Forums Explore ‘Discovery Thinking’

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

“They're representative of thousands or tens of thousands of remarkable people...”

There’s considerable angst permeating the industry over the disappearing knowledge base triggered by the ongoing departure of many veteran explorationists and others who are joining the ranks of retirees.

Many of these folks not only have achieved legendary status, they also represent a now-disappearing breed of oil finder – one who possesses a near-encyclopedic knowledge of geology and often is willing to “bet the farm” when prospecting for hydrocarbons.

In fact, these veteran explorers appear to have an innate knack for discovering oil and gas accumulations.

Interest in devising ways to capture some of the wealth of knowledge they have acquired is escalating, and AAPG is very much at the forefront in the effort to make this happen.

A notable example is the annual “Discovery Thinking Forum,” which premiered at the 2008 annual convention in San Antonio.

With the 100th anniversary of AAPG coming up in 2017, the AAPG Anniversary Committee members decided a few years back that the forum would play off the century mark with the goal to ultimately feature 100 speakers who have made a significant difference in the industry.

“One hundred is a nice round number, but the symbolism is that these speakers are not just the only 100,” said Charles Sternbach, Anniversary Committee member who co-chaired last year’s Forum and will reprise the role at the Denver meeting.

“They’re representative of thousands or tens of thousands of remarkable people,” he said, “so we could probably go well beyond 2017.”

Sternbach long has been a champion of this legion of explorers and was instrumental in organizing the HGS Legends in Industry series that debuted about 10 years ago.

“Last year at AAPG we had some great personal stories about how people organized teams, how they managed to succeed year after year,” he said. “We wanted to make the wisdom of these wonderful people available online, so last year’s presentations are on AAPG’s Search and Discovery, which is a perfect medium.”

There’s an emphasis on making the speakers geographically relevant to the convention locale.

“We had great Gulf Coast people last year,” Sternbach said. “This year the geography is attuned to the Rockies and some of the great legends there.”

And so…

“There will be a much stronger focus on unconventional plays as well as the conventional,” Sternbach noted. “These people will really focus on some of the big thinking involved in some of the really big plays – and we’re allowing time for good audience/speaker interaction.”

So Many Stories…

Something profound occurred between the initial event and this year’s effort: Far more speakers have volunteered to talk than the invited-speaker Forum can accommodate.

“People submitted papers, wanting to volunteer their own stories – and there are hundreds or more who could qualify,” Sternbach said. “There were so many good stories, we couldn’t nail it down to just the Forum, so we formed a separate spinoff session on Monday morning for Discovery Thinking presentations (see accompanying box).”

To underscore the story emphasis, Sternbach noted the speakers don’t even need to bother with technical slides unless they wish.

“No slides are needed if you don’t want to,” he said. “Just tell us the story.”

According to Sternbach the Forum title “Discovery Thinking” should be credited to AAPG legend A.I. Leverson. He noted Leverson penned an inspirational paper in 1943 dealing with systematically thinking about how to think through the business of creativity in exploration.

Besides the annual Forum, another noteworthy effort to capture knowledge from the experts has been undertaken by AAPG members Paul Weimer and Ed Dolly, who are interviewing veteran explorers in the Rocky Mountain region for the most part.

Sternbach noted the interview-style effort will broaden to include other AAPG Sections, and ultimately have a global reach.

“We’re capturing verbal histories and video, so current and future explorers will be able to study the lessons these great people have to offer us,” he said.

“We may ultimately have a way to digitally deliver the video message, so the value of the stories can endure,” he added. “That’s the vision.”

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Forum Roster

This year’s Discovery Thinking Forum, the second presentation of the AAPG 100th Anniversary Committee’s program “100 Who Made a Difference,” will feature seven speakers who are renowned for their success in exploring and finding hydrocarbon reserves. They are:

  • Bill Barrett.
  • Richard Findley.
  • Steve Kneller.
  • Doug Strickland.
  • M. Ray Thomasson.
  • Bob Weimer.
  • Marv Brittenham.

Each speaker will discuss how they overcame huge challenges to succeed in both business and geological aspects of the profession.

Emphasis: International Conference