Articles in the Interview Series for the GSH Journal feature one-to-one conversations with scientists to help connect individuals in the fast-paced global business of geoscience. In these interviews. we learn about the people that drive innovation and the science that inspires them. These interviews allow the reader to enrich their own careers with examples from others experiences.
Industry Expert Interview Series: Rocky Roden
Rene': Thanks for accepting the offer to be interviewed for the GSH Journal. Our first encounter was at Maxus Energy years ago in the 90's where you were the Director of Applied Technology and Chief Geophysicist. Your department was critical in making sure that any hydrocarbon indicators were evaluated accurately and properly risked. My association with you and your group gave me a grand appreciation of seismic attributes and their limits which I have used through my career ever since.
Rene': What drew you to geophysics?
Rocky: When I grew up, I always had shell, rock, and insect collections. I even had a chemistry lab in my parents’ garage. So, I knew I was going to be a scientist, just didn’t know what type.
Rene': What class in or out of school made the best foundation for your career?
Rocky: In under graduate school at Lamar University I initially was going to be a marine biologist, but after taking a few courses in geology I was hooked. I was going to be a geoscientist and specifically a geophysicist after I took a course in geophysics where the original Milton Dobrin text (Geophysical Prospecting) was employed. I loved that book!
Rene: Were you influenced by anyone particular?
Rocky: I have been very fortunate to have had excellent professors at Lamar University and at Texas A&M where I went to graduate school. Early in my career I had the opportunity to work with fantastic colleagues and bosses who helped develop the foundation of my career. However, the two biggest influences in my career have been Tom Smith and Mike Forrest.
I purchased on behalf of Pogo Producing in the mid-80’s one of the first seismic analysis software packages that Tom Smith had developed at Seismic Micro-Technology (SMT). Tom and I have collaborated ever since and worked together at various times including the last 10 years where Tom has pioneered machine learning applications for interpretation. His knowledge, imagination, and generosity have had a big impact on me.
I first met Mike Forrest in the early 90’s when he became Chief Operating Officer of Maxus Energy (later MaxusYPF) where I was Director of Applied Technology and Chief Geophysicist. In traveling around the world with Mike I realized his phenomenal grasp of geological/geophysical issues and how to relate this geoscience technology to the business side of our industry. I have been fortunate to be a principal in the Rose & Associates DHI Consortium with Mike as Chairman for over 20 years. His influence has enabled over 80 oil and gas companies to contribute prospects to the most comprehensive public DHI risk analysis software and database in the industry.
Rene': You have had a long, successful career as an interpreter, chief geophysicist, exploration and development manager, software advisor for the development of machine learning applications and prospect risk analysis, and consulted with dozens of oil companies on technical evaluation issues and prospect risking. What advice would you give to the incoming professional on career paths?
Rocky: As an incoming professional in geoscience, it is extremely important to absorb and retain as much information as possible, not only on your immediate job, but any related facets associated with your work. This is because in the early stages of your career you don’t know where your greatest interests lie or what might be exciting for you. I have worked for a seismic acquisition company, two medium-to-large independent oil companies, and two major oil companies. The last 20 years or so I have been a consultant and honestly consulting has been the most satisfying and enjoyable time of my career. However, I would not have been able to be a consultant without the prior experience, contacts, and accomplishments I made previously.
Rene': What is best discovery in either software development or oil and gas?
Rocky: In the late 80’s and early 90’s I was development manager for Diamond Shamrock/Maxus Energy responsible for more than 40 fields in the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Coast. This period was a time when companies started to shoot and purchase 3D surveys, incorporate AVO, and employ interpretation workstations routinely. These technologies enabled my department to identify exploration, development and exploitation prospects where we successfully drilled 30 straight economic discoveries. This was not a single discovery, but a series of exciting successes!
Rene': What is best surprise(s) have you encountered in either software development or oil and gas?
Rocky: One surprise is based on the statistics of over 350 prospects from more than 80 oil companies collected over 20 years in the Rose and Associates DHI Consortium. When analyzed in a consistent and systematic manner (Figure 1), a DHI Index can be computed that relates to the DHI component of the prospect risk analysis process. The success rate of prospects increases dramatically in a nonlinear fashion when this DHI Index gets beyond a certain point. This is called the DHI Threshold Effectand it has proven statistically to have a big impact on prospect risking.
Another surprise is the realization that much of geology exhibits self-organization characteristics. Sand dune ripples, turbidite deposition, avalanches landslides, river deltas, karsts, etc., are a result of self-organization where processes, features or patterns form over time based on local interactions of an initially disordered system. In other words, nonlinear dynamics occur where there is no central control and there is an exchanging of energy and/or mass. The significance of this is that an unsupervised neural network approach called self-organizing maps based on the ultimate example of self-organization-the brain, can take numerous seismic attributes (>5) and identify natural patterns related to geology. This machine learning approach can handle nonlinear dynamics, non-normal data distributions, missing data, and complex data types. The application of self-organizing maps in a seismic multi-attribute approach has produced proven compelling results enabling the interpretation of geology that was not clear or not seen at all previously and at higher resolution. Figure 2 illustrates an output from self organization programs that can identify the gas/oil/water contacts of a reservoir from patterns from multiple seismic attribute inputs.
Rene': You have been around the world with your career, what have advice would you offer a traveling professional?
Rocky: At last count I have visited over 40 countries and even though at times there may have been a language barrier, the common thread is geoscience. I really enjoy listening to the perspectives of geologists and geophysicists around the world and from different companies. Many times, these perspectives challenge my preconceived ideas and make me broaden my thinking. I would advise a traveling professional to listen, study other perspectives and experiences while developing relationships with international colleagues; it will make you a better well-rounded geoscientist.
Rene': What do you think is the biggest problem facing the industry currently?
Rocky: There is a misconception in society that our present renewable energy sources are going to solve our energy problem. With a world population over 8 billion and counting, essentially all projections indicate oil and gas will be the dominate energy sources for the next several decades. Yet the geoscience workforce has decreased significantly over the last few years due to decrease in retention rates, drop in students majoring in geosciences, and “The Great Crew Change”. How are we going to fill the gap of finding more reserves with fewer people? I feel this is our greatest challenge, at least related to the geosciences.
Rene': What do you think the future of geophysics will become?
Rocky: I feel the future of geophysics, and to address finding more reserves with fewer geoscientists, is to take advantage of advancements in technology; specifically, artificial intelligence/machine learning and computer power. We have already seen the development of machine learning approaches that address interpretation tasks such as stratigraphic facies distribution, fault and fracture detection, and lithofacies classification to name just a few. Various machine learning applications are addressing elements in seismic processing including FWI and inversion. We are still in the early stages of applying machine learning for geophysics, so the future is bright.
Computer power is the driver for most scientific advancements over the last few decades, especially for geophysics. Today Cloud computing and High-Performance Computing (HPC) dominate the computer landscape. Cloud systems have grown dramatically over the last few years with data centers around the world that allow users access to software and databases that run on those servers. HPC has crossed the exaflop barrier (1.102 exaflops) where speeds greater than a quintillion calculations per second have been achieved. However, most experts indicate that within a decade quantum computing will be fundamentally operational. Quantum computing is based on quantum mechanics where subatomic level of physical matter exhibit properties of both particles and waves. Hardware for Quantum computers leverages this behavior. Estimates of increases in today’s computational speeds range from millions to exponentially faster. With these coming advancements in machine learning and computer power the future of geophysics promises to be very exciting.
Rene: You also have given back to the profession of geophysics through SEG. What roles did you engage in, and which was the most enjoyable?
Rocky: I have had many roles and really enjoyed being an editor and Chairman of the editorial board for The Leading Edge (2000-2003). I have also enjoyed volunteering for other capacities.
Over the years I have given presentations to Geophysical Societies in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Denver, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Midland and Corpus Christi.
I have also given several talks at SEG conventions as well as co-chaired numerous technical sessions.
I have been a reviewer for dozens of articles in the Interpretation Journal and The Leading Edge.
I have published numerous papers in The Leading Edge and the Interpretation Journal, as well as other journals and trade magazines around the world.
I have also been an SEG Foundation Trustee Associate since 2008.
Rene': Any sage advice for the younger professional or students in geophysics?
Rocky: Geoscience is deeply grounded in physical laws and principles, discovered by the scientific community over multiple centuries of systematic research. A young professional or student needs grounding in these laws and principles. However, geoscience features have space and time relationships, are highly multi-variate, follow non-linear trends, show non-stationary characteristics, and often involve rare but significant events. Our geological and geophysical data have challenges of multiple resolutions, varying degrees of noise, incompleteness, sample size changes, and improperly processed data to name just a few. Therefore, there is much we don’t understand or comprehend about the earth and its processes and our geophysical data and acquisition techniques are certainly not perfect.
To me this is an exciting time for the field of geophysics. With the advances in computer power and application of machine learning we are starting to discover new workflows, analyze much more data, automate processes, and discover relationships of many different types of data all at once. Young professionals and students must keep track of technology because they will have more tools at their disposal than at any time in the history of geophysics. Even large language model (LLM) applications like ChatGPT, Google Bard, or Bing Chat may change the way we interact with data with chatbox interfaces that use AI/ML to generate human-like text answers to queries. Will this type of technology be the future of geophysics interpretation?
Rene’: Thanks for allowing me to interview you for the GSH Journal. I still continue to learn from you.
I also know that you are to be a speaker at the upcoming GSH Fall Forum: Geophysics Skills for the Future along with a great lineup of other speakers listed below.
Scott MacKay, MacKay Consulting
Rocky Roden, President, Rocky Ridge Resources
Terrell Stroud, President, Ecopetrol
Margarita Corzo, VP Digital, BP
Gilles Hennenfent, GM Geophysics GOM, Chevron
Kelly Haizlip, Subsurface Team Lead, Ecopetrol
Rob Stewart, UH Professor of Geophysics & Director, Allied Geophysical Labs
We are looking forward to a great Forum this October.
If our readers would like to participate and attend, here is a link for registration. 2023 GSH FALL FORUM: Charging Up Your Career: Geophysics Skills for the Future - Oct 12th (gshtx.org)