Larry Matthews is a professional geophysicist who has over 35 years of experience in the oil and gas industry. Starting his professional career in 1977 after graduate school, Larry worked for Amoco Canada, Western Geophysical, Western Atlas Software, Petresim Integrated Technologies, Canadian Hunter, Noranda Mining and Exploration, Mira Geoscience, Hampson-Russell Software, Burlington Resources, and is now working at ConocoPhillips Canada. In between he also provided consultancy services for a number of western Canada projects by using his acquired expertise in modeling, inversion, geostatistics and multi-attribute analysis. Having planned and executed seismic data acquisition programs, done and supervised seismic data processing, as well as spending a fair bit of time in seismic interpretation and techniques aimed at reservoir characterization, Larry is a powerhouse of knowledge, and is now trying to groom and mentor younger geoscientists.
Feathers that stands out in Larry’s cap are the pioneering work that he contributed to on 4D time- lapse monitoring for heavy oil thermal projects, and the use of surface seismic for deep search hard rock mining applications. Much of this trailblazing effort, Larry shared with the geophysical community through presentations he made at different international forums fetching him recognition many times by way of best presentations awards, etc....
In spite of all these achievements, Larry comes across as a humble, good-natured and approachable individual. The RECORDER requested Larry for an interview, to which he sportingly agreed. Following are excerpts from the interview.
Larry let’s begin by asking you about your educational background and your work experience.
I grew up and attended Elementary and High School in London, Ontario. That’s back in the days when there was a Grade XIII. After graduation I moved on to the University of Western Ontario and started first year in the general science program. We were a camping family growing up and so most summer holidays found us travelling to Northern Ontario with our tent for some relax time in the woods. I found great enjoyment in those days scrambling over the Canadian Shield and searching for agates along the beaches of Lake Superior. I guess it was those experiences that drew me towards Geology initially. I had some skills and interest in physics as well and so that combination led me to working towards an honours Geophysics degree starting in second year. I graduated in 1974 with six other young gentlemen. There were very few females to be found in geophysics departments back in the early 1970s. That situation is very different today of course, for the better I might add. Had a job offer been forthcoming at the time I graduated I probably would have taken it; however, 1974 was one of those years when jobs were a little harder to find and so I took the opportunity to go back and do a Master’s Degree in Geophysics at Western as well.
The summer job I had during that time provided terrific experience for me. I worked with the Earth Physics Branch of Natural Resources Canada in Ottawa from 1973 – 1976. There, I was lucky to get my opportunities to travel to many parts of Canada that most Canadians will never see. I was north of 80 degrees Latitude on Ellesmere Island at what I am sure is to this day the most northerly oil and gas well drilled in this country, if not the world. Not many people get a chance to go that far north. Field seasons had me in the Arctic Islands, northern Quebec, all along the Mackenzie River, the Mackenzie Delta, the Yukon and British Columbia. Those experiences really solidified my interest in geophysics and participating in field work in general.
So, in 1976 I was almost finished my Master’s Thesis field work. I was studying the radiometric signature of porphyry copper-molybdenum deposits in Central British Columbia. Amoco came visiting at Western and in an interview there in 1976 they offered me a position to come out West and work with them. The job market for geophysicists was quite different than it was in the spring of 1974. We worked out an arrangement where I could start in the spring of ‘77. That would allow me to finish a little bit more field work, as well as write up and defend my thesis. I finished my Master’s work at Western, packed my car and headed west to Calgary. No family here; however, there were new friends and colleagues to meet and a full-time job which was a pleasing prospect after almost 7 years at University. Spring 1977 found me starting with Amoco Canada and almost immediately heading right back out to the field to work for a couple of weeks on a seismic crew in Eastern Alberta. That would provide a good break from wearing a suit and tie to work every day. Like many I’m sure, I wasn’t quite ready for the dramatic change of attire after university.
Well, my industry career path has not been a simple one. I have to think hard to remember all of the places I’ve worked. It wasn’t because I was trying to stay one step ahead of the law, it just worked out that way for a variety of reasons. Many of the career choices revolved around a family decision to stay in Calgary as our home base. So, here it goes in chronological order as best I can remember. As I mentioned earlier, I started with Amoco Canada in the spring of ‘77, stayed there for a decade until the Dome merger. Then I went to Western Geophysical and subsequently Western Atlas Software when the seismic acquisition and processing groups left Canada. For a while I was the only Western employee in Canada. After declining a transfer to Houston, I started my own company and did some consulting for a couple of years. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do and so I took a position at a reservoir engineering company for a while. From there I moved on to Canadian Hunter where I filled a role in geophysical technical support. I enjoyed that time very much.
Some staffing changes a few years later produced an opportunity to pursue a position, for what I thought at the time would be perhaps one year, at Noranda Mining. Noranda owned Canadian Hunter at the time and Jim Gray was able to get me connected with them. They were just beginning to investigate the possible use of surface seismic for exploration in and around their existing Canadian Mining Camps. That position at Noranda ended up being seven years in duration instead of the one I had been expecting. There were a number of very interesting projects I had the opportunity to work on during that assignment. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to chat about that time in my career a bit more.
The path from Noranda led me to a small mining consulting company, Mira Geoscience. That position gave me the opportunity to do some work with DeBeers at their new diamond prospect at Attawapiskat, Ontario. There is an operating mine there now of course. It’s never a bad thing when you get to work with diamonds. Again, choosing to stay in Calgary made that job difficult and so I moved again to spend some time with Dan & Brian at Hampson-Russell helping to do project work and promote their software locally. I was fortunate that another great opportunity presented itself and I rejoined many of my old Canadian Hunter colleagues at Burlington Resources again. One more takeover later and I now find myself at ConocoPhillips.
I don’t think I have left anything out, but I might have. If I have, it’s not important. Through all of those job changes I think, at least in my own mind, that I’ve been able to get a pretty broad spectrum of experience from oil and gas companies, service companies, mining and software companies. They have been both big and small with a global and a Canadian focus. While I’m sure that may seem a bit much for many, I firmly believe that experience base has helped to broaden my perspective on various issues just simply because I’ve had the opportunities to see problems from many different points of view.
Right. People think that to move up the corporate ladder, changing jobs is a must, but do you think there is truth in that?
Well, certainly to continue to move up a corporate ladder you tend to move away from technical matters and more into business issues. Companies are businesses after all. There clearly is a need to broaden your experience base to take on those growing responsibilities. Now that doesn’t have to necessarily mean changing jobs from one company to another. Larger companies of course have the ability to transfer you around their business world in order to gain those broader experiences and skills. In my own personal situation, I wasn’t moving from A to B to C because I was trying to find the path up a corporate ladder. I am, and have always been, quite happy to mire myself in the technical aspects of the business. I’ve had an opportunity to delve into the managerial side and found it not to be where my interest or skills lie. The technical part of the business is where I want to be and where I find the most enjoyment.
So as you gained the experience at different companies and different positions, did you at some point feel, “Well, here is a comfortable slot, this is something I would like to do,” or “This is for me”?
Yes, I think so. I think that happened in my early career back in the Amoco days where I found myself, after a couple of years of being an interpreter, in what was then the technical support group. The mandate was to provide geophysical support to the local Canadian Business Unit and be a liaison with the Research folks in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That’s where I really think I found my niche. I am pretty good at taking complicated topics, making them more understandable and then communicating those ideas at the appropriate level to my audience. That skill has helped me with my mentoring over the last number of years as well. The other aspect of my interest in this part of the business stems from the great variety of problems and challenges to be investigated. You never knew on Monday morning what the latest challenge was going to be. It could be related to acquisition, processing or investigating a new idea that someone had to help solve a problem of immediate interest to the Business Unit. Throughout my career I’ve continued to gravitate back to and find opportunities to get in the position of being one of those technical support people. This is my current role at ConocoPhillips as well. It’s what I enjoy doing.
I have heard numerous people say they loved their stints at Amoco. There are many people in town that I have interviewed and they all say that.
Well, Amoco was a very large and diversified Oil Company providing a tremendous training environment. There were plenty of very smart and technically influential people at Amoco like Sven Treitel, Leon Thompson, Sam Gray, Dan Whitmore, and Larry Lines. The list goes on and on. These are the caliber of scientists that I had an opportunity to be exposed to in my early career. It provided tremendous tutoring and for me, or young geophysicists like me, a fantastic place to learn and develop long term friendships. I certainly don’t consider myself to have anywhere near the knowledge each of them brings to their particular area of expertise; however, what I think I have that has helped me along through my career is, I know a little bit about a lot of things and I know those smart people. That gives me access to a tremendous knowledge base and that I owe to my years at Amoco.
Larry, tell us about the difference in the work culture that you perceived as you moved through some of these companies.
Work cultures. Well, certainly they were varied. Those differences, and they were stark at times, manifested themselves mostly depending on where things were in the business cycle I think. Having started my career in the 1970’s I have experienced some difficult times in this industry. Young folks who have just started their own careers haven’t seen that yet fortunately. It can get pretty hard and discouraging. So business issues can come to a head more quickly on the service company side than on the oil and gas side I think. That can affect the culture and environment very dramatically. When the revenue stops flowing there can be some really hard decisions to take of course. I would say I have worked at companies where they were very quick to eliminate people in order to address that situation. People were high cost and you can always get them back when you need them was the attitude. Very little “out of the box” thinking applied it seemed to me.
On the other hand, I have been in companies that took the position, “No; we are going to tough it out as long as we can. Everyone, top to bottom is going to take a cut in pay, work longer hours and do what it takes to hang in this together. “ I think it’s quite obvious which culture or style employees will be more loyal to. I have been part of both of those scenarios. Fortunately I’ve seen more of the latter than the former.
Larry, do you ever get stressed out at work or outside work or neither?
I never get stressed out! Sure, everyone gets stressed out both in their private lives and in their business lives from time to time. I would say that dealing with stress is one thing I have learned over the years and it’s related to age. You tend to get less stressed the older you get; at least that’s what I see in myself. I find it much easier now to worry about the things where I can make a difference or have some influence and not worry about the things where I have no control. That’s not always the case when you are younger. You worry about and often stress over silly things like – they are moving my office down the hall and I won’t have a window – they are asking me to work on the weekend because something is needed for Monday. Stuff like that. I feel that I’m a more relaxed person than I used to be. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, I don’t know but I find it a more enjoyable state of mind. So, stress is everywhere but I think with age many people find ways to deal with it better. You just mellow down.
Tell us about Larry the person, your likes or dislikes.
Making a list of dislikes doesn’t seem as easy as it perhaps once did. Another age thing I guess. I don’t really like getting up for work in the dark and cold. I seem to have more aches and pains than I did when I was younger. Some days I dislike that I can’t close the door to my cubicle; in fact, I don’t have a door. I think I’ll concentrate more on my likes and things that I enjoy doing outside of my business career. I have a garden railroad. I do “G” Scale model railroading and I have a train that runs around the backyard in the summers. We have a reef tank at home and that is an interesting and expensive hobby. I do stained glass. That’s something I find relaxes me.
All of these things are pastimes that I find take my mind off issues or problems at work. When I am busy cutting glass I am not worried about how to double the bandwidth of some seismic dataset. I used to golf a lot when I was younger and I hope in the years ahead I can begin to golf a little bit more again. I enjoy the outdoors and as you can see have lots of hobbies to keep me occupied after I finally end my career. Something else that interests me is Volunteerism. It’s been reinforced in my mind over the last number of years; there is no end of volunteer opportunities in the broader community. There are organizations everywhere needing assistance from the Mustard Seed, to the Food Bank, to your local Church or Community Association. There are always people struggling more than you and needing help. I used to build houses as a summer job back in the early 70’s and so going back and working with Habitat for Humanity for instance is something I wouldn’t mind doing again too. So, I am not fearful of leaving geophysics behind. The pay won’t be as good as at the present but never-the-less, I will have plenty to keep me busy I am sure.
I would like to hear a little about your career accomplishments that you are really proud of.
Well, there are a number but I think of two that come to mind immediately.
The first one was back in my Amoco days. It was a project I worked on with Norm Pullin and it began in the 1983-84 timeframe when the term 4D seismic was really not on anybody’s radar. Norm, God Bless Him, found some research material that was carried out by Amos Nur and Carol Tosoya at Stanford related to the thermal acoustic properties of bitumen. At the same time, Amoco Canada was beginning an Oil Sands project called the Gregoire Lake In- Situ Steam Pilot (GLISP) south of Fort McMurray. I remember Norm was on his own promoting the idea to management, without much success initially. The idea was to use seismic to monitor the movement and distribution of heat in the sub-surface at the pilot site by drawing upon the Stanford rock physics observations. Norm knew field testing and operations. I was in that technical group I mentioned previously and knew about rock physics, modeling and processing. Norm and I made a pretty good team as we continued to build our story and attempted to move a project forward at the pilot.
So Norm and I hopped on an airplane, it was probably 1983, to travel to California and see Amos and Carol. In my suitcase I carried a plastic core bag full of bitumen from Gregoire Lake for them to do some analysis. We needed to understand what we believed would be a very significant drop in velocity with increasing temperature. Arco, it turns out, was doing some similar things with fire flood in the States unbeknownst to us at the time. GLISP was at the very beginning of 4D seismic in Canada as it pertains to monitoring reservoir changes over time in the subsurface. I feel very lucky and honored to have been a part of that team in the early days.
The second project I am very proud of happened during my time with Canadian Hunter/Noranda Mining. Noranda was at a point where many of their existing mining camps were literally running out of ore. They were seeking a technology that could help them explore in the 800 – 1,200 meter depth range for any possible economic mineralization that still existed and that was not detectible by any other geophysical technique. This, before they took the final and costly decision to close mines. The Geological Survey of Canada and their work with Lithoprobe was a catalyst for what developed next. Lithoprobe as you know was surveying the crust, the geologic structure of Canada as a whole if you will – depth to the Moho, old suture zones, how the continent was put together were the primary objectives. Besides that information it was noticed that as the 2D seismic profiles crossed various mining camps there were some interesting shallow reflectivity amplitudes. The question arose, “What are these?” The Geological Survey of Canada was involved and had discussions about these anomalies with Noranda’s mining staff in Eastern Canada. As a consequence of Noranda owning Canadian Hunter, a company who used seismic all the time of course, Jim Gray got me involved. He said, “Larry, take a trip to Toronto and see if you can help these guys out with seismic.”
One thing led to another, and I became a Noranda employee and we did 2D and 3D surveys in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland over the next six years. Those projects offered some pretty interesting challenges running across hard rock terrain. All kinds of interesting field techniques were tried. We bolted single geophones to the granite, bunched phones with very long carrot spikes in low wet areas, tested charge type, size and depth, etc. All of these tests were focused on getting the field data quality we would need to process and interpret. If you’ve ever seen seismic from hardrock terrains you will know some of it can be quite challenging. We used one of the 3D seismic surveys, at a prospect called Halfmile Lake in North Central New Brunswick, to identify a significant anomaly at about one kilometer depth. That target was successfully drill tested and combined with the previously discovered shallower lenses contains millions of tons of ~8% Zinc and ~2% Lead. At the time it wasn’t enough mineralization to make a difference for a company the size of Noranda but I just found out, just recently in fact, that that discovery is now going to be turned into a mine by a company called Kria Resources. Preliminary work is ongoing now. I can’t think of any other massive Sulfide deposit that was discovered with seismic and will ultimately be mined. I’d like to go back and visit one day. I’ll have to put it on my Bucket List. Those are the two that come to mind.
At that Gregoire Lake Site that you mentioned, I still show a couple of images from the project in my course on heavy oils.
Well, it’s a long time ago now but it was at the beginning of the 4D seismic time-lapse monitoring story. It’s a chronicle of good planning, persistence and the use and development of appropriate technology. I’m pleased that it still has relevance even today almost 30 years on.
What is the most challenging work that you may have carried out?
The most challenging work….well, let’s see. There is certainly the technically challenging, and those for a variety of reasons were perhaps the two examples that I have just given. Maybe I will change the question slightly and say – What are the most challenging situations that I have experienced during my career?
It would be easy to focus on some of the physical challenges of cold in the Arctic, muskeg in Ontario or bugs in the Delta. Looking back, they weren’t the most challenging or difficult at all. One of the most difficult times I remember happened during one of the industry “Bust” cycles. It was one of my managerial stints when I had to tell a number of people in my group that their positions were being terminated. It was just business circumstances. It wasn’t that they were poor performers; it wasn’t anything to do with that. It was just a situation where there were nine in the group on Friday and there had to be four in the group on Monday. Answering the questions of, “Why me?” made for difficult days. Those of us who started in the 70’s have unfortunately experienced a number of times like those during our careers.
The other difficult event that I recall, and one that I have reflected on over the years, occurred back in the early 1990’s. It was during my time at Canadian Hunter. I was sitting in my office working away at the computer when some poor soul went past my window on the way to his death some 30 stories below. I saw him that day and I can still see him clearly in my mind when I think about that moment today. I went to the window, looked down and saw him lying in the alley below. That event affected me more I think than I realized at the time. I came to understand that for some, situations could become so dire they believe there is no support, no help, no other way out of their predicament. Seeing what I did that day has modified my thinking in a lot of ways about trying to be there to help people when they need help and I trust that others would be there for me if I needed a hand. It’s always been a challenge getting my head around understanding what possible situation could be dire enough that you would actually take the step off. Those two events were challenging.
Larry, once you know people have gained enough experience, some geoscientists like you work as consultants for a short time; how was your entrepreneurial stint and how come it remained short?
As I mentioned earlier, it remained short because I discovered it was not really what I wanted to do. I thought at the time, lacking other opportunities, that I would give it a shot. I did. But for me personally I found that I liked working in a team environment better than alone and so it just was as simple as that. It wasn’t for me and so when an opportunity presented itself to leave that behind, I didn’t feel badly about it at all. There are certainly advantages to being your own boss, but there are disadvantages as well. There are pluses and minuses with everything I suppose – it just wasn’t for me.
Larry I notice from what you said that your focus has been aimed at application of geophysical technologies for characterizing hydrocarbon reservoirs. Is that right?
Yes, I think that’s fair to say. I have been interested in Quantitative Geophysics for some time now, whether that is specifically about a particular reservoir or related to exploration in general. The extraction of numerically meaningful reservoir properties is always the goal, not always achievable however. That still leaves room for a better description of the reservoir container itself and that is where many of the newer volume curvature attributes for instance continue to play an ever expanding role. What is going on with the stresses in the subsurface is another large topic area that will also play an ever increasing part in our understanding of reservoirs and completion practices. We were moving away from just simple structural geophysics – here is the top, here is the bottom, here are the sides with a few faults in the middle. Today it is about trying to use prestack seismic attributes to understand more about the fluids, the internal stratigraphy of the reservoirs, stresses, etc. Microseismic is playing a pivotal role in our completion strategy understanding. Too bad I’m not 30 years younger so I could be more involved in all the great science that lies ahead.
Tell us, what do you think is required to become a successful interpreter?
Well, to be a good interpreter I would say you need to have a good basic understanding of geology, acquisition, processing and what information you are attempting to extract with the advanced interpretation technologies available on the workstation today. My experience over the last number of years, while I have taken on the role of mentorship with young geophysicists just out of school, leads me to think there are a couple of things generally lacking in their skill set that they will need to develop to become those successful interpreters. The first I would say relates to acquisition and processing. In the 1970’s when I started, the first thing Amoco did was say to all of the new hires – this is going to be your desk but you are not going to sit there at the moment. You’re off to work with a seismic crew for a while. And so off we went to work and gain experience with surveyors, drillers, the party manager, the observer in the dog house, etc. etc. When we did get back to the office it was processing. At Amoco we had an internal processing system and we did a lot of our own processing. I think these experiences developed in us a better understanding about situations that can happen in the field and in processing that make false anomalies on seismic data. These are the sneaky ones that if you aren’t aware, you are trying to fit a geological model and potentially drill.
The second, and I think this comes with time, is to have an idea in your own mind of what an expected outcome should be from a particular process. It’s a skill that you do need to develop as an interpreter. I find that there is a tendency by younger interpreters to rely heavily on what is now very sophisticated interpretation software. Data can go in and answers come out; however, stopping for just enough time to take a breath and think about it is an important step. Is that what I expected? Does it look reasonable? It’s not enough that the program didn’t crash, it provided ‘an answer’, but is that what you think you should have seen? So those are two areas that I think younger geophysicists starting in the business would do well to try to nurture for their own careers. They will be better interpreters for it down the road.
There are geophysicists who generate structure maps from 3D seismic data, there are others who would like to go through the complete exercise of trying out the available technology to lower the risk; of course all this has to be done with the blessing of management. What is your stand on it?
Well, I don’t know if I have a stand but an opinion perhaps. I think it really carries on from what I said a little bit earlier. Making use of all the information available to you is important in order to get the best, risked understanding of the subsurface. Having knowledge about acquisition, knowledge about the processing, knowledge about the tools that you are applying can only enhance the final answer. I like to think that with my current employer that we do attempt to have people involved from beginning to end, that it is not an assembly line. I would suggest that it is better to be involved in all aspects to the extent that you can. You don’t have to take the lead role, nobody is expecting the interpreter to know everything about seismic acquisition for instance. There are people to help, but you should avail yourself of the opportunity to be aware of where your seismic data is coming from before you get too carried away with deciding where you want to drill the next hole. Today with what I am going to call pretty sophisticated analysis of pre-stack data, small subtle things matter and it’s not too difficult to create those small subtle things in acquisition and processing if you are not careful.
What do you think are the three most important unsolved problems in geophysics?
Well, I’m sure I’m not going to come up with the three most important off the top of my head, but here are a few thoughts on the subject.
I would say if you are a seismologist working in Italy I would suggest the most important question is, “How can I predict destructive earthquakes so they don’t send me to jail?” That would be number one.
Number two and three, let me see – where these ideas fit in the big picture I have no idea. They are two things that are on my mind at the moment so I will offer them up as possible questions needing some attention.
One of the areas I have been involved with lately is microseismic. So here is an emerging technology in the oil and gas business that is being used extensively for the monitoring of hydraulic fracturing. There are no ends of questions to be answered here. What is the in-situ stress state of the earth, how are we modifying those stresses with our hydraulic fracture and how will that manifest in the microseisms that we detect and the production we ultimately realize? How are we going to figure out where proppant is going and what is the effective stimulated rock volume? What is the true value of microseismic information? The questions are growing faster than the answers right at this present time. So for younger geoscientists entering the business there is no end in sight to the topic areas of microseismic and geomechanics that I can see.
The third is another, which because of the role I currently play, I see and think is one that will require on-going effort. That revolves around the proliferation of technical information. At my company, ConocoPhillips, we are creating Wiki Pages about certain topics, we have Networks of Excellence related to unconventional reservoirs, drilling, hydraulic fracturing, microseismic, etc. These are all being developed to allow individuals to tap into knowledge/experience and seek answers to questions within our corporation globally. We have on-line access to innumerable technical journals. Type in a key word and you are going to get more information than you can absorb. It seems to me there is an ongoing need to try to figure out how we can better synthesize all of this information. It’s overwhelming for most and so the tendency is – I can’t go there, because even if the answer I seek is available, I’ll be forever trying to figure out how to get it quickly and easily. So Library Sciences, IT and how we can continue to deliver pertinent, effective and meaningful information to the people that need it in a timely fashion is going to be a big and ongoing challenge.
Larry we all have a driving goal in life. What has it been for you?
I think at the very root of that question, at least on the business side, is my desire to be a useful part of a team and help the exploration and development process along with the skills that I have. I’ve always enjoyed working with others on the problems they are trying to solve. That’s why I’ve gravitated to the roles I have. Maybe it’s a feel good thing. I’ve seen all manner of issues from mining and oil and gas industries. It’s really about trying to find effective, timely solutions and help people move forward. That’s probably why I like the more formal mentorship role that I am playing at ConocoPhillips now. It’s nice to give back a little bit. I was mentored when I was younger – I think it’s important. I’m sure I’ve probably made every mistake you can possibly make, so those of us that are getting up there in years can at least point out some of the pitfalls we’ve encountered. Young people will make their own mistakes and hopefully not repeat ours.
Obviously, on the personal side it’s just being a good husband, a good Dad and a good friend. That’s really what most people would say I’m sure.
What is it that you love the most about our industry?
Honestly when I think back to first year University, I thought astronomy was where I was going to end up. It turns out geophysics has been a darned good career choice for me. Spending those summer vacations looking for Lake Superior agates got me pointed in the right direction it seems.
This industry is full of innovative thinkers and very high technology. I like that I have been able to stay connected to field operations and not just the workstation at my desk. I like the challenges that have come my way over the last 36 years. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to travel and make various presentations across Canada, in the United States, South America and Europe. I love the camaraderie in the office and around social events that the geophysical community has to offer here. I enjoy curling and going to the Doodlespiel every year. It’s a chance to run into colleagues you don’t see all the time, have some laughs, tell the same old lies with the same group of friends you did the year before, and curl a bit as well. There is a lot to like about this business.
I’ve said what I love; I guess I should say a little about where I’m a bit disappointed. We are in the business of finding, producing and providing crucial products to society. We all make use of those products to provide the quality of life we enjoy. I wish that our industry historically had been more engaged with the public, with what we do, the services that we provide and the challenges that we face. Perhaps then, some of the issues the industry is facing at the moment, both environmentally and politically, would be better understood by the public at large. Things like hydraulic fracturing, groundwater contamination, pipelines, triggered seismicity and many others all find their way to the top of the news pages these days. We haven’t been very pro-active in this regard in my opinion. As an industry we just carried on and hoped the media storms would blow over. I see more engagement now, that safety and the environment are important to us all. I hope this new attempt at connecting with the public continues.
It’s an innovative business, lots of clever people, interesting problems to work on – it’s been fun.
As they say – talent and genius are ageless; let me ask you, at present no plans for retirement on the horizon?
Interesting that you should ask that question. Yes, I do have a plan toward that end. We’ll see how well the plan gets implemented! I’m pleased to say that the company I currently work for is open and willing to find solutions where people like myself, in our 60’s and closer to the end than to the beginning, are provided opportunities to slide into retirement as opposed to abruptly being dropped into it. That wasn’t always the case, but I think it’s a win-win for both the company and the employees who are trying to find a way to do a little bit less than they have in the past and yet still contribute in a meaningful way. So for me personally, I am slated to go to about 80% next year and we will see how that works out. If it’s good for me, and the company still wants me around, then I think I may do it again for another year. I do have lots of other interests and ideas that I would like to pursue however as I mentioned, so we’ll modify the plan as we go along. I am looking forward to trying the 4-day work week in 2013 to be sure.
Have you had some mentors or people you think influenced you during your career?
I’ve thought about this on and off over the years of course. There have been many, certainly family and friends. I think in the business world though, there are three that come to mind for me right away and they are all for different reasons.
The first that we talked a little bit about, primarily during the days of 4D seismic at Gregoire Lake, was Norm Pullin. For many, Norm was a gruff, hard-nosed, bull in a china shop, take no prisoners kind of guy; but Norm and I got along famously. It just turned out that way. So Norm was a good mentor for me. He taught me that there are things worth fighting for. There will be times and issues where you should hold your ground. You don’t have to get nasty about it; you don’t have to get silly about it; but you can be forceful when you think your position is the right one. The 4D timelapse seismic was one of those cases. It didn’t come easily. There were many that thought it was the stupidest idea and a complete waste of time and money. So that took some real work and a little spilled blood along the way. So, I thank Norm very much for helping me learn that lesson.
The second is Jim Gray. Jim Gray was the President and CEO of Canadian Hunter. While I obviously didn’t work with him directly, I did observe his tremendous leadership skills. He was a CEO that made it his task to know everyone by their first name. He was the kind of person that encouraged us to believe that while he had his job to do, you had your job to do; we were all in this together. He had our backs if we had his. I really admired Jim for those qualities and still do today, as he continues to demonstrate that leadership in all the many endeavors he is currently pursuing. I think if you get an opportunity to talk to others who also worked at Canadian Hunter, they will say that it really was a great place to spend the day. A lot of it had to do with that leadership.
Finally, the third person is one that came into my life not too long ago. That was Rob Shugg. Rob of course you will remember. It was my pleasure to be able to work with Rob at Burlington and ConocoPhillips before he passed away just a little over a year ago. There was a man that had tremendous physical challenges and yet he came to work every day with that great “every day is a gift” attitude. He just loved talking to me about AVO, pre-stack inversion, petrophysics – dreaming of the possibilities and all the things this type of information could do for the explorationist. He really taught me a lot about courage and I would urge readers to go back about a year in the RECORDER and take a look at the short article about Rob. You will find it inspirational. He was a tremendous colleague and good friend.
So, Norm was about innovation and tenacity; Jim, leadership and integrity; Rob, courage and dignity. Unfortunately, two of them are gone now but I owe them a lot for the influence they have had on me during my career. Thanks guys.
And one last question – what would be your message for young entrants in our industry?
Well, that’s a good question. I think I’ve perhaps already alluded to some of the things and skills that are important that will help young employees become better interpreters and explorationists. Those involve knowing about all aspects of your data, particularly acquisition and processing. In other words, what has happened to your data before you see it? The other message concerns thinking about what you are expecting during a particular process or manipulation of the data. If it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
Perhaps I might wax philosophical for just a minute as well. Do what you enjoy. As you can see from my career, I moved around from A to B a lot. Sometimes it was out of necessity, sometimes not; but I did always strive to find positions that I enjoyed. So don’t be afraid of change and trust in yourself and abilities. Change will come in our lives whether we want it to or not anyway.
Don’t burn bridges. As large as you think this industry is, it’s a small business. People know people. So if you feel you must, go in a room somewhere, close the door and kick the walls for a while but don’t burn bridges, there is no value in it.
Lastly, I’ll just add something that I try to remind myself of often. That is, there are always two sides to every issue. You are going to come across times when you think, “What are these people thinking, are they all crazy?” They have a perspective as well. They have different information, objectives and have a perspective on the topic as well, even though it might not be yours. Try to at least take a deep breath and understand the other position. That’s not to say that it’s not worthy to fight for the things that you think are important; however, remember that each issue can always be viewed from different points of view.
Keep those things in mind and you will probably do okay.
Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to sit down and chat. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you Satinder, it’s been my pleasure as well. I am honoured to think that there is an interest in my story.
I would like to just finish, if anyone is still reading, with a heartfelt “Thank you” to all of those that I’ve had the pleasure to work with and learn from over these past 37 years. Too many to mention and it’s all gone by very quickly. Thanks again to you all.