Day One Update | The Elephants in the Room at EAGE 2020

So much has happened this year that life in 2019 is almost unrecognizable. Nearly all the geoscience events moved to virtual platforms, compounding the videoconferencing fatigue already afflicting everyone. What can we expect at EAGE 2020?

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The EAGE 2020 conference program fittingly kicks off with a review of EAGE’s strategy going forward, and then industry veteran Andrew McBarnet hosts a ‘Crosstalk Discussion’ titled ‘Where do we go from here?’

A panel will debate how geoscience and related engineering professions and businesses can deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the collapse of global oil price/demand, and the challenge of the energy transition.

Put that into the context of ongoing political and social upheavals and one wonders whether the panelists face an impossible task. But as mentioned below, the EAGE program will try to tackle these big questions in several parts.

Some Things Change Slowly

A cursory look at the technical program doesn’t really suggest much change from previous years.

Seismic imaging dominates the geophysics sessions, with a notable emphasis (again) on Full Waveform Inversion (FWI) and other forms of velocity model building.

FWI can be viewed as having three arenas of activity:

  1. Resolving long-standing challenges from cycle-skipping and other instabilities under myriad marketing versions of essentially the same approaches (in other words, we’re still trying to make it work in the acoustic approximation)
  2. Struggling to break the shackles of diving wave information being the only reliable data source (i.e. transmission FWI). This has partly resulted in the growth of ultra-long offset data, with expensive Ocean Bottom Node (OBN) acquisition
  3. Improvements in the incorporation of reflection information into FWI, enabling much deeper model updates from ‘conventional’ offsets. The application of FWI to land data remains in its infancy, partly because of the challenges involved in solving the elastic wave equation. Note: a ‘Hot Topic’ interactive event titled ‘FWI: Future Perspectives Without the Hype’ will be held at 3-4 PM CET on Friday, December 11.

EAGE again showcases the diverse considerations relevant to characterizing and monitoring the subsurface.

Given that many large oil companies are scaling back frontier exploration and improving the recovery of proven assets in pursuit of a greener new world, integration is a very clear theme. The technical program explicitly attempts to bring geoscience and reservoir engineering even closer together with many ‘Integrated Subsurface’ and ‘Reservoir Engineering’ sessions.

Digitalization and machine learning also continues to surge in popularity—much of it driven by the fundamental ambition of reducing costs at all scales. The augmentation of seismic interpretation with machine learning platforms seems to be making good progress, but applications to seismic imaging have so far been more conservative.

High-performance computing (HPC) in the cloud is another hyped arena, though the jury is still out on whether commodity computing is optimal for high-end imaging and characterization, or bespoke in-house solutions are more appropriate.

Other Things Change Overnight

The past week saw another huge round of layoffs by a supermajor, no one has been safe this year. Industry journals and social media abound with sweeping announcements regarding transitions to carbon neutral operations, shifting focus to renewable energy sources such as hydrogen and geothermal, and trying to continue existing activities within increasingly uncertain environmental restrictions.

The economic fallout of the oil price crash and the coronavirus hit to oil demand seems likely to persist well into 2021. So clearly, for reasons of survival, the industry needs to better integrate every available tool to recover existing resources at a lower cost, to harness digitalization and smarter workflows, and with far smaller workforces.

How can geoscientists reasonably adapt to these new demands? Can we reskill almost immediately? What careers will be available for the experienced geoscientists now out of work, and what motivation is there for geoscience students to enter such an uncertain industry?

The recent SEG conference held in September attempted a few discussions on what future ‘energy industry’ students might look like, though no one was prepared to confront the clear message from oil companies regarding ambitions to significantly downscale exploration efforts and employee numbers.

Much of the EAGE 2020 program seems to address the elephants in the room. The ‘Community Hub’ component of the program provides vocational support; including developments in online Learning Geoscience, a Student e-Summit, and a Networking Café to help prospective students see what the academic opportunities in 2021 will look like. Notably, a Speed Mentoring platform will attempt to connect EAGE volunteers who are senior geoscientists with mid-career EAGE members seeking new opportunities in either their chosen fields or in entirely different paths.

Frankly, I don’t know anyone who isn’t wondering how their geoscience career will look a few years from now. It’s no easier for management and HR, so yet another event titled ‘Dual careers and HR challenges in the global workplace of 2020’ will go through some of the main criticalities experienced by employers and employees worldwide this year, and discuss the (new) elements that will need to be considered going forward to improve work conditions.

Collectively, this is a time of great change, and the networking value of societies such as the EAGE is more critical than ever before.

Integration and Automation Doesn’t Mean Dumbing Down

Returning to the technical program, the foundation of any great conference, we must remind ourselves that there is no substitute for sound technical skills. Being a geoscientist is dramatically more demanding today than it was when I started over 20 years ago.

Although the EAGE 2020 conference is highly abbreviated from its original format, there’s still a lot to review. The good news is that if you are registered, all the talks have been pre-recorded and can be viewed now.

I hope you find time to consider the many PGS activities on our EAGE-2020 landing page, and notably, have time to participate in our live panel sessions on the virtual PGS booth. 

Frankly, I think we’re all sick of video meetings in 2020 after 9-months under lockdown restrictions, but let’s make this one interesting and lively!

Talk to you tomorrow once the conference is underway…