Geology is Highly Interpretive

An oil company was in need of a new CEO and the board of directors made a decision to promote within the company for their search. After a great deal of effort, the board had whittled its choices to three candidates; a geologist, a petroleum engineer, and an attorney. The three candidates were called to the meeting and asked to remain outside the board room. The first candidate called into the meeting was the geologist.ᅠTheᅠ geologist…well… looked like a geologist; khaki pants, wrinkled shirt with the tail not fully tucked, and all else that goes with an outdoors kind of person, even to the scuffed shoes. Being invited to have a seat at the conference table, the geologist reclined on the back legs of the chair to listen. The presiding board member explained the view of the board wanting to promote within and that he was one of three candidates identified. The board member then told the geologist they have only one question, “What is two plus two?” The geologist looked at each board members as if sizing them up for a fight. He then leaned his chair forward, stood up, and slowly walked to the floor to ceiling window to survey the city from the rarified elevation. After having taken stock in the outside world, the geologist slowly turned, ambled to his chair and returned to his reclined position. Running the fingers of his right hand through the mane of hair, he mustered a professorial voice, “You know…geology is highly interpretive…I’m gonna say it’s somewhere between three and five”.

Geology can be highly interpretive, depending on the amount of data which is available. I had the pleasure of reviewing a drilling prospect in the Breton Sound area of Louisiana. the beautifully colored geological structure maps showed several prospective horizons. As explained, there were several billion cubic feet of natural gas which were narrowly missed by many wells drilled over many years by many operators. The maps showed one large regional fault but, the prospective horizons were not trapped by the large down to the south growth fault as portrayed. Instead, each of the mapped prospective horizons was a four way closure with numerous downdip wells setting up the play.

Wanting to understand the prospective geological structure, I started from scratch with a new base map and clean well logs, there was no geophysical data. After correlating the well logs and posting the data, the horizons of interest were interpreted. Sadly, the prospective geological structure disappeared, at least with the interpretation I constructed. I reviewed the data; again and again. And, perhaps because of the bias of my original interpretation, my results from subsequent remapping was very similar to my original interpretation.

The objective of reviewing the geology is to support the originators geological interpretation. However, if it cannot be confirmed, the objective becomes reoriented with a direction taken of what can be done to assure a reasonable re-interpretation. Unfortunately neither I nor a third party could confirm or agree with the original geological prospect maps. So, there was a pass on the deal.

Approximately two years later I met the originator of the deal while dining in a restaurant. In playing “catch up”, I asked what happened with his Breton Sound deal. He told me it was a dry hole and the well was plugged and abandoned. I asked about oil and gas shows, of which the response was the well had no shows and came in low and wet. I expressed my disappointment in his not having a discovery. His response was surprising. He told me that since the well came in low, it set up two plays, one to the east and one to the west. The play can be very easily visualized or recreated while taking a bath. A large soap bubble floating on the surface of the water is the gas prospect. If a finger is used to slice through the soap bubble, two bubbles are “created”. Now there are two gas prospects.

In short, this well drilled for the original prospective horizons turned out to not have been drilled in an optimum structural position and narrowly missed the “two” prospects, just like all of the other wells in the past. When I returned to my office the next day I pulled my files and maps of the area which showed the prospect should have been low and no plays to be made.

Strange things happen. The originator sold the “two” prospects. One prospect was drilled, resulting in a dry hole. THe horizons were low and wet. The operator that took the deal would not drill the second play. You know, geology is highly interpretive, especially when chasing soap bubbles.

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