Stephen Beatty is a geophysicist with broad experience in integrated geological/geophysical interpretation. Passionate about combining technical expertise with business savvy and strategic thinking, he has the experience in building and testing successful exploration opportunities in the Devonian Carbonate plays from Calgary to Inuvik, Cretaceous and Tertiary plays in the Canadian Arctic and Mississippian and Triassic foothills plays in N.E. British Columbia.
Stephen received a ‘Gold Medal in Earth Science Program’ for his B.Sc. Honours degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1998, and joined Petro Canada Oil and Gas in Calgary the same year. After serving there for 7 years, in 2005 he moved to BG Canada, Calgary and is still working there. In August 2009 Stephen accepted a higher position at BG’s head office in the UK, which will enable him to advise and assist technical teams and champion technologies within BG worldwide. Before Stephen left for England, we requested an interview to which he sportingly agreed. Following are excerpts from the interview with Satinder Chopra and Marian Hanna.
(Photos courtesy: Joyce Au)
[Satinder]: So let’s begin by asking you about your educational background and work experience.
I have an Honour’s Degree in Geophysics from the University of Western Ontario. I started as a summer student at Petro-Canada in 1997 and they hired me on full-time when I graduated in 1998. I spent seven years at PetroCanada and I have spent the last four and a half at British Gas (BG).
[Satinder]: How did you decide to get into Geophysics?
In High School, I enjoyed my science classes and the applied sciences always interested me. I knew I wanted to do something hands-on with science, especially physics. The only thing at that stage that I could think of that fit the criteria was engineering. I wasn’t convinced that that was the right avenue for me, so I took General Science first year at University of Western Ontario that mimicked the courses that first year Engineers took. That gave me the option at the end of first year of transferring into Engineering or going into Physics or Chemistry or Computer Science or Math. So that kept my options open.
I had an Atmospheric Physics Prof first year. I always liked watching the weather and understanding weather patterns and clouds – a real day dreamer, a cloud watcher. I thought this sounded much more interesting to me than Engineering and decided to go into Physics. I ended up getting a summer job in a Physics Lab for one of the Atmospheric Physics Profs in the Department to see how I liked it. That summer I talked with a number of the grad students in the lab and discovered that the undergrad Physics Program at Western is very theoretical. It’s not until you get into the graduate level that you would get into more applied types of Physics. So I went and talked to the Physics Department Counselor. He asked if I would consider Geophysics and my response was, “What is that?” So he explained how physics can be used to study the earth – such as P-Waves and S-waves from earthquakes. I grew up in Southern California and we learned about P-Waves and S-waves in elementary school – and I have been through several earthquakes. I thought Geophysics sounded quite interesting so I went and met the Head of the Department.
That summer I transferred into the Geophysics Program and never looked back. I quite enjoyed the geology side of the program as well as the physics. It was something that I never would have thought of taking in University but I am glad that I did.
[Satinder]: I noticed that in the last 11 years you have worked at just two companies, Petro-Canada and BG, so could you share with the readers why you switched from Petro-Canada to BG?
Petro-Canada was really good to me. I had a really good team that I worked with and a really good set of management and leadership and I got to do a wide array of things. I started out working North East B.C. and I worked on the whole section from the Cretaceous down to the Devonian. My area grew from the Plains down to the Peace River Arch and then West to the Foothills. I then got the opportunity to work the MacKenzie Delta, and that was quite exciting working frontiers, especially drilling a well in the Arctic. Following that I was given the opportunity to move to St. Johns Nfld. and work off-shore East Coast on Hibernia. I was there at an exciting time, for a geophysicist, as I got to be involved in PSDM, 4D, AVO, and inversion projects.
When I moved back to Calgary a lot of the management that had an exploration focus had moved on to other companies and the company seemed reluctant to pursue frontier exploration opportunities. I was told to stall activity in some of the frontier areas I was working. I wanted to see ideas tested and to drill wells. It became apparent to me that our philosophies were not aligned. That was the main driver for me to look for another opportunity. The opportunity at BG came along at that time and it involved some exciting exploration so I decided to take it.
[Marian]: When you worked Hibernia was that development or was it still in the exploration phase?
Most of the work was development. Along with delineating some of the extremities of the main Hibernia reservoir, we were evaluating resources in up-hole zones and working on possible development plans for the Ben Nevis and Avalon sands where we had a number of pilot wells producing.
[Satinder]: Stephen, some people think that to move up the ladder you need to switch jobs and there are others who are of the opinion that staying with one company allows you to identify with that company, to sort of grow with that company and there is a sense of belonging that you develop etc. So what is your take on this and why?
I don’t think there is a right answer to that question. It depends on your personality and the company where you start your career with. Does your company’s culture fit with your personality? I think the people that are very adaptable are more likely to find it enjoyable to pursue a long-term fit in one company and those that are less adaptable are going to try different places until they find something that is the right fit for them. Regardless of who you are or where you are, I think what’s important is to always try to do your best. Everyone’s journey forward or upward or wherever you want to go will be unique and different, but as long as you are striving to enjoy what you do and do it to the best of your ability that will help steer you in your decision whether to stay long-term somewhere or move to another company.
[Satinder]: Stephen, tell us about the work culture that you experienced at both of the companies, PetroCanada first and then BG.
I am a scientist not a social scientist, so this is not my area of expertise. I think the biggest influence that I have noticed on work culture is the individuals on the team that you are on and the management and leadership of that team. I have seen a wider array of work culture across teams within each of these companies, rather than the difference in work culture between the two organizations. The influence that local management and leadership have in setting the tone of the work culture of a team or an office is very influential – far more influential than the overall tone of the company.
[Satinder]: What has been your philosophy towards professional growth? I think you have done quite well in the short period of 11 years or so that you have been in industry.
The philosophy I adopted quite early on was thinking of my career like building a pyramid. The ultimate height is defined by the width of the base. So I set out to work on as wide an array of challenges as I could. That’s why I have taken the opportunities to work as many different areas as I can. To try different things and to get as wide a technical base as possible so that I have a solid foundation.
[Satinder]: Tell us about three personal traits of Stephen Beatty the person.
People that know me would all agree that I like to question and think about everything. It comes from a desire to try and understand and make sense of the world around me. I think I must irritate a lot of people when I start questioning and challenging the accepted ways of the world that maybe don’t make much sense.
Another trait that comes to mind is I always try to be genuine when I talk to people. You will get the same Stephen Beatty regardless of who you are. I am the same with whoever I am talking with. That sometimes gets me into trouble because some perceive this as a lack of respect. I just see it as being comfortable with whoever I am talking with by just being myself. I tend to think out loud so you’ll get you know my real thoughts on things.
The third trait is I like to challenge the status quo and do things differently or uniquely. I am always trying to seek new or different ideas that improve on any existing system. I get really energized and excited when the results show that the answer is counter-intuitive. I like that it stretches the mind when you realize that the answer is quite the opposite to what you intuitively thought would have been the answer. Then it causes you to change the way you think about something. I love those type of “aha” moments. They are quite mentally stimulating.
[Satinder]: Sometime ago I was reading an article on-line and it was where I got the next question from. I found it very interesting and what it said was – based on a large body of work on genetics and neurochemistry of personality, people can be divided into four basic temperaments: explorers, builders, directors and negotiators. We all express all these four temperaments to some degree, but we tend to express some more than the others. For example, I consider myself more of an explorer than a builder and less of a director and negotiator. How do you characterize yourself?
Definitely an explorer. I think that’s the one that stands out first and foremost. I think that’s right – everyone expresses those different attributes at different times. I think that even when I express the builder, the director, and the negotiator attributes, they are driven by the explorer. I am using them as a tool focused on my passion for exploration.
[Satinder]: Which attribute would rank number two to explorer in your personality makeup?
I think I would be the same as you – builder would be the next one.
[Satinder]: So we are similar?
[Marian]: Stephen what have been your outstanding career accomplishments that you are most proud of?
I think the first one is just the array of projects that I have been able to work on. I have worked on some pretty unique projects that not many people get an opportunity to be a part of. That’s definitely something I am quite grateful for. I think the other things that come to mind are sort of a collection of smaller items that have a similar theme. I can probably categorize them as coming up with an idea or concept that impacts the direction people are heading. When someone begins to support an idea once they investigate it, when they were previously against it, I feel a sense of accomplishment. This has happened with some exploration concepts in NEBC and the MacKenzie Delta as well as some seismic inversion work at the Hibernia that I was involved in with Petro-Canada. I think being involved in building the deep Devonian team at BG had quite a few of those challenges and hurdles where directions needed to be turned around. Now we’ve developed support behind using some of the different types of geophysical technology that we use. So, I think I get a sense of accomplishment from having ideas that change people’s direction.
[Satinder]: Stephen, what has been your most challenging project?
I think my current project at BG. The challenge has ended up being much broader than I initially anticipated the challenge would be when I went to work for BG. Looking back on what the team has accomplished in the face of a bunch of challenges has been rewarding. It has been challenging on the business side, it’s been challenging on the technical side, and it’s been challenging on the people interaction side being a small asset with an overseas head office. I don’t think there are any of these challenging areas that we haven’t, as a team, addressed or improved. We haven’t been beaten by these challenges!
[Marian]: I’ll concur. So in your opinion what is required for doing good and effective exploration, for instance when generating prospects? What has been your strategy that you have followed?
I think the first and most important aspect of exploration is being an explorationist. It seems obvious but that is something that often gets overlooked. It’s related to the question that you asked before in terms of different personality types. Not everyone falls in the category of being an explorer. It takes a certain personality type and way of thinking. Given that personality, I think there are three things that will make an explorer successful. You are going to need tenacity. You will face naysayers and challenges and obstacles and barriers. You need to have a thick skin and stay focused on the vision that you have. If you don’t believe in the prospect that you are recommending you are not going to get anyone else to. I think that relates to the second one which is confidence. You need to have confidence in your abilities, your team’s abilities, the company’s abilities and that is essential to actually getting exploration ideas tested.
I think the third is vision. You need to be able to see, to visualize what you are trying to accomplish ahead of time. That clear vision becomes your benchmark as you start testing your ideas and learning from them. Always comparing back to this vision ensures you are on the right track – especially when you are applying what you learned from your failures. There are always failures in exploration that cause you to modify the plans. Vision guides the big picture application of this learning to keep you focused on what you are ultimately trying to accomplish.
[Marian]: So therefore you would say that flexibility is part of that as well then, in order to successfully work with modifications?
Yes. I always have a plan but my plan is always changing. The vision doesn’t change though. You need to have a plan but you need to know the goal so that when you modify and adapt and are flexible in that plan you don’t end up being inconsistent in the direction you are heading.
[Marian]: So what new geophysical technologies hold the promise of extraction of more information for characterizing hydrocarbon reservoirs, and do you use them in your interpretation for lowering risk?
It’s not necessarily one particular technology; it’s how you use the available technology. I still think there are a lot of exploration opportunities left in any basin around the globe. Geophysical technology has progressed so fast in the last decade. It has opened doors that are only limited by our imagination. The tool kit that geophysicists have today is overwhelming. I think these technologies put together with good science and good imagination will separate the good explorers from everyone else. I have always, in any project that I have worked on in the past, tried a diverse set of technology aimed at two things.
First, trying to constrain the uncertainty. You might have a fair amount of information from seismic, from well logs, from regional geologic understanding, but it is always a non-unique solution. If you can constrain the solution further using technology, that adds value.
Second, trying to reduce risk. Trying to bring forward the highest probability prospects out of a herd of prospects is something that I have tried to use technology to improve. This is more elusive.
[Marian]: So based on that I will go to the next question if you don’t mind. What new technologies have you utilized in your interpretations, and have they given you new and favourable insights?
The key in answering that question is that I try to do what others are not doing. I have always tried to do something that others have not tried on a particular play. I do this to help me understand the play in a new light. It comes from my desire to try to understand and make sense of everything. That drives my curiosity to find a new and different way to understand the problem. It doesn’t always need to be fancy, cutting edge technology. Sometimes it can be something simple like phase rotating your data. I have used that in the past. I noticed I had a 2D line that had a -90 degree phase shift at the reservoir level caused by carbonate stringers in an overlying shale. On that line it actually helped image the lateral variations in the reservoir a bit better. I then did seismic modeling to show why it does that. Well that is not new or cutting edge technology but it was something that no one else was doing or had recognized.
Sometimes using 3D instead of 2D can give you a drastic improvement over what your predecessors or your competitors have done on a particular play. There are times where there aren’t simple answers like these but I always try the simple ones first. The next step is to look at applying technology.
In my past I have tried to use a breadth of technology. I successfully used prestack depth migration in the Foothills when it was in its infancy. We had some success identifying pressure variations in blocks within the Hibernia reservoir with 4D. I have tried a fair amount of AVO. I have had success with AVO as a constraint on inversions. I’ve found rock physics modeling very useful. I have had success using ThinMAN and coherence volumes.
The technology that I like to use for a particular problem is always focused on trying to understand the play better. I try to figure out what is the biggest uncertainty that we have. Then I think about how you would use geophysical technology to help constrain this uncertainty. I try and make it well thought out and planned.
[Satinder]: Okay now, is it safe to say that you believe that many of the things you have mentioned will make a person a successful interpreter?
I suppose –
[Satinder]: What would you say is required to become one? You have mentioned a number of your personal traits and some of the challenges that you overcame by the technology implementation, but in general if you were asked this question, how would you respond?
From my experience to date, I’d say three things.
First and absolutely the most important is a good foundation in signal analysis and signal processing. I had an excellent Professor at University that brought it to life for me; to the point where I can visualize signal processing and signal analysis and Fourier transforms. I look at a seismic section or a well log and mentally in my head am able to do a pretty close ball park of what the impedance or the synthetic looks like. Visualizing this in your head can help you interpret the geology away from well control. So having a really good visual understanding of signal analysis and processing is, I think, very important.
The second is a good foundation in geology. I’ll use the visualize word again. I think it is important to be able to visualize both depositional processes and post depositional processes that alter the geology so that your geophysical interpretation, the maps you generate, the prospects you come up with, are geologically reasonable. When you show your interpretation to your geologist they should say, “Wow that looks like an image of my modern analog. That looks like geology.”
And I think the third thing, which kind of runs through those first two, is the ability to visualize in three dimensions and to think in four dimensions. The fourth dimension is adding the geological time component – how does the rock change over time? You need to be able to put the story together for how the rock was deposited, what processes did it go through between then and today and be able to put a three dimensional picture together in your head.
[Satinder]: What do you feel is entailed in doing a successful seismic interpretation? There are some geophysicists who would just generate structure maps from 3D seismic data and then there are others who would like to go through the complete exercise of trying to use the available technology and lower the risk. Of course all this can happen with the blessing of the management. So what is your stand on this?
I think successful seismic interpretation is telling a story. You’ve got to tell the story of how the rocks beneath the earth surface that you are remotely imaging got deposited, what happened to them in the millennia since and how did you migrate and trap hydrocarbons in them today. You need to build a story that you believe in. If you don’t believe in that story and you wouldn’t invest in it yourself, then that’s the point where you seek to use technology or gain some other type of new information. Is that what you are asking about – that some geophysicists generate structure maps and some try everything and the kitchen sink in terms of technology? In my mind it depends on the play you are working on. If you can build the story and understand it, believe it and get other people behind it and be successful with a structure map then sometimes that’s all you need. If you can’t believe it and get behind it yourself because you are lacking pieces of information because the play is more complex, then that’s when pursuing technology often helps you get that extra piece of information. That can help get the management buy-in because you can explain to them what the missing pieces in the story are, and how you are trying to fill those blanks in by applying technology.
[Marian]: Okay, this might open up a can of worms, but I notice that you are not a member of APEGGA. Can you tell us why you have not become a member?
I have to say I was quite turned off when I started in the Industry and heard all these stories of the legalistic approach of APPEGA. I didn’t like that they’d send threatening letters saying, “You must join or else.” I didn’t like hearing of people that would show an interest in joining only to be told their degree doesn’t match an Alberta degree and they’d have to take extra course work. That didn’t sound like an organization that I wanted to belong to or associate with.
I haven’t run across one good reason to join other than, “You have to.” Because I like to believe in what I put my name behind and I like things to make sense, I haven’t pursued this.
[Satinder]: Well, I can just add a little bit here from my experience. Regarding what you said about confirmation of qualifications, I believe to some extent it is the right way to go about it because they get hundreds and thousands of applications from people wanting to become members, so they have to scrutinize applications, go through a proper procedure and they are trying to balance one degree from a foreign University or even from the same country with what they have in Alberta. In the beginning I also was thinking like you, but then someone encouraged me and so I just went ahead and applied for certification. My degrees are from India and so I had to request the university to send my transcripts to APEGGA. It took some time, but there was no problem. They recognized the courses that I had done for my Masters degrees as well as my experience, and was not asked to do any more courses. Since then it has been fun. You said I believe in what I like to do, and I put my name behind what I do. This is just a legal way of putting your name behind what you have done. That’s all. That’s the way I think. But, again, it is a personal choice.
[Marian]: For sure, with both of us not originally being Canadians, but Canadians now, we both have experienced this and are both members of APPEGA now. I guess with anything the best way to make changes and improvements with a system is to get involved and to change it from within instead of without, but that’s my slant on it and it’s a personal choice but it might become mandatory so we will just cross that bridge when we get to it.
I couldn’t agree with you more that the best way to change something is from within. I just have a number of places that I’m trying to improve through my involvement. I only have so much time.
[Marian]: Fair enough! Could you expand what some of your other interests are??
I think first and foremost is my family. I’ve got a wonderful and supportive wife, especially these days with an upcoming international move, she has been very supportive and understanding. I’ve got two wonderful daughters coming up on two and four years old and they take up most of my time – any free time I have these days. So that is one of my interests and passions is spending time with my kids. They are only at this age for a short period of time and I want to be there for as much as I can because I won’t be able to get it back.
But there are some things that I continue to stay involved in. I play drums in a band at church – music is a big part of our family life. My wife plays piano so we often play our own music at home too. I also love cars. I have loved cars since the day I was born. I’ve got a hobby car and I like repairing it, modifying it and racing it. I think cars will always be a big part of my life.
[Satinder]: Oliver has labeled the next question as “The Satinder Question” – so I am going to go ahead with that. What would be your message for young entrants to our Industry?
Don’t be afraid to be yourself even if it is different from those around you or above you. Figure out who you are and be genuine, be yourself.
I also think figuring out what really interests you and what you are good at and pursuing that is what’s going to lead you to happiness in your career – and the most success as well.
I also think, as a new entrant to the industry, you might be the only person on the team that brings something no one else brings – a fresh perspective. Don’t underestimate that. Often experienced people have been doing something a certain way for a long period of time and they don’t look at a problem from different directions. Being new into the Industry your perspective will also be new and different, so don’t be afraid to share your ideas and observations with the team!
Most importantly, always do your best. Always strive to put your best foot forward. Don’t settle into the ‘good enough is good enough’ philosophy. Putting your best efforts into something will always be noticed and you will not regret doing it.
[Satinder]: Marian, do you have any other questions?
[Marian]: Not really a question, but an addition to Stephen’s last answer – Don’t be afraid. Just go out there and present your idea because one idea always spawns another. So maybe if that one doesn’t work you will come up with something else. So don’t be afraid.
[Satinder]: Stephen, amongst all these questions, was there any question that you expected me to ask and I forgot?
How about where I am moving to?
[Satinder]: Please go ahead and tell us.
I am moving to BG’s Head Office in the UK to be BG’s Geophysical Advisor. My role is to help geophysicists around the globe bring new technology to their roles and help share successful technology applications across the organization. I am quite excited about the opportunity. It should give me a very different perspective, a global perspective, on geophysics.
[Satinder]: Well Stephen, thank you very much for agreeing to get interviewed here with us – we appreciate it, and so will the readers.