A visit to the field, geology, tests - what really happened? (June 1998)

PDM's editor goes on a geological field trip, finds himself in a familiar place and is forced to do some Knowledge Work with an aging brain.

Always on the look-out for excitement, I signed up for a geological field trip to the Jura fold-belt conducted by the Association Française des Techniciens de Pétrole (the French equivalent of the AAPG or PESGB). Having had some experience of the area (in fact having been responsible for a highly unsuccessful exploration program that ultimately caused the demise of the company I managed - thereby precipitating my sideways step into E&P IT) I expected that we would touch on some familiar themes. I was more than a little surprised though, to find myself on the site of one of our exploration wells addressing the assembled throng of eager geologists, trying to explain our mistakes. The essential ingredient of failure (and of course success) in oil exploration is a "good prospect". This one was great. A more or less virgin basin, the first well with a good show and some light oil tested.


Large structures were all over the place, so much in fact that we had to cheat the economic potential down so that it wasn't too totally fantastic. The next well tested some more oil, yet more of a tease really, and the third and fourth were the dusters that busted the company. Well that was more or less the story, and what exactly happened is not relevant to the discussion here. What did cross my mind though was how poorly the knowledge gained during this short and recent period had been preserved. What also impressed me was the impact of a photograph of the well being tested that one of my better prepared ex-colleagues had brought along.

Crass mistakes

After the various interludes that punctuate a geological field trip in France (wine tasting and 3 hour long meals - not to mention the odd World Cup match on the telly), I was led to muse further about knowledge capture, management and ownership. Since a geologist once described a core upside down, I have been an advocate of video-taping such mission critical activity as core description and well-tests as a matter of record. Apart from avoiding crass mistakes, this would bring posterity closer to the thinking process of the person-on-the-spot. In a similar vein, a video-tape of the partner meeting that signs off on a drilling location would provide a record not only of the logic of the actual well drilled, but also of some of the alternative hypotheses. These may be of great interest later - especially if they turn out to be correct! The possibilities of better recording the process involved in deciding a drilling location, or even a development program are endless and I am personally surprised that the Knowledge Management industry is not promoting such simple solutions.

Lost to posterity

The ultimate fate of such information - along with more conventional data such as well logs, seismics and so on is also an interesting topic. All the data and information that my company had acquired was sold on to a third party which has no current interest in the area as far as I know. This dataset is effectively hidden from all but the most perspicacious newcomer. The Major that operated the permit has no doubt kept a complete dataset, but they too have written-off the area and are unlikely to re-cycle this information. Reporting regulations mean that the government only gets a sanitized subset of information collected - well logs, test data etc. - so they are only a limited source of information about what "really" happened.

Who's knowledge is it?

This leads me to a further musing. If we ever get to the stage where Knowledge management allows us to preserve and share much more information about prospect development than is currently the case, then who owns the Knowledge? There are some generally accepted practices - a geologist who leaves a company can use the knowledge he has in his head, but cannot take reports or notes away from his or her employer. Many "classical" data types are reported to government according to sometimes widely different local legislation as The Data Room has recently determined. But new technologies may pressure some accepted practices. Think of the following scenario. An association works up a prospect area with a virtual asset team which communicates using Knowledge Work-oriented tools such as Lotus Notes. During the work process, the association builds up a number of Notes databases that collectively make up a complete record of the history of the activity on the permit.

Knowledge brokers?

They may also be storing workstation interpretations if the application vendors ever dream up a way of achieving this! Now lets imagine that subsequently the partners turn their back on the prospect and abandon the permit, the joint venture is disbanded. Returning to the question "who owns the Knowledge?", it is not the joint venture - it doesn't exist anymore. The individual companies will probably still be there. But unless they decide to re-work the area, the information will likely be lost to posterity. Governments too may be interested in these datasets as forming the basis for information packages to be used in promoting exploration. In the past, interpretation has been effectively kept out of the public domain. But the data spectrum, from acquisition through interpretive processing to workstation ready data has effectively blurred the distinction between raw and processed data. Maybe we will have Knowledge brokers - just as we have seismic brokers today. In the future, not being able to access the workflow database may become as anachronistic as not having access to digital data today.

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