In the mid 1970s I went to Delft University to study applied geosciences or mining engineering as it was called at the time. I was attracted by the sky-is-the-limit mentality of the oil men of the era. This was the heyday of exploration in the North Sea: oil was found almost daily and new fields were developed in turbulent seas using technology that had to be invented along the way. This was the vibrant, high-tech industry that I joined after graduation.
In the 30 years since, I have worked for a major oil company and a large R&D organization, and formed my own company. I have been fortunate to always work with the latest technology in my chosen field of seismic interpretation. This field has gone through a fantastic evolution. It is hard to imagine that when I started, a coloured pencil was the most important tool in the technical arsenal of a seismic interpreter. And look at us now — we immerse ourselves in a 3D model and steer a horizontal well through a thin layer of reservoir rock to extract the last drop of oil for an energy-hungry world. This is cool stuff that surely supports the image of a vibrant, high-tech industry. But are we indeed so vibrant and high-tech?
Personally, I don’t think we are. We certainly have great technology, but it takes ages for innovations to become accepted and to be used widely. A former R&D director of the major oil company I worked for once told me that it takes 10 years from invention to production mode. Sadly, I believe he was right. And he’s still right today.
It seems to me that when it comes to innovation, ours is a very conservative business. Only a handful of geoscientists and companies stick their neck out to try something new. Most prefer to wait for new technology to be proven time and again before they adopt it themselves. In my experience early adopters are more successful than followers, which makes me wonder: why are we not innovating at a much faster pace?
The following analysis is not complete and it has no scientific foundation. I merely highlight a few factors that may explain why innovation in the field of seismic interpretation is going at a snail’s pace, and suggest what we can do to speed it up.
• Demography. The G&G population is skewed with lots of old guys (like me). Most prefer to press the same buttons they have pressed for the last 20 years. Only few are willing to learn new tricks. Be one of them!
• IT departments. In large companies IT departments control rather than service the user community. Standards are important for IT people because standards make life easy for them. New technology does not fit into standards hence is blocked by them. In the rigorous drive towards standards there is no room for new technology that subsurface specialists need to find and produce our precious commodity. Help your IT department see the big picture by showing how you will help meet standards with new technology.
• HSE consciousness. The emphasis on HSE has made our industry a much safer place for people and the environment. I cannot agree more: HSE should be a top priority in everything we do. Still, I wonder whether we have changed the mentality of our work force somewhere along the line such that no one dares to take any risks at all. The risk-seeking spirit of the pioneers who built this industry has gradually been replaced by office workers who are not willing to stick out their necks and try something new. Learn to recognize when the reward is greater than the risk.