For 36 years, Ralph Allen from Alberta, Canada, has specialized in exploration, looking at new ventures, working through existing data and finding opportunities to produce petroleum and gas using the latest technology. He believes the most essential skill is connecting the dots to make things work, marrying the academic, operational and business perspectives into a commercially viable project.
BP Amoco Canada hired Ralph right after he finished his masters’ degree in geology from the University of Saskatchewan. From there, he continued to move upstream into the volatile profession of exploration, working in diversified geological landscapes for numerous large and small companies alike, including Canadian Reserve Oil and Gas, Suncor Inc., and Hanna Oil and Gas.
“We’re the last ones hired and the first fired,” he says. Still, what he enjoys most about working with exploration is to learn new things. “To see what other may have missed and to create value from things overlooked.” Having a long-term perspective is important. His college mates all chuckled years ago when he wrote his undergraduate thesis on the technical aspects of shales.
Among his many projects, he is most proud of taking five wells to 247 wells for the Coleville South Bakken project in the mid-90s. His current work in Montney, Northwest Alberta, is the most exciting one for him because of the CAD 10 billion potential in 670 foot of net pay in a liquids rich gas reservoir.
Ralph feels the most important trait in this profession is perseverance: “You find yourself digging through massive amounts of data to see if there’s a commercial application. It’s essential to view it from all angles – academic, operational and commercial. Projects commonly fail when this phase isn’t done thoroughly.”
As proof of his own perseverance, he says: “I’m pleased to say that I stuck with this profession, although many others left during the tough years in Canada from 1988 to 1995.” To supplement his income during this time, he worked as an instructor for PetroSkills in countries like Kuwait, Algeria, Norway, the UK and the US. “I had good mentors during my career. That’s why I want to mentor junior staff to return the favor,” he explains. “Anyone starting in this profession should have a good grounding in physical sciences, combined with solid social and business skills.”
For Ralph, one of the enjoyable parts of the job is connecting the dots. “You need to understand the rock, the reservoir, then spot the opportunity – and watch it flower. It’s like watching a seed bloom into its full beauty. And then you do it all over again,” he sums up.