An interview with Lori Jones

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra | Photos courtesy: Al Bradshaw
Lori Jones

To the people who know her, and have worked with her, Lori Jones is a friend, a role model, a mentor, an inspiration, and a darn good explorationist. The RECORDER editors made a point of tracking her down, so that the broader CSEG community could get to know this remarkable person a bit better.

Photos courtesy: Al Bradshaw

[Oliver]: Let’s start with your educational background Lori. I know you were born in Toronto; did you end up going to U of T?

Actually no, I went to York University. I have an honours Earth Science Degree.

[Oliver]: You don’t run across too many geophysics people from York.

It’s a small Geophysics department, They specialize in planetary research - at least they did.

[Oliver]: In your early school years, were you always interested in science? Did you know you were headed into science?

Actually not, but I was always very good at sciences. I kept my marks up in math, chemistry and physics. I am a guest speaker for APEGGA. I go into schools a lot and try to inspire the High School girls specifically, to stay in the sciences even though they may not think that’s where they’re going to end up in life. During High School I had dreams of becoming an artist. I had been active in the art department and a lot of my work was displayed throughout the school; a couple of my pieces were stolen. That made me feel I was on the right career path, but then I applied to the Ontario College of Art. They told me that I wasn’t disciplined enough to enter their ranks, whatever that meant!

[Oliver]: That sounds backwards to me; I thought you had to be undisciplined to get into art college!

Well it was a real shock to me! So then I applied to the science stream at York University, and got accepted immediately. I have loved the Earth Science branch. I didn’t realize there would be job opportunities. I entered it just because my natural interests led me there. And it was actually quite a shock in third year when the oil industry came looking for summer students. All of a sudden I began realizing that there were tremendous job opportunities. When I graduated it was the peak of the industry in 1980, and I had 8 job offers. It was quite a heady experience for a fresh university graduate!

[Oliver]: So which company did you hire on with?

Chevron. I had 8 years at Chevron - a great training ground. Then I went to Petro-Canada, which of course horrified Chevron management. That I would even consider such a move! It was a good move and I stayed there until 1995, and then I joined Husky and was there from 1995 to 2000. Husky was also a great training ground for financial measures and engineering practices. I’m currently at AEC for the past year and a half. So I keep joking it was 8 years, 7 years, 5 years and now maybe 3 years! My patience seems to be narrowing as I get older.

[Satinder]: How has it been as a woman in the oil industry? Did you ever feel any disparity during your career?

The only time I’ve felt any disparity was involved in my reasons for leaving Chevron. Chevron at that time, although they had a lot of female professionals, never promoted a mother, with children at home, they would not put you into any management stream. I’m sure they’ve changed now.

[Satinder]: Apart from that, when it came to promotions, was there anything like, “This is a job for a man, not a woman.”

Not at all, not at all. I’ve made it very clear to my bosses all along that if they put me into a position then it has to be because I’m the best qualified, not because they’re trying to promote females. And I think they’ve always felt comfortable with that.

[Oliver]: I have noticed in the last few years there are more and more females graduating in Geophysics and I wonder if you see that same trend (female interest in the sciences) with your APEGGA volunteer work?

At the High School age, yes, certainly most of the keeners that come up after the talk would be females. They are bolder in High School than young males are, and they seem to be showing a genuine interest. When I was a team leader at Husky, for a while there, we used to joke about our minority one or two males working in my team, which would comprise of 10-12 people. It was very unusual. It just happened. I wasn’t preferentially trying to make a female team, they were the best qualified new grads and older.

[Satinder]: During your 21 years of service in the oil industry, what areas of geophysics have you touched? Were you always in interpretation, or have you been in processing or acquisition also?

At Chevron they train you in all forums. So I did do a stint in bird dogging and field operations, but actually I never did processing at Chevron. So I’ve mainly been an interpreter.

[Oliver]: That’s interesting; I always had the impression that processing was strong part of Chevron’s geophysical culture. I would have thought they’d put all interpreters through it.

Well normally they did and it’s not to say that I didn’t interact with them. I very quickly, probably within the first 4 years, migrated to the Foothills team, and 50% of my career I have worked in the foothills. So part of working the foothills is working with processors, and you spend a lot of time with each other. So I was never in the processing end directly, but I have always worked closely with that side of things. I really like being a generalist, bringing together the plays. I am an explorationist, not a specialist.

[Satinder]: Exploration in foothills is considered to be a challenge. What has been your motivation to stay with the foothill plays?

There is more room to be creative in your interpretation in the foothills. It is not as an exact science as with shallow gas plays. There are larger error bars in your interpretation and more risks to be assessed. There have been great changes going on in processing techniques and data acquisition. It was interesting to be a part of a team that could experiment with what was happening - depth migration, anisotropic effects, and so on. I have never been one who likes to look at straight railroad tracks - just straight seismic data. I like to have many complexities to be able to solve and to work closely with the structural geologist and bring together all the crucial elements like surface geology, well control, dip control, etc.

Lori Jones

[Satinder]: One main problem is that you don’t have much well control in the foothills. Isn’t that a challenge?

In working the Central Alberta foothills with Husky there is a lot of well control. It is also pretty well all 3D’d now so it was very interesting to see how wrong your interpretation could still be. Yes, it is a challenge even with good data, good well control - foothills is still a challenge. It never comes easy. Reservoir is always the main risk and only one risk is allowed - if you can’t feel confident about the presence of the structure or trap you can’t afford to drill it.

[Satinder]: How much do you think anisotropy effects are impacting foothills exploration?

In the areas where I have worked, it would not have changed my drilling locations. I always do the processing to try to see if there are any lateral offset variations that could happen; occasionally it has helped the imaging, but to date that wouldn’t have changed my locations.

[Satinder]: So it just gets more accuracy in your results rather than drastically changing your interpretation.

It’s all about getting a better image.

[Oliver]: There still seems to be a debate in geophysical circles regarding foothills imaging. On the one hand you have people who say you have to have depth imaging, you have to honour anisotropy, and then on the other hand you have people who say the velocity model is far too complex to define to get a proper depth image, so you’re fooling yourself. They see including anisotropy as adding another degree of freedom which is really a fudge factor and is not related to a physical property. How do you feel about that?

I find I always learn something from taking a few lines from a time interpretation into pre-stack depth. But not every line - just a drilling location. Routinely however I use depth modeling software like “Outrider”, which is that little 2D package. I try to understand what the structure looks like in depth. In many places like the BC foothills, you can’t make an assumption like the basement is a regional plane. In some places in Alberta you can, and then people trust their isocrons. I have never been one to trust the isocrons. Even if you do simple depth stretches with “Outrider”, your structure will change versus what an isocron would tell you. I am now using Petrel software that allows interpretation in 3-D and can do a 3-D depth stretch quickly. I find using interval velocities from well info is the best depthing tool. I’ve never found a depth migration to give the exact depths - but it will enhance the imaging. And it is iterative - you have to have your best time migrated product and start with that structure model and log data for the velocity model, because pre-stack depth migration is extremely sensitive to how correct your initial velocity model is. Always keep it simple.

[Oliver]: In the November issue of the RECORDER, there is an article written by Scott Pickford people on time-to-depth conversion, and the basic theme is that there is no one correct velocity field. You have an optimal velocity field for depth imaging, an optimal field for depth conversion, an optimal field for time imaging, and so on. Maybe we are naïve in expecting one velocity field to answer all the questions. Maybe that’s more or less what you are saying.

I would agree with that. The best pre-stack time migration velocities have no relationship to reality. I also find pre-stack depth migrations are not realistic velocities if you’re going for the best image - but it will not be depthed properly. The best depth map uses the real well log velocities in a vertical stretch mode.

[Oliver]: Going back to a comment you made that in parts of the Alberta foothills, people use the assumption of a flat, or quasi-flat, Cambrian as a guide. They believe the Cambrian should be flat. I remember Fred Kierulf, whom you probably worked with at Husky, questioning that. Couldn’t there be some stuff going on at that level?

I’m sure there is, and I’m sure I’ve seen it. I think it’s a good thing to question. There’s very little well control to that depth, so a flat Cambrian is a very bold assumption.

[Oliver]: What is your current role at AEC?

I am the team leader for what used to be New Ventures in the WCSB - to find new areas that AEC is not currently active in. However we have just been positioned within a business unit, the NW, and we are now the Northern Foothills team (Williston Lake and north to the Yukon) although we carry plays spread all over.

[Oliver]: How big is your team?

We have 4 geologists and geophysicists, 2 petrophysicists, 3 technologists, a reservoir engineer and landman. The petrophysicists work for other groups also and the land and engineering report through their functional bosses.

[Oliver]: Do you find that the team dynamics work well? Do you get pretty good integration of the different disciplines?

Oh yes, very much so! It’s been very interesting watching the industry. Back when I was at Chevron, geophysicists were here, geologists were there and engineers were on a different floor! Now it’s more functional that everybody’s working together towards a common goal.

[Oliver]: Through our interviews it seems some companies are more successful than others in getting that good environment. Some of the people we interviewed suggested that perhaps there still isn’t enough cross talk between geologists, geophysicists and engineers.

With Husky and AEC, it certainly has been a very good working model.

[Satinder]: Lori, you have been carrying out three full time jobs: you’re busy here at work, you have your kids to look after, and also operate a farm. How do you manage your time to cope with all that?

I don’t sleep very much. <laughter>

[Satinder]: Can you do that for a long time?

Well, yes. I seem to be the type of human being who doesn’t need much sleep. So that certainly helps. I make sure that I have quality care for my children. So that certainly takes my mind off them during the day when I am not with them. And I have excellent kids, and that makes it easier!

[Oliver]: I would imagine it’s very much a team thing with your husband too?

Oh definitely.

[Satinder]: Is he also a geophysicist?

Yes he is. He runs a company. He is a gravity and magnetic specialist. We met at Chevron.

[Satinder]: Have you been able to inspire Geophysics in your children?

Well my oldest is entering University next year and he’s achieved early admission into the Engineering faculty. I know my oldest four are planning to go into the sciences. So certainly there is a lot of science in my kids.

[Oliver]: Satinder, Lori’s got 7 children. Between the two of us we have 4. <laughter>

[Satinder]: During your service in the oil industry, who have been your sources of inspiration, people whose ideals and grace you have admired?

Dave Miles was the Chief Geophysicist for a while at Chevron, and he certainly was an inspiration to work for. He was the type of Manager that not only cared about technical competence, but cared about the individuals also. So I’ve always tried to remember that when working as a leader.

[Satinder]: Are there any geophysical techniques that you have incorporated into your interpretation work? In complex areas we’ve advanced from no migration, to time migration, to depth migration. You mentioned anisotropy; are there any other advances that have helped you?

Prior to depth migration, there was something we did at Chevron that worked well: we would make maps from stacks (stack data always ties) and then do map migrations. I’ve always wondered about trying this again. Maybe in some of these complex areas it could solve some geometries. Certainly, you can’t just blanket the foothills with 3D’s; in some areas it’s going to be possible, but in most areas you can’t do it. Can’t afford it. Even if you could afford it, you could never get it to process properly. And routinely you need the tight G.I. and S.I. and the long aperture for migrating properly even to get an image. All of that is impossible to capture with a 3-D.

[Oliver]: I imagine in foothills exploration, successful techniques would involve incorporating good geology, good geological models.

Yes. I work very closely with a specialized structural geologist and then we go back and forth. All your information is critical. Going out and doing field mapping and getting subtle dip information from the surface can actually make or break an interpretation! I’m also using gravity in the foothills. That’s an extra tool I always use to help substantiate what the seismic is telling us, or to lead us into areas where there’s no seismic data. It can tell you where structures are as long as there is a density contrast. But you have to do ground work to get the mgal spatial resolution you need and it has to be processed properly. It’s cost effective and it gives a great 3-D view of the underlying geometries.

[Oliver]: I was thinking about that. Quite often when you have carbonate outcropping you get NR data, so you would think having gravity would help. I used to know something about gravity, but then I graduated!

And never used it! Where there is no expression on the surface, sometimes you have a hidden structure and you’ll never see that unless you use a tool like gravity. It is a good reconnaissance tool. You’re not going to drill on gravity but it can certainly stop you from drilling a D&A well especially if it doesn’t agree with your seismic interpretation. It also can pick up shear zones and lateral ramps that somehow elude our seismic method.

[Oliver]: You and your husband operate a 3 section farm. Could you tell us about that?

It’s probably one reason why I’ve felt comfortable having a large family. I couldn’t have done that in the city. It’s just a different environment out there close to High River. There are other large families out there on farms. It’s been a struggle, but now that we’re over the big hurdle and haven’t gone bankrupt, it’s been a successful struggle. Our children have all benefited from it. Even if we don’t continue farming, it’s been the best place to raise the family. It’s taught them mechanical skills, self-respect and many other capabilities.

[Oliver]: What kind of farm is it?

Mostly grain, but we also have cattle.

[Oliver]: How did your crop fare with the dry weather this year?

This year was alright. It wasn’t a great crop, but the year before we got hailed out and we had absolutely no crop. That was hard.

[Oliver]: I visited a farm west of Vulcan right in the middle of this year’s dry spell, and they told us that if they just got a rain within the next couple of days, the seeds would set and they’d be OK, and then it happened to rain the next day. So I guess it worked out OK. But relative to you, what I was thinking was, it’s stressful enough in the oil industry with its ups and downs, without taking on farming too!

Farming is more stressful! So I think I can handle work place stress a little better than people who haven’t been exposed to the really high stress in their lives.

[Oliver]: Have the ups and downs in the oil and gas industry been out of phase with the farming highs and lows, or have they coincided?

There have been periods when both crunched together. I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve always been employed and have not been laid off in one of those down periods. My husband’s company, being a service company, sometimes swings down along with the oil industry, and that affects him more so than me. It is actually hardest on me when he is up and flying off in Africa or Cuba during seeding and harvest.

Lori Jones

[Oliver]: Outside of family, farm and work, do you have any hobbies that you pursue?

Not since I’ve had kids! <laughter> I can play the piano and guitar but I don’t do that any more. The kids are all playing the piano. I teach them. We ski as a family; we hike as a family. We have some placer claims in central BC, so we go camping there, and do the placer gold mining for fun.

[Oliver]: Interesting. Regarding music, High River is a sort of hot bed of music.

It is actually! High River’s High School Band won the Canadian gold medal. My son was in that band and they went to Toronto to compete and the High River Band won the number one award across Canada. They’ve got incredible band teachers.

[Oliver]: I listen to CKUA radio and I’ve noticed there are a lot of bands that come out of the area south of Calgary. You know, Ian Tyson, he’s famous of course, but all these other people - I don’t know who they are, but they sound great.

It’s true, there’s something about Southern Alberta, maybe it’s the ranching style of life. There are a lot of jazz bands too.

[Oliver]: Your career is far from over, but looking back, would you do anything differently?

I have no regrets. I do not think I would do anything differently. I have been pretty pleased with it and happy where it’s gone. I wouldn’t do anything differently. I’m not aiming to be a CEO. I am really happy to be at a team leader level, because I can still do technical work too. Once you get up higher you can’t do any hands on work anymore, and I wouldn’t like that. So this is really great that I can steer a group plus also do technical work. It’s ideal.

[Satinder]: What words of advice would you have for fresh talent about to enter our profession?

Well, this industry will be necessary for our society, ‘til probably the middle of this century. Especially when it comes to gas.

[Satinder]: You don’t think oil is going to dry up until then?

<laughter> Oil will decrease, but gas will bloom a little bit more. Geophysics is more than just the oil industry. Geophysics is mining, geophysics is understanding the universe, for goodness sakes! So there are a lot of options. There is a whole range of things you can get into under the slate of geophysics.

[Oliver]: Have you ever done any international work or have you mostly stayed with the Canadian foothills?

At Petro-Canada I was on the Algeria asset team for about 3 years. I met the Algerians here in Calgary and once in London, but I never did actually go into Algeria. Perhaps, had I stayed at Petro-Canada, I would have ventured that. That’s a big decision, being a female. They are good people, the Algerians, and I enjoyed working with them. But I worried about working and living in their general society.

[Oliver]: Do you get into other areas of geophysics like reservoir characterisation?

Some of that when at Husky, because we were doing foothills field development, but not in exploration. We have two petrophysicists in our group and with the type of reservoirs in the foothills, usually very tight and fractured reservoirs, it is difficult to predict their behaviour. You have to work very closely with your rock people: your geologists, your petrophysicists, your reservoir engineers. And even for exploration it’s even more important to be able to run proper scoping economics.

[Oliver]: Is there a general trend in the foothills to drill deeper wells?

I don’t believe so. If anything, some of the recent field discoveries have been moving to the shallower Cretaceous structures.

[Satinder]: I think the trend is more towards horizontal wells.

Yes, for the central Alberta foothills because you have an actual reservoir zone that you can chase, you can do a horizontal. In other places like the Sikanni area of BC, there is no real package to chase, it’s just gross rock volume, it doesn’t necessarily make sense. So it depends on the play type. A number of Cardium horizontal wells have been tried in the foothills, but weren’t very successful. It’s hard to stay in the Cardium, when you’re in a foothills environment.

[Oliver]: Notwithstanding your delinquency, how do you find the CSEG?

REALLY! Did I forget to renew my membership?!?

[Satinder]: Yes, I’m afraid we had to use the SEG to track you down, not the CSEG.

Oh, that’s terrible! It’s not even a big fee.

[Oliver]: Well, anyway, how do you find the CSEG? Is it performing its role in terms of disseminating technical information; is it a good technical society?

Yes, I believe so. Right now though, when they are trying to get more into the legal aspects of the profession, it’s a little touchy and dicey and we should be careful. I think they’re trying to write up a common license agreement for seismic data. Let’s not be too hasty. I have heard a lot of arguments. Nobody has the same point of view, so it’s a hard challenge to come up with something everybody is going to be happy with that will work for all occasions.

But I think it is a good society. I don’t participate in a lot of things, like I should, but that’s just because I’m very busy.

[Satinder]: I can imagine that! Satinder and I are on the technical committee for the upcoming CSEG convention. Every year there’s an effort to get more case study papers from the oil companies, with limited success. I notice how many case study papers there are at the CSPG convention, and I wonder why we don’t get the same level of participation on the geophysical side?

Good question. I question that too. I tend to enjoy the CSPG a lot better for that reason, all the case study papers. I know myself, when I have worked on a really neat project, that I want to share, it’s not the type of information that the company wants you to do a paper to the general public on. So that’s the problem. It’s hard to give back to the society when you’ve got a competitive environment. I find the CSPG is also capturing more and more of the academics for this same reason. It is hard in our lean environment to find the time even if you were allowed.

I do make an effort to give back to the community through my APEGGA work, going into the schools. Maybe the CSEG could contribute more to the schools or make its members aware of what it has to offer. APEGGA’s great, they supply all sorts of kits, pencils, bookmarks and pamphlets to take with you; they have all sorts of science fairs; they are really active and the CSEG should be more so. I know when I go into a classroom, I have to make all my own overheads. There’s nothing from APEGGA that is specifically on geophysics - maybe the CSEG could put together a classroom kit. Kids are really excited because they’ve seen the big vibrator trucks out in the fields. I start showing them what these trucks, like dinosaurs, roaming the countryside in clusters of 4 actually do, and they all enjoy understanding that. So I think there’s a lot of room for a CSEG classroom package.

[Oliver]: I was on a CSEG committee, the now-defunct Superfund committee. We as a society provided seed money, along with a couple of oil companies including PanCanadian and PetroCan, to something called the Oil Game. It was very well designed to fit into the provincial curriculum, and allowed high school kids to play out the various roles involved in oil exploration. It has apparently been very well received, and is being used in many high schools throughout Alberta, and even a few outside of the province. I believe we also helped out the Science Foundation with a classroom module for younger kids demonstrating some basic geophysical stuff - I can’t remember the details on that one. So the CSEG does make efforts, but there’s always room for improvement.

[Satinder]: Lori, I thank you very much for letting us come here, talk to you, know more about you and get your views on different things.

[Oliver]: Yes, thank you. Talking with you has been very inspirational. I sometimes feel that I’m too busy, and don’t have enough time for everything....but I don’t have a long drive in to work, I don’t have 7 kids, and I definitely don’t have a farm! But I’m sure I need more sleep than you!

You’re very welcome, and thank you for the opportunity — it’s been fun.


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