Dr. Mike Batzle passed away on January 10, 2015. As a geophysicist, it is a great loss to our profession, as Mike was a wealth of knowledge on many topics and was a pioneer in laboratory measurements of fluids and rock properties. On a personal level, it is an even greater loss, as Mike brought a personality, sense of humor, and humility to an industry that is, at times, in desperate need of it.
Mike was probably one of the most humble people you could possibly meet in life, let alone as a geophysicist. At the Green Center at Colorado School of Mines (CSM), where Mike had taught since his ‘retirement’ from ARCO in 1994, he would introduce himself to new students as “the janitor they keep locked in the basement”. I thought he was serious until someone told me he was a PhD Geophysicist from MIT, a Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal award winner from the SEG, and one of the fathers of the Batzle-Wang fluid properties equation. This was a man who dressed for the lab, so much so that while at ARCO, people thought he would show up naked for casual Friday.
Dr. Batzle was a consummate workaholic who lived most of his life in his lab, in the classroom, and in the field. He gave so much to the discipline of geophysics, but especially to his students at CSM and around the world.
The science of geophysics is not the same without him.
The CSEG RECORDER is reprinting this interview with Dr. Batzle from March 2006 in memory of Mike. It is also a great reminder of his personality, sense of humor, and views on the profession… many of which now seem prescient almost 8 years later.
– Kurtis Wikel, CSEG Director of Education and former student of Mike Batzle
Mike Batzle is a Professor at the Colorado School of Mines, and has named his research centre as ‘Centre of Rock Abuse’. Here, Mike and his students pursue fundamental research into detection of fluids, especially hydrocarbons, in rocks and then try and integrate their results with seismic data. Recipient of the SEG Virgil Kaufman Gold Medal for his work on ‘petrophysical transforms that estimate elastic properties of pore-fluid saturants, Mike was in Calgary for conducting a course on Fluids Class and rock properties and advanced techniques, for the CSEG Doodletrain in November 2005.
With his modest self, usually dressed in a casual attire, Mike is full of humour, and this can be sensed in the excerpts from the interview we conducted with him. Penny Colton helped us with capturing a few snapshots during the interview and also had an occasional question or two for Mike.
Mike, let’s begin by asking you about your educational background and your work experience.
Work is a pretty strong term. Education – I was a young punk at the University of California at Riverside. I played football there, that’s one reason I have a bad knee. Then, before I went off to grad school,I asked the local professors, they all said “Head East young man”. So I went to MIT, That's about as far East as you can go. As an undergrad. I was a geology major, geophysics minor. Then, when you get to MIT, you show up in Earth Science Department and you get this piece of paper and there are boxes – so what do you want to be? So I could have been a geologist, geochemist, oceanographer, meteorologist, I could be doing “Mike Batzle Accuweather”. But I checked the geophysics box and that is how I got into geophysics.
So where did you pick up your first job after that?
I never really had a real job, I went straight to work for ARCO.
Yes, well that’s a job then.
They paid me, yes.
For how long were you there?
And after that you went to –
School of Mines.
When was that?
So why did you quit Arco and join the CSM?
Officially I was retired, so they – during one of the numerous re- disorganizations that they had at ARCO, I convinced them that they ought to just go ahead and ship the lab up to the School of Mines. So the good news was the School of Mines got a whole set of laboratory equipment, the bad news was I went with it. So they were stuck with me as well as with the equipment.
You came from an oil company to a university, so tell us about the differences in the work culture that you perceived?
The easiest set of differences is at Arco I was overpaid and under worked – at School of Mines I am overworked and underpaid.
That’s a short way of putting it, but I request you to elaborate just a little more there.
Arco actually was a pretty open company. You aren’t pushed around too much or put in a little tiny box. As long as you made contacts, you could work at a variety of stuff. By nature I am sort of a busy body anyway. So I knew almost everybody at the company. And then I go off to the School of Mines. The real problem with the School of Mines is it is too much like a candy store. There is just all kinds of stuff going on, and I am a guy that can’t say “no”. It’s all the way from water resources research, rock properties, summer field camp, all this stuff is going on. So the trouble is now, it is a ninety hour work week and especially during this semester.
But you are enjoying it all the same?
That’s the trouble. This is so much fun I can’t bear to say “no”. I probably shouldn’t let them at the Department hear that.
Good, could you tell us a little about the work you did at ARCO?
Same stuff, I squeezed rocks.
That is a very general way of putting it, I would like a little more detail there.
They were setting up a geophysical rock properties lab. The purpose is pretty much like we’ve got now. Primarily it was for things like hydrocarbon indicators, amplitude vs. offset. We had a very strong group at ARCO with Herb Swan, John Castagna, and several other people; a very strong AVO group. I think at the 2005 SEG John is going to get an award for the stuff he did.
Yes, the Reginald Fessenden award.
And we received awards before for that group. But ARCO managed to trash that group. It was one of the leading groups in AVO in the industry, and they managed to trash it. But that is sort of typical of oil companies being cyclical. Also, we flipped over. The company flipped from being an ‘allocated’ research company. This meant corporate would send money down to the troops and we would do research. Every year you were given a budget. Then it went to a project oriented plan with oriented research. So each year, each budget cycle, you had to go out and get projects from affiliates and operating units. Like I said before – I am sort of a busy body, so I actually did pretty well. We had money coming in from various groups: we did equity work for Alaska, we had a bunch of stuff from Asia, Houston – Vastar – which was ARCO’s subsidiary in Houston, we did a bunch of AVO analysis for them. Then on the reservoir side, we were on the hall with offices and labs that were reservoir engineering labs. So when they had stuff that needed to be done that our equipment could do, we did it. Things like pore space compressibility, fracture analysis, and developing log analysis procedures for completions. When you need to do a gravel pack or something like that, you had to make the decision right there, so you had to have the analysis of the logs. What flow-rate formation could take before you had well bore problems, etc. We worked on that for the reservoir engineering side. So it was a small enough company that you got to mix around and do a bunch of stuff, both reservoir engineering, seismic end of things; fluid properties, rock properties.
Now you are leading the Center for Rock Abuse at the School of Mines.
Rock Squeezer. This lab symbol is Katie Baker’s design, one of the graduate students. Well she was an undergraduate then. If you really wanted good web sites, you hire an undergraduate to do it. They are the creative ones. And Katie, she graduated and went off to Japan for a year and has come back as a graduate student. One interesting thing about graduate students right now is the oil companies are going through a feeding frenzy. Most students have four job offers waiting.
Ya, but there you can get a little spooked by it. You know a couple of years ago they were having a hard time finding jobs and all of a sudden the recruiters are fighting over them. So it’s a good thing, let’s hope it doesn’t follow history this time where they were hiring a bunch of people —
Mike can you tell us about the type of work you carry out in your lab where you abuse the rocks?
We have a bunch of projects going on. The biggest source of money is the fluids consortium that I do with Dr. De-Hua Han down at the University of Houston. We have about twenty companies who are sponsors. One interesting thing is when we first started off, being a sponsor of our consortium was the kiss of death. The first members of our consortium were Arco, Amoco, Mobil, Texaco, Phillips, Saga, etc. Almost a one-to-one correlation with the companies that first joined our consortium and are now gone, been swallowed up and disappeared. My question: is it a causal relationship between their supporting our work and their disappearance?
Initially, it was actually a pretty easy sell, because it was ‘fluids’ project and we said “okay we are going to get a bunch of fluids and measure them and build up a big data base”. We ran around, collected fluids, and we didn’t charge very high prices, and so we got the consortium started pretty easily. Then, you know, companies have disappeared a lot, but on the other hand we’ve gone more international, so now we’ve got sponsors like North Hydro, Statoil, PetroBras, Chinese National Off- shore Oil Company, Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals , and then software companies, like Veritas and Hampson- Russell, Jason, and Paradigm, companies like that have come in, so that actually our membership stayed about the same.
Right, it’s a change, but overall it’s the same.
And it’s kind of strange for the school. Our long-term stable support has come from industry. Most of the other groups on campus, like the chemical engineers, chemists, civil engineering, most of their support, what they consider long-term, has come from the Government. It is kind of an interesting distinction between the Earth Sciences at CSM, that includes geology and petroleum engineering, they are mostly supported by industry and the other groups, like the engineering, chemical engineering, metallurgy and others, most of their big grants come from Government. In the Geophysics Department for example, you have Reservoir Characterization Project, Center for Wave Phenomenon, Center for Gravity, Electrical & Magnetic Studies, all of them are being supported by industry.
Now the research work in your lab, is it mostly experimental work or do you also work on theoretical models that explain the results or something like that?
The motto of our lab: RATIONE NON IMPETITUS – that means we are unencumbered by the thought process. So we tend to be measurement geeks, and yes, most of the time, we are unencumbered by theory. Most of the time, we take the measurements and try to figure out what it means. In contrast, taking a theory and designing a measurement around it, then we work with guys like Steve Pride at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. and others. They to do the theoretical aspects and we do the measurement aspects of it primarily.
Do you get enough industry funding for your research?
In general yes. The problem is, we get funding, but when they actually give you money, they want you to do something. That’s terribly inconsiderate.
So, they should give you the money and forget about it.
Excellent idea. Why not just give us some money and get lost? Actually, we do spend a lot of our time trying to think up excuses why we haven’t done what we said we were going to do.
Why? The rocks didn’t give you the results that you wanted?
Well, they broke, the equipment broke, or we didn’t squeeze all the rocks.
Reflecting back on your geophysical journey so far, what problem would you rate as holding the most difficult challenge and also turned out to be your most notable contribution?
Well, let’s see. Before it was getting up to speed on the fluid properties. Such as measurement of fluids and coming up with systematics of the fluids. That was interesting because you had to translate. There is a lot of data out there in the chemical and in the petroleum engineering areas, but you had to know how to translate that from petroleum engineering talk into geophysical talk. Recently, the challenge has been getting data from the broadband low frequency device. From a technical point of view, a major stumbling block was getting it up and functioning if we can trust the data. Going all the way from seismic frequencies to ultra sonic frequencies. Low frequencies, that’s been a big technical hurdle. Yet this is particularly applicable to stuff like the heavy oils and shale properties.
From a non technical point of view, there is good news and bad news about being supported by Industry. The good news is: once they hand you this pile of money, they don’t care how you spend it. So the consortium comes in and they say “okay you’ve done a reasonable job” and they pay the consortium fees and then you are off doing your research again. If you go to government grants, the problem there, is they don’t seem to care what you do as long as you filled out the budget forms correctly. In such a grant proposal for example, you have to predict which motels you are going to stay at three years from now and how you are going to spend your money at a conference X.
But on the other hand the bad news is, the Industry tends to be secretive. You make some measurements for them on their samples, they don’t want you to tell anybody and the worst part of it is, they may just send you samples and they won’t tell you where they are from or what they are. More recently we gotten samples in of heavy oil sands, but the contract we had to sign in order to get these samples said that we wouldn’t even tell what country they came from. We can only say they come from the planet Earth. So that is the issue with Industry contracts. The good side with the Government contract is that they want you to be absolutely, positively open on everything, which is scientifically what you are supposed to do. So there are good and bad sides, just like everything else, right?
John Castagna in his citation for the SEG award you got, says that you are very modest and you have refused to play the publication game. I would like your comment on that.
I have this running engagement with some. They publish everything on a week’s notice. But, it is best to be extremely open. I am having this argument with Dehua Han. If you are going to publish something, it ought to be useful. That is my theory. You shouldn’t say “okay, it’s Tuesday”, let’s publish the fact that it is Tuesday. So as a result, I tend to squirrel things away and scrape it all together and say “okay this is the useful pile”, it is now worth publishing. And that is probably a bad strategy, most people would say “okay here is this useful pile, let’s chop it up into ten pieces and get ten publications out of it". But, that is just my strategy.
That’s the way you take it. The idea is that if you don’t report the findings of your work, somebody else will. So it is a good idea to, you know, as you go along, keep on publishing.
If somebody else reports it, it means somebody else is getting some use out of it, right?
There are three geophysicists with whom you have published some excellent work, John Castagna, Zee Wang and De-Hua Han. Are there others also?
John Scales recently has been the one I have been working with mostly, doing dielectric constants or fiber optics. He is with CSM in the Physics Department now. He has got a bunch of really cool toys. Mostly laser systems and micro wave optic systems, so we are getting into the anisotropy of oil shales properties, whether you have water-wet or non water-wet rocks. We are also doing a lot of work now with Manika Prasad. She is very smart and she is trying to do half time with CSM, half time at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. She is running into problems. It’s okay with us at CSM that she does it half time one place and half at the other. But it seems to be a big issue with Bombay. Apparently, and you probably know this first hand, the Indians inherited bureaucracy from the British and elevated it into an art form so if there isn’t a form to do something, you can’t do it. And that is the problem she is running in to. She would like to spend time in both places, but it hasn’t been done before. She is doing exactly the kind of stuff we need to have done, including clay properties. She is a perfect fit into our consortium, but she is having a hard time organizationally getting things going in the Indian Institute of Technology.
So you think, because she is working with you she will be able to settle all this?
We hope so. Actually we have a big pile of equipment we are trying to ship over there to her, but so far they haven’t given her a spot to ship it to.
That is strange because to get free equipment should be taken with open arms rather than creating problems.
No, she sent us a diary of her first couple of months when she moved back to the Indian Institute. “Week #1, ate mangoes, waited for the monsoons to start, filled out forms; week #2, ate more mangoes waiting for the monsoons to start, met with a couple of bureaucrats, week #3, ah !, the monsoons at last started, but now I am eating more mangoes and meeting with more bureaucrats” so that it goes on and on and on for two or three months like that. So she is running into problems and I hope it doesn’t defeat her spirit because she is doing all kinds of really cool stuff. We don’t want her to get depressed because she is just running into so many bureaucratic problems.
Are there a lot of students who work with her over there?
Since she is waiting to get funding and the resources to start working with students there, she has no students at IIT yet. She sent us at least one student, Arpita, who is now at CSM. But everybody in our Department loved working with her. All the students just were tickled pink, and visited her so much that she was getting upset that they spent that much time in her office. She would go off places to try to hide. She was becoming so popular.
Attenuation is very difficult to measure, how do you go about quantifying that? How does it change with pressure and fluid content?
Attenuation right now is probably the same place that AVO was at 25 years ago. Everybody kept saying “hey, you know this is probably a really cool idea” and theoretically, maybe it should work nicely. But the measurements, especially the seismic measurements, weren’t up to speed. Now the thing that is going on with attenuation, the big issue, is that nobody is quite sure what the mechanisms are. At least with amplitude vs. offset you could say “ah, you got Zoeppritz equations, and if you change the angle then the amplitudes are going to change. Here we are at a disadvantage that we don’t even know what is causing the losses and so it is hard to model and interpret data. The most sexy causes are fluids sloshing around in the pore spaces. With fluids sloshing around, you can get a handle on the fluid type, the viscosity or mobility, so it has a lot of promise. But exact mechanisms aren’t clear. Squirt flow vs. Biot-type mechanisms vs. the more global fluid sloshing around. And then there are also losses which people don’t consider, inside the fluids themselves. There are losses inside the shales. So, here you got sand with attenuation upon which everybody is focusing, but there are also losses above and below reservoirs, and mechanisms inside these shales are probably completely different than inside the sand; or at least on a different scale. There may be some fluid motion involved, but it is on a different scale. So we are at a disadvantage theoretically because we don’t know what the mechanisms are.
There are about 653 theories, and so how do you sort out the different theories? That’s what our job is as experimentalists. The theories, how do we determine not only which ones seem to be working, but which parameters you put into each theory. So the task is considerably different.
The other issue is that by their very nature, attenuation and dispersion are strongly frequency dependent. This means you can’t do standard laboratory ultrasonics: that’s megahertz frequency. Our seismic data range is obviously much lower, so that’s the major technical difficulty. All these types of low frequency measurements were started with Jim Spencer basically, back at Chevron in the 80s. Then during one of Chevron’s numerous re- disorganizations Jim Spencer was outsourced and his equipment was lying dormant. Now they’ve re- hired him and it’s all coming back to life at Chevron. He is now upgrading equipment he was working with twenty years ago.
So, it looks like we’ve got a couple of sets of equipment going now, so maybe we can start to close in on the exact parameters that are important in the loss mechanisms; that are important not only in the sands but in shales. From a seismic viewpoint, it still is up in the air. I can’t give you an answer as to whether we will be able to get a good estimate of attenuation from seismic data. Our biggest hope is probably time lapse, because all the scatters and things outside the reservoir will largely stay constant. The reservoir may change: for example, you may have gas coming out of solution, so all of a sudden, attenuation in the reservoir changes. but everything else stays the same. So that may be our first big step if we can accomplish it.
That is interesting.
So that’s one project that Chevron is working on. We plan to do some joint measurements with Chevron.
Your lab has the capability of examination of rock samples at very low frequencies as low as 3 Hz. or something like that?
From around three Hertz up to a megaHertz. We’ve got a zone in the resonance band, something like 5000 hertz to 200,000, that we currently skip. John Scales and others have resonance techniques to measure that.
With these measurements the results will be closer to the seismic analysis. What do you say to that?
Right. The mechanisms will be the same.
That’s right, so how much have you accomplished in this?
Excellent question to which I have no excellent answer. I think we have begun to sort this stuff out. One of the major changes, one of the things we have worked out is that there is a global fluid motion. It’s not crack to crack, pore to pore so much. Rather, it’s fluid moving on the order of meters. Actually, it’s not so much bulk fluid moving, it’s the pressure equilibrium on the order of meters at seismic frequencies. At first, we didn’t know what was going on. We saw these strange results. But then, we managed to twist it to our own evil purposes. We discovered that it was the boundary problems and fluid was moving in and out of the boundaries of the sample. But that is what happens in the earth, if you have a partially saturated reservoir, heterogeneously saturated, fluid is moving in and out and around these patches. Now this mechanism is beginning to take hold in the theoretical range too. Such smart fellows as Jose Carcione, Boris Gurevich, and Steve Pride, are beginning to pick up on the fact that global macroscopic fluid flow is causing the major attenuation. Not so much the microscopic flow. That’s interesting because they are progressing in this direction theoretically, independent of us. Yet we are coming together toward the same point.
Can you measure any electrical properties with the rocks at the same time?
We don’t measure very many electrical properties. Gary Olhoeft, who is just across the hall does most of that. He has got a set-up that does complex electrical property measurements over an extreme broad frequency range, all the way from ground penetrating radar to low frequency propagation.
Well, we thought with the oil shale examples you were talking about in the class today, some of the electrical heating properties —
We did just finish a study of the oil shale’s dielectric properties with John Scales. The same sample that I passed around. He measured not only the dielectric constant, but also the dielectric anisotropy, at 100 gigahertz. Now you might say “whow that’s real high frequency” except that the wave length is about the same as ultrasonic wave lengths that you get in a normal ultrasonic set-up. So these two devices are measuring the same scales. That’s what makes it kind of cool. So for gigahertz range, most of our measurements have been done in John Scale’s lab on stuff like heavy oils and oil shales. One heavy issue with the heavy oils is that that they are water wet. Around each grain is a coating of water which is good news from a processing point of view. You can take the whole thing, once they scoop it out of the ground from surface mining operations and just basically dump it in a bowl, heat it up, swirl it around with a few chemicals and the sand falls out, the oil rises to the surface. You go to other heavy oil areas, you won’t have this water wet rim, and the process can be completely different. The dielectric properties could be the way to get to that sort of information. So yes, I think it is going to be a big issue with things like heavy oils and oil shales. At the moment we rely on somebody else to make those measurements.
Any chance that the same sample can be used?
Oh we are, yes. We take a slice out of the core, give them a slice and we take a slice. And some of the stuff has been measured a long time ago too. It’s back to this issue that oil shales went through this boom and bust and all this data is sitting in a big pile in the basement of our libraries. A lot of it includes electrical properties. But the original guys have gone off, they got fired, layed off, they have gone off to do other things, died, retired. So there is already this big pile of information that just needs to be resurrected.
You would be aware that seismic processors carry out Q compensation in seismic data processing. The Q factors that are computed are usually from spectral ratios and of course there are some other methods. Do you recommend any way of helping that correction, i.e. – seismic data, from your angle?
No, that’s beyond me. What we can measure is the background shale Q’s. In some cases, it looks like we have substantial attenuation in shales. We’ve made a few measurements and it seems to be a strong function of porosity. So very hard shales, low porosity shales, have very low attenuation. High porosity shales have high attenuation. At this moment, that’s about as far as we have gone. This is Ronny Hofmann’s thesis topic, and he knows far more than I about it. One interesting feature is from a fluid flow point of view, everybody is interested in the sand, because those are sexy. But from a Q compensation point of view, you don’t care about the sands because they are such a tiny part of the stratigraphic section. Almost all the Q that you are trying to compensate is in the shales. So the question that we’ve got, and the thing that is tough to address, is connection with the properties of shales. A big problem there being the low permeability. It takes just about forever for the sample to come into equilibrium. We are just getting started on the shales and this is going to go on probably for years and years and years. Right at the moment, it is beyond me to say how we are going to apply this to Q compensation or use it to modify any seismic package - that is over my depth.
That would be kind of cool; down the road maybe – five years, ten years?
At the moment I am just putting data into processing stream, I am clueless.
At the moment there is some debate on two things. First if Gassmann equation accurately predicts the effects of fluid saturation on seismic properties (clastics or carbonates, or whatever), and second if lab-measured seismic properties in fluid saturated rocks truly re p resent them at seismic frequencies. Could you clarify this?
There are a couple of things going on. One is that Gassmann developed his theory like any other theory, and by necessity, it has a bunch of assumptions like any other theory. When you violate those assumptions, it doesn’t tend to work so well. If you make the measurements at a broad frequency band, as is Mila Adam, another graduate student working on this, she discovered that there is a change in the shear modulus. Gassmann’s relations say this can’t occur. On the other hand, these shear changes can be compensated by frequency and density effects. So for the ultrasonic frequencies, there may be off-setting penalties. In such cases, Gassmann looks like it works nicely ultrasonically, but actually not. That’s sort of data that she has coming in now.
The other basic issues with Gassmann, are that parameters that you put in are coupled. You can’t just change the porosity without changing the dry modulus. And mineral modulus is a big hang-up. It is almost embarrassing. In most all cases when people are using it on any clastics, they just use quartz. Rocks are almost never just quartz – they are mixtures of clays and quartz and all kinds of stuff. So now we are backing Manika. Manika is making a bunch of specific measurements on clays, so maybe we’ll get a good handle on clay properties. That way we can actually put them properly in Gassmann equation. So those are the kinds of things that we are working on with Gassmann. Gassmann is a really beautiful equation, because you can get your hands around it so easily. There is only a few parameters that go in and make the exact prediction that you want to have. So it’s a nice thing to code up, it’s a nice thing to play with, but what people tend to forget is that there is a lot of assumptions, and a lot of the parameters only are guessed at. Previously we didn’t have to worry about it. Why? Because previously seismic data stunk, you could only get images out of seismic data. But now as the seismic data quality improves you start to see the discrepancies between predicted and the actual data that is coming out. So I think under the right conditions with the assumptions all valid, Gassmann should work fine. It’s just that under normal conditions at least some of these functions are being violated. Every theory has assumptions.
When the fluid content in the subsurface changes, the seismic amplitudes also change, so your work would have a lot of 4D type of applications. Is your lab engaged in many such projects, is any work being done on data that you may have received from elsewhere?
For most of the 4D projects, we only get the rocks to do the measurements on. Then it’s applied by other people on their 4D projects. That is usually what happens with us. We do have a couple of cases, like that Chevron project, in the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, where they are collecting time lapse data and then we are trying to do the calibration on it. De-Hua just got a set of data from the Troll Field in the North Sea that he is working on that is going to be a time lapse analysis, and Schiehallion Field, we did time lapse analysis on some of that data. Still, in most of those it’s a calibration operation. Now one problem is, at some point, the change in the rock properties get smeared by the acquisition and processing issues with 4D. Because you have to do a lot of manipulation; they do trace equalization and all this other processing to get the section to look like what they want. How much of that is overwhelming your real signal – change in rocks and fluids? Initially, for example in the Weyburn Field, that RCP was looking at, I was sitting in the back of the crowd as they were proposing doing this field. It is a very hard reservoir, tough carbonate rocks, deep, a thin reservoir. I am basically sitting back there thinking to myself “There ain’t no way you are ever going to see a 4D response in that”. Then they went ahead and collected the data and the data turned out just great. So my major contribution there was – keep my big mouth shut (which is frequently my major contribution, actually). There were some very bright students working on this one, like Leo Brown. And the CO2 injection in Weyburn, just lit up like a candle on the time lapse data.
Ronny has worked on the Sleipner Field data. In that case in particular, it looks like the problem is that the models are wrong. So several people have tried to make estimates of how much CO2 has gone in to the sand. But they have been off either by a factor of 100% too high or a factor of 50% too low. It was a case of where they were using too simple an application – Gassmann – and not realizing the fluid distribution in the formation was going to have an effect. It is a question of putting patches of CO2 on one level or another and what is the distribution. Now we are getting back to the Gassmann assumptions. If you use it correctly it is probably giving you the right answer, but you have to know how you are going to apply it all over the entire formation.
What are the challenges still facing us in the area of fluid properties in rocks?
Right now, the biggest challenge probably is high temperature, high pressure. We just haven’t been able to get up there yet. The data there tends to be more straight forward. At high temperature, high pressure fluids are acting more smoothly because you are away from critical point. One big issue is things like heavy oils, because heavy oils don’t know if they are solids or liquids. This makes a big difference on seismic data. Are you propagating through a solid or are you propagating through a liquid ? Then there are things like asphaltines. A lot of heavy oils have asphaltines, resin and similar stuff. And now we are back to “deja vu all over again” because what is the definition of an asphaltine? If you talk to an engineer they are worried about this material because they want to stick it in their pipelines and they don’t want it dropping out as a layer in a pipeline. So the working definition that they use for asphaltine is that it won’t dissolve in pentane. This is not very useful for sorting out physical properties. There are a bunch of things that won’t dissolve in pentane – what do I do with that one bit information? What are asphaltines? They are big, long molecules rubbing against each other. They have a big effect on the viscosity, a big effect on shear modulus but from a chemical engineering point of view they are ill defined. So I think there is a lot of work to be done on heavy oil: on just what is the mixture of heavy oil, how is it made up, how much gas can go in solution, how much gas comes out of solution, how does viscosity change when you change different parameters, different compositions. For example, the oil API gravity in Oronoco belt is just about the same as the oil gravity in Athabasca, but the properties are considerably different. Part of it has to do with the fact that it is warmer in Venezuela than it is in Athabasca; but part of it is also the composition – the fluids are different.
We are getting into oil shale also. How does oil shale change with the kerogen content? Those are semi solid or solid materials in the rock. To produce from them, companies are going to try to heat the shales and try to crack them into a liquid, then pull them out of the rock. So here we have a solid to liquid transformation. So, that can be another fluid issue that comes up during monitoring.
Can I ask a question here? I thought about asking in the class today, a little bit off this topic, but it’s got, at the AAPG this summer/spring here there was a debate between the people who think all hydrocarbons come from, have an organic source and there is the one who think it comes from the centre of the earth some place.
Oh, like Gold’s theories, there is –
I am wondering if there is any of the research that you do that ever kind of touches on these sort of questions?
Actually – No. But my opinion is mostly it’s the timing. The guys that think it came from the center of the earth are ultimately correct, because the carbon did evolve from the core of the earth, but it did it a couple billion years ago. More recently, it has been biologic in origin. If you talk to most geochemists, they will say “Oh, we got these different steroid compositions in there. How do you get these steroids by just popping out of the center of the earth” It is very consistent, say, with the symmetry: left-handed molecules vs. right handed molecules. So the chemical evidence and the isotope evidence tend to be pretty strongly in favor of the biologic origin. But, if you go way back a long time ago, as the earth was evolving, all these volatiles did come from the center of the earth, so that’s how I stand. I think oil’s got a biologic source.
Mike, you got the SEG award, Virgil Kauffman award along with Zee Wang. Now I was going to ask you, how does it feel to get that award?
Well, it is very nice to know that something that you did was useful. That was the major influence. We are back to the publication issue, if you publish something, it is nice to know that someone uses it, and that this was a recognition that it is useful. That was the major impression that I got out of it.
What words of advice or inspiration would you have for young people considering a career in geophysics?
Ah, we are back to the candy store. I think that geophysics is like a candy store. There is just too much cool stuff going on. You get various aspects of hydrocarbon exploration, ground water exploration, pollution, water storage, you can be looking for water on Mars with geophysical techniques, or unexplored ordinance. All kinds of cool stuff going on, so really, what you got to do is figure out what you think is interesting and pretty much design your path around that. My basic theory of life is that life is going to be pretty much whatever you make of it yourself. So if you find a bunch of stuff interesting, it could be geophysics, it could be medical imaging, it could be anything, art, history, or like my wife Lisa, it could be ancient Greek or Latin, if you decide that is interesting and you go after it, life is going to be interesting.
That is a good title for this interview “Geophysics is like a candy store”.
That is good news and bad news, there is a lot of bad news being locked in a candy store. Yaoguo Li, at the School of Mines also says he is picking up the same disease: there are so many cool things going on he is having a hard time saying “no” to them. We have a project monitoring water storage; summer in Colorado, then we’ve got the field camp going on; all this other stuff going on and it is tough to say “no” to any of it.
Interviews – it is also tough to say “no” to the interviews – how do you say “no” to a glass of beer – <laughter>
What other interests do you pursue outside of geophysics?
My dog is right up there, and breweries, right up there. Golden is almost a perfect location for us. It’s got all those rocks, and within 3 miles of my house there are five breweries, so that is obviously an interest that I would like to pursue.
I am only being partly facetious concerning the dog. Previously you’d hang around, and say “yah, the mountains are there, we can go up there any time” and then don’t. But a dog won’t let you get away with that. With a dog, - you come home then “okay, let’s go” it barks at you. And he drives you up the mountain side. Actually getting a dog has been extremely healthy, forcing you to go up the mountain, to go hiking, to climb up to the continental divide, to wandering around and watching the elk prancing around in the mountains. That’s the sort of thing that I like to do when I am not torturing rocks.
Our alternate evil plan: I am scheduled to have my mid-life crisis sometime. Actually I think I am past my scheduled midlife crisis. What I am supposed to do is learn Spanish and then we’ll go down to Buenos Aires and learn how to tango. That is supposed to be my midlife crisis.
Any plans for learning a bit of Spanish?
If I can get enough time. I must to go to India in January, Caracas in February. It’s all a function of time. Another piece of candy in the store.
How long are you going to be in Caracas? Are you there for work?
No it’s teaching a class in Caracas and then go out to see the sponsors. There are all those heavy oils in Venezuela. But everybody says that Santiago is interesting, a very nice town. I have never been there but the rumors are all that it is really fine.
Do you have plans to live there?
My midlife crisis; just a visit, but it is a better use of time and money than buying a sports car and wearing gold chains.
To find out what are all those patterns on some of the high mountains down in Chile and Peru?
Oh you mean these pathways and swirl pattern? Lisa and I have been off on a couple of archeology expeditions. One of them was in Peru, up in Juch’uy Qosqo, which is an ancient city up above Cusco, the old Inca Capital. That was at about 10,000 feet or so. We went there, helping them dig up part of a wall and one roof. Interestingly, it was almost an operation like Indiana Jones. You are pushing through the brush and all of a sudden here is a stone stairway that goes way up into the mountains. On top of the mountain, there was the quarry, w h e re they quarried the rough stone. They would get it down to a size where one, maybe two people could carry it down. It was roughly shaped. They would bring it down and then would fine-tune it so it would fit in the wall. You could see the process, because when they abandon the site, they abandon rocks all the way up to the top of the quarry. You could see the various stages of what was going on. That was a cool expedition to go on.
Great, Mike, thank you very much. It has been a pleasure talking to you.
Ah, you don’t have to lie to me.
Trust me, I am not lying. (laughter).