Saturday, December 19, 2009

BRIC becomes BICSA for Climate Change?

Given the recent attention to the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) after their June Summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, it was interesting to open the New York Times this morning and see not Dmitry Medvedev or his designee seated at the table with Barack Obama, the Chinese Premier, the Indian Prime Minister and the Brazilian President at the close of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, but the President of South Africa. Perhaps the choice was more of a preference for a growinge economy with a vested interest in biomass and energy and an easier negotiating partner than just the heft of population and GDP?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monthly Reading in World Oil

A few fun tidbits from the August 2009 issue of "World Oil" from Gulf Publishing...

1) On page 7 in Perry Fischer's Editorial, a new way to define your position on the political spectrum by testing your belief in Global Warming vs. Professional Wrestling. I guess you might be a Dittohead if you think The Undertaker has more professional credibility than Al Gore.

2) On page 11 a news item about a Morgan Stanley trader who "built up a hefty unauthorized oil futures position after drinking at lunchtime, before hiding the deals overnight". Makes me wonder if he would have stayed under the radar if he had reversed the process and done his dealing at night and hiding during lunch. And okay, who here hasn't "built up a hefty ... GAS futures position" after eating at a Tex-Mex restaurant?

3) And finally a nod to those of us explaining to school age kids why they should pay attention in Math class - on page 17 in an excellent discussion on the potential of shale plays, Arthur Berman casually mixes up averages, modes, and correlations. It pays to think for a moment why there is a 3.5 year difference between the average and the mode of horizontal well producing lifetimes. This tells you a lot about the distribution of values without ever seeing a chart if you remember your basic math. Just like it tells you a lot about the real estate business that they insist on using median home values instead of averages, and refer to home prices "from the 200's".

Enjoy and stay skeptical...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Word Cloud

Some interesting technology that got publicity during President Obama's inauguration speech:

Here is a Word Cloud from this blog:

It was created and is posted at:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nitrogen in Gasoline?

Anyone else wondering why Shell is advertising an inert element as an "enhancement" to their automotive fuel? Last I heard Nitrogen and other inert elements actually lowered the BTU rating of hydrocarbons at the wellhead, why would we want to put them back in? Perhaps a hint here:
A coincidence that this marketing push comes at a time when Shell is suffering market loss due to their abandonment of alternate energy strategies? And what about the parallels of all the oil companies suddenely using geeky scientists to push their agendas? Remember during the Bush years when scientists weren't very cool? Well maybe our new administration has at least moved toward bringing respectability to to technical professionals who work in the energy industry... that would be a welcome, if unintended, change...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Waiting on Technology?

An article in the New York Times in April ( should remind all of us who are positioning ourselves to apply technology to the new CO2 sequestration segment of the industry that we are on the right track. In the article, Jonathan Pershing, U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, who was at the time leading a U.S. delegation to an international climate change conference in Germany, defended the American "lack of robust leadership" by explaining that the Obama administration was "waiting to measure the American technological ... capacity" and expecting Congress to set specific targets. Many of us expect either a carbon tax credit or cap and trade schemen in the next 6 months to drive the financial business case for applying what have traditionally been hydrocarbon extraction technologies from the oil and gas industry to new CO2 sequestration projects. Pershing has been at this post only since mid-March but brings, interestingly, a geology and geophysics degree to the position from the University of Minnesota. And he seems to know the oil business. In 2004, he gave a presentation at an "ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT AND ECONOMICS" conference of the IEEE, in which he showed the possibility of up to 4% reduction in shareholder value of various oil companies due to restricted access in sensitive areas, either closer to human populations, remote, or in terrestrial or marine ecoregions. It highlighted many companies that are now actively involved in "green" initiatives such as CO2 sequestration.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sea Ice

It seems some research soon to be published by Ken Golden at University of Utah and Hajo Eicken at the University of Alaska shows that permeability in sea ice is anisotropic and both temperature and salinity dependent. I am wondering if this means that someday we may be analyzing 4D seismic data to understand the properties of gas hydrates?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Carbon Lifecycle

Just off of Interstate 45 on the Freestone-Leon County Line, there is a place where you can see the entire anthropogenic carbon cycle in a single vista. Pull off at exit 180 and take the service road on the west side of the highway north about 5 miles. You will pass turn-ins for producing oil fields operated by operated by XTO, Pinnacle, and Anadarko. At the top of a rise just before the power lines cross the highway, you can pull into entrance 52 of Texas Westmoreland Coal Co.’s Jewett Mine, though not into the mine itself (mind the No Trespassing signs!) Walk to the fence and look down into the creekbed to your left and you can see slowly decomposing mats of leaf litter and other organic material in a slow-running stream, that left to their own devices, in many millenia, could be the source rock for a future gneration's hydrocarbon resource. Then look up and across the fence to the 35,000 acre lignite dragline operation that is continuously and voraciously scooping up the results of that process from the Eocene, and out to the horizon where the Limestone Electric Generating Station burns that stored energy to generate electricity and returns much of the carbon to the atmosphere as CO2. listen to the hum of the electricity in the high-tension wires over your head as the result of that energy process flows out to the cities and towns of southeast Texas, much of it to power equipment in the pumping oil wells that you passed just down the road. Now allow yourself to think about how much organic content is burned up every hour and how long it will take to renew, and you start to get a feel for the geologic time scale and how quickly we are altering it... I recommend that every Texas school child whose education is financed by oil and gas revenues have the opportunity to see first hand this cycle at work ...

Friday, May 15, 2009

What, me Worry?

At the PNEC Data Management conference here in Houston this week, the organizers left out at everyone's seat on the first day a copy of the Digital Energy Journal highlighting a quote from Bob Bloom of National Oilwell Varco, saying "I don't worry about the 'great crew change'". I wondered why he wasn't worried so I did a little research and found that while he was headed off to this Drilling Conference in Amsterdam, rumors were swirling about layoffs of more than 100 people at Varco's production facility in Texas. So of course Bob wasn't personally worried. He was, in the words of one attendee commenting on similar recent layoffs at Schlumberger, "paving the way for his next job" by forcing cuts of experienced workers close to being vested in their pension plans. So as noted by one of the speakers at the conference, don't worry about the great crew change, it will come and find you... and it won't be so great!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Political Amoebas

Does anyone else find it humorous that the latest stunning evidence for evolution, a giant colony of clonal amoebas (, chose to take up residence in a cow pasture in Texas, the state that can't seem to decide if it agrees with Charles Darwin yet? So now things are evolving from the microscopic all the way to microprocessors. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a High Performance Computing workshop at Rice University. There I learned that engineers working on the new Petaflop machine at Los Alamos National Laboratory are having to shield the dense cluster of chips from cosmic radiation that could impact its calculations ( Wait a minute! Small incremental mutations to an encoding scheme, caused by random cosmic radiation, leading to changes in behaviour? Hey, that supercomputer is trying to evolve! Leave it alone and let's see if it learns to make an amoeba...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

fixing your laptop...

My laptop plasma screen has developed a split personality. At first I thought maybe it was the fact that I recently had to switch to my backup pair of reading glasses due to an unfortunate act of gravity at the Rockets Game on Wednesday (don’t ask). But then I looked at some small font hardcopy as a control, and had other family members who do not wear glasses take a look, and yes, the image on my screen now has a doppelganger, a conjoined twin, a co-located nearby companion. The oxymoronically named IT Help Desk told me to make sure that my computer was out of range of any magnetic fields. I pointed out that would require moving outside the heliopause, a trip that took Voyager over 20 years, and I really needed the problem fixed sooner than that…

Predicting Flu Season...

Did you know that last year the people who track search trends at Google were able to predict the onset of flu season two weeks earlier than the Centers for Disease Control? This is because people started searching for health related information about flu symptoms online even before they started to make appointments with their doctors or miss work. This same kind of trending analysis is being looked at by large companies with internal search engines to try to determine other types of trends.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Inside the Mind of a Scientist

It's hard to explain to someone not of a particularly scientific bent how an analytical mind works, but I found myself trying to explain the other day to my wife, who is definitely more artistic...

What if, I explained, when you looked at your iron supplement pills in the morning, the first thing that went through your head was "I wonder if they contain ferrous sulfate because if they contained ferrous oxide they would just turn to rust?"...

Or if when you heard an interview with Ron Wood in which he said that any two of the Rolling Stones could have formed a band equally as good you immediately think "ok, so how many potential bands is that? Let's see, 4 factorial, but no because Jagger and Richards is the same band as Richards and Jagger", but then you hear the rest of the interview and he says only if he was one of them, so that removes the last factor, and then when you pose the question to your 15-year old son he wants to know how many of them are dead before he answers, and you think "good point".... anyway it's about 5 days before you really think about what a band composed of only Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts would actually sound like ...

Or you almost step on a stinkbug on the sidewalk and the first thing you think is, "What possible evolutionary advantage could there be to be shaped like an irregular polygon?"...

Now, who wants to be inside MY head?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Best Opening Line from a Staff Meeting

"My copy of the meeting agenda lost some characters when it was reformatted from html, so it is difficult for me to determine if I have been invited to provide HISTORICAL perspective on the project, or HYSTERICAL perspective, but I imagine by now it is already apparent..."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Watching Basketballs...

I do remember when I first got interested in Physics ... It would have been in 1971, and yes that would make me at best 13. I had been reading "The Glass Giant of Palomar", the story of the construction of the 200 inch Hale telescope in California, and I was fascinated by the accounts of the precision required to mold the giant mirror, and why even a small perturbation in the surface could deflect light away from the focus...
That of course led to an interest in astronomy, which was not unusual in those heady days of space travel coming true. People were still landing on the Moon in 1971 and we saw no reason why they should ever stop the expansion of that trend.

My brothers and I used to take a bus to go downtown to the Milwaukee Bucks games, and we always got there in time to watch warmup and practice.
I was sitting in the stands one night watching the entire team taking jump shot practice at one end of the court. All the basketballs were arriving at the hoop at the same time, and as they bounced off of each other around and off the rim, careening off the backboard and each other and shooting back out to various corners of the court, I suddenly realized that what I was seeing was not as random a process as it would first appear.

Every one of those collisions between basketballs, iron rim, or plexiglass backboard could be precisely and elegantly described by the same laws of physics that governed the trajectory of the flights to the moon that had so enthralled us in that same decade. Here was a live example of ballistics, conservation of momentum, and elastic collisions, and the same laws that governed how those balls swooped down to collide in the cylinder above the rim ensured that the planets in our solar system did not do exactly the same thing.

I was impressed .... and hooked ...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This I believe

I believe in the power of technology to take what was once considered unattainable, and make it commonplace. My mother grew up in a community where you had to go next door to use the one available telephone, and now I personally carry no less than 5 telecommunication devices everywhere I go. But I also believe that with this comes the responsibility for adapting our lives so that we remain the owners of technology, and not slaves to it. I work in the oil and gas exploration industry, a business intensely driven by technology. Partly because of the advances that I have helped to engineer, there exists today the ability to deliver energy from and to places that once would have been considered impossible. From the deepest depths of the oceans to the most inhospitable climates on the planet, I have done my part to assist the world’s people in consuming energy at 5000 times the rate that it can potentially be preserved by biological and geological processes.

Those who know me, my environmental bent, and my appreciation for nature, often ask me how I reconcile my occupation with my conscience. My mastery of technology has led to conveniences and advances that would have been unthinkable to my parents, and I know it will continue to lead my children to fulfill dreams that in my younger days lived only in the pages of science fiction magazines. What I try to remember is that just because I CAN do these things, this does not necessarily mean I SHOULD. The object lessons of the darker side of energy use lie buried in a thin layer of easily identifiable dust in the sediments under Hiroshima Japan, and stare at me every day from newspaper headlines about ozone holes and global warming.

But I believe what physicist Richard Feynman left on his last blackboard at Cal Tech before he died in February of 1989. “What I cannot create, I do not understand”. What I attempt to heed is the corollary – “What I do create, I must understand.” The same technology that I apply every day to help generate energy can and must be used to communicate how that energy can be used wisely, efficiently and responsibly. So I make a point to take the same technology that allows me to gather and accumulate the knowledge I use every day in my job, and use it to disseminate messages like this one, as widely as the energy that I help to course around our globe. In this way, I remain the master of my technology, not its slave. This I Believe.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Great Crew Change

There has been a lot of chatter recently in the oil and gas industry about what is termed "The Great Crew Change". For those of you not in the industry, a crew change on an offshore oil rig means that the guys who have been working out there for the last few weeks or months, and know every intimate detail of the operation and equipment, pack up and head for shore, while a fresh team arrives on board and invariably spends the first few days familiarizing themselves with the peculiarities and quirks of the unique local processes, probably re-inventing solutions that left with the previous crew.

The "Great Crew Change" is used to describe the fact that because of the cyclical nature of this industry, most of the senior technicians and managers in the industry today were hired during the "boom" of the late 1970's to mid 1980's (remember the bumper sticker from West Texas in 1986 - "Please God just give me one more oil boom, and I promise this time I won't piss it away"?. That means they are now in their 50's and getting ready to retire, and with them goes a quarter century worth of experience and knowledge. According to a study in late 2006 by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., about 56 percent of workers in the oil and gas industry are between 35 and 54 years old. With 55 as the average industry retirement age (although with the 2008 crash in the values of 401 retirement accounts, the joke is that "90 is the new 50"), more than half the oil and natural gas employee base will leave over the next decade. This will be only slightly offset by the fact that a lot of technical professionals will be retained as consultants after they retire.

But here is a more personal and visual way to understand what the industry will be losing - yesterday at 5:05 PM I walked around my company's office at Dairy Ashford in Houston, sent one text message, and by 5:15 I had over 100 years oil and gas experience gathered around the bar at Big John's Ice House, without even breaking a sweat. It is going to be very hard for the Engineering grad student that we recruited last year to do that...