The 12th RPI for July-August: Michel Kemper

Director of Research and Innovation at Ikon Science

About Michel Kemper

Michael Kemper is a geoscientist/petroleum engineer with 28 years’ experience in geophysics, petrophysics, and reservoir engineering. He spent the first 13 years with Shell International in The Hague, Nigeria, and London, during which time he made a number of contributions to the interface between petrophysics and geophysics. In May 1999, Kemper became team leader of petrophysics/petroacoustics at Ikoda Ltd., working on a wide variety of projects. It is during this time that RokDoc, now one of Ikon Science’s main products, was started. As one of the cofounders of Ikon Science, Kemper now serves as Director of Research and Innovation. In this role, he is responsible for the development of new, innovative, and impactful algorithms and workflows in the area of rock physics, seismic inversion, and numerical earth modelling in the Ikon Science software portfolio. 

Technical areas of interest:
Anything on the interface of seismic and well data. Combining the two datasets gives you more than analysing the two individually.

Pathways or recipes for your success in becoming a well-known name in the rock physics community

I started my career at a big integrated oil company (being a Dutchman that will have to be Shell).  That gave me an excellent foundation but I am not sure I would have built up a big name there, being a small fish in a big pond. In 1999 I moved to Ikon Science (on day one as I am one of the founders), and in a small company as it was then it is up or under. It was initially a very bumpy road and only by working very, very hard as part of an equally hard-working team did we achieve success. Hard working in this context also means spending a lot of time in front of prospective clients and that is where you start making your name! In Shell I was more in a bubble; that is to say I would only meet non Shell people at conferences and workshops. 

I started building my reputation with the development of the RokDoc® software package from 2001 onwards. It’s now the workhorse software for the majority of the professional Rock Physics community. 

Over the last couple of years I have made my name by realising that seismic inversion needed to be facies (rock type) based. It is perhaps interesting to see how that came about. I was at the time coding simultaneous inversion into RokDoc, and realised that the Rock Physics in that algorithm is insufficient, in that you can only specify one relationship for all facies. I mean, how can a rock physics model for Shale also be correct for, say, Carbonate? This jarred me, but I did not have an immediate solution. It was only in discussing this with other people (the power of teamwork) that a solution presented itself. Tenacity pays off!

Challenges you see in taking 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)

Don’t get me going! There is still a bucket load of research to do! And integration is the key word.

For instance, can someone please explain me what the difference is between petrophysics (“petro” = Greek for rock), rock physics and rock mechanics (mechanics is a form of physics)? Surely this should be seen as a continuum, but that is not always the case in practice, with different people assigned to these three areas.

Also some rock physicists can be a bit myopic. When I was at the Rock Physics Workshop in Perth some years ago, I presented on the third day and was the first to utter ‘seismic’ which somehow was a bit of a dirty word there. Very fundamental research apart (by and large the realm of some universities), rock physics needs to be applicable. Predicting some property to the n’th degree on a piece of rock of a couple of cubic centimetres is useless if there is no path to application in 3D. 

Rock physicists assist in geophysical interpretation (good) but in my opinion don’t hugely help the geomodeller and flow simulation experts. In practice the rock physicist may help with the seismic inversion and the resulting impedances are ‘thrown over a fence’ to the geomodeller (I am playing Devil’s advocate here, but there is an element of truth here.  It’s even the case with geostatistical inversions in a stratigraphic framework where properties may be consistent to seismic, but the facies distribution and more importantly reservoir connectivity is not, as variography does not lend itself well to modelling discrete quantities). I think we can, no must do better. Geomodellers need to think about environment of deposition and sinuosity of channels etc, and not about how to make a model which matches the wells, the impedances, the seismic!  I am thinking of performing seismic inversion (rock physics consistent) consistent to unconstrained geomodelling, not before the geomodel has been constructed. 

Regards unconventional reservoirs, a holistic approach surely is the right one. 

Advice for early career scientists (rock physicists, geophysicists, etc.)
(This can be in term of inspiration or direction you see young scientists should focus on)

I am hesitant to give advice other than the mundane (work hard, etc). So the points below comes with a warning label, as I don’t want to be responsible if someone’s career goes wrong based on this advice!

  • If you find a topic you think benefits from further research/investigation, persist. There are 1000’s of reasons not to, but if you don’t do it, nobody will.
  • Related: if you want to make an impression on your superiors (and who doesn’t?) do something (like the previous bullet). Just doing what everybody else does, does not set you apart. 
  • Consider staying technical: a lot of young people love the idea of becoming a supervisor. Well, I am one and it ain’t all that great in many ways. Telling other clever people what to do is not what gets me out of bed. Doing technical stuff is much more fun (if you are a scientist).
  • Don’t fight causes not worth fighting! Obvious you’d say, but in your career you often find a lot of people discussing something relatively unimportant. Stay out of it. Conversely, if there is something you feel passionate about, fight for it. By only occasionally getting passionate, you have much more credibility than when you have a fight every other day. 
  • Have fun! The oil industry has had a big knock over the last couple of years, but it is still a great industry. I never know in the morning what I’ll be doing during that day. It is super varied. Think about it, we are trying to find and produce oil kilometres under the ground - most people don’t know what is 10cm below the surface!

We thank Michel for his continuous contributions to the rock physics community.