‘Technology isn’t worth a damn, if you can’t explain it to anybody simply’

An interview with John Logel

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra | Photos courtesy: Al Bradshaw
John Logel

John Logel is an experienced geoscientist who works as a Geophysical Advisor for Petro-Canada. A native of Iowa, John has lived in different work centres in North America and Northern Europe, pursuing his exploration work in the North Sea, the East Coast of Canada and other international offshore ventures. He has very clear views on the use of current technology for achieving exploration goals, and always remains optimistic about employing sound innovative ideas in his work, including AVO, inversion and geostatistics, to manage risk in exploration and development.

John was cooperative when asked for an interview and talked in a warm, responsive and encouraging way. The following are excerpts from the interview.

[Satinder]: John, tell us about your educational background and work experience.

I am a farm boy from Iowa. I went to school at the University of Iowa and I have a B.Sc. degree in Geology. After my graduation I was given a government grant to stay there and pursue a masters degree and do some research in the southwestern part of Iowa. So I have a Master’s degree in Geophysics from University of Iowa as well. I had my own seismic crew and we were shooting some 2D seismic lines to map out the extent of the mid-continent rift systems. After University, I went to work for Mobil in 1981 in their training program in Dallas for a year, and then moved to Denver for 4 years. My next move was to London, and I stayed there for 6 years, including 2 different stints in Aberdeen. I worked the UK shelf, and then moved to Norway for 5 years, working the Norwegian side of the North Sea and the Barents Sea. In 1998 I relocated to Calgary with Mobil. When Exxon and Mobil merged in 2000, I was asked or TOLD to move to Houston with the new company, but by that time we were pretty settled here. We were building a house, our first child was born here and another was on the way, so we decided to stay. That is when I moved to Petro-Canada.

[Satinder]: What inspired you to switch from Geology to Geophysics?

I was interested in rocks from a young age and I still have a collection of rocks and arrow heads that I collected on farms as a boy. So I went to school in geology, but as I was going through, I found the subjectiveness and dogma of geology a little bit uncomfortable and preferred the more scientific and mathematical viewpoint geophysics offered. Looking back that may be kind of naïve, but it was that point I made the switch. Looking at seismic data and geophysical data has more concrete information than what I see in subsurface rocks or cores.

[Cindy]: What prompted you to come to Canada?

While working for Mobil for Norway, I was a specialist in the type of work I like to do, like AVO, inversion, geostatistics, and other reservoir characterizing processes. I had a pick of where I wanted to go. My wife Joan is from Aberdeen, Scotland, so that was one of our choices, but not high on her list. We had been to Canada on holidays and thought it was a nice place and had some friends who helped here.

[Cindy]: How is Petro-Canada different from Exxon-Mobil?

The two companies are the same in one way: both have excellent technical people. But they are different culturally. I think Petro-Canada is a really great company. I am on the floor for deep-water teams, the Scotian shelf team is right on the floor below us. The manager of the entire East Coast and Mackenzie Delta is just around the corner on this floor, and the Vice President of exploration is just on the floor below. The structure is very flat. The management is very approachable and there are not a lot of levels here. If you have an idea it can go to the VP in short notice. Petro-Canada is big enough to have some finances behind it to grow and small enough to react. It is not bound by a lot of bureaucracy and management. If you need something, you say it and it gets done. After our recent acquisition, Petro-Canada now has a number of international properties where the applications and techniques I work with day-to-day may be even more applicable. There is a lot of opportunity here.

[Satinder]: Do you have a lot of say in decision making and is it satisfying working here?

Oh yes, Petro-Canada expect a lot from their people but also give us the responsibility to have input to their business when geoscience is concerned. I am requested to look at most prospects that have DHI associated with them, and am asked to provide input and comment on addition work or possible changes to hydrocarbon success factors. I get the opportunity to look at a lot of different areas throughout Canada and the world.

[Satinder]: Looking back at your career so far, would you term it as successful?

Yes, I have had a very fortunate career. I worked in the North Sea when it was just emerging. The first job I had was in the Southern North Sea on a team of 3 geologists and 3 geophysicists and we drilled 18 offshore wild cats of which 8 were discoveries. We were very busy and very active, we were mapping new prospects ahead of the jack-up. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work on some of the largest fields in the world. I have worked on Edop and Oso in Nigeria, on Beryl, Troll, and Statfjord in the North Sea, and on Hibernia and Terra Nova in Canada. So that has been a really rewarding experience and a fun part of the job.

[Satinder]: What do you attribute this success to?

I would say the whole business of oil exploration is a lot of hard work and an awful lot of luck. I do not think there is anyone who can say there is no luck involved. I didn’t create the opportunities I worked on myself, and didn’t invent some new technology; I just applied what I had learned with some great people in these areas to make things happen, and was lucky enough to be working in areas that had a lot of potential. I also must say that I have worked for some great management that was able to fund and back these projects. I think that a level of hard work and some level of creativity are involved as well.

[Satinder]: That is an important element there. Sometimes there are people who are very hardworking but somehow never get the opportunity to bring out their best and so could not reach the level they would have liked to.

[Cindy]: Who has influenced you the most in your career?

The very first boss I ever had at Mobil, Denver in 1982; I had just come out of a training program in Dallas and had access to Mobil’s newest technology including pseudo-shear technology, their first AVO product. I told my Denver team that I was very interested in AVO and inversion. My boss said to me, ‘’A lot of this technology isn’t worth a damn; if you cannot explain it to anybody simply and can’t apply it to the prospect simply and show its impact on the bottom line, it’s worthless.” I have never forgotten that little statement. I carried it along and whenever I start a project it always rings in the background. Can this impact the prospect? Can it make this prospect better understood? Can this technology really help us or is it just technology for technology’s sake? He ended up being my boss again in London. So I had it in my ear one more time!

[Satinder]: Apart from your training that you got in acquisition, and processing, your career seems to be biased heavily with interpretation experience. Some oil companies feel that geophysicists should go through each of the 3 phases, acquisition, processing and interpretation, otherwise they are not proper geophysicists. For that reason they rotate all geophysicist within the company from phase 1 to phase 2 to phase 3. Do you think geophysicists who have only processing experience or only interpretation experience are lacking in some way?

Interesting question! I think it is good to have a basic background in all of the fields if you can. I worked in Nigeria, North Sea and now the East Coast. So my experience is dominantly marine. And I know very little about land acquisition and processing problems. I am doing some work in the Mackenzie Delta and I can go to a processing house and talk about decon and different prestack migrations and AVO products, but need to have someone explain to me about statics. The problems there are very foreign to me. So I tend to have the viewpoint that specialists aren’t bad but a good generalist can go a long way and probably find more prospects. Mobil tends to generate generalists. They prefer to have generalists who can take as much power or responsibility as they can handle. Petro-Canada has a group of specialists who tend to mentor their younger employees to be very good generalists and move around in different areas. Once you move around you can decide where you want to go. I think you follow those lines.

[Satinder]: But suppose you spend 5 years in each of those areas, 15 precious years of your career are gone. You are left with only 10-15 years to serve as a specialist. Do you think that is a sufficient time for a geophysicist to give up his best?

I think that building a general background is a pretty good way of doing it. That still does leave you 10 years to call upon all the previous experience and knowledge and focus in a particular area and contribute.

[Cindy]: John, you have been involved with leading edge technology for many years. Were you involved with the development of Hampson Russell’s EMERGE? I believe you helped pioneer that software. Tell us about that.

Within Mobil we were developing the use of neural networks and how to apply them to reservoir characterization. Several geoscientists were developing algorithms and methodologies and I was testing and applying their methods. I guess I was instrumental in getting Mobil and Hampson-Russell together to discuss the development of EMERGE. I remember setting up a breakfast meeting in London and Dan Hampson thought, “I’ll get through this breakfast and then get out of here.” And when he walked out of the breakfast, he thought this was a great idea and that is really where EMERGE came from; Dan took the ball and RAN!!

[Cindy]: What challenges are associated with your position of Geophysical Advisor in Petro-Canada?

The biggest challenge of my job is that I do not report to an asset. I tend to have multiple bosses, deadlines and projects. Juggling them, delivering top quality results and in a timely manner are some of the challenges. Other challenges would be dealing with people’s pet projects objectively, for example you have 6 projects and deciding which would be of the greatest value and ranking them. You then have to tell someone that you cannot fit that project in your time frame.

[Cindy]: How do you resolve the challenges of two demanding jobs: a family man and a geoscientist? How do you balance your busy work schedule and family life?

That’s Satinder’s favourite question! Petro-Canada has a very family-friendly environment and encourages us to spend time relaxing. They have a very aggressive program encouraging people to use vacation time and to unwind. Saying that, there are times when the work must get done and deadlines can be driven by landsales or rig commitment. Petro-Canada allows quite a bit of flexibility with my work. I have the ability to work from home. I can log in from anywhere I can get on the internet, into my workstation or PC and see how things are working. Some applications I run take days to run and apply so this helps me stay on top of them. I can work quite freely from home and they allow me the flexibility and responsibility to do that. A lot of times an hour here or an hour there can save me days. That is one. I think they also give me the extra resources, i.e. outside help if needed, to hire other part time contractors, technologists. A lot of it is just a little bit of tenacity that I spend some time with my kids and family. Maybe it may cost me a bit of sleep here or there, but I tend to try and balance everything. My wife Joan is really great. She’s a stay-at-home Mom, and that is wonderful for our two little girls (3 and 1 years old), and definitely makes it easier for me. It relieves some of the pressure that friends of mine have in the morning and at the end of the day with daycare and sick children. Home can sometimes be a sanctuary of peace when I come home from a rough day and Joan has dinner waiting and my kids are ecstatic to see me.

[Cindy]: So what are some of the things you like to do in your free time?

Well, besides playing with my children, I train at a karate dojo three times a week. That gets rid of some of the stress that I pick up during the day. I am a volunteer ski ambassador for COP and CODA (Canadian Olympic Development Association) and in the summer time I tend to get up at 6 or 7 on Saturday or Sunday morning and spend an hour or two in the mountains on my motorcycle. I guess if I get any more time I make beer and wine.

[Satinder]: Some geophysicists in the industry have gone down south of the border in search of greener pastures, taking the bait of higher salaries or US dollars. Did you ever think of doing that and if not why?

I guess I am the opposite. I am an American citizen, but I prefer to live in Calgary. I just like everything about Calgary. The climate is excellent. The size is right. People are very friendly and nice, and my opinion is that Calgarians or Canadians tend to focus more on their own private lives and families than you can get in the larger US cities. When you start making more money in the US and start working up to 6-7 days in the week and long hours, it becomes a dominant part of your life. That is not what I wanted at this point in my life. I think oil business in Calgary is great. I mean it is all right here. Lots of exploration and development from step outs in Canada to big international offshore projects. There is the diversity of working in Mackenzie Delta, East Coast, Africa or Europe. It has a fabulous diversity, a great work force and is a wonderful place to work in.

John Logel

[Cindy]: Are you planning to stay in Canada for the remainder of your career?

I plan to stay in Canada forever. We are 2 months away from being able to apply for Canadian citizenship. Both my children were born here. They are Canadians and this is their home.

[Cindy]: Any plans to move to Canada’s East Coast?

I am open to moving anywhere for a short period if it is a good opportunity. The point is Calgary is going to remain our base and home and the focus of my personal and professional life.

[Cindy]: Can you describe to me any particular project you liked working on the most? Which was the most satisfying professionally?

That is a difficult question. I have worked on varied projects. Some of the projects I have worked on were quite challenging, trying to predict lithology and porosity in some of the areas of poor quality data in the Mackenzie Delta or trying to predict very thin reservoirs on the East Coast. One of the most rewarding projects was a paper I presented at the GeoCanada 2000, a geostatistical project in Norway. Mobil was part of a 5-company unitization of 5 fields equating to over 2 billion barrels of oil. The combination of geostatistics, depth conversion and neural networks brought the partners technically together on the project and showed a NPV difference in depth conversion of over 30 million dollars. It had great economic, scientific and cultural impact.

[Satinder]: What area of geophysics do you think holds the most promise for breakthrough?

I think neural networks and artificial intelligence applied to all different pieces of geophysics hold a lot of promise. We use a type of artificial intelligence in seismic processing, interpretation and for reservoir characterization. There may be some breakthroughs in the acquisition world. What we tend to look at in seismic gathers and seismic response is growing all the time. Our understanding is adding to how we understand or look at different possibilities of what we understand. At the same time our objectives and reservoirs are getting smaller and thinner all the time.

[Satinder]: How about inversion? We have been using post stack inversion for some time now and people have started talking about pre-stack inversion. I do not think we are using it on a production basis in the industry. It is still more in the research stage. Do you think that is one area that could help us draw more meaning out of seismic data?

We have seen in the last couple of years the development of elastic impedance and the power we are getting out of that and shear impedance; multicomponent data and its inversion will give us insight in existing and overlooked reservoir and help us in prospecting, or in the step out world anyway. At the moment it is very expensive to explore with multicomponent data.

[Satinder]: What do you think needs to be done to look at bypassed reservoirs?

A very long time back I worked in the heavy oil in California. At that time we were looking at tomography to try to map both bypassed pay, overlooked pay, steam fronts and our in situ combustion fronts. We were running vertical tomography profiles out of one of our injector wells and in our 9 producers, and achieving a 3-D high-resolution image of velocity. You could see areas that were hot and were cold. You could image steamed reservoir and map bypassed pay. We were experimenting with tiltmeters, to measure surface movement from the steam and map potential zones of weakness. This combination was leading us to some conclusions and answers. I think there are still some uses for revitalizing new or similar technology to do the same thing.

[Satinder]: You are a member of CSEG and a member of SEG since 1980.How do you think being a member of a professional society helps a geophysicist professionally?

I am also a member of AAPG. I think those 3 organisations between their 3 journals, RECORDER, The Leading Edge and Explorer, are great. They are not heavy reading. They are good reading on the bus and C-train. They give you an idea of where the industry is going, exploration is going, in general where people are working and developing new ideas. You get a real good feel for the scientific organizations. The SEG Geophysics, AAPG Bulletin are heavier and more research-oriented. If you want to go beyond the Leading Edge, Explorer, RECORDER, you can get into them and get into the nuts and bolts of things. Going to conventions is just invaluable for finding out what’s going on in the industry, where people are heading; what technology is working where? I think the oil business is one of the few places in the world where you learn a lot from failures.

[Satinder]: Professional societies do so much for the geophysicists. How do you think a geophysicist can contribute back to the society?

I think that they should be encouraged to write and present papers, share their information, case studies, technology, and their learnings. At Petro-Canada we have internal discipline work groups. To gain entrance to it you have to present some of your work, successes and failures.

[Satinder]: Have you ever delivered/taught courses, conducted seminars, delivered talks to professional groups of people, apart from the conventions, within or outside your organization? I think that is one way of contributing back to the society.

As a senior person in Mobil, I had some responsibility both locally, to do mentoring, and internally to look at prospects from a DHI point of view. I sat on a cross-affiliate committee that ranked prospects and assigned probability of successes based on DHI or special geophysical applications. I have taught a couple of courses throughout my career in different fields of geophysics dominantly in geostatistics or inversion. I presented internal talks at Mobil 2-3 times a year. At Petro-Canada we have a monthly geophysical meeting for information exchange and we are planning a company-wide exchange later this year. I plan to present some work at these meetings and will be encouraging others to do the same.

[Satinder]: What are your impressions about the young people entering our profession?

When I moved to Canada I was completely impressed with the abilities of students coming out of university. When I went to work for Mobil Canada, I had 4 young geoscientists who had been out of school less than 2 years and they were very enthusiastic and intelligent and really grasping knowledge. They loved trying to sort out problems, had great problem-solving abilities. So they just needed to be mentored in how to use those abilities. You can say they had great abilities, but needed to be polished a little bit. They needed to know where to go, where to go to get some of the missing pieces, and how to apply some of their knowledge. Something I have always encouraged is that there are multiple working hypotheses and you should not get caught in one idea and continue to pursue that; keep to the scientific method. Our work force is aging, you need to continually bring in new people, encourage them to grow and to apply what they know and learn. I think one of the keys to success in our business is to continue to learn.

[Satinder]: I usually ask this question for the benefit of the young entrants. What is the message you would like to give them?

People I tend to mentor hear two things: One of them is a repeat of what I heard when I entered, about technology not being worth anything unless it is done to better understand an unknown, and its ability to apply to the business. I remember another thing that is posted on my wall and that is – do not live by the model that, “There is always time to do it over but never time to do it right.” I have seen a lot of things worked and reworked and reworked for the lack of applying good science to begin with. I think one of the other things to tell people is to have fun. I find what I do everyday and what I have done for 22 years to be fun. I enjoy it; I like it and cannot imagine making a career change. You might need some career adjustment, but I cannot imagine I would like to do anything else than this, that is because it has been fun.

[Satinder]: What is your perception about geophysicists working in oil companies and in service companies? Do you think either is lacking anything anywhere?

I wouldn’t say either one is lacking anything anywhere. I would think possibly their focus or objective is different. I think that is a good tie to the bottom line and to the business. The business of a service company is to provide a product and the business of an oil company is to take a lot of products and find commercial hydrocarbons.

[Satinder]: Recently, we sent out a request to 17 oil companies, some consultants, individuals, and the University of Calgary, inviting papers for a special issue of the RECORDER on ‘Exploration in Canadian Mountain Foothills’. In spite of my reminders, you will be surprised that I never got a single paper from any oil company. I got one paper from a service company and 2 papers from the university. What would you attribute this indifference to?

I would not say it is indifference. There are probably two answers to that question: I would imagine people who are working in the foothills at the moment have very very strict time constraints on their hands, between land sales and high levels of activity at the moment. The other one is an implied inferiority complex. A lot of times people underestimate how important the work they are doing is. Some people think, ‘They do not want to hear about my stupid little project. They want to hear about the big projects.” I continually have people coming and saying, “I have got this problem I am trying to solve, but it is in this small little area. You are too busy working in the Flemish pass or Mackenzie Delta to look at this.” They are unaware of the possible impact of their work on the rest of the community.

[Satinder]: John, I thank you for giving us this opportunity. It has been a pleasure coming and talking to you, knowing more about you and the work you are engaged in.

[Cindy]: Thank you, John.

Thank you very much. I have enjoyed talking to you about these things.


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