As a student doing a thesis in biostratigraphy I was the designated nerd of the geology community — quite an achievement! On joining the oil industry as a fresh reservoir geologist I met a lot of old goblins saying, ‘Oh, biostratigraphy — we don’t do that. It doesn’t work… just a waste of time and money’. Not the most receptive start I could have had.
When I joined the biostratigraphy specialist team, I discovered yet another breed of geologists. Th ese were easier to work with, but I soon realized that they were just saying thank you and ticking the biostratigraphy box without really applying it to their projects. My data just disappeared into a database black hole.
Luckily another type of geologist did exist. These wanted help applying the data to their models. ‘Can we sit down for a day then you can explain what this means?’ they would ask. The more questions asked, the more this group became comfortable with their biostratigraphic data — and the more involved they got. References to biostratigraphy popped up in reports and presentations. I was starting to see that how I was received as a biostratigrapher was based on one thing: their experience and knowledge of the topic.
I’m now back as a reservoir geologist after over six years as a specialist biostratigrapher, and talking with my new colleagues I have found the same situation as before — they don’t know how to use biostratigraphic data. I think the reason for this is lack of training, both in universities and the oil industry, on how to properly use the data. Most people know how to put the data into software, but there is a total absence of discussion about how to use it when creating a geological concept. The result is that geologists seem reluctant to use biostratigraphic data to its full potential, so the datasets just sit there occasionally appearing in correlation panels. It’s rare to hear someone ask, ‘Does this have any implications for our geological model?’
When I started in my new job as a reservoir geologist the department had just begun a project on structural geology. After a few weeks they came to me saying, ‘We might need some timing and stuff … can you help?’ And so I was recruited into a project consisting of two structural geologists, two geophysicists, … and now a biostratigrapher. And to make a long story very short, within the next year we changed the geological concept dramatically, went against the current model in the company, and annoyed several people.
Before I came into the project they already had a lot of ideas for a new concept. Adding the biostratigraphy data was the piece of the puzzle that enabled them to believe in their ideas, and create new ones. It created a framework for what was possible. The biostratigraphy alone does not provide a solution — all the pieces of the puzzle have to fit — but it is just as important as the seismic data and the logs.
The biggest challenge I had in the project was to break down the biostratigraphic data into something the rest of the group could work with. I have always joked, ‘The best way to scare a geologist is to throw Latin at him’. And I have seen biostratigraphers do exactly that, presenting lists and lists of fossils, and within 30 seconds you can see the curtains going down. The biostratigraphic community have to take some of the credit for any ill disposition that geologists have towards them. After a few weeks with my fellow project members, I realized that simplification was key, so I started with a few erosion surfaces and biostratigraphic events. After playing around with the data and making small sketches of how the results related to the geology, the ball started rolling and jaws dropped. People said, ‘I had never seen the point before, but this really works.’ Structural geologists and hardcore geophysicists were starting to get their heads around what biostratigraphic data could do for them.
Working in reservoir geology suddenly made me very visible as a biostratigrapher. It also showed me that if we are to take geological understanding to the next level, then biostratigraphy has to be used properly. You will not necessarily win popularity contests — there are still a lot of geologists out there in love with their models. What is important is to get your specialists out in the business. Don’t lock them away from the great people at the sharp end of the organization.
Biostratigraphers: Never mind where you sit or what they say to you; stand up and start making some noise!