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Mind the quality gap

A present-day geophysicist faces a world of increasing pace, information overload, and a shrinking and aging workforce Timely delivery of high-quality geophysical interpretation products (e g forward models, well-ties, time horizons, depth converted maps and volumes, well prognosis, pore pressure prediction, inversions for reservoir properties, geobodies) in these settings is paramount. A commonly circulated view is that a combination of improved geophysical tools, standardization, and increased efficiency provides the way to meet this challenge Geophysical tools are delivered by a variety of soft ware companies annually providing ever more sophisticated upgrades Standardization is addressed through ‘best practice’ and ‘approved’ workflows — concepts that are engraved in the psyche of multinational exploration and production company employees. Achieving higher efficiencies appears to be the most elusive challenge. Efficiency requires a balance between the quality of interpretational products and the time it takes to deliver them.

Established paradigm stipulates that with more time available, the quality of interpretations would improve Even though extra time provides an opportunity to deliver better products, the relationship between time and quality could be non-linear and complex, as shown here:

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By not fully recognizing how quality could be achieved in a timely manner, a geophysicist faces so-called efficiency stretch almost permanently. We may use phrases like 70 percent solution in an attempt to describe products delivered on artificially compressed (i.e. arbitrary) timelines and to justify potential quality issues. Furthermore, due to extremely tight timelines in our business, efficiency stretch is often a way to drive performance and achieve the 70 percent solution in the shortest time possible. In other words, a simplified linear assumption about the timing of subsurface products prevails.

It’s inevitable that with an aging geophysical workforce and a shortage of skilled geophysicists this trend will only accelerate. The simplified assumption line leading to the 70 percent solution will simply steepen. It is critical for us to recognize what this means for the quality of interpretations. With shortened delivery time, there must be a deterioration in quality, but this quality gap is poorly understood and difficult to quantify. As shown in the chart, productivity stretch could lead to a significant drop in product quality — a 70 percent stretch solution might only yield 50 percent quality. This prospect should be alarming because poorer quality geophysical products eventually lead to dry holes, one of the biggest expenses in many conventional and some unconventional plays. Poorly performing wells are another outcome. After all, the geophysical contribution to exploration and production projects is to propose the best possible locations to drill, and geophysical products of high quality and reliability are essential in achieving excellent results.

Highly efficient tools and best practices, in combination with sufficient quality and quantity of data and knowledge of the play, will aid a geophysicist in the delivery of great products, and provide an exploration and production organization with a competitive advantage in today’s ever more complex search for hydrocarbons. Chasing better efficiency in a productivity stretch is not a good strategy and just might open a quality gap.

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