October 2007 President's Letter

Applied Geoscience Conference on Mudstones:
An Example of HGS’s Technology Transfer Programs

by Linda Sternbach
At the beginning of this month, HGS is sponsoring our first-ever "Applied Geoscience Conference: U.S. Gulf Region Mudstones as Unconventional Shale Gas/Oil Reservoirs, Fractured and Non-Fractured," at the downtown Houston Doubletree Hotel, October 1 and 2. This program was put together in only seven months, starting from an idea by Frank Walles and the Northsiders’ technical committee in April 2007. I want to explain how the Northsiders’ group could put together, and execute, a workshop in this short time period with the help of HGS leadership. I will also discuss the growing popularity of this type of 2-day technical program. I hope this can be a template for HGS technical conferences on "hot topics" in the future.
Geologists often get passionate about an industry topic; for example, carbonate reservoirs or deepwater depositional systems. Frank Walles is a Senior Geological Advisor at Devon Energy whose passion is unconventional resources. HGS is very fortunate to have Frank as one of its active members. He has put several years into organizing and leading the Northsiders’ Luncheon technical program. His position at Devon is something to be proud of-he is responsible for corporate-level technology transfer and technology development and a champion of unconventional resource plays.
Frank Walles and the Northsiders’ group got the idea for this conference prior to April 2007. Frank had attended past SPE technology workshops, and had organized the 2006 EMD AAPG program on "Shale Gas, Tight Sands, Coal Bed Methane and Gas Hydrates." He wanted to put together a conference involving top experts on unconventional resources, but he didn’t want the conference to be another "Barnett Shale Conference" because that topic had been done recently by other societies. What helped to fast-track the mudstone conference idea was that he and co-chair Paul Basinski of ConocoPhillips had already contacted many key people in the shale-gas/unconventional-reservoir topic area. Frank is the type of manager who is not shy about approaching key knowledge workers to present their work. The main question back in April was, "Can HGS and the Northsiders’ Committee put a new idea for a conference together in time to have it advertised and ready to go to make the July deadline of the September HGS Bulletin?" Due to the limited time frame, Frank had to count on his Northsiders’ Committee for significant logistical support. Key volunteers included Northsiders’ Committee co-chair David Tonner (International Logging), Bruce Martin (Devon), Kirk Barrell (Wave Exploration) and others; they got the hotel contract at the Doubletree, arranged for catering, and put together the conference brochure and CD.
Back in April, I talked to Frank Walles about his dream of hosting a mudstone conference and realized that we could get this program organized in time for the fall schedule. I thought this could be modeled after the "Africa Symposium" and, since the 2007 Africa Symposium was being held in Cape Town, South Africa, there was an opening in our schedule for a multi-day geoscience conference. The key ingredients for a fast track conference were there: an experienced HGS technical organizer (Frank Walles), a hot topic (mudstones and shale gas), and a good conference template (the Africa Conference).
The New Model for HGS Technology Conferences
Years past, HGS organized "short courses" about geology and computer technology. The old style was that geologists "needed" to take courses to improve their skills and that our members would fit this training in on their weekends or nights. We have found that this is not a popular model for busy professionals today. What is popular today are day-time, one- and two-day conferences. One reason for the growing support of this type of conference is that attendees can get time off from work to attend, and count it towards training or continuing education credits. The day-long program has time for socializing with geoscientists of similar interests, and there are take-home notebooks and CDs. The conference is designed for Houston-based members, and rolled out at a discount price compared to the cost of a national society conference like SPE or AAPG.
I have to give credit to a break-through conference that changed HGS’s approach. It was the "Dry Hole Seminar" held on Nov 8, 2000, organized by Kevin McVey, who was serving on the HGS Board of Directors. What made this successful was that it featured a day-long format of multiple speakers with case histories and a take-home notebook to document the examples shown. It was an exciting variation of the standard lecture/class format, and people loved it. The first "Dry Hole Seminar" was followed by a second version called "Disappointing Seismic Anomalies" held Oct 21, 2003, at the Marathon Building, co-chaired by Kevin McVey and Evelyn Medvin.
Back in 2001, the HGS International Group’s leaders decided to put together a two-day conference in Houston dedicated to exploration in offshore Africa. This was the first "Africa Symposium." The International Explorationists Group, led by Al Danforth, Steve Henry and Ian Poyntz, formed an alliance with the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain to alternate Africa Symposium conference locations annually between England and Houston. In subsequent years, the two-day conference concept became established as a successful program with Houston meetings in 2001, 2003 and 2005.
I really took notice when I attended the 2005 Africa Symposium as HGS Vice-President. This successful program was held at the Marriott Westchase, and the strength of the technical program brought in over 300 attendees; many people traveled to Houston from overseas. The HGS International Group organizers showed a lot of business sense because they priced their conference right and added vendor sponsorship to help finance the social hour and meeting materials. The Africa Symposium became, in my mind, the right way to put on local technology conferences. In case you are marking your calendar early, the 2008 HGS/PESBG Africa Symposium is going to be in Houston next September.
In closing, I have a challenge for our HGS readers: do you have a passion for a geological topic, and do you think 150-300 people would also like to share your interest in a future HGS Applied Technology Conference? How about another "Dry Hole Seminar" or Internationally-themed conference? The HGS has the ability to support and advertise these types of conferences here in Houston and the timing from concept to execution can be quite short, as demonstrated by the Northsiders’ Mudstone Conference. It has to start with a passion for a conference topic and people willing to work on the program, but HGS is the place to host such a program.

Linda Sternbach
Sunday, October 7, 2007
From the President