May 2009 From The President

Creativity, Experience, and Enthusiasm
I recently attended a reception for the students and faculty sponsors of teams in the Imperial Barrel Award competition (HGS is a sponsor). Started at Imperial College, this competition consists of teams of mostly graduate geology students who are given a data set including well logs and seismic data and a summary of information about a prospective basin. They have six weeks to develop a viable prospect, which must then be presented to a committee of industry judges. The competition provides an excellent simulation of a real-world exploration problem, and it has become increasingly popular over the last several years.
I was very impressed with the quality of the students participating in our regional competition. These students were bright, personable and enthusiastic, and best of all, they were excited about the oil and gas industry.
During the reception, I spoke to another attendee who was chief geologist for a division of a large local company. His company planned to bring in a number of summer interns this year, and we chatted about the high quality of the students at the competition. “The great thing about students is that they don’t know what can’t be done, so they just go ahead and do it. I wish there was a way to restore that mindset to my staff,” he said.
I think he’s got a point. After you’ve been in the business for a while, it is easy to know what can and cannot be done. This is usually called “experience,” and it’s the reason experienced geologists are valuable to a company. But it’s also easy to fall into a pattern of doing what you know works, and after a decade or two, that can become complacency. How can we maintain a creative mindset, and remain open to possibilities? How can we reframe what we know into a new set of ideas?
Summer interns have an advantage in that they generally have a finite project. Their data have generally been gathered before they arrive, and they are presented with a problem that needs to be solved. They have few distractions and one deadline, the end of the summer. They are encouraged to venture far and wide in a company, to ask advice of experts, to follow their curiosity down new paths of thought, and to bounce their ideas off their advisors. The projects they work on tend to be things that their companies want to know, but aren’t urgent enough to place a staff member onto full time. Often the projects come from an idea a staffer has wanted to follow but hasn’t had time because other projects have higher priority.
Why not set out the same set of circumstances for the geological staff, in a structured manner? Develop a 3-month “in-house sabbatical” program available to staff geologists every few years, to encourage the creative application of experience to reframe a problem, or to come up with some new ideas. Some of us are able to do this regularly, but others may need to step out of the day-to-day press of business into a more protected environment to rediscover their own creativity. Providing a protected environment to encourage creative thinking says that creativity is valued, and we all know that in geology, creativity can provide concrete economic results.
May brings us some excellent talks, beginning with Dr. Lesli Wood (TBEG) speaking at the May 11 General Dinner about the processes, sources and sinks for sediments moving along the eastern Mexico margin. May 14 we will hold a Continuing Education class on “Reservoir Engineering Tools for Geologists,” and at the International Dinner May 18, we’ll hear Carol Law (Anadarko) speaking about opening a new exploration frontier in Mozambique. May 19, Bob Hardage (UT Austin, Distinguished Speaker) speaks at the Northsiders’ lunch about deepwater hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico as an exploration target, and at the Environmental and Engineering dinner, Anton Rozsypal and Paul Lewis (TCEQ) will discuss rule changes to the TRRP and above- and underground storage tanks. I hope to see you there.

May 2009 HGS Bulletin
Thursday, May 7, 2009
From the President