Executive Editors of SPE Reservoir Evaluation & Engineering alternate
writing the Executive Summary. This issue’s summary is by Birol Dindoruk.
One of my hobbies is to do "mini" statistics, and at every workshop
or course that I'm involved in, I do some kind of "health check" (for the
class, the industry, or whatever I am involved with at that point in time).
With the start of the new academic year, I performed my usual routine, handing
out some forms (very short and to the point) and asking about my students'
disciplines/majors, among other things. What (pleasantly) surprised me was
that majority of the students wanted to learn more about reservoir engineering
and/or switch to a reservoir engineering course of study. I found this
somewhat remarkable, and I was pleased to see that so many are interested;
interested people tend to make better students and performers in a given
subject. I have to admit that there is still a need for many good reservoir
engineers, and the current interest tends to match that need.
Shortly after distributing my recent survey, I needed a small document that I
had written, but I had a hard time finding it in my files (although I used
some of the other search/query tools that were available); I needed this
document to help me complete a project. The piece that I was doing was one of
those "pathological cases"; what I mean is that it needed some
expert-level interpretation and, thus, required some additional research on
the subject. Therefore, I needed to do some digging.
While doing this, I realized that a pattern has developed since I've started
doing more and more work on complicated subjects. We can really get more out
of data if we look at them carefully; for most cases, this is like putting a
puzzle together. The main difference between this puzzle and the ones that are
sold in stores is that we don't know the shape, the look of it, or the number
Now, why this renewed interest in reservoir engineering and the "industrial
puzzles"? Well, we may have an easy answer for the former. Perhaps it is
the oil price. Reservoir engineering, as the final assembly point of
subsurface data, is becoming more complicated. Reservoir engineers are
required to extract useful quantitative information using the current tools
and techniques and understand the contributions of other disciplines. The
problems that reservoir engineers (and other disciplines in the E&P industry)
are now facing are also getting more complex. Some of the complexities are
originating from the details that can be captured and new data resulting from
the enabling/new technologies. In the past, we did not have certain concerns
that we may have today because we did not have good-quality data and the
detailed information available now. I call this "no brain, no headache." So,
what we did not know has made the uncertainty range wider while not making the
pieces of the "puzzle" fit. The new generation of tools helps us,
but the extraction of useful information for decision making still requires
work by skilled technical personnel.
Along the same line of thought, I remember reading the following observation
from J. Ford Brett: "The world’s best knowledge base is the Harris
County dump [near Houston]. You could search it with a backhoe, but who would
want to? If you did, though, you could find a billion-barrel oil field—I
guarantee it!" (1) Houston being the oil capital of the U.S., there must
be enough discarded data in the dump that a very skilled technical team might
be able to assemble it in a way that could lead to a major discovery. The
message (or at least part of it) is quite interesting: are we sitting on data
and information, then throwing it in the garbage? What else do we need to do
to make the sketchy data valuable (and what is the value of incremental
I've tried to make the case, but there are also other thoughts on this, mainly
opposing: should we make every project a "science project" (with the
perception of focusing on, perhaps, unnecessary details, or making an overly
detailed study)? Well, absolutely not. For example, we should not measure
everything twice, and we cannot afford to do so anyway. In a way, both points
of view can be right. Therefore, today's reservoir engineers should be able to
wear two different "hats"—an academic hat and a practical hat.
The key skill is knowing which hat to wear and when, and when a practical
solution is best. In doing this, subject-matter experts should play an
important role by giving valuable advice to the other engineers. This requires
communication between different levels of expertise, and training is an
important part of this, especially in a technologically changing environment.
Some of the training should at least be in the context of being able to ask
the right questions (awareness/some knowledge), not necessarily to learn every
detail that may or may not be needed in day-to-day activities.
To some, this may sound expensive (experts, training, etc.). Well, I heard
this statement some time ago: "If you think that training is expensive,
try ignorance." I agree with this. Without training, and without having
the right data and expertise, we cannot see the value in what we toss in the
garbage; skilled and well-trained E&P personnel will form the best
insurance against this.
(1) After Isherwood, R. and Morrow, K.: "New Internet Era in Data
Management," Knowledge Management in E&P Marketplace, Hart’s E&P