Interview with Ken Peters, Schlumberger: Bold New Combinations of Knowledge Create Opportunities for Geoscientists

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Bold new combinations of knowledge are now feasible, thanks to Cloud computing, and they promise new insights for the future. Welcome to an interview with Ken Peters, Schlumberger, who discusses his experience and powerful new techniques and technologies that will bring new opportunities to geoscientists.

What is your name and your background?

Ken Peters
Ken Peters
My short CV is as follows: Ken Peters is Schlumberger Geochemistry Advisor. He has 40 years with Chevron, Mobil, ExxonMobil, USGS, and Schlumberger and published >165 geoscience books and papers. Ken is Adjunct Professor in the Stanford University Basin and Petroleum System Modeling Industrial Affiliates Program. He holds the 2009 Geochemical Society Alfred Treibs, 2013 AAPG Honorary Member, and 2016 EAGE Alfred Wegener medals, and is a 2017 AAPG Heritage of the Petroleum Geologist Honoree. He has BA and MA degrees in geology from U.C. Santa Barbara and a PhD in geochemistry from U.C. Los Angeles.

When did you get interested in geology?

I had a real dilemma in college. I was interested in all science; chemistry, biology, physics, and even math, but knew little about geology. As an undergraduate I got permission to take a graduate course in “Adventures in Earth History”, because it brought together all these disciplines. My subsequent career confirmed that some of the most exciting science occurs at the artificial boundaries that we create to separate disciplines.

What were some of your first experiences in geology?

Growing up in California, it’s hard to ignore geology. If you are inattentive, the San Andreas fault will shake you awake. Early as a geology major, I avoided field trips. Thankfully my advisor talked me into my first field trip to the Sierra Nevada; wow, what a great experience! Of course, geology ruined me for Hollywood westerns and disaster movies. Geologists know that the Alabama Hills are in California (not somewhere else), Neanderthals never fought dinosaurs, and Krakatoa is west, not east of Java.

What are some of the projects that you are interested in now?

I work geochemistry and petroleum system modeling projects for worldwide clients, teach for Stanford University, Schlumberger NExT, and EAGE, mentor PhD candidates, review papers for journals, conduct research, and write papers for journals like AAPG Bulletin. Some recent research includes:

  • Petroleum generation kinetics and input to petroleum system models
  • Mechanisms for suppression of vitrinite reflectance
  • Doglegs in vitrinite reflectance profiles with depth and calibration of petroleum system models
  • Influence of paleoclimate on distributions and compositions of Miocene Monterey crude oil
  • Reservoir fluid geodynamics
  • Source rock heterogeneity, North Slope Alaska
  • Chemometric analysis of biomarker and isotope data to distinguish crude oil families
  • Stereochemistry and molecular modeling of biomarkers in petroleum
Please talk to us about what you see as potential "breakthrough" technologies.

Coupled subsurface modeling technologies linked to the Cloud are a revolution in geologic thinking. Examples of coupled subsurface technologies include calibrated petroleum system modeling (PSM) integrated with pore pressure prediction, complex structural restoration, forward stratigraphic modeling, seismic facies modeling, and/or probabilistic prospect assessment. For example, fast computing of linked PSM-pore pressure prediction allows reliable estimates of pore pressures and fracture gradients ahead of the drill bit. Fast modeling results allow drilling engineers to optimize mud weight to drill wells safely and under budget. Secure Cloud technology automates modeling, simulation, analysis and forecasting in one package with the computing power to generate hundreds or thousands of geostatistical scenarios for risk assessment that allows faster and better management decisions.

What will the impact be on the oil industry? On geologists?

Linked subsurface technologies and Cloud automation signal the start of a revolution in cross-disciplinary collaboration that applies to early exploration, development, production, and abandonment. Companies with the foresight to adopt this new E&P tool will gain tremendous competitive advantage for exploiting both conventional and unconventional petroleum resources. Running many iterations of complex integrated models to yield full ranges of scenarios for risk assessment is rapidly becoming standard operation. This means that incoming geoscientists will need to be increasingly comfortable with integrated software, cooperative and diverse working groups, and ‘big’ data.

What do you recommend for young geoscientists? What should they learn? What should they be able to do?

If you are a student, build a solid foundation in the fundamentals: oral and written communication, biology, chemistry, physics, computing, and yes, math. If your career leads you to industry, it is highly unlikely that your job will involve the same details that you learned in college. You will be assigned to projects that require flexibility, eagerness to learn new things, and the ability to effectively communicate results. I can recommend two electives to supplement the traditional fundamentals. First, pursue instruction in “Chemometrics”. Because the universe is multivariate, all collegiate science curricula should (but do not) require courses in multivariate statistics. To the dismay of my collegiate advisor, I also took an elective course in “Public Opinion”. That was a great decision because it confirmed the need to be skeptical about what we hear and read. Unfortunately, many broadcasts or published pleas for action are motivated by hidden goals. I like to say: “If someone tells you that the sky is falling, don’t look up; look down to see that you still have your wallet.”

If you are a young geoscientist in industry, hold on to your hat and enjoy the ride! Above all, be flexible and make the effort to learn new things and publish good work if possible, even if management is not fully supportive. Many people choose boring careers and live for weekends. Unlike them, you have chosen the right career; geoscience is more challenging, exciting, and amazing than any science fiction novel!

Please list two or three books you would like to recommend.

This is a tough question, but three books that I enjoyed are:

  • Yergin, Daniel (2012) The Quest—Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. Penguin, New York, 820 p.
  • McPhee, John (1998) Annals of the Former World. Farrar, Straus and Grioux, New York, 696 p.
  • Stegner, Wallace (2007) Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil. Selwa Press, Vista California, 259 p.

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