Neil Rutherford, a well known name in the seismic industry, very sportingly agreed to get interviewed for the RECORDER. Satinder Chopra and Oliver Kuhn conducted this interview with Neil, and his impressions and opinions on different aspects are contained in the following excerpts.
[Satinder]: Neil, let’s begin by asking about your educational background and work experience.
I grew up in a small community just across the Saskatchewan border south of Lloydminster. There were two towns about eight or ten miles apart called Neilburg and Marsden. My Dad farms about halfway between these, about four miles off the highway. I started school in a small eight-grade single-room school. We had one teacher for all eight grades, in one room. After four years there the country school closed, so we had to take the bus to town, and I got my grade twelve there.
Somewhere along the way I decided, watching my father farming and get frozen out and hailed out, that I didn’t have the mentality to be a farmer! I signed up for Engineering College at the University of Saskatchewan. I started there in 1967 and graduated in 1971. The reason I took Engineering is that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at the beginning, like a lot of other people. I’d never even heard of geophysics at that time; when you grow up in a small community, you know about doctors and lawyers and dentists and all those jobs, but you don’t get exposed to the more specialized professions.
It happened that in my first year of university, my cousin and I were sharing a one-bedroom basement suite. We shared the kitchen and bathroom facilities with two other groups. One of these other guys was taking Mining Engineering and one his courses included analysis of seismic records. I thought that was kind of neat, so I looked into geophysics, and at the end of my second year, I chose geophysics.
[Satinder]: And where did you start your career?
Like everybody else, I went to a whole bunch of interviews, and I got two job offers, one from Amoco and the other from Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas. It was kind of hard to decide. I think there was only about six dollars difference between the rates that they were offering; one was 473 dollars a month, and the other 479. But before that, in our third or fourth year, HBOG had a seismic crew operating by Regina and they paid for all of our class to take a bus ride from Saskatoon down to Regina. We stayed overnight and the next day, they showed us all around the seismic crew. That was all arranged by Zoltan Hajnal and Don Gendzwill, two of our Profs. They were keeping in touch with the oil companies in Calgary.
At that time, HBOG had their own seismic crews and they used to send new geophysicists out on the seismic crew as part of their training. I chose to work for Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas, partly because of the seismic crew – I thought it would be good to get that field training.
[Oliver]: And how did that early field work turn out?
When I started there, I spent about two weeks in the office. At that time, all of the field survey notes had to be checked in the office before the seismic was sent out for processing. I spent about two weeks checking survey notes and then they sent me out to the field for the month, as a jug hustler. Then back to the office for another month checking survey notes. The next time I was sent out to the field, the surveyor was going on vacation so I spent a month doing the surveying.
I think in the first year that I worked at Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas, I spent about seven months on the seismic crew. Most of it was in southern Saskatchewan in the summertime, and it was always hotter than hell! We used to work like dogs, then find some dugout so we could go for a swim.
It was kind of funny when they’d call us on the radio because there were noisy plants or something and we were four or five miles away swimming. We’d jump in the truck and go tearing down the line to fix up the problem! After all of the stress of writing university final exams, this was kind of a neat job!
[Satinder]: But surely it wasn’t just swimming and having fun?
Oh no, there was lots of hard work. I remember the worst field crew experience I had. I was Assistant Party Manager; we were in Chetwyn, BC and it was –40 degrees. One of the trucks had a new engine put in. The operator drove fro m Waterous Diesel in Edmonton. He got back about 11:00 o’clock at night, just pulled in to the hotel parking lot where the crew was staying and shut the motor off. The next morning he goes out and there was no way it would start; it was a brand new engine and barely broken in. We spent three days trying to winch that thing around to a place where we could get it plugged in so we could get it started.
[Oliver]: Did you stay with HBOG until it was bought by Dome?
I stayed; I was there through all of that. It was a really interesting time because that was ’70’s when the OPEC thing first started, and oil and gas prices really took off. Up to that point in time, I think gas was ten cents a mcf and oil was two dollars a barrel, or something like that. But OPEC changed everything. Companies just couldn’t hold their employees. When I started, as I mentioned, I was making 473 dollars a month; about three years later I was up to about 650 dollars a month. I remember the big rumour that the new graduates coming in were going to be making a hundred dollars more a month than me. And boy, there were people quitting every Friday! They were going to other jobs and getting maybe 25, 35, 40 percent increases. My salary went from about 650 to 1100 dollars in one year. I mean, it was a pretty substantial increase. I think we had seven different increases in one year; we had merit increases, two cost of living increases… basically, companies were just trying to hang on to employees.
[Oliver]: How did that affect the Calgary economy? Was there really high inflation, house prices and so on?
Yes. Early in my career I couldn’t afford a house. In 1976 I moved into a house in Varsity. House mortgages had been about 6-8 %. Then suddenly the economy really took off, and there were eight or ten cranes working on downtown buildings; interest rates went to 12% and then up to a peak of over 20%. I just happened to get my mortgage at the right time; I had a mortgage of 12% and the rate went up to 20 and then back down to 12 over a five-year period. We were feeling pretty lucky because the people who had to renew when the interest rate was at 20%, were in big trouble.
[Satinder]: You worked for over eleven years with HBOG; how long did you stay with Dome?
When Dome took over the big rush of change had subsided and people weren’t quitting quite as much. But there were still lots of jobs out there, and there was such a culture difference between HBOG and Dome that a lot of HBOG people said, “There’s no way I’m ever going to work at Dome.” HBOG offered an incentive of three months’ salary if you stayed six months. I stayed the six months up to the takeover and another six months after the take-over.
[Satinder]: So you got your three months?
So I got my three months. And there is a little bit of story with my three-month salary incentive. I had just moved into the house where I live now, and I was seriously interested in joining the nearby golf club. I took my three-month bonus and I used it for my payment to join the Silver Springs Golf Club. So I always tell people that Dome paid for my golf membership!
[Oliver]: So what was your next job move?
There had been a bunch of senior management that went to Bow Valley from HBOG. Dale Beischel was the VP of Exploration, and he called me up and asked if I’d come over. So I went to Bow Valley and spent another eleven years there. It was a tumultuous time for the industry; Bow Valley had six presidents in that eleven-year period. The company couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be an oil company or a gas company. Not long after I got there, Bow Valley had a 14,000 barrel a day increase in production as part of a major discovery in the North Sea.
The original Bow Valley was a company that was started by the Seaman brothers in the early fifties. They had started out as a seismic drilling company, but eventually became oil well drilling contractors. They actually became an accidental oil company when one of their clients couldn’t pay the bill for the well they were drilling.
[Oliver]: I assume it was a successful well!
Yes! So they ended up negotiating and taking an interest in the land. But to get back to what I was saying about the North Sea, they had fourteen thousand barrels a day of North Sea production, so they had quite a bit of money to spend. They spent a lot of it on the East Coast and then quite a bit in Western Canada. But the oil price dropped dramatically in the mid 80’s and the money didn’t pay for all the commitments, so they got into a little bit of trouble. The company kind of floated along until 1993. In that year Talisman, really were after the North Sea and Indonesian properties that Bow Valley had, so Bow Valley ended up being bought by Talisman.
Talisman interviewed all the managers, but of course they had their own. I had been the Chief Geophysicist, so that was the end of that eleven years! After that I started looking a round, and I was trying to decide whether I wanted to go back to an oil company or try to do some consulting. Perry Kotkas phoned me one day and asked, “How would you like to come and interview for a job? There is going to be an opening in the company where I’m working.” So I went over there and talked to Perry and Les Watson. I got hired as a replacement for Perry Kotkas as that was when Perry bought in to Sourcex. The company which was called PCC Energy was just a small US subsidiary; with two people in the Calgary office – a geologist and a geophysicist. I consulted there for three or four months and then went on full time.
I worked there for five years until there were some changes within the ownership structure. About fifty people in Houston plus four in Calgary lost their jobs. I was told that they didn’t need a full time geophysicist anymore but they would offer me a six-month consulting contract for three days a week. So I started consulting. But, after thirty years in the business, it was pretty tough to go out and get consulting jobs because people don’t consider you to be a consultant; they think you’re a big company guy. But I had about four or five years’ experience on the workstation, so I made the transition. Workstation experience is a key to being a consultant.
[Oliver]: So is that an issue with interpreters – that you get stereotyped as either a company person or a consultant?
Well I think some people move into consulting in a different way than I did. I was a company employee and then all of a sudden a consultant at the same company. It’s a tough way to go. I found the first years, I didn’t really like it very much at all because it always seemed like I was working in somebody else’s office and everything that I owned I had to be able to carry it in a briefcase. I was used to having my own office with all my reference books. But consulting forces a different way of thinking, because you’re kind of on wheels. You end up with a cell phone, palm pilot and all that kind of stuff; you live your life out of a briefcase. It’s not like being on the road because you’re not in airports all the time, but it’s kind of like that. I found it tough.
[Satinder]: So how do you feel after so many years in the industry? Do you feel happy, excited or somewhat tired?
Oh, I’m still excited. I think there are lots of opportunities in the industry in Canada for more discoveries. I’ve always felt that it’s kind of a funny industry. I think it’s an industry that has more money than brains at times because money rules decisions more than logic rules decisions. Companies come here, they spend big bucks and then four or five years later, they’re selling out. It’s the same with land sales. People pay too much at land sales. But I like the exploration, I like when wells are drilling. Sometimes, I can’t even sleep if there’s one going down. When I know that the well information might be at the office when I get there in the morning, I wake up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning, and I might as well go to the office.
[Satinder]: Neil, when you look back on your career, what have been some of the successful landmarks?
In the late 70s when I was a district supervisor at HBOG, I worked up in the Zama – Shekilie area. HBOG had reprocessed some of the late 60’s 2D data and come to the conclusion that a lot of reefs hadn’t been necessarily drilled in the most optimum position mostly because prior processing was not routinely migrated. This was also a time when there was an increase in oil and gas prices. There were a lot of smaller undrilled reefs that were now economic and I came into the group after two or three wells had already been drilled. We made some rather remarkable discoveries after that. I had a group of about five or six young geophysicists and we were just reprocessing all the data that had been shot in the late sixties. We mapped it all and we drilled twenty-five or twenty-six wells and out of those we had four dry holes, nineteen oilwells and a couple of gas wells.
[Satinder]: That’s not bad with 2D data.
Yeah – we would map what we thought was the top of the reef by mapping the Slave Point going overtop and Chinchaga push-down underneath. Sometimes we drilled wells just based on pushdown alone when we couldn’t actually see drape on the top of the reef. This was all pretty close to the edge of the basin. It was a pretty exciting time just before 3D made life much easier.
I remember one time we drilled a well and it was a complete bust. There was no reef whatsoever. We were pretty confident in our interpretation, so we thought, “That’s not right! There’s got to be a reef there.” So we went back out to the field, and started re-surveying. We soon figured out that the survey tags had been put in the wrong place. We had to resurvey the whole line. That was a very successful phase of my career, and a real landmark personally.
[Satinder]: Any after that?
At Bow Valley we had some pretty successful programs. I was part of a group that discovered some Nisku fields in the Wainwright area. After that point I entered a phase in my career where I was a supervisor. You could say I was there when successful discoveries were drilled and I was part of the decision team but I wasn’t necessarily working up the plays, so it just wasn’t the same.
When I started at PCC, I think the proven reserves for the Shaw/Basing Mississippian field were about 65 Bcf. During the time I was there, five years as an employee plus the three or four years as a consultant, the partners drilled close to twenty wells in that field, all of them horizontal. I think the reserves now are over 200 Bcf. It was an interesting kind of play because the horizontal wells really made it possible.
[Satinder]: Can you tell us about some of the most memorable moments in your life?
Well there are lots of memorable moments, you know. I think the most memorable thing is when you’re part of a group that really fights hard to get a well drilled and then having the satisfaction of everybody sitting around when the logs come in, and it’s a success.
[Satinder]: It doesn’t happen very often.
Well when it happens, it’s a special time because you worked pretty hard . Sometimes you’ve got a manager that believes you but sometimes you have to drag him along! So it’s pretty good when you get that certain feeling of working hard and succeeding. But sometimes doing a good job and succeeding doesn’t involve a successful well.
You know, I’ve been a geophysicist for a long time, and I’ve developed an idea of what I think a geophysicist’s job is. Some people look at it and say the job is to come up with places to drill. But I don’t think your job stops there; I think the job just starts there because it’s easy to tell somebody, I’ve got a prospect, now you get four or five million dollars and drill it, right? I think it’s a lot tougher to tell somebody that you liked this prospect to start with but now, after looking at it, you think that there’s a problem here with multiples or velocity problems or whatever. It’s a lot harder to tell somebody you shouldn’t drill a play after you’ve talked them into buying land and shooting seismic.
[Oliver]: I know Al and I’ve experienced that on the processing side. You’re processing or reprocessing some data, and an anomaly the interpreter thought was there doesn’t show up. They’re almost annoyed or angry, as if we could telekinetically reach down into the subsurface and “steal” their anomaly! We think, but don’t say, “Well isn’t that the whole point – we saved you a dry well?”
Well I think it is important. Our job is not just to drill holes that are successful. At the same time, there are the people that y o u ’ re trying to sell the play to. It’s kind of a teaching process, because you’re very seldom talking to somebody that understands fully what’s going on with the interpretation. Sometimes, if you show them everything, they’re going to be scared to death about drilling a well! Some people don’t realise that you can have velocity problems, multiple problems, or some surface statics issue. Sometimes your geological model is just not right but it still fits the seismic.
Most times if you look at interpretations hard, you can come up with another model that also might fit the seismic. I think it’s important when you come up with a prospect to go through the ideas. It could be that bad things are going on. You’ve always got some time to sort some of those things out. You might prevent the company from drilling a dry hole or maybe the hole should be still be drilled, but the company should lay off some of the risk and get partners. There are lots of ways you can do a good job.
[Satinder]: Neil, you started off in the early seventies and the technology has advanced quite a bit since then. What new technology have you included in your career in the last, say, five years, or since you started working on workstations?
I would say, for the most part, the workstation itself is your best technology. I don’t have any visualization software and I haven’t used any visualization software. It’s a little bit expensive for the normal consulting geophysicist. I think the answer is there in the data but you have to look at pretty much all of the data to figure it out. Visualization maybe helps you get there a little bit faster but I don’t think it gives you much better information. Unless, of course, you’ve got huge amounts of data and you’re trying to map complex structures and faults.
I’ve compared my productivity now to what it was 25 or 30 years ago, in terms of the amount of data I can handle. It’s probably equivalent to six or eight geophysicists back in the 70s. You can load the 3D on the machine, pick your horizons, and have the interpretation done before lunch – like they say about PGA golfers “Those guys are good”!
The first 3D I interpreted, was all on paper, all the inlines and all the crosslines. I thought the data was inferior to 2D data, but actually after I started flipping through every line, I could see the patterns, and I got to the point where I felt even though the data looked poor on an individual line, the overall result was a better picture. So I think 3Ds themselves a re probably the best technology we’ve got.
[Oliver]: What are some of the technical challenges you face?
Well, I’m not sure if this counts as a technical challenge, but as a consultant I tend to work for a lot of small companies, and that means not too many 3Ds. I find that smaller companies usually don’t have enough data, and not enough geology. You spend some of your time trying to talk the little companies into looking at their little piece of land in a bigger perspective – you need to develop more of a regional sense than the little square mile that they’re trying to develop.
Small companies also have a tendency to forget that all of this stuff takes time. They’re planning to drill a well in March but they don’t start thinking about getting data purchased and interpreted until the 1st of February!
[Satinder]: There is a school of thought that today’s fast machines allow you to interpret the data like you said, but also allow you to use the latest technology to better confirm anomalies.
Yes, but I think a lot of times companies are pressing too hard. They don’t allow interpreters the right amount of time to look at all this stuff. Otherwise why would so many companies give up on plays, and then others come in after them and are successful? I mean, why do these big companies come in here with all their technology and then five years later, they’re going down the road when everybody else is still making money? Sometimes I think technology is just a crutch that people use. You still need good people.
[Oliver]: I think it goes back to what you said about more money than brains. It seems like a lot of that is connected to the whole public ownership model. Management is forced to make decisions they know don’t make sense. They’re pressured by impatient shareholders with unrealistic expectations, and making decisions quarter by quarter, rather than having a proper plan.
[Satinder]: Who have been some of your mentors?
I guess the major mentor that I had along the way was Al Ferworn. I’d have to say that Jack Pullen was also mentor for a year or two. Al took me to meetings and talked about the business decisions of the industry. Al worked hard and he liked people who worked hard. If he thought that you were sloughing off, he’d give it to you pretty hard. But he was a good guy I really liked him even though he was fairly opinionated. He got me started in interpretation and was a really supportive guy. I think everybody needs somebody to help get to the next level. It’s better to have somebody that kind of pulls you along than somebody that’s trying to push you over the cliff, sink or swim! The good part about Al was you could tell him to his face that you thought he was full of bullshit as long as you had some good reason. I’d have to say he was probably the best mentor in my career.
When I went into consulting, one guy that helped me out quite a bit was Rob Shepherd. I hooked up with him about a year after I’d got into consulting. I was almost ready to go back and look for a job in an oil company and happened to meet Rob, I think it was at a party at Gary Kelman’s place. He said, “It just so happens that I’m just about to move fro m the office that I share with Ralph Lundberg, because he doesn’t want to be in an office downtown anymore. You could share office space with me. I’ve got a workstation.” So I went down the next day to his office and looked around and decided to share office space with him; I spent a couple years sharing office space and using his workstation. It was really good and I learned quite a few things from him as a consultant.
[Satinder]: What urged you to become a successful geophysicist? What skills do you think successful geophysicists need?
I think that successful geophysicists need good computer skills; they need a good geology background or they have to be part of a team with a good geologist. I think to be successful, you have to be part of at least a two-man team, maybe more, but you need to have a geologist that you get along with. There are some people that can do the geology themselves, but I’m not that confident. I like to have somebody to bounce ideas off. No idea should be too broad that you shouldn’t consider it; some ideas will naturally go to the bottom of the heap. You have to be a team player, you have to have good computer skills and very good geology, but of course that goes on top of the geophysics. It’s pretty complicated these days. There’s anisotropy, depth imaging and attribute processing and all sorts of stuff. I don’t think any one person can stay on top of it all.
[Satinder]: You’ve served as CSEG Convention Chairman, Doodlebug Chairman, and President of the CSEG. Tell us why do you like doing that sort of thing, and how did it help professionally?
Well, it’s kind of a mentality that was ingrained in everybody at Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas. When we were just young geophysicists, just off the seismic crew and going into interpretation, it was made very clear to us by managers like Jack Pullen and Al Ferworn. We were expected to volunteer for the CSEG, and the company supported us. I’m not sure if companies feel that way these days.
[Oliver]: Well we see a lack of support in terms of releasing data for technical articles. The companies are strictly following policies not to release data, even if allowing its use would make no difference whatsoever.
I don’t know what it is – it’s gone too far the other way. I can understand that some companies feel they’d lose productivity if all their staff volunteered. But I think it’s the companies who lose out. I volunteered a lot over the years. To me, if you want to take something from the community, you have to be a participant in it. And the result is that usually you feel like you got a lot out of the volunteer experience.
[Oliver]: What are some of the best volunteer experiences you’ve had?
Well not all teams have been great. But the SEG convention in 2000 still stands out as one of the best volunteer teams that I’ve ever worked on. It took a lot of hard work, but in the end we got it done and people had a good time.
Talking about convention issues – that’s why volunteering is so important. As far as I’m concerned, everybody that wants to make the conventions better, the Society better and make our industry better, has to volunteer; otherwise we won’t get any better. It’s like the RECORDER that kind of floundered along, didn’t do much for quite a few years; it’s only in the last five or six years that you guys have been involved in the RECORDER and it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. It actually got so good that people were willing to give up on the journal.
With just about every volunteer job that I’ve had, some place along the way, I just wished I could get done with it. But in the end, I’ve always been happy that I did it.
[Oliver]: I think that’s the whole point. If you volunteer, you get a lot back out of it and not that you’re doing it for selfish reasons, but it enriches your experience, whatever field you’re in. Have you volunteered outside of the CSEG?
I just finished a two-year stint as the President of the Calgary Flying Club, and this is my fifth year as a director.
[Oliver]: Well that’s what I was going to ask you about next. I admire people that have some balance in their life, between home and work, or between the physical, mental, and intellectual sides of things. What are you passionate about outside of work?
I used to be passionate about playing hockey but I gave that up. I used to play on three different teams at the same time when I first came to Calgary. But right now it’s flying and golf. After Talisman bought Bow Valley, they paid a bunch of us to get lost and I took some of that money and I got a pilot’s license.
[Oliver]: So Dome was golf and Talisman was flying?
That’s right, Talisman bought me the pilot’s license! I have an interest in a private plane, and my wife and I have flown to the East Coast twice, to the Yukon and Northwest Territories once, and we’re hoping to get some more trips like that in. I’ve had my license since ’95. In ’95 I gave up on the hockey and decided to keep flying and golfing. I’m an avid golfer – I could golf every day of the year if I had the chance.
[Satinder]: Neil, what would be your message for young people entering the profession as geophysicists?
I would say get yourself associated with somebody that you can learn from. You can learn the hard way or you can have somebody help you learn. I think the fastest way to success is to be involved with somebody that’s going to share some of the failure s and successes that they had along the way.
One advantage that young people have is that they don’t have to think about how to do things on workstations. I’m still at the stage where half the time, I have to plough through the stuff on paper first to see if it makes sense. I can’t visualize the whole line in my mind. I like to be able to lay it a cross my desk and look at it.
[Oliver]: But on the other hand, the disadvantage young people have is they’ve never had to manually work out every step of the interpretive processes.
Yeah. I think another key to success is the ability to think through what’s further down the line. A lot of people don’t think further ahead than what is on their desk. The best trained people are the ones that say, “Okay, if this goes right, this is what the next step is. If this goes wrong, this is what I’m going to have to do get back on track.” The people that can get things worked out ahead of time, I think will be more successful and more in demand too because they’re able to solve their problems, or avoid them altogether.
[Satinder]: It’s my impression, especially in the last ten years, that our industry has not been very good at bringing new geophysicists on stream. What are some of your suggestions to turn this around?
I think the companies have to be prepared to hire new grads. But as companies get smaller and smaller, the opportunities of that happening get pretty remote. So I would say any company that’s got more than one geophysicist should hire summer students. I think that’s the key, because summer students get a little bit of experience and that helps a lot when they graduate and it’s time to find a job. Even if they end up being processors that learning experience helps. Processing in itself is far more sophisticated and challenging than it was twenty years ago, even ten years ago.
[Oliver]: Yeah, it’s quite different. Do you have any regrets in your career? Maybe things that you might have liked to try - working overseas or starting your own oil company perhaps?
Well, I did work in Houston for one year. I went there to manage the Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas application for the Noway Fourth Round bids in 1978. I looked after supervising the people and doing the interpretation required. And I did a bit of time on a North Sea boat.
But no re g rets along the way. Well, one thing I would have liked to do is to be VP Exploration where I could direct a team of enthusiastic explorationists, but it would also involve some aspects that I probably won’t miss.
[Oliver]: A lot of paper work?
Well, that’s an issue with the public companies. But if I had one regret, I think that’s it. I would have liked to be in a position to direct some of the exploration decisions. You can have a very successful oil company if you make smart decisions. Like right now, you can hardly get a drilling rig and if you do get one, you’ve probably paid too much for it. My way of thinking, you should be farming it out to those guys who have a lot of money and who want to spend it on drilling. And when times a re tough and the land prices go down, you should be buying land and when nobody wants to drill wells, you should be drilling wells because the drilling costs will be down a lot. I like to be more contrary than most people.
[Oliver]: But the oil business doesn’t seem to work that way.
Yes, if you aren’t doing the same thing as everybody else, nobody in the investment community likes you.
[Oliver]: You mentioned the American companies coming up and buying assets; they always seem to do that at the peak of the cycle and in the following years they have way too much debt, so they eventually get cold feet and pull out.
Well right now, they’re pulling out because the Canadian dollar’s come up and they paid in U.S. dollars that were worth a lot more in Canadian dollars. Now, that the Canadian dollar has come up, they can take advantage of the exchange.
[Satinder]: Well I will ask the last question then. Are there any questions that you were expecting us to ask and we didn’t ?
No, I don’t think so.
What kind of question is that, are you trying to bamboozle Neil? It’s almost like that logic test, you know, there’s a fork in the road and one fork leads to the village where they always tell the truth, and the other to a village where they always lie. And the solution is to ask the villager at the fork some kind of cunning double negative question.
[Oliver]: Well, you know, my question covers everything!
[Satinder]: Actually, there is one little angle I thought we should pursue. That’s to do with education. Having gone through a rural school where there was a single teacher and probably a fairly crowded classroom with all different ages, my suspicion is that you found that school was a very effective way to learn in the early years. Nowadays there’s a lot of criticism levelled at our educational system; people think we need to spend more on computers, and smaller class sizes and so on. Any comment on that?
I have a tough time with questions regarding education and the size of the classes. Even when I was in high school, I spent time where there were two grades in one class. The year I was in Grade IX, we shared the classroom with the Grade XII. There was only ten in my grade and about another ten or twelve in Grade XII, so there was only 22 or 24 kids in the room. But the teacher had to spend half the time with the Grade XIIs and the other half of the time teaching the Grade IXs. We had to learn to concentrate a bit better. Sometimes you got to hear things that were of interest!
But I think the education kids get today is probably better, because there’s consistent standards applied - by Grade I, you should be able to read this and by Grade II, you’ve got to be able to do this, and so on. My youngest daughter, when she finished Grade XII, had probably taken more math than I took even when I went to university. So I don’t think that our education system is in such a bad state. But I can agree that when you’ve got 26 or 27 or 30 kids in a class, it’s pretty tough for some kids. Some kids do very well and some kids don’t do very well in that situation. I don’t envy the teachers these days with the pressure that’s on them.
[Oliver]: Have either of your kids followed you into engineering or geophysics?
Well we have two daughters and they both work downtown; they’re both professional women. One has a degree in Computer Sciences and she works for Alliance Pipeline. The other one has a double Math degree, and she works as an actuary for a pension benefits company. I tried to talk them both into taking jobs like mine, but neither was interested.
Neither of them knew what she wanted to do when she went to university. I said, “Okay, why don’t you just keep taking basic classes until you find something you like?” My thinking was that I wanted them to try something new every semester. It wasn’t until my oldest daughter’s second year that she found something she liked. First semester, she took a geology class; she actually took it from a professor that was one of my professors when I was at U. of S. but she didn’t like that. The next semester she took a computer science class and she loved computer sciences. That’s the key – to find something that you really like. A lot of kids go through school and they think they know what they want; they get to university and they keep working on one thing, but they get to a point where they wished they hadn’t gone into that field. They’re so far down the road, that it’s hard to change, and they’re almost trapped. I’m happy that my daughters are financially independent and happy. The second one knew that she wanted to do math but she just didn’t know what kind of jobs there were for math. But, they’re both happy at their jobs, and that makes a parent feel pretty good.
[Satinder]: How do you feel about the future?
I think future-wise, there’s going to be a need for geophysicists for a long time to come, partly because of the distorted demographics in our industry. It’s going to be a big problem finding enough engineers, geologists, geophysicists, processors; it’s going to be a big problem for the oil companies. I think that as long as I want to be an interpreter, I’m going to have work. It is difficult for some oil companies trying to keep good groups of people together, but in the long term those that do will be more successful than the rest of the oil patch. If I wanted to work for an oil company, that’s what I’d look for. It’s more fun to work as a group. I think the day of the royalty trusts will pass, because the industry can’t keep on putting all of the prospects into the trusts, and no money back into exploration.
[Oliver]: You have to pay the piper eventually.
That’s right. And so I think there will be a resurgence of exploration – well I think it’s already started. I don’t think it’s tremendously busy right now for new acquisition, but t here’s a large amount of 3Ds on the market. Also, the crew count is a little bit misleading because the channel count is so high; they’re laid out and shot so fast and moved on to the next project that the volume a single crew records is extremely high. I had a large 3D shot in November; it took less than two weeks to record, ten days or something. It went to the processing centre on Friday, and I had the processing results by the following Tuesday. Pretty shocking.
[Oliver]: Well, what we achieve now is quite incredible. Like the guys in the field, they have so much more to deal with, from negotiating with native groups, to dealing with environmental restrictions. Processing is way, way more competitive and profit margins are lower. And the interpreters have to come up with way more locations now than before; everybody’s pushed to the maximum.
Right. There’s not enough time, to sit back and actually think about what you’re doing. I think there’s going to be some very, very successful companies that are going to make a lot of money by taking a different approach. I don’t think that they are going to be public companies; I think they’re going to be private companies.
[Oliver]: Yeah, I think that’s already happening. What’s the name of that company – it’s a lake? Peyto! They’re a bit like that, a little bit contrary. Are they public or private?
Well they were public, but they’ve turned themselves into a royalty trust. Unfortunately, that was one piece of advice I didn’t follow. I think they were at $2.50 when Rob Shepherd advised me to buy some and it’s now $28.00.
[Oliver]: He didn’t advise me to buy but he told me they were quite an incredible group of guys.
[Satinder]: Well, Neil, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to come and talk to you.
Thank you very much for coming to talk to me.