Here are 15 pieces of advice — part of my 31 laws (see Pemberton’s laws of stratigraphy, part 1) — for students entering the petroleum business, including perhaps the most important of them all.
17. Exploration is finding the anomalies and figuring them out. There are two types of geologist. One sees something odd and shrugs their shoulders and continues on. I want them to work for my competition. The other sees the same thing and asks why and tries to figure it out. I want that geologist working for my company.
18. No geophysical log actually measures grain size.
19. The reservoir is the rock not a squiggly line on paper. If you understand the rock you will understand the reservoir. I take great inspiration from a phrase commonly used by the late Gerry Friedman: saxa loquuntur or ‘rocks speak’. It is our job to learn their language and listen to what they are telling us.
20. Calibrate geophysical data to core, then use it to interpret wells with no core.
21. A seismic section is not a cross section of the rocks.
22. You need acoustic impedance to get a signal.
23. One man’s signal is another man’s noise.
24. The best interpreters are the ones with the most vivid imagination. This pertains to both geology and geophysics. Look to people like Robert Weimer and Henry Posamentier for inspiration.
25. Contouring is the greatest skill you can develop. Our business is dictated by maps — know how to draw them by hand.
26. A computer map is a mathematical expression, not a map. Most contouring software does not incorporate geological principles; your geological bias is what you get paid for.
27. All companies have the same toys — software, hardware, etc. What separates companies is the people who manipulate those toys. Arnold Bouma summed this up very succinctly when he wrote, ‘There are still discoveries to be made, but it won’t be the computer that tells us what it all means. For that, we always have to go back to the rock to find out what we can do with it and what it means. And for that, the geologist who can explore and observe and think is still the most important thing.’
28. Not everything is allogenic. All sharp-based sandstones are not forced regressions, and all channels are not incised valleys. Many systems contain autogenic elements that rely on in loco changes in sediment supply, local tectonic events, and so on, to initiate local changes in relative sea-level.
29. There is no such thing as a finished map — it should be in a fluid state of constant revision.
30. Beware the geologist with the same interpretation for everything. This means that they are either pushing a particular model or that they have only worked in one type of system and their bias is pushing their interpretation. You must be open to following the direction that the rocks are taking you.
31. Perhaps the most important law is this: do not contract petroleum disease. This is when you get that high-paying job with all the perks and toys and forget to do your homework. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are a professional that must continue to learn and develop your craft. If not, when the next downturn comes (and believe me there will be a next downturn) you will be the first one out the door.