Advice to the wise

These Habits Are Good

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Good habits can lead to good things, including successful oil and gas wells.


Dan Tearpock
Dan Tearpock

AAPG Honorary Member Dan Tearpock, chairman emeritus at Subsurface Consultants & Associates (SCA), has written and taught extensively on the topic of habits, to the benefit of many companies as well as individual prospectors.

Specifically, he’s focused on how and when to apply a philosophical doctrine – also known as “the 10 habits” – for successful prospect generation and evaluation.

Anyone wanting to make better investment decisions in the realm of oil and gas prospecting may want to pocket a list of the habits, which Tearpock provided:

  • All subsurface interpretations must be geologically and geometrically valid in three dimensions. (Too often subsurface structure maps, cross sections and seismic interpretations are made without much consideration given to establishing a three dimensional framework – or verifying the interpretation is even possible in three dimensions).
  • An interpreter must have a sound background in structural geology, stratigraphy, sedimentology and other related disciplines for the tectonic setting being worked.
  • All subsurface data must be used to develop a reasonable and accurate subsurface interpretation.
  • All important and relevant geologic structures must be mapped and the maps integrated to compose a reasonable and accurate subsurface picture.
  • Mapping of multiple horizons is essential to develop reasonably correct, three-dimensional interpretations of complexly faulted areas.
  • Accurate correlations (well log and seismic) are required for reliable geologic interpretations.
  • The use of correct mapping techniques and methods is essential to generate reasonable and correct subsurface interpretations.
  • Interpretive contouring is the most acceptable method of contouring subsurface features.
  • All work should be documented.
  • Sufficient time and detail are required to generate reliable prospects (don’t be too anxious to drill the next dry hole).
This Door Swings Both Ways

Developing a successful product, i.e. good prospect, is only part of the value of the 10 habits; they can be used in both directions.

“If you drill a dry hole, the company asks what went wrong and they may hire an expert to come in and reverse engineer the prospect, tear it apart to find where the mistakes were to cause a dry hole,” Tearpock noted. “We call this step forensic geology.

“They may find you didn’t use the 10 habits correctly, so you made a mistake in interpretation and drilled a dry hole.

“That’s the marvelous aspect of this philosophical doctrine and the habits in it,” he said. “It can be used both ways.

“What some people do is when they drill successful wells, they tear them apart and see what the team did to drill this successful well,” Tearpock said. “They use the habits again to go in and see what they did and then find they pretty much followed a philosophy similar to these habits – and that’s why they had success.”

Tearpock is quick to note that this philosophical doctrine is not exclusive to SCA.

“Some people have come up with these habits on their own,” he said, “and I don’t know how many.”

Spreading the Word

To illustrate the value of the doctrine, he noted that a company with offices worldwide hired SCA to evaluate all of their prospects for the coming year following a year marked by far too many dry holes.

SCA sent out three teams for four months and evaluated a hundred proposed prospects, along with some of the dry holes from earlier. They determined what the explorationists were doing wrong.

“For the most part they weren’t using the habits at all, except for the European division working the North Sea, which was running at an 85 percent success rate on exploration prospects,” Tearpock said.

“This group had a 150-page manual that was literally like taking our 10 habits and expanding on them to a great degree.

“We found that the VP of exploration and several other explorationists there had come from the company that originally conducted the study of why certain people and teams are more successful than others,” he said.

“They brought that knowledge with them to their new company, put it into practice and showed the success it can provide” Tearpock noted.

He emphasized that the habits can and should be used by all of the oil and gas companies to generate better prospects and to invest in fields having upside potential by applying these methods prior to a purchase.

Where there is interest in participating in someone else’s prospects, he noted these principles will help to determine which are better than others.

Equally important, in the situation of too many dry holes the habits can be used in the “post-mortem” to zero in on the cause(s).

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