The Executive Editors of SPE Reservoir Evaluation
& Engineering alternate writing the Executive Summary. This
issue's summary is written by Birol Dindoruk.
This is my last column as co-Executive Editor of SPEREE. I would like
to take this opportunity to thank the SPE staff, especially Stacie Hughes,
Jennifer Wegman, and Carole Young, for doing an excellent job in helping all of
us collectively deliver a quality journal. They were instrumental in helping me
assign papers and track the progress of reviews, particularly during my
never-ending long distance business trips with unpredictable Internet
connections. I also thank all the Technical Editors and Review Chairs for their
services and their contributions to the reservoir engineering literature.
Despite their busy work schedules, they made the most of their personal time to
review papers as quickly as possible. Finally, I would like to welcome Behrooz
Fattahi as my successor; I am sure many of you know Behrooz from his previous
role as a Review Chair, and I am confident that he will do an excellent job as
an Executive Editor.
There are always numerous questions about the review process and why a small
fraction of the reviews take longer than others. Therefore, I would like to
highlight some observations I’ve made over the past 2 years:
- In some years (like 2006), more papers than usual are submitted for review,
thus adding to the committee’s workload.
- With the electronic review process, Technical Editors (TEs) are more likely
to have differing or conflicting opinions because they cannot share information
(which is positive in that it prevents collusion among reviewers). These papers
require extra attention (mostly extra technical reviews). This often doubles
the time needed to complete a review. To accelerate the process, I sometimes
end up doing reviews myself for the subjects with which I’m most familiar, or I
solicit additional reviewers for a second opinion.
- Some reviews are insufficient (i.e., they are too brief or lack
constructive feedback), which costs us extra time as well. In saying this, I
believe that the quality of the review is much more important than how long it
takes to complete the review. The latter is easier to measure; therefore, most
talk revolves around it. The quality of the review, while harder to measure, is
more important; however, this does not mean that snail speed is acceptable.
Also, one must remember that the driving force for the TEs is their own
personal interest. Therefore, the Review Chairs and I struggle to do our best
within this zero-sum game. None of the systems in the journal publishing
business is perfect; authors may contest decline decisions made on their
papers, and we look at those manuscripts again to ensure that we haven’t missed
- For various reasons, some TEs (and, sometimes, Review Chairs) stay idle for
extended periods of time, which often causes a delay in the review process. We
encourage TEs to retire from the committee if they feel that they cannot submit
reviews within a reasonable amount of time; this can help quite a bit in
reducing a paper’s overall review time. To compensate for such turnover, we
make frequent additions to the committee, with new Technical Editors (TEs)
being added monthly (therefore, the committee list in each issue tends to be
out of synch with the latest status).
- The interdisciplinary nature of reservoir engineering further complicates
the process, especially when we receive a flood of papers on a specific topic.
In such cases, it is not always possible to make assignments immediately
because we may not have enough reviewers with the knowledge to provide in-depth
reviews on such subjects.
It should be noted, however, that peer-review time is improving across all
SPE technical journals. In 2004, it took an average of 8.5 months to complete a
review; for 2005, that number dropped to 7.3 months. We continually strive to
meet the Editorial Review Committee’s benchmark of reviewing all papers within
18 months of submission. Please let us know if you are interested in reviewing
papers and making this process even more efficient.
In this issue, we have many good papers on a wide spectrum of reservoir
engineering subjects (from upscaling fracture networks for simulation of
horizontal wells to identifying reservoir fluids by wavelet transform of well
logs). As the number of different areas that we work on as reservoir engineers
varies over time, one of the themes that remains constant is being able to
assist in decision making, from where and when to drill wells to what method to
use to exploit hydrocarbons more efficiently. Because scoping or feasibility
studies on improved/enhanced oil recovery projects are on the rise, one of our
biggest challenges is residual oil saturation, or SOR; the evidence for that is
overwhelming, give or take the two thirds of oil left in the ground. In fact,
during a conversation with one of my colleagues, the case was even more
obvious. He mentioned that when he joined the oil industry some 20 years ago,
he had heard that most of the oil in reservoirs was left behind and thought
that it would be a great challenge to be able to recover some of that oil.
Then, he added that some 20 years later, the overall amount of oil left behind
has not changed much. The reason that I wanted to highlight this is that our
battle against SOR is not over yet. In the same context, as you may expect, the
conversation went directly toward issues like the price of oil, and one of my
colleagues and I came up with a “scientific explanation”: “hydrocarbon
molecules have no way of knowing what the price is.” I think it is very true
that due to the cyclic nature of our industry, we sometimes forget what those
molecules really know or do not know. I see SOR as being the grand challenge of
reservoir engineering. Of course, the grand challenge has the grand
constraints: mobilization of the hydrocarbons using a minimum number of control
points (wells). The analogy that I draw is the following: we do not have power
plants on every street; however, we can distribute power efficiently across
long distances. You may, of course, argue that it is not the same problem, but
the issue is to be able to do something similar using the wells, distributing
what we want to deliver efficiently into the reservoir across long distances.
However, the transmission/distribution problem with respect to classical power
distribution is somewhat different; what we want to do has higher
dimensionality and complexity.
Another difficulty in what we do is the scarcity or uncertainty of data with
respect to the areal and vertical heterogeneities that we encounter. Basically,
we do not fully know the domain of interest, especially its flow properties.
Therefore, such unknown or known heterogeneities can complicate our job of
reducing SOR tremendously. As one of my professors once noted, “I can make any
easy differential equation very difficult by making the initial or boundary
conditions difficult.” Because the geology and the fluid properties (PVT) are
the ultimate initial condition for us, the same complication applies in
understanding the flow behavior and ultimately being able to design a process
to reduce SOR.
As we are depleting “easy oil,” our fundamental challenges are still there,
and as reservoir engineers, our talents are more in demand than ever. One of
the most satisfying aspects of reservoir engineering (and petroleum engineering
as a whole) is that it is a combination of both science and art. The “art” part
that is somewhat analogous to experience is so important that it is an integral
part of decision-making processes. While our classical challenges are here to
stay for the foreseeable future, this should not discourage us from finding
better, more innovative ways to exploit energy resources. I would like to close
with something that I truly believe: “What is impossible today will be easy and
possible tomorrow,” and “If your job can be done by a machine, then it soon