The 15th RPI for January-February 2018

Paul Hatchell - Principal Technical Expert at Shell Technology Center, Houston, Texas, USA

About Paul Hatchell

I joined Shell in 1989 after receiving a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Wisconsin. I started my career at Shell’s Technology Center in Houston and worked on a variety of research topics including shear-wave logging, quantitative seismic amplitude analysis, and 3D AVO applications. This work was carried out on the first large oil fields Shell was developing in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico at the time. It was a great opportunity to measure well data and compare to seismic and other rock properties measurements. It really opened my eyes up to the complexities in the subsurface.

In 1996, I moved to Shell’s New Orleans’ office and spent 4-years exploring for oil and gas oil in both the shallow and deep waters of the GoM. I learned many useful seismic interpretation skills during this period. In those days, we were developing prospects with paper maps and seismic sections. You might think this less effective than the digital practices used today, but I would argue that when you printed out your well logs to scale (say 1 inch= 100 ft) and compared them to seismic at the same scale it was quite efficient and illuminating to bring the two together and make predictions about what an unknown area would find. We drilled risky prospects that worked and “sure things” that didn’t, and I found it humbling that my quantitative expertise was often outdone by basic geologic knowledge and did my best to learn as much about other disciplines as I could.

In 2000, Shell’s chief scientist Rodney Calvert did me a great service by convincing me to move to Rijswijk, in the Netherlands, to join his newly created 4D seismic global implementation team. This assignment gave me an opportunity to interact with the worldwide community and to learn and develop 4D seismic techniques that Shell and the industry now apply routinely. We had many questions in those days about when 4D seismic would work and how we could model pressure and compaction effects. The rock physics did not work as we initially expected and it was by working with other disciplines (e.g. reservoir engineers, geomechanics, geomatics) that we pieced the story together.

I am currently with the same team I joined 18 years ago (now called Areal Surveillance) and am back in the Houston technology center. As Shell’s “Principal Technical Expert” for 4D reservoir surveillance, my current activities are focussed on supporting 4D across the Shell portfolio, developing improved 4D seismic acquisition and interpretation techniques, seafloor deformation monitoring, and training the next generation of geoscientists.

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

I had the advantage of being surrounded by good data and some of the best people in the industry. That is one of the perks of working for a large integrated oil company like Shell that invests in technology. I enjoy digging through different types of data and have a healthy scepticism that leads me to distrust conventional dogma until I’ve proven it to myself. I like to test old ideas with new data to see if I can break the mold. With patience this has led to many new insights.

Participating in professional societies (such as SPWLA, SEG, EAGE, SPE, …), reading their journals, and attending conferences and workshops has given me the opportunity to learn from others and share my results to the worldwide community. These societies do a great service for their members and provide us the opportunity to see a much wider picture than we get staying within the bounds of our own research teams or companies.

Challenges you see in taking rock physics to the next level 

One challenge we face is that the complexity of the subsurface is well beyond the (typically linear) approximations we use to describe it. We get trapped into local minima and repetition that make us think we understand problems much better than we do. One of the first geophysical papers I read was called “Reflections on amplitudes” by O’Doherty and Anstey (1971) and it taught me that not only did I not understand seismic reflections quantitatively, I probably never would. The earth is a terrible place to do geophysics, and ignoring this challenge leads to over confidence in our interpretations and a reliance on models that do not capture the full range of uncertainty. Embracing this challenge means spending less time working on the second and third digits of a problem and standing back to see how well we understand the first.

Advice for early career scientists (rock physicists, geophysicists, etc.)

A career in reservoir and rock physics will offer many rewards if you enjoy solving problems using science and data. If that is the case, get your hands and eyes on as much real data as you can so you can see the big picture rather than relying on a small subset or synthetics. Listen to colleagues from other disciplines to understand their point of view. Participate in professional societies to make connections with a wider community. Having good external networks is particularly important during the highs and lows that our industry goes through. Lastly, make sure to pursue multiple paths to find one that leads where you want to go.

We thank Paul for his continuous contributions to the rock physics community