Finding art in his science

Doré Like a ‘Kid in a Candy Store’

Anthony Doré
Anthony Doré

APG award-winning geologist Tony Doré once almost tossed a budding career in geology to hit the road with his guitar.

Fortunately for the profession and the industry, he chose geology – and finding the art in his science, Doré eventually found himself leading some stunningly successful oil-finding efforts.

While scaling the corporate ladder with Conoco and later Statoil, he built a reputation as a “forward-thinker,” integrating ideas from industry, academia, earth science and new technologies from different disciplines.

Along the way, he said, he also developed a passion for "the deal."

For his contributions to geology, Doré recently was honored as a member of the Order of the British Empire – one of his country's highest civilian honors – and last month he received a 2011 AAPG Special Award, presented at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston and given for a career that is “worthy of Association recognition.”

Doré, who during his career with Conoco had developed expertise in basin modeling, stratigraphic correlation and northwest European paleogeography, said he felt like a kid left alone in a candy store when he joined Statoil in 1994.

"Statoil had something much more ambitious in mind and gave me free rein to pull together the whole tectonic evolution of the northeast Atlantic as the basis for their ambitious acreage acquisition policy,” he recalled shortly before receiving his AAPG award.

“It allowed me to further develop ideas on ocean margin structure, basement reactivation, passive margin compression, volcanic margins, exhumed petroleum systems and frontier source rocks.”

A Man for All Seasons

Doré said that of the various ideas his teams pursued, several proved fruitful in searching for oil and are often quoted by industry and academia, including:

  • Having an integrated view of the tectonic evolution and petroleum systems of the North Atlantic.
  • Understanding the behavior of uplifted (exhumed) petroleum systems, and systematizing the differences between those and continuously subsiding systems.
  • The nature and mechanics of inversion on passive margins and its importance to prospectivity.
  • And, in his words, “Our models of basement reactivation on the northeast Atlantic margin seem to have been quite influential.”

Doré also has been lauded for encouraging the use of new technology.

“When I started in Statoil the big deal was AVO and amplitude-driven exploration,” he continued. “There appeared to be a sincere belief in the industry that we would be able to achieve 100 percent predictability in exploration using these techniques.

“It seems absurd now, but that was not an uncommon mentality,” he said. “As usual, nature turned out to be not quite so simple.”

Entry to the Gulf of Mexico has been a crash course for Statoil on use – and necessity – of wide azimuth, rich azimuth and full azimuth 3-D seismic, imaging of complex subsalt prospects, he observed.

“I am very impressed – over-awed, even – at the new breed of Gulf of Mexico geoscientist who can deal with complex imaging problems while simultaneously disentangling stratigraphic relations through multiple phases of salt canopy formation,” he said.

He also currently is “particularly interested in Arctic technology, by which I mean the whole spectrum, from exploration to environmental to field development. The challenges in the Arctic – particularly in deep ice-covered waters – are so great that industry cooperation between the few key players will be required, pretty much in the way they did in the early stages of Gulf of Mexico with Deepstar.”

Game-Changing Impact

Refocusing from northwestern Europe to North America was challenging, he said.

“When I was charged with (re-entering the Gulf of Mexico) the geology was completely different to what I and my small band of geoscientists had encountered in northwest Europe,” he said, “but we commissioned some very good advisers and learned fast.

“When the merger between Statoil and Hydro took place and eastern Canada came into his portfolio, it was much more like the old familiar North Sea petroleum system,” he said.

"Statoil had exited from the Gulf in 1999, so ... bringing us back required building corporate belief,” he recalled. “We took the best advice we could and decided to focus on just a few emerging ultra deep water plays. We also targeted companies with large portfolios and expiry issues in our focus areas who we figured might need some help in getting their acreage drilled.

“Some bluntly told us to go away,” he said, “but others saw the potential of the match and welcomed us through their doors.

Because of the hard work of “a few great people,” the company succeeded in building corporate conviction and re-entered the Gulf in 2004. The initial deals were a multi-well farm-in with Chevron followed by a bigger deal with ExxonMobil.

“Both were in the deepwater Paleogene play,” he said. “Both led to discoveries, and it goes without saying that a bit of oil certainly helped lay the psychological foundations to continue.”

When the Encana deepwater GoM acquisition came along “it fit perfectly into our strategy and our initial position,” Doré said, “and that deal is widely regarded as the game-changer that made us a real GoM player. We have been able to build out from our initial strategic focus to the quite significant position you see in North America.

“I would never claim responsibility for Statoil's success in North America,” he said, adding “there are many visionary people who deserve that accolade. But I would passionately argue that my team laid the basis for it.”

A Song In His Heart

In nominating Doré for the AAPG Special Award, Phil Christie called his friend and colleague an "enlightened senior manager" who has maintained cutting-edge technical contributions despite a demanding work schedule.

Doré has had some 50 peer-reviewed papers published and edited six books, including the latest in AAPG's "Petroleum Geology of NW Europe" series.

He also has served on numerous bodies involving both academia and industry.

"How Tony finds the time for these extra-curricular activities and holds down a demanding management role in Statoil-Hydro is amazing,” Christie said, “but it testifies to his drive to promote a single community of geologists undivided by academic or industrial affiliation.”

"It's pretty rare to get to VP level in an exploration company and publish a lot,” Doré said. “They are usually mutually exclusive – so my main advice is that to do both you've got to love geology and you've really got to want it. There will be no financial benefit from the academic side.”

A good partner helps, too.

“My wife, Barbara, likes me playing guitar and writing papers, but she's probably thankful I'm not into golf," he said.

He is still into music, though, calling it "icing on the cake," and he proudly notes that he received his OBE at Buckingham Palace the same day as alternative rocker John Cale, and that his award was announced at the same time as Graham Nash's.

Incidentally, Doré played in the Statoil rock band The GEX Pistols (GEX being Global Exploration), plays several instruments and says he suffers from "guitar acquisition syndrome."

Meanwhile, professional changes and challenges keep coming.

“I've moved from VP exploration North America to VP exploration New Ventures North America,” he said. “Since chasing down new opportunities is the fun part for me, I'm happy. My canvas is anything onshore or offshore from the Canadian Arctic and Alaska through the Lower 48 to Mexico.

“So," he said, “you could say I'm back in the candy store.”

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