From the President - February 2014

From the President - February 2014 by Barry Katz

Some Musings from the President

My letters to the membership as Editor, and now as President, have focused on volunteerism, the need for continuous learning, and mentoring. When I sat down this month to prepare my letter I decided to take a different approach. I will share with you the top ten things that I have learned during my thirty-five year career. I hope they ring true to those of you that have been around a while and will be of some use to those that are just starting out. Not in any specific order these learnings are:


1. The rocks tell the story. Back in graduate school we were handed rocks and asked to tell their story — where they formed and how they changed through time. In the field, we learned about four dimensional relationships. Over my career, geology has become much more quantitative and computing capacity has grown. This has led to a growing reliance on numerical modeling and, unfortunately, a decrease in observations. One must remember that models are simplifications of nature. They have a purpose. Models check for consistency of an interpretation. Models provide a means to test what is possible. But only the rocks have recorded the history of a basin and they must be read to constrain our models.

2. Review the data and the foundation for an interpretation. Over the course of one’s career we are very often presented with a completed study and our time is limited so we focus on the executive summary, abstract, or key conclusions. I can’t suggest strongly enough that one needs to “trust but verify.” I have seen many cases where limited data have been stretched or twisted beyond reasonable limits. Some of the questions that I ask are: 1) are the data significant and statistically meaningful; 2) are there sufficient data for the area or stratigraphic interval of interest; and 3) are the data internally consistent? Furthermore, I have found that not all work has relied on appropriate foundation. Recently, while reviewing some manuscripts, I read an increasing number of papers simply stating that the interpretation guidelines differ because these samples came from country “X” or the work was down in country “Y.” Sorry, but chemical and physical principles are not country dependent.

3. Geology requires integration and context. Very often data are viewed out of context and their significance may be lost or overstated. As an example, many years ago as a new professional, I was reviewing data on Cretaceous anoxic events. I came across a large volume of data and many papers published on samples from Gubbio, Italy. This led me to the conclusion that the organic-rich black shales were extensive and volumetrically important. I then had an opportunity to visit the localities discussed; although the shale laterally extensive, it was no more than 1.5 meters thick. Much less important than I had thought. Context was clearly required. Integration also remains a key. Geology is multifaceted and a meaningful interpretation requires that multiple datasets and types be brought together. For example, as a geochemist I work with geochemical data, but to complete my interpretation and extend the interpretation beyond the sampling point, I often pull in stratigraphical information, paleoclimate data, and paleogeographical interpretations.

4. There are usually multiple valid interpretations. As a consequence of the number of unknowns in our work, multiple interpretations often exist. One is generally more probable than the others and one may be our preferred option. We need, however, to examine the alternatives and gain an understanding as to the probability of each. We then need to determine what additional work could be done to limit the number of options and focus in on the most likely case.

5. Communication is an important key. No matter how good an idea is it has no value unless it is effectively communicated. Remember that all communication is at least two ways. Ideas must be received. Tailor communications to your audience. A technical presentation and a management presentation are typically very different. One focuses on the details of the science, the data, and the why. The other focuses on the bottom line, the conclusions and the implications. As technical people, we are proud of all the details, but at times they may cloud the story. Be ready to provide the details and the necessary supporting information, but hold back until asked.

6. Good mentors and role models are important. Formal mentors are important. It is a relationship that you can depend on. A mentoring relationship, however, need not be formal and you may not even know that such a relationship exists. Search out people that you admire because of their technical knowledge or understanding of the business. Ask them to serve as a guide to your development. Over time your primary mentor may change as your needs and responsibilities change. You are never too experienced to have a mentor or a coach. Take every opportunity to learn something new. Ask why they see things the way they do. Remember that the relationship is two-way. Most professionals want to share their experiences and leave a professional legacy.

7. Learn to listen, not just hear. This is one that I am still working on. Realize that everyone was invited to the meeting for a reason and they have something to offer. Make sure that you understand not just the words but also the intentions. Ask for clarification if needed. As our industry becomes more global it is important to realize how cultural differences may influence a discussion. Sometimes “yes” doesn’t mean “yes” but rather “I hear you and will consider it”.When in doubt confirm what you think you heard.

8. Document your thought processes, not just the end product. In a world dominated by PowerPoint decks and bullet point summary slides, we very often lose the foundation for an interpretation. Why and how a conclusion is drawn is as important as the conclusion itself. Concepts evolve through time as a result of new data and analytical approaches or by integration of new technologies opening new opportunities where one didn’t exist. By documenting the reasoning for an interpretation, its technical robustness can be assessed through time and adjustments can be made. Remember- it wasn’t that long ago that fine-grained rocks were considered sources or seals and not reservoirs. Our understanding can change dramatically over time.

9. Things very often take longer than expected. All too often we underestimate the time a job takes. Generally this is a result of underestimating the complexity of the project, the dependency on the work of others, or problems that result from attempting to multi-task. It is always better to complete the job ahead of schedule than late. Learn to build a cushion when estimating time to completion.

10. The technical foundation evolves and one must adapt. A study of the history of geology has shown that there have been major changes in our overall understanding. Consider views on the age of the earth, the movement of plates, and evolution. New concepts develop and need to be considered. Think about the roles that seismic stratigraphy, sequence stratigraphy, and seismic geomorphology now play in our interpretations. Very often these develop as a result of new tools and higher quality data. One needs to incorporate new tools and concepts as they become available and their validity confirmed. This does require a scan of the literature to learn what’s new.

I hope that these thoughts prove useful.

Finally, I want to remind you that the HGS Applied Geoscience Conference — Integrated Approaches of Unconventional Reservoir Assessment and Optimization (Mudrocks) will be held this month on February 17-18, 2014. As has been the case in the past, Frank Walles and his team have put together an excellent technical program. If you are currently or planning to work in unconventional reservoirs, I strongly recommend that you attend.

Until next time…





Barry Katz
Saturday, February 1, 2014
From the President