Interview with Anne Grau, WPX Energy. Innovators in Geosciences

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Welcome to an interview with Anne Grau, WPX Energy, who shares her experiences in the field with us. She also talks to us today about how combining in-depth knowledge and understanding of the rock with new techniques and technologies can result in more productive and cost-effective wells.

What is your name and your background?

Anne Grau. The daughter of a Swiss Mathematician, I was born in Evanston Illinois. I went to Baylor University to study French and found geology my Junior year and rapidly switched degree programs. I received a Bachelor’s and a Master’s from Baylor University, then later a Ph.D. from the Colorado School of Mines.

How did you get interested in geology?

On our annual family vacation, we drove from Illinois across the plains to the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It was a dramatic contrast: Flat cornfields to jagged high rocky peaks covered with snow. Subconsciously, I was asking myself, why are the corn fields here and the mountains there? It was in that Junior year Geology 101 class, when I learned how glaciers had made our plains the richest, most fertile farmlands in the US, if not the world. Even more exciting, I learned about the Cretaceous Seaway that covered the Western US and the Laramide orogeny popped those mountains up for us to enjoy. I was hooked.

where did you study? What were some of your memorable field experiences?

My field experience at Baylor University under the late great Dr. OT Hayward exposed me to the Aptian Albian layer cake geology exposed in the Lampasas Cut Plain of Central Texas. What a dream for a budding geologist to wander along limestone river beds imprinted with dinosaur footprints, wonder at how many coccolithophore it takes to make a foot of Edwards Limestone, or to map out a wily chert conglomerate on foot. Those early hands on experiences at Baylor’s natural geology laboratory have resonated with me for all of my career.

What are some of the ways in which geology / geosciences are important for oil and gas operations?

Understanding the rock is always essential to having the best operation possible. Even in unconventional factory-mode drilling operations, wells targeting the best rock always outperform wells drilled in lesser quality rock. The idea that “we will frack into it” and geology is not essential to development scale concerns proves routinely to not be so simple. We are seeing that fractures cannot propagate in certain levels of ductility (so keep your wells steered in the brittle stuff!) and that fracture pathways shut down over time, leaving the well to drain near borehole. Understanding where your best reservoir quality and oil in place resides in the rocks is key to the best long term outcome in well performance.

Do you see any additional skill sets that will be needed in the future?

Geosciences, like much of our technical industry, is data driven. Embracing new ways to analyze data above and beyond excel spreadsheets, is routine and common throughout the oil and gas disciplines. A geologist who can program a spotfire analytic brings game-changing revolution to something simple like core data and reservoir quality analysis.

What is one new technology that has impressed you? why? how?

Revochem GC x GC allocation analysis has taken century-old mass spec geochemistry light years into the future. Faye Liu and her husband Jiang Wu use the massive amounts of data generated by the mass spec that were beyond original data resolution, using software “borrowed” form our friends in medical imaging as well as geophysics to take the old school gas chromatography curve into the future. While GC x GC is fascinating in its ow right, the company is able to create a vertical baseline that can pinpoint and show you where your produced oil is coming from. And they can do it in time lapse (4D) as well. Check out Revochem if you haven’t already.

Can you recommend a book?

One of my favorites is called “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman that is a thought experiment of what would happen on earth if humans suddenly disappeared. Everything from cats eating all the songbirds within 6 months, to what would happen to our nicely manicured subdivisions almost overnight. The impact of humans on the earth is huge, and we intervene with so many earth and atmospheric processes, by drawing this thought experiment as to what would happen on earth if we were gone is intriguing as to how huge we have shaped the planet, and how little we would really matter in the long run.

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