, so you have to keep up with it to stay relevant and competitive. For example AVO and LMR analysis at one time had to be sent out to a specialist company, but now companies such as Hampson Russell have developed software that the everyday geophysicist can use to do such analysis in-house.

Over the years what new technology ideas did you assimilate in your interpretation (which others did not at the time) and the outcome of which was favourable?

One of the new technologies I have used is anisotropic velocity analysis. I initially used it in the Foothills areas of Alberta to correctly migrate structures under tilted overburden. This enabled us to accurately position thrust sheets and hit them accurately with the drill bit. Now this analysis is starting to be applied to prestack data and stress/fracture analysis. It just keeps constantly evolving.

Since the early 1990s 3-D seismic has become the norm for oil companies and it has helped get clearer pictures and more detail of the reservoirs. What in your expert opinion is the next big thing that has happened or will happen in our industry?

It's started somewhat already, but I think gradually we will start to be more and more successful in using prestack data, from our 3Ds, to analyze the rock properties of our reservoirs. Most of this work has been done by the Ph.D.'s in our industry previously, but I can see these methods moving more into the mainstream over time and improving in accuracy.

Do you think new geophysical technologies hold the promise of extraction of more information for characterizing unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs?

Unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs have only come into vogue in the last few years, and I think that low natural gas prices are holding a lot of them back. I think we are moving in that direction, and will become more confident in our predictions, as our experience in drilling these types of plays matures. Companies are finding that these "resource" plays are not as consistent across the basin as they expected. We are finding that factors, such as stress magnitude and orientation are having a large impact on productivity from well to well. We are going to need to rely on advanced geophysics, and learn from microseismic surveys done during completion of these wells to high-grade the areas they are drilling, to be the most successful.

The WCSB is maturing. Do you think there is enough potential here in Alberta to let us remain employed?

With the advent of horizontal drilling and fracturing technologies, I think we will see a huge spike in reexploitation of marginal fields and plays that could never make it on a vertical well basis. As an example, we are seeing horizontal development of the marginal areas around all of the Cardium fields in Central Alberta where the rock is tighter and thinner. Also there are the unconventional shale and tight sand plays that are ready to take off in Western Canada. The Duvernay shale play covers a huge swath across Western Canada, and companies are just getting started exploring to see where the gas, liquids, and oil boundaries are. I think the potential is limitless!

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?

I see managing failure as maintaining the ability to change. Anyone who is still in this industry after 30 years has seen their share of failure and managed to pick themselves up and move on. Something young people don't see, when they first come into the industry, is how it has been constantly changing; up, down, and sideways. A recent example is the change in natural gas prices just over the last five years. In 2008 gas was king. Companies were positioning themselves to be 100% gas, which turned out to be a bad management strategy. In 2012 it's a by-product with associated valuable liquids.

Diversification and persistence are some of the keys to being successful in the long run. How many companies sold off their old marginal fields, only to find that now, they have gained new life with horizontal drilling and fracking technology? Five years from now, who knows what technology will have been discovered, or what commodity prices are going to be. One thing you can say for sure is that they are going to change.

You are a member of CSEG, SEG and APEGA. How do you think becoming a member of professional societies helps a geoscientist?

I think it benefits us in two ways: first it provides a network of colleagues to collaborate with on technical issues, and secondly it enables us to connect on a social level with our fellow geoscientists. The CSEG's skiing, curling, and golfing events are great ways to meet other geoscientists and get connected into the geophysical community.

You are also active as a volunteer with the CSEG, APEGA and other organizations. How do you think the CSEG can get more youngsters into our industry?

To get more young people into geoscience, we have to get our story out there, and make it fun. We need to get kids excited about science, as they move through Junior High and into High School. This is where the academic streams split into scienceoriented and other vocations. I think the CSEG is taking the right approach, for example, in promoting the Earth Science for Society events at our convention. The science exhibits at that event are really fun for kids, and hopefully will spur some of them on to future science careers.

What are your other interests?

I am involved with several car clubs locally, and spend quite a bit of time travelling in my Corvette to various car events across Western Canada. I have a keen interest in motorsports, and have moved up the ladder of involvement to the national level as Deputy Chairman of National SoloSport with ASN Canada FIA, which is the sanctioning body for all motorsport in Canada. SoloSport is the grassroots or starting point for car competition and involves getting started in solo timed events, before moving up to more advanced door to door track racing.

What would be your message for young entrants in our industry?

Anticipate change. Things will be constantly changing in your career, technologywise and companywise. Your best hedge against change is to continually arm yourself with the latest technology to make sure you remain relevant and valuable in the search for oil and gas. Companies will come and go, both large and small. Who would have predicted that Petro-Canada would disappear? In my experience, it has been highly beneficial to get involved with the professional societies to help build a network of acquaintances across the industry. You never know when your company may get bought out or sold, and you'll need move on and find another one that needs your skills!


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