57 universities from 18 countries in competition

Imperial Barrel Program Rolls Into New Orleans

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Award program (IBA) continues to expand its global outreach as it offers a unique opportunity for earth science students from around the world to analyze real geologic, geophysical, land, economic and production data.

Now in its third year, this year’s IBA program, which will culminate in the finals at the upcoming AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in New Orleans, will include participation by 57 universities from 18 countries, representing all six international Regions and all six U.S. Sections.

Latin America and Middle East Regions will enter the competition for the first time.

Like no other student program, the IBA program gives students experience interacting with and learning from industry leaders and mentors; it has the power to jolt the career path of students anywhere in the world.

The IBA Committee, led by former IBA coordinators Steve Veal (chair) and Ken Nemeth (vice chair), oversees the global program. IBA Committee member Tim Berge is responsible for the IBA datasets plus coordination of software donations and support.

The committee, working with headquarters staff, is implementing fundamental program improvements this year by embracing new technologies and instituting a clearly written, comprehensive “Rules, Regulations, Operations Manual.”

Simultaneously, industry recognition, involvement and support of IBA are on the rise, with new datasets contributed and additional service companies offering free software downloads, training and technical support to universities and IBA teams.

At the local Section and Region level, IBA coordinators recruit schools to participate in the program, secure corporate sponsors and organize sectional/regional IBA events.

For 2010, eight out of 12 IBA coordinators are returning for the second year – a combination of experience and fresh ideas that has sparked several IBA “best practices.”


There are reasons why the IBA has the power to mobilize companies, affiliate societies and educational institutions.

The program’s focus is on development of exploration skills. Central to the IBA competition is analysis of regional-scale (approximately 100 square kilometers) datasets, presented in the program as project “problems” or “new business ventures.”

“This year,” Berge said, “we were able to offer seven completely different IBA project ‘problems’ from five geographic areas – the Danish North Sea, Norwegian North Sea, onshore Australia, U.S. Gulf Coast offshore, Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the Barents Sea.”

It is Berge’s role to carefully modify donated datasets to ensure every IBA team has an equivalent challenge and learning experience. Every project contains real geological data including well curves, 3-D or 2-D seismic data, gravity and magnetic data, Landsat imagery, geologic reports or studies, geochemistry and core data.

“Thanks to our industry partners, affiliate societies and university partners that have donated these datasets,” Berge said, including Maersk, Texaco, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Imperial College London, University of Oklahoma and Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA).

IBA rules restrict students to one IBA event during their university career, although any university can enter a new IBA team each year. To avoid giving a returning university an unfair advantage over a first-time university, Berge’s management of the datasets guarantees that each school’s team has a completely new project that is from a part of the world that is unfamiliar to them – even if the university is a previous IBA participant.

Inherent in a global program are variations in hardware, software and bandwidth available to universities from state to state and country to country. Berge makes sure the data are in formats that are understood and usable by the different universities.

The ability to offer a range of software choices, he said, is only possible through the generous support of Schlumberger, SMT, Paradigm and OpendTect, all of which have donated software to the IBA program.

Technical Improvements

In previous years IBA datasets were loaded on portable thumb drives or USB keys, then shipped to university contacts in diverse locales – and with equally diverse mail delivery systems.

This year, nearly 100 gigabytes of IBA project data are hosted on and can be downloaded from the AAPG FTP site. Project datasets are usually in the 1-4 gigabyte range, although some can be as large as 14 gigabytes.

“The FTP site allows us to assign each IBA participant team a password, which enables them to see and download only the project to which they are assigned,” Berge said. “With this technical improvement, participants can access the data more quickly and more reliably.”

Another technical improvement directly benefits the IBA Committee and the program’s historical records. Mike Mlynek, AAPG, assistant manager, (Student Programs) has capitalized on new Web-hosting technology to create a single source for all IBA documents and materials.

Best Practices

Three IBA program practices deserve special mention as “best practices” for adding value to the IBA experience of students and businesses alike.

What are they?

Readers are encouraged to view expanded accounts of these practices on the IBA Web site at http://www.aapg.org/iba.

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Regions and Sections

Regions and Sections Column - Carol McGowen
Carol Cain McGowen is the development manager for AAPG's Regions and Sections. She may be contacted via email , or telephone at 1-918-560-9403.

Regions and Sections Column

Regions and Sections is a regular column in the EXPLORER offering news for and about AAPG's six international Regions and six U.S. Sections. News items, press releases and other information should be submitted via email or to: EXPLORER - Regions and Sections, P.O. Box 979, Tulsa, OK 74101. 

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Teams Get Bonus Class

The Gulf Coast Section has discovered that reaching out to local industry to provide training classes, mentoring and to serving as IBA judges not only increases the educational value for students but also builds a network of industry support for the IBA program.

The industry outreach efforts of Janice Gregory-Sloan, second-year IBA coordinator, resulted in ExxonMobil offering two training classes on basin analysis to universities and IBA teams in Louisiana and Texas.

The class provided students with an overview of play elements and play mapping, including two practice exercises. Immediately following the training, teams downloaded their datasets.

“I think that the students in this year’s program will feel that it was a good learning experience,” Gregory-Sloan said, “and provided them with insights to our industry and the opportunity to begin building their industry network.”

Experience Counts

Anwar Al-Beaiji, a young professional geologist with Saudi Aramco, is uniquely qualified to serve as IBA Coordinator for the Middle East Region. While a geology student at Imperial College London, Anwar was a member of the 2008 Imperial College IBA team that won second place in the global competition that year.

Anwar last year laid the groundwork for a successful 2010 program by visiting universities in the Region and contacting industry companies to convey the benefits of IBA to both students and universities.

“These efforts led to partial financial sponsorship of the IBA program and technical support to participating universities within the region,” Al-Beaiji said.

The 2010 Middle East Region IBA event is scheduled in conjunction with a major regional conference, GEO Bahrain. Invitations to an awards reception following the competition have been extended to geology department heads of all Middle Eastern universities, executives of national, international and service oil companies and industry experts – a strategy designed to raise awareness of IBA among universities and potential sponsors.

Mentors Aid Africa IBA Efforts

The success of the Africa Region IBA Program – 13 universities are vying this year – is built on a strongmentorship program including careful team monitoring using a workflow template.

Since the program was implemented, the number of mentors has doubled from 18 in 2009 to 36 mentors in 2010. Each IBA team is assigned one or more industry mentors who serve as a technical coach to the team.

Volunteer mentors are recruited from members of the AAPG Africa Region and expatriates working in Africa. Selection is based on oil industry experience – particularly in mapping skills and a willingness to share knowledge and provide technical guidance to the students.

Schools and mentors are randomly matched with teams in countries outside their own nationality or work area.

A generic workflow template defines milestones that each team should achieve at a certain time.

“In this way, we are certain that no team is left behind,” said coordinator Adedoja Ojelabi, “and all will complete the process.

“The mentor program experience in 2009 shows that interacting with industry mentors is of immense benefit to students, as they learn what is expected of them in the industry – team work, planning, prioritizing, speed, efficiency and work ethics,” Ojelabi said, “and we hope that the mentors also benefit from the exchange of ideas and derive a sense of fulfillment from helping another generation of earth scientists learn about the industry.”