“Be passionate about what you do, remain open to new ideas, and never stop asking ‘what if?’”

An interview with Greg Partyka

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra | Photos courtesy: Penny Colton
Greg Partyka

Greg Partyka was the SEG Distinguished Lecturer and invited speaker for the April 25, 2005 CSEG luncheon. Recipient of the 2003 SEG Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal for his work on the development of the spectral decomposition technique for reservoir characterization, Greg talked about his favourite topic. We sat with him the same afternoon to find out more about this young geoscientist. Following are the excerpts from the interview:

Greg, let’s begin by asking you about your educational and work experience so that you kind of introduce yourself to our members.

I studied geological engineering in Winnipeg where I grew up. It was very much a hard rock school, but included a good mix of geology, engineering, rock mechanics, and some geophysics. One of the professors that really made an impression on me was C.D. Anderson. He taught an introductory course in Geophysics and had this knack for veering discussions in directions that seemed way off topic. Somehow at the end of a lecture, he was able to bring all the pieces together in such a way that allowed students to gain a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the topics. He kindly agreed to be my thesis advisor.

In 1986, I spent the summer in Calgary doing geophysics for Amoco. This was my first experience with hands-on geophysics. I remember showing up on my first day, being handed my summer project outline, then spending the rest of that day at the library researching the various words in the title. It was a great summer, and led me to take additional geophysics courses when I returned to university in the Fall.

Mid 80s was not a great time to be graduating and looking for a geophysics job in the oil patch. I think that Shell was the only major that recruited in Winnipeg the year I graduated, and they were only looking for two geophysicists from all across Canada – not great odds. As it turned, out, I spent the first year after graduation doing various things, including geological mapping for a local consulting company, then geology and geophysics for the Atomic Energy of Canada Underground Research Lab in Pinawa, and even a stint playing drums for a local rock & roll band touring across south-western Ontario.

I had a good summer with Amoco in 1986, and when they started hiring again in 1988, they remembered and offered me a job. Before long, I fell under the influence of Amoco’s “Unix Seismic Processing” (USP), both the toolkit and the team behind it. Seeing their approach to user-support, problem-solving, research, and development is so impressive. They continue to be an incredible source of inspiration, support and friendship.

Since 1988, I have worked for Amoco, then BP, in Canada, Poland, United States and the UK, moving back and forth between assignments in operations and technology. I have always been particularly interested in multi-disciplinary problem solving, and really enjoy figuring out ways to decipher geologic content that is embedded in seismic data. In 1996, I was able to dive a bit deeper into reservoir characterization and multidisciplinary problem solving, via an intensive, year-long petrophysics training program.

What have been the highlights of your career?

It’s been quite a ride, but the SEG DL tour definitely stands out. It has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with so many great people. With only seven or so stops to go, it is nearly done, but still seems very fresh and exciting. Each stop has been a separate and different experience. I am using the same slide-set from stop to stop, but have purposefully not scripted anything to allow for a more fit-for-purpose delivery.

Receiving the Virgil Kauffman medal in 2003 was definitely a high point.

Also, there have been some exciting career “a-ha” moments. Three in particular, stand out.

  1. around 1990 during early experiments with spectral decomposition. I remember thinking that there was so much potential in that approach. Sure enough, here we are in 2005 and the technology is still very much evolving.
  2. upscaling experiments during 1996-97, an alternative view of the effects of seismic bandwidth on resolution and detection via cross-plots of petrophysical properties, and
  3. in 2000, the start of collaboration with Michael Bush that led to spectral decomposition based geologic model building – what has evolved into the StratCube™ and FlowCube™ technologies.

You have achieved name and fame at a young age. How does it feel?

I feel very fortunate.

So many great people, experiments, and developments go unrecognized. I was doing something that got noticed at the right place and at the right time, and it seemed to strike a chord.

The best part is that opportunities such as the Distinguished Lecture have allowed me to cross-paths with incredible people that I otherwise would not have met.

What personal attributes helped you achieve the professional status you enjoy today? Hard work, self belief, getting opportunities at the right time, or something else.

I love collaborating and problem solving.

Once I get focused on a problem, it’s pretty hard to tear me away from trying to solve the puzzle.

I have always sought out opportunities and situations that allow me to work with people who truly love what they do.

Working with people who are continuously open to problem solving and new ideas is contagious. I just hope the doors stay open for continued collaboration and brainstorming.

I was wondering if you could tell us what your present assignment is and where your career is going?

I am a part of the Unix Seismic Processing (USP) Team; a role that allows me to work with teams and individuals throughout the BP upstream organization. This involves identifying and solving problems associated with data quality, analysis, and interpretation.

Once I was introduced to USP in the late 1980s, I was hooked.

I have gone back and forth between assignments in operations groups and technology, but whenever I get back to technology, USP plays a big role. It’s so exciting to know that whatever signal analysis, processing, or interpretation question comes your way, you can turn to a toolkit and the team behind it, and have the necessary tools and support to chip away towards solutions.

That’s what I find so exciting about the work, it allows for so much creativity. Whatever the future brings, I hope it continues to involve lots of time and space for creative problem solving.

Who were some of your mentors?

Two extraordinary technology leaders come to mind: Chuck Webb and Craig Cooper. They are both very interested in expanding possibilities, and have this remarkable knack for fostering a work environment that facilitates creative thinking, collaboration and progress. It was while I reported to Chuck Webb during the early 90s, that spectral decomposition started taking off at Amoco... and it was while I worked for Craig Cooper that much progress was made on the StratCube™ and FlowCube™ technologies.

Greg Partyka

On the technical side: Paul Garossino, Paul Gutowski, Dan Hartmann, Rick Lindsay, Don Wagner, all stand out.

In addition, several years ago, I was lucky enough to crosspaths with Michael Bush, hands-down, the best applied mathematicians I have ever met. The resulting collaborations continue to get us past many technical barriers, and are significantly extending the impact of spectral decomposition in static and dynamic reservoir characterization.

What are some of the most challenging projects that you have worked on?

The most challenging are the ones that usually end up the most satisfying.

Projects that require multi-disciplinary problem solving come to mind. The challenge in such circumstances is to not compromise, ask lots of questions, and keep the lines of communication very open. One such example is the year I spent at the Amoco petrophysics school in the mid 90s. That program was all about getting people out of their comfort zone, and exposing them to other disciplines: reservoir engineering, well-log analysis, core analysis, geology, and geophysics...then applying those new skills to solve practical business problems. That was a fantastic experience. I make use of what I learned during that year on a daily basis.

Is BP pursuing any unconventional resource exploration anywhere?

BP renewables business comes to mind. It continues to grow, with BP Solar being the largest part.

In your opinion, what are the important advancements taking place in different directions of geophysics?

One area that I find particularly fascinating is the automation of workflows – so a mix of advancements in data management, analysis and integration. As on demand seismic becomes more routine, we face huge and continuous streams of geophysical information that if analyzed and presented appropriately, can provide near real-time insight regarding the subsurface. It becomes important to present that incoming data in a form that allows people to quickly understand what it brings to the table, in a way that does not hide the uncertainties and allows interpretive “what-if” scenarios to be modeled and understood.

You have devoted a lot of your time doing research in different areas. Do you think basic research is still being done by some oil companies, or it is all in the domain of universities and service companies?

Some basic research is still being done by oil companies, and I hope it continues to do so. With the current worldwide demographics in the geosciences community, there will continue to be a need to do more with fewer people. Oil companies are in a great position to understand specific technology requirements and research options. Their perspective and approach to R&D is often different but just as valuable as research that originates at a service company or university.

How are you liking your ‘Distinguished Lecturer’ assignment?

It’s been great on all fronts: meeting wonderful people, the discussions, lots of interest in the topics. I have particularly enjoyed the university stops, and the extra time that is often available before and after the presentation for more in-depth conversations.

Do you have any unfulfilled dreams?

I very much enjoy collaborations and problem solving. If I can just continue to help people identify problems and roadblocks, then find or create appropriate solutions, I will continue to be very happy. At some point I would like to get back to getting more involved in music and playing drums and percussion.

What is your impression about the geophysical community in Calgary compared with Houston and the rest of the world?

I started my career in Calgary, so it is a special place for me. It is a very tight knit and social community, with most of the geophysicists either downtown or within a very short distance of downtown. I think that this helps the members to stay involved with the local society, whether it be via the CSEG luncheons, conferences, or workshops.

Houston is a much larger city, with geophysicists spread-out over a much larger area. As such, it becomes more difficult for the geophysical community as a whole to interact as often as say Calgary. Fortunately, the local section and the SEG hold various events through the course of the year to encourage and facilitate interaction.

I have to admit though that I have fond memories from every one of the lecture stops. People took full advantage of the opportunity to catch-up with friends as well as make new contacts.

Each community made me feel very welcome.

What do you do outside of the science you practice?

Besides the day-to-day excitement of life with a beautiful wife and three young children, I really love playing music. I have been playing drums and percussion for many years in various groups...anything from jazz, to classical, to rock, blues, etc... These days, that means playing a few gigs per month.

Well, to finish up, what would you say as a message to our young members who have just taken geophysics as a profession?

Geophysics is such a wide open field. It offers something for most everyone. Since I spent most of my career in oil and gas exploration and development, I’ll focus on that experience.

Make sure to get a good, solid foundation in the science.

Spend plenty of time in signal analysis, processing and modeling. Learn from experienced technical staff at every opportunity.

Seek out varied work assignments that allow you to move back and forth between groups that make the business decisions and groups that provide technical support for making those decisions. Each assignment will bring new experiences and insights.

Before you know it, you will be sought out for your experience and know-how, and your career will evolve in a natural way.

Be passionate about what you do.

Remain open to new ideas, and never stop asking “what if?”

Thank you for giving us the opportunity.

My pleasure.


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