East meets west at Vienna AAPG (September 1997)

Neil McNaughton, PDM's editor attended the Vienna AAPG's International Conference and Exhibition - despite the sausages beer and sauerkraut, he survived to tell the tale.

The AAPG International Conference and Exhibition in Vienna was held early September and while the main theme was the geology and prospects of Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, a hidden agenda could be discerned in the creeping invasion of IT and even geophysics into the geological realm. As a hybrid (mutant?) geologist come geophysicist I have always considered the division of labors between the two G's to be artificial - at least in the interpretation end of the business - and find it natural that geologists are considered as targets for the sale of geophysical interpretation systems. While Landmark and GeoQuest were conspicuous by their absence, others, including CGG, and the newly "Paradigmed" CogniSeis were enthusiastically showing stratigraphic interpretation technology, volume visualization tools and the like. A smattering of smaller companies were showing innovative solutions to document and inventory management while Petroconsultants, while still declaring that they were "in the data sales not software business" were none the less demonstrating a beta release of their new Enhanced Data Graphic Engine EDGE (see elsewhere in this issue) which for all the world looks like Landmark's Open Explorer less the seismics. In the conference there was an afternoon devoted to databasing, business process reengineering and databanks. Even StorageTek was there with a working Timberwolf cartridge system!


Of course, as geologists, the AAPG members are taken a lot more seriously than geophysicsts and got the benefit of a keynote speech from R. Lukman of OPEC. Since the oil price has had a major impact on my career and likely will on yours, and since OPEC is in existence to regulate the oil price, you may like a précis of how they are going about it. OPEC has a target price of around 21$ per barrel. They try and limit production from their member countries so that supply and demand are balanced at around this price level. Unfortunately, non-OPEC countries do not play the game and are continually producing as much as they can, putting OPEC in a bind. OPEC's position as the regulator means that they can either flood the market, depress the price and cut their noses to spite their faces as it were, or they can cut production, watch the oil price rise and their revenues shrink. The question one has to ask is, does OPEC actually have any impact at all on the oil price today?

Contractor role

Many people I have talked to in recent conferences has expressed surprise at the "image building" activity of major oil companies who put up stands and appear to be acting in a contractor role. Chevron had a significant presence in the AAPG conference and explained to us how their role in many of their new ventures was very much that of a contractor. Chevron have re-invented themselves in recent years, and have moved from being an exploration company to a nearly exclusive production oriented outfit. This move from E to P has been painful for many technological sectors, with exploration oriented activity such as geochemistry having to react quickly to avoid complete extinction. Chevron's geochemists, once leaders in the exploration domain are getting a new lease of life practicing their black art on reservoir fluids to detect compartmented reservoirs from their geochemical fingerprint. Time lapse monitoring of reservoir fluids can then be used to detect co-mingling from different reservoirs due to causes such as pipe failure or damaged cement. This time element to data, and continuous control of the reservoir ties in to new business process such as that described by H. Wilson (separate report in this issue) and to data models such as Finder 8 featured in our lead article.

poles apart

An entertaining insight into how Amoco is ensuring that their asset teams maintain peak performance was given by Peter Carragher. The in-thing in Amoco is Polarity Management, a concept developed by Barry Johnson in 1992 and described on the Polarity Management Association's webpage (www.polaritymanagement.com) as "identifying and managing unsolvable problems". Such a polarity is the divergence of views and approaches to exploration that exists between the technical and management sides of the business. According to PM theorists, these divergences, tensions and the traditionally conflictual approach to their resolution lead a company through a recognizable cycle of polarities as follows. First the technicians get it right and obtain high success rates through the application of state of the art technology. Next the technical approach fails as new paradigms come into play, other companies become more successful elsewhere, or with other techniques. Then management has to step in with a management driven polarity cycle. This may succeed for a time as the focus is then on adding "dollar rather than barrel" value, until it too implodes and a new technical cycle begins again. Sounds familiar and Amoco claim that "maintaining a careful balance between the extremes is essential for long term success". Those of you who don't have access to Johnson's book might try Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, which arrives at a similar conclusion if my memory serves me well.

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