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Digging Deeper with Susan Cunningham

AAPG "Energy Insights" Podcast, Episode 2

AAPG "Energy Insights" Podcast, Episode 2


Digging Deeper with Susan Cunningham, advisor for Darcy Partners and formerly Executive Vice President for Noble Energy. AAPG "Energy Insights" Podcast, Episode 2.

Full Transcript

VERN STEFANIC: Hi, and welcome to AAPG's Energy Insights, our new podcast offering interviews with people who are defining, influencing, and leading today's world of geosciences. I'm Vern Stefanic. And this installment, once again, is Digging Deeper by having a conversation with one of the speakers for the AAGP Foundation's new Distinguished Lecture series. Our guest today is Susan Cunningham, formerly Executive Vice President for Global Exploration and Business Innovation for Noble Energy and today an advisor for Darcy Partners, a research company connecting oil and gas companies with emerging technologies.

And as is the case this season, Susan's DL lecture is available for either downloading or streaming on the AAPG website. And this is one that everyone will find intriguing. Trust me on this. It's titled "What It Takes to be Successful in Exploration." We'll talk about that much more in just a moment as well as a lot more about those emerging new technologies that are an important part of the profession's future. But first, we get to know a little more about Susan herself and the experiences and success stories she's had during her 35 years in the industry and, importantly, the passion that brought her to this moment in her career. So Susan, welcome to Digging Deeper.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Thank you, Vern.

VERN STEFANIC: It is so good to have you here. And I know many people who are listening or watching this podcast right now will associate you automatically with Noble Energy.


VERN STEFANIC: You had an amazing career with Noble. And I want to talk about that, actually, quite a bit in just a second. But before we ever even get to that point, people who know you as the successful executive and the successful woman that you are in that place in the industry-- I'll bet they don't know why you like geology or how you even got into it. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, that's always interesting to hear people's stories of getting into geology and into oil and gas industry, because that's often convoluted. My mother tells me that when I was three or five that I would always be asking-- as kids do, ask lots of questions. But it was always, why is that mountain there? Why is that river there? Why are those rocks there? Why is the sky blue?

And it was like, why, why, why, like every child does. But they seemed to be much about the physical environment that we were in. And so I had never heard of geology or anything like that, but I loved physical geography. That was what I knew about from high school. And my favorite course was physical geography. And so I decided that I was going to go into physical geography. And so then it wasn't until I was figuring out what are my first-year courses going to be that my counselor at McMaster University said, well, you might--

VERN STEFANIC: Excuse me. You're not from the United States. Is that right?


VERN STEFANIC: Oh, OK, I'm sorry. OK, you're from--

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: I'm from Canada, yes.

VERN STEFANIC: Which is why McMaster would be on your list.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: By the way, the woman physicist who just won part of the Nobel Prize--


SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: --from McMaster.

VERN STEFANIC: Yes, yes, yes, saw that.


VERN STEFANIC: Congratulations to all of you.


VERN STEFANIC: OK, so I'm sorry.


VERN STEFANIC: So you're looking at McMaster.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: So that was going to be my degree. And it was suggested that I take a geology course. And I had never actually heard of geology before. Believe it or not, I hadn't. And so I thought, well, this looks kind of interesting, and I'll take it. So I took the course, had the best marks I'd ever had in my life, got some money out of the whole thing, and said, hm, I think that's what I'm going to do. But I loved it. And I have never looked back. And so I changed over into geology. And it brings all the sciences together. And that's what I really, really like about it, and that inquisitive thing. And that's who I am.

VERN STEFANIC: Was there a specific course or a teacher or some moment where you really knew that geology was something special for you personally?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: No, I think I just decided that when I took that first course. Yeah, I mean, there were certainly very impactful people along the way. I mean, McMaster-- the university at the time had some of the best sedimentologists and geologists that the industry knows, I mean, Roger Walker turbidites -- a study that is certainly world renowned. He was a professor there. A textbook by Black, Middleton, and Moore on sedimentology, and Middleton was there. So there were several people-- it was a good place to be in, for a lot of the thinkers of the time were at McMaster University. It was just really interesting.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah, yeah. OK, speaking about thinkers-- we're not going to dwell on the first part of your life for the rest of the podcast. But I don't want to be casual and just overlook the part of the curiosity that you had when you were younger. Did that come from parents, from your environment? How does something like that happen?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, and of course, I don't know that we ever really know. I suspect a lot of it came from my parents. I'm the middle child of five. My dad is a PhD in engineering and physics, and my mother is an English teacher. I mean, she was an English undergrad. My dad brought us up in the scientific method. And so, I mean, literally at dinner table time on Sunday nights, it would be, I had this idea. Oh, what's your hypothesis? Oh, my hypothesis is-- and what is a hypothesis?

So I learned what does that mean. And then, so what data do you have for that? What's your thinking about it? And back it up. And everybody would be in it. It was loud and raucous. And everybody would be in the conversation. And then you'd get curious about somebody else's hypothesis. And you'd be critiquing them. And what's your thinking? So the whole logical thought process also came into play. And my dad's got massive interests. And he was always bringing up different ideas. So does my mother. They complemented each other. They were very curious and reading and had lots of interests. So I think it just was part of what I grew up in.

VERN STEFANIC: What a great, nurturing environment that was to--

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, absolutely.

VERN STEFANIC: --start out with. And we'll talk a little bit-- in the lecture that you give, you talk a little bit about leadership. And we might talk a lot about your lecture as we go on. I don't know. But I do know that in it, when I was listening to it earlier, that you talked about the fact that leaders can be made.


VERN STEFANIC: So what I'm interested in-- I do want to hear more about your thinking that goes into all that. You became a leader in the industry. Did you know at a younger age, as you were just starting your career, that that was the path that you may have been going off?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: No, I did not, to be honest. I expected to continue on and do graduate school and go in more academia. That's what my dad was-- I mean, it wasn't what he did, but he was always very involved. He always had PhD students with him and stuff like that. And so it was just an environment where I expect to be more in that direction and get advanced degrees.

But I got this job opportunity that I thought, oh, this sounds like fun, and I can make money. This is a thing to do. So I decided to go. But I was just thinking about my craft and just being a really good scientist and really being good at what I could do. I mean, there must have been something that led people to think that I was capable of leading, but it was never in my thought process earlier on, although some of my siblings, and especially my younger sister, might say, well, yeah, but you were always kind of bossy--

VERN STEFANIC: Well, well--

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: --which might be one of those little fledging leadership--

--possibilities that you've got to work on.

VERN STEFANIC: Well, let me ask you-- you're competitive.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I am competitive.

VERN STEFANIC: Does leadership require people to have that competitive spirit, do you think?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: That's an interesting question. I have never thought of that. It does seem to me that that probably needs to be an ingredient in there as a motivator, as a driver, maybe because you're competitive, meaning you're always wanting to do more, learn, expand your possibilities, whatever that is, be better. So yeah, that's probably not inconsistent with that possibility, but I don't know.

VERN STEFANIC: Who knows? But you seem to have this-- you have a drive--


VERN STEFANIC: --like people who know you--


VERN STEFANIC: --have mentioned that to me before. And I've been around you now on several occasions when you've spoken and watching you in action with your job. And you have a definite drive--


VERN STEFANIC: --to communicate the passion and the possibilities that we have in the profession.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, absolutely. No, I do. I do have a drive. I still feel that drive. And it's to make a difference. And I think, actually, all people have it, but perhaps it's expressed and they don't really know how to point it in a helpful direction and all the rest of it. I think it's in the core of everybody to want to make a difference. I've been fortunate enough to be able to figure out how I might be able to do that. And that, I think, has only accelerated the drive as I started to see where my passions were and therefore where I might be able to make a difference.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah, yeah. And if you could just give us a little brief rundown of your career, because you had this amazing journey from Canada to your first job in Houston. Now, I know about that. If you want to tell the other people about it, that's fine. No, you drove this cool car, right?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I didn't have a car when I moved from Toronto to Calgary in my first job working with Amoco Canada there. I was able to finally buy a car. And I was very excited about this. So I bought a black Turbo Trans Am with the eagle and--

VERN STEFANIC: Well, cool, yeah.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: --everything. It was a long time ago, but it was an awesome car. And I had just bought it, and I had this opportunity to transfer to Houston. My goal was to work international at the time. And that was in Houston. And Amoco wouldn't even look at you until you had at least four years experience. But all of a sudden-- Justin's father, by the way, was in power-- Trudeau. And he nationalized the Canadian industry. And now all of a sudden, they needed to downsize-- Amoco did-- in Calgary.

So now they were looking to transfer people. They had needs in both Denver and in Houston. And so I really wanted to do international, and now I could go to Houston, although I was a little worried about it. But anyway, that's another story.

But I had my car. And so everyone was packing up, and they accepted the positions to either of those places. And I said, thanks. This is great. I'm looking forward to going. And I accepted.

And then I realized that I was going to have to sell my car. And I didn't want to do that. So I said, can I drive instead? Can you give me a week, and I'll drive to Houston instead? And so they said, yes. And so I drove down through West Texas in my black Turbo Trans Am.

VERN STEFANIC: I'm sure there were some heads that were turning.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Seeing some amazing geological wonders along the way.

VERN STEFANIC: And that's what I remember you talking about.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: It was awesome.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah. And it's the passion that you speak of whenever-- because you've actually told me that story twice.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I think I have.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah. And the excitement and the passion you had on going through all of the geologic splendor of the American West.



SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: How could you not get excited about geology when you see all that?

VERN STEFANIC: No kidding.


VERN STEFANIC: You wanted to do international, so that's why you're down in Houston with Amoco.


VERN STEFANIC: Did that happen for you there?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yes. My first job was actually working on the appraisal well for Saja Field in the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi. And so, yes. And I worked international for almost my entire career. I was with Amoco for 17 years, and everything but the last four was international.



VERN STEFANIC: And it was the international experience that brought you to Noble. Is that how that worked?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yes. That's right. That's exactly right. But there were a couple of things in between. I got to head up an office in Denmark when I was with Amoco. I learned so much from doing that, because I was now heading up an office that was far away from the mother ship. And it was very small, and it was in a different culture and a different language. And so that was an opportunity I am forever grateful to Amoco for, amongst many others. But that one in particular was a turning point for me. And then I worked for Statoil and Texaco, and then made my way to Noble Energy.

VERN STEFANIC: OK. And what position with Noble when you started out?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: So I was a Senior Vice President of Exploration when I first started.

VERN STEFANIC: So your career with Noble was kind of spectacular. I mean, people who know anything about the industry know that you were a leader in several areas of exploration around the world. And two of the leading discoveries that I want you to talk about a little bit more in just a second are Tamar and Leviathan.

But one other thing that I was wanting to talk about, just in terms of your international experience-- I remember listening once to you give a talk about the social responsibility that oil companies had, especially when they go into all of these parts of the world. And it was fascinating, and it was inspiring, because of you talking about some of the benefits that were being brought to other parts of the world because of the industry. Could you talk about that a little bit?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. I actually believe very strongly in that. The oil and gas industry is an amazing industry. And actually, it's more global, and knows how to work safely, with security, providing energy, and helping out all around the world, in almost any place. And so who better that understands, or knows how to connect-- you've got connections with high people in government, than an oil and gas company to make a difference, not only through finding and developing that country's hydrocarbons, but connecting with people and seeing how can you help them to grow in the process? How can you help that country and the communities you're in to grow in the process in other ways?

And so the whole idea of social responsibility-- when that started, I was actually really drawn to it. I remember, when I first even heard the concept, and it was at a women's conference, a Forbes women's conference, and there was a woman from California that talked about it. And it was just becoming new at the time. And I thought, wow.

It connects you with the community. And you're going to benefit as a company from that connection. But you are also just doing what you can to enable.

I always just think, if you're in a community, they're yours. You're part of them. They're part of you. There's no other way around it. And it's probably how I look at the world. I really just think that we all should be helping each other out in any way we can. It's just one tribe on the whole planet, helping each other out. That's how I look at it.

VERN STEFANIC: Is there a country that actually sticks in your mind, that you remember amazing, good things happening for the local society, the local culture?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: There's probably several. But the one that immediately comes to my mind is actually in Equatorial Guinea, where at Noble, we had, also, a string of discoveries. And we got them online. And people may or may not like different things that are going on in different parts of the world, but that bringing your technology, your capabilities, your passion, to a place and helping out the local communities, bringing-- getting a water well, so they have fresh water. Education. Teaching the children how to swim when you had access to a pool. That one's even simpler.

But helping to build-- there was a town that I went to, a very small village, that they needed a teacher and a school. And they had one, but the school had become rundown, and so had the teachers' quarters. And they needed to attract a teacher from somewhere else.

So the community, the people that were living in Equatorial Guinea, and the community around them, the employees, they'd volunteered with, again, some help from the company to restore this school-- it was literally a one room school house-- and get good equipment, and desks and things that worked and weren't falling apart, and then fixed up the little house for the teacher, so that they could attract someone, a good teacher, that saw it as an opportunity for them.

There's a lot more other stories. But those are the ones that, to me, they really connect with real people. There's other grander ones about hospitals and things like that, that are also important. But those are the ones, for some reason, that kind of connect to me when you ask that question.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah. I know about it, because I heard people like you talk about it, and others. The general population doesn't always get that side of the story, right?


VERN STEFANIC: I always wonder, and I don't know if you have any insight-- I mean, you've been on the side of the people who are actually doing the great work. What can be done to share that message?

You know, sometimes, the energy industry doesn't always have the best reputation in the public. And who knows why? I guess we could talk about that for a long time.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: That's a whole other topic.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah. Right. But even in that world, why doesn't the message get through, or what can we do to get the message through? I don't know. Do you think?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: I think part of the problem-- part of the challenge. It's not a problem. Part of the challenge is that it's become the thing to do, with companies, to do social responsibility.

It's easy to be cynical in saying, well, they're only doing it because they need to. And of course, there's societal pressures that say, this is a good thing to do. But what's wrong with that, first of all?

But I think somehow, sometimes, I've seen some companies that will make a-- it's like a big production, kind of to show how great they are. And it's almost too much of a production. If people can see the stories and hear the stories, and see people talking authentically to other people, and talking about how it impacted them to be part of this-- and I've seen some of those, by the way. But I just think it's the stories that people connect with that are authentic, that you could tell that person wanted to do that, and saw the difference they were making.

And it comes back to that thinking that I have, that everyone at the core really wants to be part of something bigger themselves, and wants to make a difference. We don't all know how to do it. We don't always get in touch with it. But whether it's true or not, it's how I choose to believe, because I'm an optimist. But I think it's true. I really think it's true, that at our core, we all want to connect with other people and have a positive influence. That's really what we want to do.

And so when people can tell the stories of doing that, it's powerful. And sometimes, I think, it's too much of a PR or production. And it just needs to tone down just a little bit, make it a little more real. I don't know. There's lots of other--

VERN STEFANIC: I don't think we're going to solve the whole problem today. But there are great stories to be told.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: There are. There really are.

VERN STEFANIC: Well, we'll work on that one too. But right now, I want to talk about Tamar and Leviathan.


VERN STEFANIC: Thank you. Because those were, perhaps, unexpected success stories. They're big success stories-- unexpected, perhaps, in the parts of the world that they were in. Could you tell us a little bit about those projects, how they came, why you thought they would be exciting? And then I want to ask you a little bit about the teams that were assembled to make those possible.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. There was a point when we were figuring out, what is our long range plan at Noble, that I really wanted exploration to be. I didn't feel it was as impactful as it could be. I really thought that there was-- in all candor, even though this is out to everybody, I really wanted to do something amazing at the exploration at Noble, or else it was not where I wanted to be. I mean, I just had this drive to do something.

VERN STEFANIC: You had a big goal that you wanted.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: So I created a big goal, exactly-- to really make a difference. And so that goal, the billion barrels in five years, when the company was finding 35 million, plus or minus a year-- it was very, very volatile, as these things are.

But that goal-- and I did that with some help, by the way, of some consulting. That's when I was studying leadership. And I realized, that as leaders, if you can do this-- if you can dare to put out a goal that gets you excited and scared at the same time, and then enroll people in it, that you're never going to meet it if you don't, obviously. But you just might. And you declare it and you enroll people in it, now you've got to deliver.

If you say it outside, you know, out loud like that-- so I really thought, OK. I'm all in. It's either going to be good, or it's going to be bad. But I'm all in.

So I set the big goal. Didn't have a clue how I was going to do it, and told everybody that. But I got so much support. We became such a team, because we knew what we were going after. We had to help. I told people, I'm going to waver, because we'll feel stupid at times. But bring me back in. You're going to waver. I'll bring you back in. You know, we're each going to do that. And that's exactly what we did.

And so we had to think totally different. And so that was when we realized that farming in and looking out for prospects wasn't going to be good enough. We were never going to meet this goal that way. We were a small company at the time.

The only way this was going to happen was, we needed to find places that we could see the possibility of something, and then if it worked, get the running room, get other acreage, so that with the same kind of prospects being possible, so you could really learn. And if it didn't work, it wasn't super expensive to get access to that acreage. So that was part of the strategy that we did.

So in Israel, we had actually-- when I joined the company, there was one well called Mari-B that had been discovered. And it was really the only production of any significance from offshore-- it may be the only production from offshore that Israel ever had. It was a one TCF discovery.

And it started up when I first started working with Noble. There were no other Mari-B's to be found. So people were kind of thinking, that's it for Israel.

And we did drill one exploration well. I wanted to test a play. And it didn't work. But we did get some important information from it. And then-- this is kind of looking back-- one of my groups, actually, some of the people, became aware of this Tamar prospect, which British Gas was trying to unload, to farm out.

And Delek Drilling-- because I've got to give them credit-- Israeli company was a partner with them. And they really wanted to see this prospect drilled.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah. I remember that. Yeah.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. And it was named Tamar after the daughter of the geologist, by the way, who-- yeah-- great story-- who was one of the main ones on the whole project with Delek-- I think I was with Delek, but I'm not sure.

But anyway, so Delek had tried to find other companies to farm in. They needed an operator, and take British Gas's interest. There was nobody that was interested, for all sorts of different reasons. Who knows what they all were. We could guess on some of them.

But then, some people that worked for me got to see it, because we were in Israel already with that one field. And they were very concerned that it looked that it was a volcano, and that it was, you know, not a real prospect. So it was actually, I was told, turned down twice before I even got to hear about it, by my own organization. But this happens. This is what happens.

But luckily, there were two people that wanted to make sure that I was aware of it, and were trying to get to me. And so they both told me about it, and showed me a couple of things. And I saw it and was like, oh my god. Oh my god. We have got to look into this further.

And so then, though, the people that turned it down, you don't want to make them wrong. And they weren't wrong. They were doing what they knew best to do.

VERN STEFANIC: So what did you see that made you go, oh my gosh, oh my gosh?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Oh, it was clear to me. It was just really clear. This was good.

VERN STEFANIC: God. I wish we could have a parentheses at this point, because that's one of the great things about what geologists bring to the table, is the creative way of looking at things. And you can look at something that's been done, that maybe a lot of other people have looked at-- but if you're looking at it in a new way, you see the new possibilities.


VERN STEFANIC: And that's what happened.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: It is what happened. And if you're coming in-- I talk about it in my talk-- if you're coming in from a totally outside perspective, you're open to the possibility of what it could be. We've all experienced this-- I certainly have-- where I know an area, or I know something so well, I cannot see any other possibility but what I've already decided. And you just can't see it.

And that's that outside thinking that I talk about in my lecture-- getting people in. And there's lots of stories-- in Deepwater, Gulf of Mexico, sub-salt -- that's how they happen, with someone coming in from another base, and didn't have any preconceived notions, and saw something. A possibility. So that's an important part of the creative process.

So for me, I saw it. But I wasn't the only one, because these other two people brought it to my attention. So, just set the record straight for their sake.


SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: They know who they are, that also saw a possibility there too. So anyways, I needed to get a group together to go through our process of looking at things objectively, comparing it to other things that we had in other opportunities in our portfolio for drilling, and what's the size of it, what's the risk of it, and do a proper evaluation of it.

And there's a whole bunch of stories on that one. But suffice it to say that we had to work through some things, that people started to get worried that it couldn't be as good as it looked. And this is another, just basic human nature. There's no blame anywhere on any of this kind of stuff, because I also know I go there sometimes. These are our cognitive biases that we have.

If it looks too good to be true, you've got to find all the reasons why it can't be. And so there was some of that going on. But we got to the right place.

And I will just tell a little story. When we went through it, I think we gave it a 35% probability of success, was the official number that came out of the group, going through the process that we had at Noble. We had a size range for it. I think it was 3 and 1/2 TCF. That was the mean number.

And I do recall, when I was talking to Chuck Davidson, the CEO at the time, and he was asking me what my thoughts were, because he knew I was pretty excited about this possibility that I saw. And I said, well, Chuck, it's 35% probability of success, and 3 and 1/2 TCF mean. But I said, but, between you and me, it's at least 70% chance.


SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: And of course, it was a discovery, so.


SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: That's a story you want to share. I don't want to share the ones where I was wrong. I'll only share the ones where I was right.


SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: So, but before we were going to drill it, I had to make sure that we had that leased up land, so that we could do the follow up. We drilled it. It was a great discovery. It ended up being around 10 TCF. Now it's online. Four years later, it's online. Four years later, we got it online, with the largest subsea tieback in the world of 95 miles, which nobody hears about either. Noble would talk about that very quietly. And it's producing almost a BCF a day and providing 60% of the gas to Israel.

Now, this is where I get excited about the other impacts besides energy. There's products, and so many things that the industry brings to the world. One of them is, Israel was using diesel fuel and coal to power their power plants beforehand. And they got a little bit of gas from Egypt at the time.

And now that this one field is meeting 60% of the energy needs for the power plants, the air has cleaned up dramatically.


SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: And you can see it in pictures. I mean, it is cleared up dramatically. And you know, I've been told, it's the equivalent of taking all the cars in Israel off for a year. That's how much fewer carbon emissions there are from this one field, expected to be.

So that's another thing. It's their own pride of what they have, plus they've got cleaner air. I mean, and energy and all the other stuff. Anyway, I'm digressing a little bit.

VERN STEFANIC: But important. Did you anticipate that as a result? Did anybody anticipate that?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: I think fairly early on, we started to, when it was becoming real, that this was a possibility. So we did dig deeper into what impact it might have. It's good to see it's happened. Again, because of that way I look at the world, anything you can do to make it a better place could include-- this as a bit of a fairy tale-- but it could include helping out just that whole part of the world work together more. And I've always felt, if you could do commerce together, that you are more likely to not hate each other.

Now, I know the issues are way, way deep, and all the rest of it. But it's just these little seeds of possibilities that can grow, that if you can export and import from each other and work with your neighbors, you might just continue to build a possible relationship that improves. So, who knows?

VERN STEFANIC: Well, who knows. I happen to agree with you about that, though, and that's why I think that was such an important discovery. It was good in terms of a lot of the energy that's being produced, but yeah, the bigger benefits to everybody over there, my gosh.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Absolutely. And then with Leviathan-- so Leviathan was discovered. It was a follow up prospect. And of course, it was 22 TCF, is the current estimate of recoverable resources. And it's supposed to come online at the end of 2019, and exporting gas to Egypt. And there's already gas that's being exported from Tamar to Jordan. So there's already commerce being done with some neighbors that is-- again, you kind of hope that it can only build and be better.

VERN STEFANIC: And that probably-- I don't know if it probably-- but that certainly was more evidence to you of the need for teams-- interdisciplinary teams to go on, people working together.


VERN STEFANIC: And I'm sure that that's still something that you believe is crucial to the industry.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, so, I do believe, and I've seen this as I've studied innovation more and more, when I was with Noble, and then since I've left, and doing some work with Darcy Partners-- that the things that we're working on in the oil and gas industry, and we're not alone, but we're talking about that right now-- is so complex. You know, the problems you're trying to solve, the things you're trying to get done, with this very volatile-- hydrocarbons are something you've got to be very careful with.

So it's very complex. And the industry, I think, does an amazing job, that bringing the multidisciplinary perspectives together, you've really got to do that to do a good job. I think if you do it right, and you really bring the people together of all different perspectives from within the company, and then from without, as you bring in other perspectives and points of view you're wanting to get access to, if you do that right, you can actually be extraordinary.

And there's a lot of people-- I think there's a huge diverse range between good and extraordinary. And I really believe that doing that can be extraordinary. My experience has been that no matter how smart you think you are, no matter how much you think you've got the right view on something, or you've got, oh yes, this is what we need to do-- by bringing those perspectives in and really listening, and therefore seeing and being open to seeing that maybe you didn't have the solution, that the end result is always, always better. Always better. I cannot think of one time when that hasn't happened, even times when I thought, I've nailed it. I've got this one. And then I'll talk to someone and we'll be in a conversation and they'll make a suggestion and I go, oh my god, that's so much better.

VERN STEFANIC: As wonderful as your time was with Noble-- and it truly was-- it seems like you still felt that there were some more challenges, perhaps some different challenges, or a new direction in your life, because now you're with Darcy. And that is a whole new exciting chapter of your life. Can you talk a little bit about your decision to be doing different things, what it is that you want to be doing?

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: So I did decide that I'd been with Noble for 16 years. It's an awesome company. And like you said, it was a great time. I learned so much. But I just decided last year that I needed a new, very different challenge.

And I left Noble, retired from Noble, and then I was trying to figure out, what do I want to do next? And I got approached by Hossein Rokhsari, the CEO of Darcy Partners. It's a new company that he created about three years ago.

And so I'm doing advisory work with him, because for me, it delves into innovation, and its mission is to connect new technologies with upstream operators. Very focused right now on the onshore unconventional space.

And this was a space that I have not been as involved in. It's on, predominantly, the production side of things. And it's working with startup companies, new innovators. And it's a rich, rich area right now. And so I just really wanted to delve into what this possibility was, and understand that world more, and see how I could contribute.

VERN STEFANIC: There's so much new technology that's coming on, it would be foolish for us to think that we could even start to talk about any of them specifically. But we can say, because of the new technologies that are coming on, the industry, and perhaps even the profession, is going through a huge change right now.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. Certainly on the unconventional side, this is really true-- on the onshore, North America, and unconventional in particular, because it demands some different technology. So I think it's almost like a little bit of a creative boost for people, because there's a need that's new. And I think that's part of the catalysts.

Plus, with the price coming down, people left and decided to do other things. And so something that they see, that they thought of, they're starting up new companies. And there is this explosion right now of people, and then you've got the capital that's available. So people that are starting their own companies, looking at new technologies, plus the whole digital-- I don't know what to call it-- revolution. That doesn't sound right. But just all the capabilities because of the technology behind being able to do the algorithms and the machine learning and the algorithms so that you can do more and more automatic things-- robotics, all of this kind of stuff. This is also emerging right at this time.

So you bring those together, and I think, there's so many things that people are working on. And I think they're excited about the possibilities, because it's fairly new. And you've got an area-- you know, unconventional-- if you can decrease costs, get more out of the reservoir, so to speak, so that you can produce more and be financially more stable and all those other things that it's all about, these are good things. These are good things.

And so there's a lot going on in this space. And what I've seen from going from exploration at Noble and most of my career, and then I started working on this whole innovation space and trying to understand what does it take to be innovative-- but I don't mean necessarily like, as an operator, you have to be innovative. You just need to be open. You need to be innovative in your thinking, and open to new innovations. That's the sort of thing that I think is changing.

There's these possibilities that are out here. And there's this industry that's trying to figure things out. And I think if we can bring them together, in a way to accelerate the adoption of the things that can make a difference, that's a good thing.

So that's what Darcy Partners is helping to do. But for myself, as I'm studying innovation-- and I talk a little bit about this in my lecture-- I started to really see that being open to innovation, and being innovative in your thinking of what's possible and therefore trying to solve different kinds of problems, that's what geoscientists do. Geoscientists are scientists and they're creative. It's this wonderful mix of different parts of the brain. And that's what exploration is about.

And I'm just starting to see that the frame, the culture, the leadership, that really enhances the ability for an organization to seek out, to hear, to investigate things that can make their lives, their work, easier, or get new insights, and make all those end results and outcomes that are successful. That means the company is more successful-- that this is a place that geoscientists can actually pivot to. And they can be a real catalyst, not thinking of themselves as just geoscientists, but thinking of themselves as change agents and catalysts for innovative thinking.

Now, you've got to think about, how do you interact with other people in the organization differently. But it's not that hard. I really don't think it's that hard. I think it's something that can be learned. And I know I've learned a lot more about how to be way more effective that way. You've got to want to. But I just think there's a whole area opening up here that's possible for geoscientists to think of themselves as geoscientists and change agents.

VERN STEFANIC: I was going to ask you what advice you would give to young people who are coming into the industry today. You just gave us a whole lot of things that we need to be. And admittedly, there's some people who are part of the profession right now who might be-- the cliche is, they're afraid of the changes that are coming, or they're averse to it.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Well, this is human nature.

VERN STEFANIC: Yeah. You're right. And I don't want to be judgmental at all about that. But people who are coming in now, they probably need to be prepared in different ways for the industry.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. And if I was starting over again now, I'd study psychology. I'd want to understand how people work. This is what I've been doing a lot of, as I've gotten more into leadership. I would take that as an elective. I would start to understand that, to therefore be able to figure out, how do I connect with people who are not like me, that don't think like me? How do I connect with them so that they can hear me, I can hear them, and together we can see this possibility, create this environment for this possibility, or for another possibility? That's what I would bring into your portfolio of courses and training.

VERN STEFANIC: Because there is a future.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: Absolutely. Because this industry, and any industry-- and I think you could even have this bigger than that-- but we'll stick with this industry. It is changing rapidly. It's going to continue to change rapidly. We know that's just the way it works. There's going to continue to be a demand, for a least, I don't know how many decades. But there's still going to be a demand for hydrocarbons and energy. And this could translate into other things.

But to be a catalyst of the geoscience, which continues to be important, but not as critical, in the unconventional, in terms of the number of people as there has been otherwise-- but to see yourself as a geoscientist who could really help get the most out of the rocks in the end and understand them, therefore. But also as someone that's a catalyst in that team of multi-discipline people, that as a leader, you can bring in, and you understand how things work, and be that seed, or be whatever the different possibilities are of having people think about things differently, and therefore be open to new technologies and new possibilities, so that the company and yourself benefit, and the community that you're in. All those things.

VERN STEFANIC: That was perfect. And to have your passion. Thank you, Susan. Thank you so much for being with us today.

SUSAN CUNNINGHAM: My pleasure. It's really been fun. I really appreciate it.

VERN STEFANIC: We've been talking today to Susan Cunningham, an adviser for Darcy Partners, and a 35 year veteran of the geoscience industry. Be sure to check out her lecture at And I'm telling you, you won't be sorry. This is a great one.

And then watch this space for more AAPG podcasts that will continue to cover a variety of important subjects, innovative ideas and intriguing people, including our ongoing digging deeper look at this year's distinguished lectures.

The Distinguished Lecture program is jointly operated by AAPG and the AAPG Foundation. We hope you will take a moment soon to check out the foundation's website to learn about how you can be part of ensuring the future of geosciences.

But for now, thanks for listening.

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