Group effort yields success

Cairo Barrel Team Hurdled Barriers

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
The members of the University of Cairo IBA team, from left, Ibrahim Mohamed Ismael Abdelsamad, Hussein Ali Abdulaziz Abdulhafez and Ahmed Mohsen Hassan Metwally.
The members of the University of Cairo IBA team, from left, Ibrahim Mohamed Ismael Abdelsamad, Hussein Ali Abdulaziz Abdulhafez and Ahmed Mohsen Hassan Metwally.

What does it take to compete in the global IBA competition ?

Intelligence, confidence, analytical thinking, creative problem solving? Certainly. Mastery of geology, geophysics and geochemistry concepts and applications are a given.

Poise, polish and excellent presentation skills rank highly among most IBA judges.

But aside from the technical acumen acquired through years of university classes and field studies, sometimes the path from Regional qualifying IBA competitions to the global IBA competition requires more resources than any one team can muster.

In fact, in some cases, the path to the global IBA presents challenges so great, they are far beyond what any one team can foresee.

This is the story of just one team’s path to the IBA finals in Houston.

The 2011 Imperial Barrel Award Program involved 94 teams from 32 countries. Of the original 94, 12 teams overcame their own challenges and were supported by their own network of caring AAPG members who went the extra mile to ensure their team’s successful journey to the finals.

In the case of the Cairo University IBA team, what it took to compete in competition at Houston was unwavering dedication and determination by the student team members, and no less than legions of caring, volunteer AAPG members – including no less than the Africa Region leadership team themselves.

Friday, January 28

World news sources reported turmoil in Cairo and massive civil protests across Egypt. Thousands stayed on the streets of Cairo into the night and for days following. In response to the protestors, Internet and cell phones were blocked resulting in a nationwide communication blackout. Universities and offices closed, including the United States Embassy in Cairo.

Tuesday, February 1

Doja Ojelabi, with Chevron Nigeria as well as AAPG Africa Region vice president and IBA adviser for the Region, emails the Cairo University team:

“We’d like to find out if you have had any success downloading the IBA dataset. We’ve had a few schools with some delays and we are trying to work things out as quickly as possible. We are particularly concerned that the current situation in Egypt may also affect the schools’ ability to start the data interpretation. Can you please advise on the status of things?”

Wednesday, February 2

Bill Bosworth, AAPG delegate with Apache Egypt in Cairo, emails the Africa Region leadership and IBA team:

“The Internet is still down here in Cairo, so I doubt you will be able to communicate with most of the students and their advisers. I am at Apache, where we have a dedicated trunk line back to the U.S., and hence can send and receive emails … so far.”

Cairo has about 18 million people. For AAPG members living elsewhere it’s hard to imagine the difficult circumstances in the life of university students there – an ongoing civil revolution, curfews, very limited resources, closed schools, etc.

In the face of these unprecedented circumstances, Ahmed El-Barkooky, AAPG Public Service Award-winning member, Cairo University professor and IBA team adviser, tested the students’ resolve to go forward with preparations for IBA.

“I told the students – you are free now to choose not to continue, or to accept the challenge and go ahead, which will require that you manage your very tight time,” El-Barkooky said.

“They chose the hard way,” he said.

Seven weeks later, the Daily Independent newspaper in Lagos, Nigeria, reported “Cairo University, Egypt, has emerged winner of the keenly contested 2011 edition of the AAPG Africa Region Imperial Barrel Award competition, which took place on Thursday, March 17, 2011 at the Peninsula Hotel Lekki.”

The news article lauded Cairo University as “edging out 11 teams from other universities in Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.”

All IBA teams are judged by a consistent grade system that awards marks for introduction, regional context, integrated petroleum analysis, basic technical interpretations, risk assessment, volumetrics and business recommendations – as well as teamwork.

Looking back to the IBA qualifying competition in Lagos, El-Barkooky remembered the teamwork that bound together the university students as they were leaving Cairo for Nigeria.

“They got the visa for Nigeria on the same day of the trip. With their bags in their hands they went directly to get the military permit from the army to go abroad,” he said.

“From there, they went straight ahead to the airport to start their flight over Lebanon to Lagos. There was no direct flight that day (March 16) to arrive on the morning of the 17th – the day of the African competition.”

After the euphoria of winning AAPG Africa’s regional IBA competition subsided, the reality of challenges that were waiting on the path to Houston began to sink in.

The Cairo team had to arrive in Houston no later than Friday night, April 8, to present on Saturday, April 9.

The next step on the path to Houston was to obtain a temporary non-immigrant visa from the U.S. Embassy.

Normally, the visa application and interview process could easily be accomplished by applying for a visa interview online, then going to the embassy in Cairo at the appointed hour and date. However, the consular services announcement from the embassy confirmed that the visa process would be anything but normal:

“Due to security concerns, all visa services at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo are suspended until further notice. Applicants who need to travel to the United States before resumption of full visa services in Cairo may apply for a non-immigrant visa at any U.S. embassy or consulate outside Egypt. The non-refundable application fee must be paid in the country of application, according to procedures established by each U.S. embassy.”

Determining exactly which U.S. embassy outside of Egypt was an easy decision. Stable political conditions in Morocco, together with the presence of AAPG Delegate, Almoundir Morabet, Tamounda Consulting, and AAPG Africa Region membership chair, Haddou Jabour, ONHYM, were reassuring.

How would the team get to Casablanca to get their visas? Who would pay the fee “in the country of application?” Would the embassy expedite the visa process to enable the team’s timely arrival in Houston?

At this point, the team quickly expanded its resource base by contacting AAPG headquarters and the Region leadership for assistance – and the added challenge of timing and logistics for a round trip from Cairo to another country and back, prior to the Cairo-Houston trip, steeled the resolve of the now-expanded Africa Region leadership-AAPG headquarters staff-Cairo University team.

All efforts quickly focused on the timing and process required to obtain a U.S. visa from the embassy in Casablanca.

Thursday, March 24

At 7 a.m., an email from Bill Bosworth arrived:

“Please find attached the visa application confirmations for each of the Cairo team members. They completed the applications in my office today (via Apache’s reliable Internet access).

From here, AAPG staff went online and successfully scheduled the interviews for May 30, while coordinating with the travel agent who booked airline tickets to Casablanca for May 29.

Meanwhile, the Cairo IBA team applied at the Moroccan Embassy in Cairo for tourist visas to Morocco. AAPG headquarters staff contacted the Moroccan Embassy explaining the circumstances and requesting expedited service.

As it turned out, the team would apply twice and receive Moroccan visas for two trips to Casablanca – one for the U.S. visa interview, the second to pick up the visa en route to Houston.

For the visa interview itself, required documents included a print out of the visa appointment confirmation, a receipt for payment of visa application fee (to be provided by Almoundir Morabet), copy of the round-trip airline e-ticket, documentation proving family ties to Egypt, and an invitation letter from AAPG.

In a time zone seven hours earlier than Cairo, AAPG headquarters also wrote letters for each student, sent via email with the subject “URGENT- Non-immigrant Visas for Egyptian Students” to explain the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the trip to Houston represented and request expedited service.

The next challenge was the requirement to “Pay a non-refundable application fee of $140 or the equivalent in dirham at any branch of Banque Marocaine du Commerce et de l’Industrie (BMCI) in Morocco except the one at Gauthier and Rue d’Alger in Casablanca,” clearly stated on local U.S. consulate general’s website.

Friday, March 25

Almoundir Morabet took the train from his office in Rabat to the consulate office in Casablanca, paid the application fees and made a hotel reservation for the students’ overnight stay in Casablanca. Morabet scanned the payment receipts for the students, because payment verification is a required document the students would need to present at their visa interviews.

Tuesday, March 29

Morabet’s son met the Cairo team at the Casablanca airport and drove them to their hotel.

Throughout the process, time zone challenges made for many late night and early morning emails and telephone calls. Daily, sometimes hourly status reports and decisions were communicated between the IBA team and helpers in Cairo, Tulsa, Rabat, the Africa Region IBA committee in Lagos, and other concerned Region leaders in Nigeria, Libya and Ghana.

Footnote: In all, the Cairo University IBA team traveled a combined distance of nearly 24,000 miles.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo resumed visa services to the public on April 10 – two days after the conclusion of the 2011 IBA global finals competition in Houston.

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