Chief Geophysicist at Hess Corporation in Houston, Texas
While in graduate school, I spent a number of years sampling diverse research topics before committing to an area of primary interest. It took me about ten years to find a scientific problem that I really wanted to solve, that morphed into identifying other problems, and it all turned into a passion: Using rock physics, in some form or fashion, to solve practical world problems.
After obtaining a B.Sc. in Geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines and an M.Sc. in Exploration Geosciences at Stanford, I landed my first job in a seismic processing center, where I derived customized seismic attributes for field appraisal and reservoir development purposes. I processed and interpreted pre-stack data (AVO), and worked with facies classifications and pattern recognition techniques. It was there that I developed a desire to better understand and hopefully “decipher”, the quantitative messages hidden in seismic traces. I decided to return to Stanford University for a PhD in Rock Physics, centered on the “Petrophysical basis for quantitative seismic interpretation”. I was fortunate to find myself surrounded by great minds (Amos Nur, Gary Mavko, Jack Dvorkin, Mark Zoback, Pierre Samec, Bill Ostrander) and I performed research on “AVO, Anisotropy and Attenuation” from a Rock Physics perspective. Although some of my joint work on that topic was noticed (received SEG's Best Student Paper award at the 1990 Annual meeting), the truth is that I had no real concept about how the oil business really worked.
I developed an appreciation for empirical rock physics in the laboratory, describing and making measurements on cores from unconsolidated sands (Oseberg and Troll reservoirs) and from high TOC shales (Bakken). This grounding in experimental sciences under the supervision of then student De Hua Han and post-doctoral researcher Lev Vernik, gave me an appreciation for the importance of experimentation. It also gave me a great deal of physical intuition about rock physics. I did other “odd jobs” including work with Dr. Zoback, Dan Moos and Colleen Barton on Cajon pass (a deep crustal scientific well, which was drilled to understand earth stresses near the San Andreas fault) and with Dr. Roger Anderson at Lamont-Doherty in developing and testing well logging tools (e.g., a new geochemical tool). This led me to a four month long expedition aboard the ODP’s ship “The Resolution” to drill, core and log sediments in offshore Antarctica, the South Weddell sea, the Meteor rise and South Africa. During this time, I learned about climate change, glacial cycles, Milankovitch periodicity and planetary physics. I also learned about the importance of deep, dense, cold, ocean water masses that originate from the earth’s poles and control the global ocean currents of our planet. This experience was an eye-opener, as I discovered a vast field of science previously unknown to me.
After this experience, I took a break from research and landed a job with Amoco, where I worked as a seismic interpreter for about 10 years in various assignments that were focused on Europe and South America. I also managed a project involving a very large heliportable 3D seismic shoot in the Andes (1.5 MM man hours), which eventually led to the discovery of several giant fields in Acambuco (Argentina). I got the chance to work various projects in Exploration, field Development, and Production. Last but not least, I worked in Mergers and Acquisitions, all across South America. This culminated in the creation of a Company called Pan American Energy, product of Amoco-Argentina and Bridas, to which I was seconded.
Ironically, Amoco was itself acquired by bp, and I relocated to London and Russia to work Southeast Asia; I later returned to the US, to work Onshore as well as GOM deep water projects. During that period (another 10 years), I grounded myself in what really matters to businesses and enjoyed helping subsurface teams bring value to the Corporation. I kept abreast of the latest scientific research, but did not apply this knowledge much, since I was on the business/management side. Instead, I became involved in Operations and was assigned to the high-tech world of drilling wells through complex overburden, all in a safe and reliable manner. As it turns-out, the analysis of real-time downhole data is quite reliant on rock physics, which serves as a bridge between the disciplines of drilling and subsurface.
When Hess approached me to serve in the role of Chief Geophysicist, I saw it as an opportunity to broaden my horizons. Transitioning from a major to a smaller integrated oil company was refreshing. I found myself going back to my roots in research and experimentation, and at the same time I built a strong team to truly enable “making a difference” and helping the business. I created four sub-teams in the areas of Seismic-based Reservoir Characterization (Seismic Inversion and relative rock physics), MicroSeismic Depletion Delineation, 4D Surveillance and Digital Rock Physics. Each sub-team has been quite successful. My role is to progress our collective understanding and knowledge: I provide guidance and direction, I ensure multi-disciplinary integration, and make sure that we understand uncertainties and how they propagate.
Most recently, I have begun to focus on transferring knowledge to the next generation. They can learn so much from our experience and past mistakes!
Your pathway for success in becoming a well known name in the rock physics community
I don’t think I fall into the same category as the illustrious rock physicists you previously selected to interview. In any case, I would always recommend you find your passion and then go in 100% with no regrets.
Take time-outs, step back and think strategically about what really matters in your analysis. The software and algorithms will always provide an answer. But were your input parameters realistic and does the output make sense?
I believe a good recipe for success includes the key ingredients of courage, resilience, honesty and teamwork. You cannot possible do it all by yourself. Multi-disciplinary, multi-functional integration is very important. Other functions can provide constraints to your analysis, so expand your horizons when you can. Maintain depth as well as breadth in rock physics. Think outside the box.
Challenges you see in moving rock physics to the next level
(This can be unresolved issues in rock physics in general or in a particular field you are working on)
Given that I work for an oil company, this may come as a surprise: One of the greatest and most worthy challenges that I see on the road ahead, is how to use rock physics to further understand and minimize our impact on the environment. We need a better understanding of the “physics of flow” at all scales. I believe that would result in a positive and sustainable impact on our planet.
Today’s digital world allows scientists to be more data-driven and less conceptual in their analyses. The late statistician George Box is credited with saying, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” I really agree with that perspective. When you tackle a rock physics problem, it is important to first evaluate the quality of the data and its aptness to solve your problem. Then make sure that you understand your assumptions as well as the uncertainties that exist around your solution.
Advice for early career scientists (rock physicists, geophysicists, etc.)
Be curious and adventurous! Don’t be afraid to tackle big, audacious problems. Just make sure that you take the time to identify the problem that you are trying to solve before jumping-in. In other words, be deliberate.
Given today’s explosion of data that is becoming available at your fingertips, I recommend that you do the following: leverage and honor all of the data available, separate the “signal” from the noise, decipher a consistent message and clearly communicate the results to your audience. It is important to test and share your findings with others, because that allows for closure. You can then move-on to your next adventure.
We thank "JP" for his continuous contributions to the rock physics community.