“Know when you have enough information ... to call something a prospect.”

An interview with Nanna Eliuk

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra
Nanna Eliuk

Nanna Eliuk is a professional geophysicist, now Vice-President of Geophysics and Land at Waldron Energy, a new publicly traded company that has grown to producing 2400 boe/d in less than a year. She has over 15 years experience in the oil and gas industry that includes her stints at Compton Petroleum, Hunt Oil and Husky Energy.

During this span of her career, Nanna has worked on some of the most interesting and challenging stratigraphic and structural exploration plays in the Deep basin and the Foothills. Her desire to gain development experience was fulfilled while she worked at Compton Petroleum and now is enjoying her stint at Waldron Energy.

Nanna has been an active volunteer at the CSEG/CSPG Conventions, served as session chair/co-chair, written book reviews for the RECORDER, reviewed abstracts for the SEG Convention, and is ready to shoulder any such responsibility that may come her way.

The RECORDER requested Nanna sit down for an interview, which she sportingly agreed to, much to our delight. Following are excerpts from the interview.

(Photos courtesy: Joyce Au)

Nanna, tell us about your early education and your work experience?

I grew up in Denmark and completed my B.Sc in geology and geophysics at Aarhus University before I came to Canada in the summer of 1995. I was initially supposed to stay for 6 months as a foreign student at Dalhousie University. In Denmark students are encouraged to take courses at foreign universities as part of the M. Sc. program. My supervisor Holger Lykke Andersen had a contact at the GSC Atlantic that he contacted to see if I could work for them part time while I was in Halifax. The GSC Atlantic agreed to me coming 2 days a week when I did not attend classes and that ended up being the reason I stayed in Canada for a while. They offered the opportunity to interpret 3D at Hibernia as a project for my Master’s Thesis. This sounded like an excellent project to me, so I talked to my supervisors back in Denmark and they both agreed to supervise long distance. I would show them my progress every 6 months when I would fly back to Denmark. I had a supervisor at Dalhousie, one at GSC and two supervisors in Denmark as I was doing a combined geology and geophysics degree. One was from the geology department and one was from the geophysics department. The two disciplines are much more integrated in Denmark compared to here but my interests were always leaning a bit more towards geophysics than geology. As an interpreter I believe you need to have a good understanding of the geology as well.

With regard to my work experience, I received my M.Sc. in July 1997, also from University of Aarhus and had decided to return to Canada as I really liked what I saw during my almost two years in Halifax. I had applied to the University of Calgary as I needed a Visa to stay in Canada and I had intended to work on a Ph. D. While looking for part time work. It ended up being the other way around as I ran into a fellow during my first week in Calgary who I had worked with at the GSC. He was working at Husky and he suggested I should go for an interview. I sent him my resume and he passed it onto the appropriate manager and I got my first real interview. I had no real hope of getting hired I figured, but interview experience is always a good thing. Well, it turned out I was a really good match for them and they agreed to go though the formal process of getting me a work visa. I ended up working full time while being a part time student. I really enjoyed my time at Husky and had great mentors while I was there. After almost 6 years at Husky I went to Hunt Oil, then onto Compton Petroleum and finally Waldron Energy, where I am today. I ended up quitting the Ph.D. program as I was pregnant with my first child and decided that I needed more than 24 hours in a day to make it all work out.

So you have worked at GSC Atlantic, Nova Scotia, Husky, Hunt, Compton and now Waldron. Obviously, you would have good reasons for switching companies. Could you tell us your reasons for making each of the moves that you made?

GSC Atlantic was always temporary as long as I was working on my thesis and I really enjoyed my time there. Husky was a great place for me to start in the industry as they had great training and an abundance of experienced interpreters to interact with. I also had the pleasure of working a few different areas so the experience I gained there was excellent. I started in SE Saskatchewan and this was before the Bakken play got hot. I went on to work in the Deep Basin and I gained great experience there that I still benefit from. I then went on to work in the Foothills team as I constantly was looking for new challenges. I had always considered structural interpretation a challenge and I appreciated the opportunity to join that group at Husky. I worked in the Foothills for 1 ½ years before I moved to Hunt Oil where I had the opportunity to take on more responsibility as the only geophysicist in the Foothills Group. Up until this point in my career I had worked almost exclusively on exploration projects and although I love exploration I saw a gap in my resume on the development side and that is why I went to Compton where I had exposure to both exploration and development as well as both stratigraphic and structural plays. I chose to leave Compton when the previous management group from Compton came together to form a new private company called Waldron Energy. It has been an exciting year so far. We have gone from defining our focus areas to a publicly traded junior oil and gas producer with 2400 boe/d in less than a year. I am really enjoying this new challenge and I look forward to what the next year brings.

I believe you have been on several work related oceanographic or seismic cruises. Could you tell us about some of them?

Before I came to Canada in the summer of 1995 I also had the pleasure of going on a seismic cruise in the North Sea on the Danish research vessel Dana. That was exciting and I really enjoyed and appreciated the experience. I was also one of the people responsible for a bottom grab sample program, so every time there was a break in the seismic acquisition I had to take a grab sample and preserve the fauna in alcohol. The source was an airgun with a single streamer to record the signal. It seemed so loud at first and I thought I would never fall asleep the first night but after a few days I would end up waking up whenever we stopped recording which was just as well as I would have to go take bottom samples. Shortly after this trip in the North Sea I departed for Canada.

That was not the first time I was involved in seismic acquisition though. I had the pleasure of shooting a small 2D marine seismic program as a part of my B. Sc thesis. The source here was a boomer rather than an airgun. Boomer sound sources are used for shallow water seismic surveys and are towed in a floating sled behind a survey vessel. It stores energy in capacitors, but it discharges through a flat spiral coil instead of generating a spark or an air bubble. A thesis was optional for a B.Sc. in Denmark and it was completed as a project between me and another student and we jointly wrote the thesis. We were very compatible and together we convinced the University to pay for a boat for 2 days as well as a technician to help run the seismic equipment for us. We also took a few piston cores and managed to secure several 10+ m cores we could analyze for micropaleontology and tie the age of the sediments to the shallow high resolution seismic we had acquired. Again this was an integrated project where we interpreted the seismic but included the geology for a more integrated approach than I have seen for students here in Canada. We also described the sedimentology and after counting foraminifera for 3 months in a microscope I knew I had no desire to become a micropaleontologist.

When I was at the GSC Atlantic I had the opportunity to go on another seismic cruise in the Bay of Fundy on the CCGS Hudson. This was another great opportunity and I again had the opportunity to help gather bottom sediment samples. This was a little different experience than it was on the Danish vessel. For one, this was a “dry” boat and there were also several members of the Canadian Navy on board as they had “special interests” in the areas where we were running side scan sonar. I am not sure if they were looking for sunken submarines but we had very strict orders when it came to the alcohol we had to use to preserve the samples we collected. I am pretty sure you would have gone blind drinking this stuff though.

Nanna and Satinder

How would you describe yourself as a person in five words?

Open-minded, humorous, outspoken, ambitious, caring.

What has been your philosophy towards your professional growth?

I will always be a generalist if that is even a word. I have not specialized in anything but rather found great pleasure in knowing a little in every discipline to get by. I have a working knowledge in seismic acquisition and design, processing techniques for both structural and stratigraphic plays, interpretation experience in structural and stratigraphic plays as well as having worked both clastics and carbonate reservoirs. I know enough geology to challenge the information I am being presented with and I am currently learning a lot more about mineral land and mineral land administration than I originally signed up for… I have always tried to keep an open mind so when an opportunity presents itself I can react to it. I have never been shy to take on tasks I know little about as I see that as the best opportunity to learn something new.

Tell us about some of the challenging projects that you worked on?

I had the pleasure of exploring for SwanHills in Central Alberta and even though the best exploration opportunity we had was farmed out, this was a very exciting project. The seismic interpretation was challenging and required good integration with geology to understand the seismic models and the potential reservoir variability. We had 3D seismic that covered the Beaverhill Lake A pool and we discovered what looked like an extension to the pool in a structurally higher location compared to the existing production in the unit. After attempting to get the section recognized and drilled within the unit it was decided to farm it out. Too bad the company did not have the guts to drill this 100% as it has produced almost 56 Bcf since 2002. Another interesting project was in the Foothill where I was introduced to the project after the first well was drilled. The company wanted a postmortem of the project to understand why the targeted thrusted sheet was not present. After having the seismic re-processed and accounted for anisotropy due to steeply dipping overburden, my interpretation was that the sheet had been missed by 350 m. The well was whipped to the new bottom hole target where the sheet was encountered and turned into a profitable project.

Another one that comes to mind was another Foothills project in the Burmis area of Southern Alberta. It was not too challenging from an interpreter standpoint but I was brought into this project after the property had been purchased and a few re-entries had been attempted. They wanted a second look to see if they had missed any opportunities. Unfortunately they had not and the one thing they wanted was something I could not provide – lower H2S content.

One of the last projects I worked on at my previous company was attribute analysis of a Basal Quartz reservoir at Hooker. An unfortunate strike name and there was some creative joking around with respect to business cards and I hope to never see my title as Hooker-Geophysicist again. The geology and the geophysical models were very complex with many variables and although there was very good quantitative correlations between isochrons, amplitudes, spectral decomposition and in some cases drape, taking it a step further and attempting an AVO inversion did not show encouraging results.

Going by what you have just mentioned, you have been a successful seismic interpreter. What would you say is required to become one?

It sounds simple perhaps but being a good interpreter to me is understanding when you have the necessary information to make a decision that can make money for your company.

That depends on what type of project you are working on and if you are working in Western Canada where it is sometimes cheaper to test your idea with drilling rather than work on upscaling your models into a reservoir simulation. If you are working on an international or offshore project where the cost of a well is significantly higher it becomes a priority. Anyone can interpret data and make a presentable map. I have unfortunately seen very talented people make great interpretations of the data but fail when it comes to making a decision that the acceptable risk level is reached. Sometimes the 80% solution is all you need to make a decision and your decision will not change even if you spend 6 additional months to get closer to a 100% solution.

Tell us about the most exciting moment in your professional life?

I would say that moment is now. I have been part of building a company from scratch and I really enjoy it as I literally learn something new every day. Having a blank map and being a part of defining where and what to explore for is exciting. I have the pleasure of working with a great team and that really makes the difference for me. When you are surrounded by creative and passionate people it is fun to go to work every day. We developed concepts (while shopping for office furniture) and have had early exploration success with our first 3 wells. We have also purchased Crown land and established ourselves in a new core area. We have completed three property acquisitions and done a reverse takeover to go public all within one year. From 0 to 2400 boe/d in that short a timeframe is not bad considering it is a challenging time in the industry with low gas prices and changing royalty rates. I have learned more about finances and meet more investment bankers and analysts than I had in all my previous years of working but I enjoy learning more about the business side of running an energy company.

What personal qualities did you draw upon as you have gone through your geoscientific journey?

I think my creativity and open mind has helped a lot along the way, especially when interpreting in the Foothills. I think you need to be able to see things in 3D and not everyone can do it. I also think that showing respect for other people’s opinions and work is key to functioning in a dynamic team. You have to be able to work with many types of personalities and sometimes taking a humorous approach can lighten the mood when personalities clash. I believe networking is key to our industry as it is sometimes who you know that gives you access to that deal you were looking for. I have never burned any bridges with the companies I have left and I always strive for technical excellence and drilling successful wells is the ultimate satisfaction from a lot of hard work done by a successful team.

For generating prospects, what has been the strategy that you have followed?

I always try to understand the geology first as that is ultimately what we are trying to image. I like looking at core with my geologist and going on field trips gives you that 3D perspective you are looking for. It is key to understand the production profiles of each play and work closely with the engineers. There is really no point in defining great plays and working up concepts if the economics do not work. I think that some interpreters can get so caught up in the technical detail that they forget we are here to make money for the company we work for. The fact that most interpreters get a lot of personal satisfaction from the technical work is just a bonus.

I always like to re-process the data I am working on so I have a high confidence level in exactly what was done to the data and I always make sure to use all data available to me. It sometimes takes extra time to load up that extra synthetic or incorporate the dip log or work with surface geology maps but ultimately I try to use all available information for the interpretation. It is key to understand the analogue pools and I spend a fair bit of time modeling the response and work closely with the geologist to understand what the potential end members will look like. There is no point in having porosities or thicknesses that are not geologically reasonable. It is a lot about data integration and making sure all the wells make sense in your mapping. Again knowing when you have enough information to call something a prospect is key. Sometimes you just need 2D Seismic and sometimes you will have to spend that the extra time and money to shoot or acquire 3D as the economics do not work on a lower chance of success.

Some interpreters may find it challenging going from the plains to the Foothills. How did you find this switch when you went over to Hunt?

I made the switch when I was at Husky and I think it was easier to make the switch within a company as there is a major learning curve associated with working in the Foothills. It would likely not be as easy to do that when you are just starting in a new company as there are additional learning curves associated with starting in a new company. It was a challenge and the first week I think I was pretty much just looking at data thinking I would never come up with a useful interpretation. I had great mentors and it is important to understand the basics before you plunge into an interpretation. I had some exposure to balancing a structural section in university but you really need to have a good eye for seeing things in 3 dimensions to interpret in the Foothills.

Exploration in the foothills is difficult. How do you tackle it? What makes you so sure to go ahead and drill it?

It is difficult for sure and some areas have very challenging imaging in the Foothills but if you have used all the data that is available to you and your models are technically sound then it becomes less challenging. I think having a good understanding of the structural model and using reasonable analogue templates for your mapping and modeling makes it less risky. It is a team effort and understanding all risks associated with a prospect makes it possible to evaluate the potential impact to the company and that is ultimately how the decision to drill is made.

You like taking up challenges. Am I right? Apart from simply saying, ‘I like doing that’, I would like you to comment on this.

I have shown that by taking on tasks and projects outside of my area of expertise at any time. I enjoy taking on a task where I have limited knowledge as that is really the best way to learn a new topic. I like being hands on at the risk of making mistakes and that is the best way to learn. A sink or swim approach if you like. I think the key is to understand when to ask for help and guidance and never be afraid to admit there is something you do not know. I also like to be challenged on my knowledge on a topic as the best way to fully understand anything is to try to explain the concept or topic to someone else.

You are now working as VP Geophysics and land at Waldron. In other words a leading role. What is your definition of a good leader?

In my mind a good leader is someone who is able to inspire people to want to excel and exceed expectations by leading by example. A good leader has to be flexible and understand the needs and personality complexities that make up a team. A good leader has to be able to make fair and informed decisions on a daily basis. A good leader has to inspire and guide the team toward the main goal and targets of the corporation.

In your opinion, what is required for doing good and effective exploration?

I think effective exploration can be achieved with the right people at the right place. People and their creative ideas will always expand our horizons and continuously explore for new resources.

Not a lot of companies are doing true exploration these days and it appears the industry is somewhat changing towards a more resource focused, engineering driven exploitation and development model. I do think there is still room for exploration in Western Canada. And certainly outside of our basin, exploration is taking place in more and more remote areas of the world.

I think the shift by a large group of the Major oil and gas companies leaves opportunities for small to intermediate companies to fill the gap of exploring as not a lot of companies have a true exploration flavor these days.

The flavor of the month seems to be the buzz words of: resource plays, horizontal drilling, stack frac, microseismic, large drilling programs and shale gas. Many people in the seismic industry are worried that there will be a limited need for seismic as everyone is focused on plays where seismic plays a smaller role-such as shale gas, Bakken or the Montney. I still believe there are still many exploration opportunities out there and the company I am at now has shown that there are still areas in Alberta where you can drill rank wildcat wells and make discoveries. We just have to be brave enough and propose this although it is not the flavor of the month.

Putting a team of people (a geophysicist, geologist and a reservoir engineer) in the same working room may not guarantee that the study will be an integrated one. How can integration be achieved, now that it has been a buzz word for quite some time?

I think integration and the degree of integration depends on the team itself. Management may have plans for studies to be integrated but it requires people with an open mind and willingness to work closely to make the integration happen. I find that there are some practical limitations to the integration as well as the fact that the software we use does not necessarily integrate well and requires a lot of effort to fully integrate.

What are you planning for the future; I mean what professional goals are you working towards?

My long term goal will likely be working on international projects and I think that my structural background will provide plenty of opportunities for me to go down that path. I am very open to any opportunity and I would not say I am set on a specific path. I prefer to stay in Calgary as a home base, at least until the kids are grown up as my husband and I want to raise the kids here rather than overseas. I really enjoy working for a smaller company and day to day interaction with people is fun when you have the right team in place.

With you and your husband both working, how do you cope with looking after your family?

Planning! Lots of planning! With 3 kids and a husband who is also a VP in the oil and gas industry (works for a service company), life can get a little crazy. The kids are getting older (9, 10 & 13) and a bit easier, but with their activities and homework it takes some planning to have a home cooked meal every day and to get everyone in the same room at the same time is not always easy. My husband and I usually plan the week in advance so we know who is picking up from day home or taking kids to activities. There are stressful times when it just seems impossible but it somehow works out every day. I really enjoy summers when there is no home work and the kids have no activities. It helps that our office is closed on Fridays as the summer is so short.

Nanna, you’ve been active on several CSEG Committees and events, how did you become involved, what were the key roles, and what are your plans for future CSEG commitments?

I have always enjoyed volunteering and it is a great way to network and build relationships. It is a time commitment, but I highly recommend it as a way to be more involved in your Geoscience community. I have volunteered for the Technical Committee for the Annual CSEG/CSPG Convention a couple of times and have also served as session chair and co-chair for the convention. I have volunteered to write book reviews for the RECORDER and I have been a reviewer for SEG abstracts a couple of times. I am currently on the Junior Geophysicist Forum (JGF) Committee and have been for the past couple of years. By the way, we will be having our next JGF event during the Doodle Train, so watch out for announcements at luncheons and your CSEG Member update e-mail for further details. The JGF is a great networking event for geophysical students, junior and senior geophysicists and I would encourage all geophysicists to make it to an event.

I would like to continue volunteering for the CSEG as much as my current and future workload allows.

What other interests do you have?

In the summer I like to go camping and I am trying to learn to play golf. I am not sure my skill level will improve much until I have more time to devote to this. We are building at our lake lot by Buffalo Lake and the whole family (and friends) likes to visit us out there on weekends. You can always count on a poker game at the lake and I have been known to win on occasion.

In the winter I like to ski and it is a sport we do as a family. We usually do a few ski trips every year and also go out to Lake Louise quite often on the weekends. I have never learned to skate but that is something I plan to learn this upcoming winter. Lakes rarely freeze in Denmark and my hometown did not have a skating rink so there was really not much opportunity to learn when I grew up. I also enjoy curling and I am working on putting a ladies team together for this upcoming season.

Besides that I really enjoy reading, mostly mysteries, and I like watching movies and cooking.

What would be your message for young geophysicists who are entering our profession?

I would encourage them to embrace every opportunity they are presented with and to learn from mentors. Some of those “old guys/gals” have forgotten more than you have ever known. I would encourage young geophysicists to network and remember that the geophysical community in town is a small one. Your name and reputation is the best sales tool you have and if you keep an open mind you will always have opportunities even when times are tough. I have seen a sense of entitlement from some young geophysicists and I think they will find a lot of frustration and hard work in their future if they keep that up. This industry is cyclic in nature and we have to embrace the good times and be flexible during the hard times.

Nanna, thank you very much for taking time to chat with us. It’s been a pleasure.


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