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Keeping the Future of Energy Bright: Drillinginfo and Academia


The introduction of economically viable unconventional resource exploitation in 2001 introduced a brand new exploration model into an industry that for 142 years had operated under only one recognized exploration and development model.

The revolution that this has unleashed is on a par with the sea change in geological thinking that was ushered in with plate tectonic theory.

The twin drivers of a new oil and gas exploration paradigm and an aging oil and gas workforce require that our colleges and universities rapidly graduate geoscientists who can work in multiple technical disciplines. Those that teach them are thus tasked to rapidly adapt their teaching perspectives and research objectives to this new reality.

DrillingInfo addresses these needs by providing no cost access to our tools and databases to any university/college program that requests them. Because we provide key information on all facets of upstream exploration efforts, and numerous software tools — Transform, Desktop, DI 2.0 — that can be used to analyze these data, we can accelerate students’ understanding of both traditional and unconventional exploration and production best practices. And these tools play a pivotal role in shaping research in a widely diverse set of academic disciplines.

Our interest in informing and preparing the next generation of energy leaders is agnostic – we are equally prepared to support an economics department that is studying local economic impacts of unconventional exploration programs as well as a public policy foundation that is looking at emissions characteristics of these plays. Of course, we also support petroleum engineering departments that need real world data to support Capstone projects, university consortia that look at big picture basin evolution, and geology programs that study everything from geothermal potential in unconventional plays to refining the sequence stratigraphic model in mature areas like the Permian Basin.

“Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you…”

With those words Alexander Graham Bell ushered in the modern era of telecommunications.

Unlike the binary sternness of the telegraph, the information that was shared over the first telephone call was rich with information – frequencies, meaning, and emotion. It represented a true revolution in communication, made it possible to knit together isolated pockets of civilization, and spawned innumerable derivative products that have radically changed how we live our lives – including one that you might be using to read this.

So who cares?

We should, that’s who. All of us in the oil and gas bidness. Because we are in the very early phases of a revolution that is changing our industry forever.

For 142 years, more or less, oil and gas exploration operated under ONE exploration model – source, reservoir, trap, and seal co-existing in a geographically localized drilling target/field.

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Image [1] on the Paleontological Research Institution web site. The site credits the American Petroleum Institute; however, a Texas roadside historical marker credits John Trost (June 24, 1868 – August 4, 1944) [2]

Then came the Barnett shale. And then the Fayetteville, Woodford, Haynesville, Eagle Ford, Wolfberry, Niobrara, Bakken, Cline and maybe the Monterrey, Montney, Vaca Muerta and other fine grained deposits around the world.

The abrupt revolution in thinking on how to profitably exploit oil and gas reserves is comparable to the “Holy Toledo” moment when Vine and Matthews first presented their magnetic striping map that strongly implied sea floor spreading, and by implication, plate tectonics.

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We were made to understand how the continents moved over time. And now our understanding of how to replace hydrocarbon reserves has changed and expanded.

All this new insight comes at a time when the industry will be losing, through the steady attrition of retirement, a disproportionately large fraction of the geoscience workforce. And that’s coming on the heels of historically low enrollments in our college and university geoscience departments.

Let’s look at Petroleum Engineers

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It’s clear that even in 6 years we’re only going to have about 1/3 of the petroleum engineering workforce that we had in 2000 – which is right about the time that unconventionals started rockin’ our world.

And the story is pretty much the same for geologists and geophysicists.

Now just think of the lease primary term clock clicking away on ALL that unconventional acreage.

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And then consider all the CEOs of publicly traded oil and gas companies that REALLY, REALLY want to add PDP reserves to their bottom line. What’s the result?

Drill, baby, drill

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If we’re graduating a fraction of the young professionals that we need, WHO’S GOING TO MANAGE THIS??

The answer is a younger, less experienced workforce that will be stretched to the limit to do all that needs to be done.

Anything that can be done to accelerate the seasoning of these new hires must be done. Simple supply and demand will require that younger professionals will be tasked to manage exploration and drilling programs at, or beyond, the limits of their experience.

Here’s what DrillingInfo is doing to help

We’ve engaged with nearly 100 colleges, universities and university-associated consortia and provided nearly $6,500,000 (in 2013-14) worth of free access to our database and tools. Our goal is to introduce them to the spectrum of decisions that are made throughout the upstream value chain, and to give them access to real-world information to help them shorten their professional learning curve.

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We are also vitally interested in the research that is being conducted.

Whether it’s basin history and depositional settings, studies of local economic impacts of unconventional drilling, or a hard honest look at fugitive gas emissions from drilling operations, we’re thrilled to partner with these programs to improve our industry’s knowledge base.

But we’re asking our customers to do their part as well. I can’t tell you how many geophysics departments have expressed an urgent need for dipole sonic logs for tying seismic shear and P-wave data to petrophysical data. Many economics or public policy departments really need help in assembling realistic cost data for their economic models. So share!

DI in papers

How are academics partnering with DI to study the future of energy? Here are a few examples of DI beiong used in academic papers in the wild.
A commentary on “The greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas in shale formations” by R.W. Howarth, R. Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea calls into question previous work that claims unconventional shale gas drilling has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than coal. DI is cited in appendix but not mentioned in text re; Haynesville.

In Experiential and Social Learning in Firms: The Case of Hydraulic Fracturing in the Bakken Shale, Thomas R Covert used DI lease information to identify non-operated working interest owners. The paper stipulates that operators are not really learning from offset operations by other operators, and that operators do NOT take operational risks when completing wells even when doing so could improve margins by a very meaningful amount. (DI cited on p 19.)

Dutch Disease or Agglomeration? The Local Economic Effects of Natural Resource Booms in Modern America looks at the economic impact of oil and gas booms on local economies. DI cited on p15 + cited in appendix.

Your Turn

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Mark Nibbelink

Mark Nibbelink is co-founder and director of university outreach at Enverus. Before co-founding Enverus (formerly Drillinginfo) in 1999, Mark had a long career as a prospect geologist at Gulf Oil before beginning work as an independent geologist. Mark is responsible for quality control and data integrity. He received his Bachelor of Arts in geology and his master’s in geology and geophysics from Dartmouth College.