Challenge Yourself and Keep Learning

An interview with Marie Hong

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra | Photos courtesy: Melanie Bauce
Marie Hong

Marie Hong is working as a Senior Geophysicist at Pengrowth Energy, Calgary. After graduating from Queen’s University, Marie has been involved in the oil patch for over 30 years. She started at Chevron Canada and later worked at Nexen, Anadarko, Petrofund, and now Pengrowth Energy. Her experience ranges from conventional oil and gas projects in Alberta and BC, to structural plays in the Beaufort and heavy oil projects in Saskatchewan. She has worked in multidisciplinary teams on diverse development/exploitation and exploration projects, and is well-versed with various workstation software packages such as GeoQuest, WinPics, SeisWare and Landmark.

Marie recently sat down with Satinder Chopra to share her career highlights and perspectives on the technical, business and human side of the industry.

Marie, tell us about your early education and your work experience?

I graduated from Queen’s University in the 80’s with a Geological Engineering Degree, Geophysics option. Our graduating geophysics class was small – about 15 people, with half of the graduates staying in Ontario to work in the mining industry, and the other half moving to Calgary to work in oil and gas. I was fortunate to start with Chevron Canada, as they had a comprehensive training program for new grads where they rotated them through various projects every year or two and sent us on geophysics courses held at their offices in La Habra and Houston. At that time, Chevron Canada also had their own in-house processing, where I gained my understanding of how various processing programs work. During the 15 years I worked at Chevron, I rotated through 7 project areas, including a 1 year assignment in the mapping and modelling group, and another assignment in the Beaufort Sea group, where we drilled a couple of non-op wells with Esso. The latter was one of my most interesting projects, as I was fortunate to apply seismic sequence stratigraphy concepts in my interpretation. After Chevron, I worked at Wascana, which is now Nexen, where I started with their heavy oil group in west central Saskatchewan. It was a good learning experience for me as I learned about CHOPS production and gained valuable heavy oil experience. After 6 years with Nexen, I then moved to Anadarko Canada to work in their west central Alberta group. This was an interesting project for me, as I inherited a large 2D processing project covering the deep basin, where my goal was to integrate seismic into the basin geology and identify potential plays.

My career then progressed to working at a smaller company called Petrofund Energy Trust, where I became one of 2 geophysicists working there. It was my first experience working at a smaller company and I loved being able to work on a multitude of projects and enjoyed the comradery of the G&G group. As the chief geophysicist, I also learned about seismic valuations and was involved in evaluating acquisitions. When PennWest acquired Petrofund, I moved to another energy trust, Pengrowth Energy, where I currently work. I’ve been with Pengrowth for almost 9 years now and I have been fortunate to work on a number of interesting projects during this time. My current projects include the Lindbergh SAGD project and the west central Alberta area from Lochend to Sylvan Lake.

So you have worked at Chevron Canada, Nexen, Anadarko, Petrofund Energy Trust and Pengrowth. Obviously, you would have good reasons for switching companies. Could you tell us your reasons for making each of the moves that you made?

Each of my changes provided new challenges, growth opportunities in my career, and widened my experiences and skills in different areas from conventional oil and gas to the Beaufort Sea to heavy oil and SAGD.

Could you tell us about the differences in work culture that you perceived as you traveled through on your geo-scientific work journey?

When I started at Chevron in the 80’s, they were a seismically oriented company and had a large presence in Canada at that time. They had 2 seismic crews to shoot programs all year long, as well as their own in-house processing department. They also had a research lab in La Habra, California, which produced cutting edge technology. Exposure to this early technology strengthened my technical skills and influenced me to develop a lifelong love of trying new geophysical techniques. My next two companies, Nexen and Anadarko were also large companies, with a significant geophysical staff where we could interact and share ideas within our group. Another advantage of the larger companies is their wider variety of seismic software to use. This is where I first started using the Hampson and Russell software. My next 2 companies were intermediates, where I enjoyed greater responsibility for a wider spectrum of projects. I also liked the fast paced environment and the ability to work with smaller work teams and interact directly with senior management.

Tell us about the most exciting moment in your professional life?

I’ve had a number of enjoyable experiences, but the most exciting moment was when we received the logs for the Beaufort Sea well that Chevron drilled with the operator, Esso. I remember walking up and down the hallway beside the logs and identifying all the gas and oil pay zones in this well. I have drilled many WCB oil and gas wells, but nothing compares to the excitement of seeing that much pay. I still have a picture hanging on my wall of the ice island used to drill that well.

What has been your philosophy towards your professional growth and what are your personal qualities did you drawn upon as you have gone through your geoscientific journey?

My philosophy is that lifelong learning is the key to professional growth; whether it is new technology, past experiences or understanding other aspects of the business such as drilling and production. I have learned that you must keep an open mind to new ideas, embrace your successes and be resilient to bounce back from your setbacks.

You like taking up challenges. Am I right? Apart from simply saying, ‘I like doing that’, I would like you to comment on this. Tell us about some of the challenging projects that you worked on?

Yes, I believe that it is important to be continually challenged in your career, as it adds excitement to my work and a sense of accomplishment. One of the challenging projects I am currently working on is Pengrowth’s Lindbergh SAGD project. It was exciting to be there at the start of the program before we even drilled the pilot SAGD wells, then experience the success of the pilot wells and watch it develop into our first commercial project, which started producing earlier this year. In terms of challenges, the original 3D had some data acquisition footprint which was mitigated by using 5D interpolation. Using pre-stack AVO inversion also helped to image the sands better. A new challenge for me involved acquiring a baseline and monitor 4D over the pilot well pairs. It required understanding the seismic response to the steam chamber which was based on fluid replacement modelling and having the processor vary parameters such as the temperature, pressure, and water saturation of the steam chamber.

Another challenge was mapping the thin Lloydminister sands over our CHOPs heavy oil reservoir at Bodo. At that time, we didn’t have any software that ran spectral decomposition, so James Alison from OpenGeoSolutions ran it for us. The resulting slices from the tuning cubes showed subtle changes in sand thickness and revealed how younger channels cut into the sands.

What are you planning for the future, I mean what professional goals are you working towards?

As mentioned before, learning should be a lifelong goal and I intend to continue to apply new techniques, work in different areas, and have a direct impact to a company’s success. I also intend to pass on my knowledge and skills to emerging geophysicists through mentoring and contributing to the geophysical community.

Most of your work experience seems to be on the side of conventional exploration of hydrocarbons. Of course, heavy oil would be conventional. Have you thought about how your approach would change, if you were characterizing prospective shale formations?

I have not had the opportunity to work on shale plays in my career, but I am working on some tighter sand plays that act as unconventional reservoirs. As with conventional reservoirs, good pre stack inversion results need good S/N seismic data and adequate offset and azimuth coverage for estimating rock properties. As with conventional reservoirs, crossplotting is required to examine the relationship of wells to seismic properties, whether it involves running petrophysical analysis to examine relationships between minerology and brittleness or porosity, or crossplotting production vs petrophysical properties. Fractures and geomechanics play an important role in unconventional reservoirs, so running volume curvature, ant tracking or semblance would aid in mapping the faults. Last but not least, microseismic will also give valuable information on azimuthal anisotropy and effectiveness of frack parameters.

You have been using some of the high-end technologies of the times in your work, e.g. multi-attribute analysis and waveform classification in the 1990s, which was when they were first introduced. Similarly, you have used the neural network approach for generating attributes that are not easily derived from seismic data. So, let me ask you about your experience in these applications. To start with, tell us what is your impression of waveform classification for facies analysis in reservoir zones? What are its limitations that prevent its widespread use? Is it accurate or can you make it work accurately?

I was first introduced to waveform classification at Chevron, where I was involved in trying an early version of StratiMagic on a Slave Point pool. Since then, I have used waveform classification numerous times in conjunction with other attributes for a quick and easy way to map seismic character. Basically, this method does the same thing as the interpreter does, which is to identify and group the different seismic waveform character and tie them to wells. The trick is to select the correct horizon to use as a datum. I have also discovered that it is best to use a narrow window so the more subtle waveforms can be detected. I’ve found that this method fails where the character changes in more than one way. For example, if the time interval between two peaks changes and the shape of the waveform changes as well, the software tends to classify the more obvious change, which would be the time interval change. Sometimes this can be improved by incorporating other attributes or using a hierarchical method of waveform classification.

What would you say about the application of multi-attribute analysis for determination of density for characterizing oil sand zones, say the McMurray or the Grand Rapids?

I’ve used this method on a couple of heavy oil projects. In cases where I don’t have the proper angles to invert to density, I used multi-attribute analysis to successfully predict density using post stack inverted products such as acoustic impedance. In cases where I have run pre-stack density inversions, I found that multi attributes can sometimes improve on the derived pre-stack density volume.

You have over 30 years of seismic interpretation experience under your belt, and looking through your accomplishments, I would consider you as a successful interpreter/explorationist. Would you agree? What do you think motivated you to reach where you are?

Of course, behind any successful geophysicist, is a great team and supportive management to work with, and I’ve been fortunate in this respect. I’ve also been mentored by senior geophysicists and geologists early in my career which contributed to a good foundation to build from.

My motivation is to always challenge myself and keep learning. I get the most satisfaction from tasks such as solving problems, or drilling a good well, or getting approval to shoot a seismic program. What keeps me going is when I’ve been working on a problem for several days, then I get that “aha” moment when something clicks and then get satisfaction in seeing the results being successful.

In your opinion what is required for a seismic interpreter to remain successful in life? What is one thing that all successful interpreters never do?

Success is born out of continual learning and development and applying the right techniques on the right play. It is also essential to have a good attitude. Keep an open mind to new ideas, never be discouraged by bad results, and learn from your mistakes.

What is your take on ‘quantitative seismic interpretation’ which is being talked about so much these days?

We’ve been heading towards “quantitative” vs “qualitative” seismic interpretation for a number of years now. I’ve read numerous excellent papers where the authors used various quantitative methods to predict geomechanical properties, or predict 4D seismic character changes using fluid substitution modeling, or simultaneous inversion to predict lithology. This is based on understanding rock physics by using lab measurements or cross plotting well logs and seismic data to predict seismic elastic rock properties. I’m excited by the opportunities this give geophysicists in contributing valuable information for the future.

Marie, out of the many successful wells that you may have drilled, there may be some that did not pan out. What was your mental frame of mind after each missed shot?

Every geophysicist has participated in drilling an unsuccessful or poor producing well. Of course, no one feels good about it, but you have to move on, review what went wrong and learn from your mistakes so you can reduce the risk when drilling your next well.

How is it you have never presented your work at Conventions or any symposium? You don’t feel the need to share with others?

I have presented my work internally in the past, but never at public forums mainly due to confidentiality requirements. I look forward, however, for the chance to do so in the future.

What other interests do you have?

Now that our boys are older, my husband and I have taken up golf again, so we can play as a foursome. I also try to run in one race each year. This year, it was the 5 km obstacle race called “Woman to Warrior” that raised funds for the Children’s Hospital Aid Society and Easter Seals Alberta.

On a philosophic note, Marie, we all know that medical science and quality of life are gradually increasing our life spans. But life should be full of success and happiness. What do you think is a good yardstick for success and happiness in life, lest at the end of the road, some might say ‘I should have let myself be happier’?

I firmly believe that there is a life/work balance. Spending time with your family and friends puts life in perspective. Giving more to the community by volunteering is satisfying and good for the soul. My husband and I also have a bucket list of places we would like to visit. We have already checked one off this list by visiting Peru and Machu Picchu earlier this year.

What would be your message for young geophysicists who are entering our profession?

These are tough times for young geophysicists who are entering the workforce now, so I would recommend that they maintain their network by volunteering for the CSEG or CSPG. They might also consider continuing with their university education by completing a major in geology or a master’s in geophysics. Remember that the oil and gas industry is cyclical in nature, so eventually prices will head up and there will be more opportunities for new grads.


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