VERN STEFANIC: Hi, and welcome to AAPG's Energy Insights. I'm Vern Stefanic.
And this is a new podcast from AAPG that today is digging deeper by having a
conversation with one of this year's speakers for the AAPG, AAPG Foundation's
New Distinguished Lecture Series. Our guest today is Lisa Stright, assistant
professor in the Department of geosciences at Colorado State University in Fort
And incidentally, Lisa's DL talk, which is available for either downloading
or streaming on the AAPG website-- and it's a good one-- is titled
"Template based Modeling, bridging the gap between quantitative outcrop
studies and subsurface reservoir characterization." We'll talk more about
that in a moment. But today we get to know a little bit more about Lisa and the
work that went into her research and the passion that brought her to this
moment in her career. So Lisa, welcome to Digging Deeper.
LISA STRIGHT: Thank you very much.
VERN STEFANIC: It's really great to have you here. And we always like to--
especially with our Distinguished Lecturers-- try to get an understanding of
how you even got into geology, how you started liking it. And just from the
little bit that I've been able to learn about you, you have a pretty unique
path into the whole thing that started when you were just a little girl,
actually. Did it not?
LISA STRIGHT: Yes.
VERN STEFANIC: Would you tell us a little bit about that?
LISA STRIGHT: So I grew up in the oil patch, so to say. My father is a
petroleum engineer. And as a child, I knew I loved computers. And I was good at
math and science. And with a father as an engineer, I ended up going into
But my father, looking into the future, said a whole barrel of water is
going to be more valuable than a barrel of oil. And so I ended up in
environmental engineering. And for the first couple of years after graduation
from my undergrad in environmental engineering, I worked in the field
remediating oil and gas well heads.
And just again had a passion for getting back into computers and computer
modeling, and so went back and got a graduate degree in geological engineering,
not knowing at the time that it would start introducing me to geologic
heterogeneity and modeling and trying to understand the complex interaction
between what we model in the earth. And so that's how I ended up in geology.
VERN STEFANIC: And eventually, this is going to take you to Stanford
University, right? But before that happens, I'm always intrigued by how we
connect the dots and get to the places that we are. was There a person or was
it a thing? Was there this moment where it's like, oh my gosh?
LISA STRIGHT: Yeah, so after my masters, I ended up working for a software
company in the oil industry and was really introduced in the software company
to interdisciplinary work-- so geology and geophysics and engineering coming
together in reservoir modeling-- but recognized that I really wanted to go back
and get a PhD. So I ended up at Stanford and ended up in the petroleum
And I learned a tremendous amount there but felt like I wanted to know a lot
more geology. And so I ended up TAing a class for Steve Graham. And meeting
Steve changed my career path and in a lot of ways changed my life because he
introduced me to deepwater outcrops and deepwater turbidity currents and
invited me to join the SPODDS, Stanford Project on Deepwater Depositional
Systems research group, having the pioneering understanding that what I had to
contribute to the group could add to the research being done there-- something
I couldn't say at the time.
VERN STEFANIC: Oh my gosh. So Steven Graham-- I mean, I'm not a geologist,
and I think most AAPG people know that, although I've been involved with the
Explorer for a long time here at AAPG. Steven Graham was influential in my life
as well. And that is absolute truth because he helped us out with some stories
and in the way that he would do that he made for me, a non geologist-- he made
geology come alive. And he made me have this new appreciation for the earth and
the way it's formed and it all comes together.
LISA STRIGHT: Absolutely.
VERN STEFANIC: Well, this is kind of cool that we both have that. And Steve
Graham, by the way-- some of our listeners may not be aware-- but he's a much,
much, much honored professor and geoscientist. He won the AAPG Grover Murray
Distinguished Educator award. He's won several awards for his research and for
the papers that he presents. He was the SEPM Pettyjohn Medal winner. So my
gosh, he's like one of the-- this is so cool that we have-- well, we have
something in common.
LISA STRIGHT: Fantastic.
VERN STEFANIC: Although you actually took it and then did some great work
with it and actually started changing lives, which I also want to talk about a
little bit at that point too. After leaving Stanford-- and now it seems like
you have a new understanding of what you want your career path to be. Could you
talk a little bit about that and what happened next?
LISA STRIGHT: Well, and Steve Graham actually plays a predominant role in
that story as well. I was, after finishing my PhD, just targeting going back to
industry, potentially in a consulting role in Denver, Colorado, where I grew
up. But Steve emailed me a job announcement for an academic position at
University of Utah. And initially, I kind of discounted it and said, ah, I
don't imagine myself as a professor. And he emailed it again and said this job
description was written for you. You should apply for this job.
And I kind of ignored it. And he finally came into my office and said, you
really need to apply for this job. And I was just about to head into the field
to do some fieldwork in Patagonia. And put together an application, sent it
off, went to Patagonia, and didn't think again about it. And I ended up getting
the interview, and then I ended up getting the job.
And it was a trajectory that I hadn't expected from my life, but I can't
imagine a better position. It's an amazing job being a professor.
VERN STEFANIC: Oh my gosh. So let's just recap just already to this point--
engineering and geology, industry, but also research and professor. So it's
like people talk about wanting to have it all. And it seems like you are having
it all. I mean, you're doing so many different things. Any one of those would
be a career for a lot of people. How do you do that? Where do you get the
energy and the drive?
LISA STRIGHT: I'm really driven just by a passion for the science and really
seeing a niche that my research fills and being able to mentor students through
the process. I really enjoy that part and teaching as well. So I think there's
a lot of excitement in finding your path in life and the energy just comes
naturally after that.
VERN STEFANIC: And the passion that you have, which is obvious. And just not
talking here, but in the way that you present your lecture, your distinguished
lecture-- you can just feel the love and the passion that you have for the work
that you're doing come through on that.
But let's talk a little bit about your paper, which I don't want to recreate
the whole talk because we want people to actually go and listen to the talk.
But we're talking about modeling, and it comes out of work that you've done
with the consortium that you have. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
And oh, by the way, you also are involved in a consortium that's doing this
research-- amazing more. Tell us a little bit about that.
LISA STRIGHT: Sure, so the construction is called the Chile Slope Systems.
It's a joint industry project, and I laid it with two other PIs-- Steven
Hubbard at University of Calgary and Brian Romans at Virginia Tech.
Consequently, we all went to graduate school together and worked with Steve
Graham for our PhDs and also did work in Patagonia for our PhDs. This is a
continuation of that work, but into a different part of the formation,
different part of the base in stratigraphy.
And we're in our sixth year. So we're in our second phase, and we're about
to propose phase three to our affiliates. And we have nine sponsors on the
project, and we've had dozens of students over the years.
VERN STEFANIC: Well, OK. Can you talk about what you've found so far?
LISA STRIGHT: Sure.
VERN STEFANIC: And in that answer, I'm wondering, is it what you thought you
were going to find. Well, I think that the way to answer that for me is that
the-- again, leading back to the fun part of my job and the research-- is that
this is an interdisciplinary consortium. Brian and Steve are both
sedimentologists and stratigraphers and amazing at what they did. And so it's
fun for me to come in and use their data and their results from the outcrop
studies and to be able to take that data and help us with subsurface
prediction-- so really quantify what we're seeing in the outcrops and turn the
databases that historically have always been qualitative-- images and papers,
measured sections, stratigraphic correlations, but to be able to take that data
and put it in a digital format so that we can do statistical analysis and then
directly show the implications to float flow and seismic responses in the
VERN STEFANIC: Oh, my. Help those of us who don't do research and do
something like this all the time. When you do a project like this, do you have
an expectation of what you think you're going to find? Do you have a hope for
what you think you might find? Or you just don't know what's going to happen
and say, well, let's just start looking at these rocks?
VERN STEFANIC: Well, when we write a proposal that we've send to our
affiliates, we have a lot of fun brainstorming ideas of what we'd like to do
for the next phase. And again, often it starts with thinking about the
sedimentology and stratigraphy and the big scientific questions that are facing
our community these days and seeing what can we learn from the outcrops. And a
lot of the modeling projects just fall naturally out of that because it's then
taking the science and what we've learned from the outcrop and saying, now,
well, how does this matter in the subsurface.
VERN STEFANIC: How often then are you in contact with the consortium,
letting people know what the results are? And I think the core of my question
is trying to understand for me-- and maybe for some of our listeners as well--
this balancing act between research, where we don't need anybody getting in our
way-- we're in a scientific quest here-- versus the practical applications of
what may be coming out of it. What's that like?
LISA STRIGHT: Yeah, so we interact with our affiliates quite a bit. We meet
with them once a year at AAPG where we have an affiliate meeting and usually
the Sunday before AAPG starts. And we review our results. But it's also a great
opportunity to hear from them. And what makes our research better is hearing
the problems and the uncertainties that oil companies are facing in the
subsurface because, again, for me, particularly on the modeling side, what I do
is very applied. And I want to make sure that it's relevant. So those
conversations are extremely critical-- so at AAPG.
And then we spend time in the field with our affiliates. And so every year
in January or February, depending on when it falls, we have an affiliate field
trip to Patagonia. And so we invite our affiliates down and spend the time at
the rocks with them. And those are where we have fantastic conversations about,
OK, what does this mean in the subsurface, what does this mean for seismic,
what we're seeing.
And it's also a time where we as a group, just sit down and have some great
brainstorming sessions. We also do a trip to Houston every year and spend a
week visiting all of our affiliates, driving all over Houston, and again
sharing the results, meeting with people, meeting with asset teams, meeting
with discipline teams to just hear more about their work. Sometimes we look at
data sets. But we spend a lot of time in the process visiting with our
VERN STEFANIC: What has been the biggest surprise to you so far in the work
that you've done there on your research?
LISA STRIGHT: I think the thing that's surprising, but then also really fun,
is that we do and I do this research because I love it. It's really fun and
interesting. And the thing that's surprising and interesting to me is that it's
so well accepted or important to the industry, that they want to take our
results and use them. And they want more engagement, and I enjoy that part.
VERN STEFANIC: Can you talk at all about what potential practical
applications might be coming out of your research? How does this matter to the
LISA STRIGHT: I think there's just so much uncertainty and exploring in
deepwater channelized reservoirs. And so whatever we can do, particularly in
the advent or the new wave of machine learning in the industry-- anytime we can
quantify geology and start feeding into those workflows, these more data driven
workflows and take the knowledge that we gain from outcrops into the
subsurface, I think we can help the subsurface prediction.
VERN STEFANIC: Machine learning-- that's something that I think we need to
talk about more because, for some members of the public, they think well we've
had geology know for-- how long? I mean, AAPG's been around for 100 years.
We've got another 100 years before that over in England-- so a long time.
And there's this feeling like, well, you ought to know just about everything
there is to know. And yet we're finding new things. One thing that you said in
this research is that there's been surprises that you've had. And now what's
going to be the next steps that are going to come? I mean, the future is just
as exciting and as intriguing as perhaps anything that we've discovered so far.
Would that be an accurate statement?
VERN STEFANIC: Yeah, absolutely and I think what we're seeing is just that,
as we progress in sciences, that we are collecting more and more data. I mean,
it's not dissimilar to any other industry or any other discipline where data is
just growing at an exponential rate. And our ability as humans to interpret and
classify that data is limited because of the sheer amount of data.
And in addition, when we start talking about, like I said, outcrop data as
well and just sedimentological information and being able to quantify that as
well, it feeds directly into workflows for better classification in the
subsurface and again machine learning approaches.
VERN STEFANIC: Yeah, yeah. Has there been anything provocative or
surprisingly challenging that you've discovered in your research so far?
LISA STRIGHT: Yes, there are certain problems within reservoir modeling that
we continue to talk about as a community. And one of those just tends to be are
limitations with grids and our ability to capture the heterogeneity that we see
in outcrops, that matters, for example, to fluid flow with grid sizes, the
types of grids that we have. And I think there's future research directions in
trying to solve some of those problems.
VERN STEFANIC: In your distinguished lecture, you go into some of the
details of some of these things that you found. Can talk a little bit just
about some of the findings that you gained that you're going to be addressing
in your lecture? And no, I don't want to give the whole lecture away, but just
some of the things that are very important about this talk.
LISA STRIGHT: Certainly. So the fundamental question that I'm addressing in
the research is, how do we understand what scale of heterogeneity in deepwater
channel outcomes matter for fluid flow and when does it matter. So as a
modeling community, we tend to generate a lot of algorithms for modeling to try
and capture more complex geology. And in outcrop models we include more detail.
But the question is just kind of a fundamental science question-- is what
detail really matters so that we can move forward in a really informed way? And
so what I show in the talk is how we go through a process using template based
models-- so essentially, a bed scale architecture models directly tied to
outcrop to capture what that scale architecture matters and when. And then we
find that it's strongly dependent on how the channels stack.
VERN STEFANIC: And what you found, is what you expected to find? Or was
there a surprise in that?
LISA STRIGHT: I think the results are intuitive, and it's sometimes how
research happens-- you generate a hypothesis and you find evidence that
supports that hypothesis. And I have been just very pleased that the results
have come out in a way that's so intuitive and clear. And I think now it's
almost like myth busters, testing when it breaks down and why because that's
when it's critical. To understand the subsurfaces, we start out with a simple
case. And then we start playing around with that simple case and understand
when it breaks down.
VERN STEFANIC: Will that be part of phase 3?
LISA STRIGHT: Absolutely, yeah.
VERN STEFANIC: God, well I can't wait for that one. It's going to be great.
Let's talk a little bit about you as a professor in the whole education route
because that's a whole other hat that you wear. And so there must be something
in that is compelling to you, satisfying to you, challenging to you maybe.
You've mentioned that you love being a professor. Why?
VERN STEFANIC: I love teaching. In particular, the classes I teach are very
applied. So I teach well logging and petrophysics. I teach reservoir
characterization and modeling, and I teach petroleum geology, along with a set
of seminars. And for me, it's extremely rewarding to see students get excited
about the material but also gain confidence in the skills that they're learning
so that they can put them on their resumes and hopefully find jobs in the
And again, I just enjoy inspiring young students. And it's the same with
research and mentoring young researchers and teaching them how to do research
and getting them through the process of defining a project all the way through
to the end of, hopefully, publishing a paper.
VERN STEFANIC: You talk a little bit more about your role as a professor and
some of your observations there, which would be probably just as valuable as
your research work. Recently, we just saw that AAPG released some statistics
that indicated there's a little bit of an uptick in students who are entering
the geosciences at the university level. Some of the graduate students-- that
may be job availability related. But there's also an uptick across the board, a
little one, in that students are still interested in entering the geosciences,
which is good.
But I'm wondering-- what are you seeing in the geoscience students today
versus maybe when you were a student? Is there a difference in their
expectations or in what they're bringing in at this point in their careers?
LISA STRIGHT: I do still think that students coming into geology are very
interested in the field experiences and rightly so. I mean, I think that's a
valuable part of any geology program-- getting out to the rocks to see them. I
mean, even in the reservoir modeling side, as I always tell my students, that
we're building models of the earth. And you got to go out and spend some time
observing the earth before you can build good models.
VERN STEFANIC: And that's the fun part too, by the way.
LISA STRIGHT: And it is the fun part, absolutely. And then as far as I think
things are changing for students I think-- although the field experiences and
the fundamental geoscience knowledge is extremely critical, we're seeing also
more requests and more need for students to become more quantitative, to move
into a world where they know some coding-- so if they know Python or Matlab and
then also to be, not only computationally learned, but also to know some math.
And I think that in combination with a really solid geology background is
creating a lot more opportunities for students.
VERN STEFANIC: Which I think Mr. Graham was right, Professor Graham was
right. This is exactly where you need to be because you understand those
elements and how to put those together. Well, that's great. So we should feel
hopeful about the future with geoscience coming in and the potential that can
LISA STRIGHT: Absolutely.
VERN STEFANIC: Let me let me ask you just real quickly before we leave. One
of your experiences as a professor that was not a Colorado State-- you were at
University of Utah. Is that correct? And this was a few years back. But as I
understand, you were involved in the Imperial Barrel Award competition, which
is a global event where graduate students-- you have geosciences teams from
universities-- compete with data sets to try to find the best way where the oil
Now you had experience with it. Tell us about your experience. How did your
LISA STRIGHT: Absolutely. So Lauren Birgenheier and I co advised a team of
students at the University of Utah for the first time that we ran the Imperial
Barrel Award there. And we had an outstanding group of students and as well as
a couple of alumni mentors that worked directly with the students on the
And that year we were so pleased to win the regional competition. And then
from that point, the students went on and won the international competition. So
it was a great experience and a fantastic program. The students learned a lot,
and they were so glad that they had done it.
VERN STEFANIC: What we found is that students who participate in the IBA
competition are actually-- they're the ones that industry is looking for
because they have that practical experience. I'm sure you had that, too. Wow.
LISA STRIGHT: Absolutely. I mean, it's a great place for alumni engagement
with universities. And it's very good for visibility for departments to be able
to show that, hey, we're training students in petroleum geology and giving them
the skills they need to interpret seismic data to think about petroleum systems
and to be able to go through and do an independent but collaborative project on
VERN STEFANIC: Let's point out that-- you were one of the co advisors and
you're now a distinguished lecturer. Lauren was one of the co advisors, and she
this year was named the winner of the AAPG Foundation Inspirational Geoscience
Educator award. Do those kids know how good they had it with the two of you?
That was pretty great.
LISA STRIGHT: Well, Lauren's fantastic and the University of Utah has a very
strong petroleum program. So congratulations to Lauren.
VERN STEFANIC: And to you too, by the way. I'll tell you what. Just before
we leave, there are two questions that I have. One would be, in your role as
the researcher and as the educator, what sort of advice would you give to young
people who are just entering the profession today?
LISA STRIGHT: Well, that's a great question on I'm asked a lot because I
think sometimes students are a little remiss to enter the industry. It's a
little scary with a lot of the overturn happening in companies. And one of the
things I would tell students is to, number one, follow your passion, find a
niche, find something-- these interdisciplinary gaps or gaps between
disciplines tends to be a really good place to sit, be quantitative. And just
at the end of the day, follow your passion and continue to do what you love.
And the rest will follow.
VERN STEFANIC: What's your passion?
LISA STRIGHT: Starting out as an engineer, I loved solving problems. And
then I was introduced to science, and I just loved learning how and why. And so
for me, my passion is just the intersection between the two.
VERN STEFANIC: And then this truly is last question-- your own personal
aspirations. Where do you see going next? Because you have so much that you
have in your life right now and you could go a variety of directions. Or maybe
you want to go all the directions. I don't know. Where do you see yourself in a
couple of years?
LISA STRIGHT: Hopefully, tenured. I'm in my fourth year, and I just want to
continue doing what I'm doing and continuing to grow as a scientist. Every day
I learn so much more about geology and modeling and particularly being in an
interdisciplinary role. It just feels like learning is endless. And I hope to
just keep continuing to learn.
VERN STEFANIC: Thank you. Thanks, Lisa. We've been talking today to Lisa
Stright, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Colorado State
University in Fort Collins. Be sure to check out her lecture at AAPG.org. 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 lecturers.
The Distinguished Lecture program is a jointly operated program by AAPG and
the AAPG Foundation. We hope you'll take a moment soon to check out the AAPG
Foundation website to learn about how you can be part of ensuring the future of
geosciences. For now, thanks for listening.