INTERVIEW COORDINATED BY SATINDER CHOPRA

 

Don’t underestimate the value of knowing something at only a single location if you know it well.”

 

Scott Leaney is a well-known name in our industry who has had a long and illustrious career with Schlumberger. He specializes in borehole geophysics and bringing out more value from surface seismic data by integrating it with borehole data (sonic, 3C VSP, 3D VSP, microseismic, DAS, etc.).

Scott trained at University of British Columbia (UBC) under the tutelage of stalwart professor Tad Ulrych, and got the opportunity to work with gurus like Doug Miller, Mike Schoenberg, Chris Chapman, and Colin Sayers. Some of Scott’s accomplishments include holding six patents, contributing to another thirty patents, as well as winning the 1986 SEG Student Paper Award and the 2015 GeoConvention Best Paper Award.

I approached Scott with a request for an interview, and he said he was open to the idea. It didn’t take me long to frame the questions for him, which would hopefully be of interest to CSEG members. His interesting and insightful comments are contained in the following excerpts.

1. SCOTT, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND AND YOUR WORK EXPERIENCE?

After high school in Fort Garry (Winnipeg), I studied arts for two years at University of Manitoba (U of Manitoba). After that I went to University of Toronto (UofT) for first year science, returned to Manitoba for a BSc in Geophysics, and then went to UBC for a Masters. After working as a research assistant at UBC, I started with Schlumberger (SLB) at their engineering centre in Clamart, France in 1988, working on 3C VSP processing algorithms, Q estimation and AVO modelling from sonic logs. Five years later I moved to Wireline (WL) Operations for Southeast Asia based in Indonesia. After another five years I was put in charge of a small group in Geco-Prakla and then WesternGeco in Gatwick, England, while reporting directly to WL Engineering in Japan. Six years later I moved to Houston to work on 3DVSP data as well as microseismic, seismic reservoir characterization, and DAS. I took early retirement after 32 years with SLB when the pandemic hit, two months after the price of oil went negative. Since then, I have been consulting and now work part-time for Qeye.

2. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE THE SWITCH FROM PHILOSOPHY AND CREATIVE WRITING TO SCIENCE, ESPECIALLY GEOPHYSICS?

In grade 12, I got distracted into philosophy and literature, but two great professors eventually put me on the right track. The first great professor taught a course called ‘The History of Philosophy’ and said that all great philosophers were mathematicians. That inspired me to take a semester of calculus and I loved it so much that I switched to science the next year. He had directed me back to what I was best at in high school, namely math and physics. The second great professor that figures in my trajectory taught Astronomy and Astrophysics at Scarborough College at UofT. We happened to be on the same bus back to downtown Toronto on the last day of classes when I told him I was thinking about doing astrophysics. He said, “Don’t do it. Do geophysics. You’ll have just as much fun, and you might actually make some money.” So, I returned to Winnipeg, got a summer job at the geophysics department at U of Manitoba and I was off to the races.

3. AFTER COMPLETING YOUR MASTERS IN GEOPHYSICS AT UBC, HOW DID YOU DECIDE NOT TO DO A DOCTORATE? YOU DECIDED TO PURSUE THAT 21 YEARS LATER.

Including the two years of arts and two years working as a research assistant, I had been going to university for 10 years and I was in debt. I wanted to get into the work force and make some money. The PhD that transpired so many years later was not planned. What happened was my professor/mentor and great friend Tad Ulrych was visiting the summer cottage and one night at the dinner table my mother asked Tad why I didn’t have a PhD. Tad said: “I don’t know why, why don’t we ask him.” And so hatched the idea for a mid-career PhD. That was in 2007.

4. PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THE TOPIC ON WHICH YOU RESEARCHED FOR YOUR PH.D.

Microseismic was booming at the time, and I had the idea of applying some VSP techniques, in conjunction with anisotropic ray tracing, to the problem. I was also fascinated by moment tensor inversion, and it so happened that another great professor was available inside SLB to advise me – Chris Chapman. It was hard to work full time for SLB and work on the thesis at the same time – I had to take a one-year leave-of-absence from the doctorate – but with the help of a benevolent boss, I was finally able to get it done just under the wire. Unfortunately, Tad could not attend my defense as he was in the hospital with cancer, but I visited him after my defense, and he gave me two thumbs up. He died one month later, two days after my thesis was finally accepted. It was titled: “Microseismic source inversion in anisotropic media”.

Scott with Tad in his office at UBC, 1987

5. I MET TAD ULRYCH A FEW TIMES AND ALSO INTERVIEWED HIM FOR THE RECORDER. HE WAS A GREAT GUY WITH A CONSIDERABLE SENSE OF HUMOUR, AND A TOP-CLASS GEOPHYSICIST AND TEACHER. SINCE YOU HAD A LONG ASSOCIATION WITH TAD, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES.

Tad taught time series analysis and inverse theory, and I loved his lectures. When I got an NSERC scholarship and had my own funding I picked him as my supervisor for my Masters thesis, even though he was leaving to teach in Brazil. I like to say to someone who has never met Tad to think of the most charming person you’ve ever met and then double it. He was brilliant, fascinating and fun. We shared a similar taste in music and booze.

Scott with Tad in Rio, 1999

Tad and Scott at Tadfest at UBC, 2013

6. AFTER COMPLETING YOUR MASTERS, YOU BECAME A RESEARCH ASSISTANT WITH TAD. HOW WAS THAT EXPERIENCE?

Awesome! Pure pleasure. No thesis stress. We worked on non-white, or blue, deconvolution, fractals, and scale space. This is when we became close friends, and he figures as the third great professor to change my trajectory. It was at the 1987 SEG Convention in New Orleans where Tad introduced me to Ralphe Wiggins who had just become a Fellow at SLB and was looking for a research assistant. Ralphe also got me an interview with a couple of French guys at that SEG, and a few weeks later he flew me to NYC for a 2-day interview at SDR, the SLB flagship research center in Connecticut. What an experience! There’s a great story here but it requires in-person telling. That was November 1987, and I met several renowned scientists there for the first time, including Mike Schoenberg, who was very kind to me. After that exhausting interview, I was offered jobs at SDR, in England for Geco, and in Paris for Wireline (WL) Engineering. I picked Paris.

7. EVER SINCE YOU STARTED WORKING FOR SCHLUMBERGER IN 1988, YOU HAVE NOT LOOKED AROUND, BUT CONTINUED WITH THE SAME COMPANY FOR 32 YEARS. PLEASE ELABORATE FOR OUR READERS HOW THIS HAPPENED, AS IT IS COMMON IN NORTH AMERICA FOR PEOPLE TO LIKE TO WORK FOR DIFFERENT COMPANIES TO CLIMB UP THE LADDER FAST.

I think maybe it is more common for international staff people to spend their whole career with one company. I never worked in Canada for SLB, but the international job was so stimulating and rewarding that I never had any desire to leave. There were a couple of downturns where I had to fight to remain an employee of SLB; I almost joined Total at one point but that was the only time I seriously looked at working for a different company. As I said earlier, after my first job in France I went to Wireline Operations in Indonesia and my take-home pay more than tripled. That was an eye-opener. That’s when I realized that I didn’t need to work in a research centre to do research. I could do it while working in operations on commercial projects. After Jakarta there was the job in England, but my direct boss was actually in Japan, so I had to make regular visits there. I used to fly around the world London-Tokyo-Vancouver-London every three months and got a double Friday. Sweet! Then the move was to Houston where I worked for Data Services. I finished my career in WesternGeco, but I was shared 50/50 with WL headquarters in Paris, also a great job.

At the Paris (Calmart) office on the weekend, 1989

Talking to the source boat from a rig in the Java Sea, 1994

Getting my 5-year seniority pin after 7 years, Jakarta, 1995 from the Wireline President and future SLB Chairman, Andrew Gould. With my wife, Bernie, Jakarta, 1995.

After work at the pub beside the office in Gatwick, U.K. 1998

In front of the Cambridge Research Centre, 2000

8. LOOKING BACK AT YOUR CAREER, HOW DO YOU SEE IT?

I could not have asked for more. I loved geophysics and SLB had lots of super smart people to learn from and collaborate with. And it was a super exciting life for my wife too, who worked as an English teacher while we were in Paris and then did great charity work wherever we were based after that. We got married just outside Paris, adopted a daughter in Indonesia and travelled back to Canada every summer to go to the cottage.

9. YOU ARE THE HOLDER OF SIX PATENTS AND JOINT HOLDER OF OVER 30 OTHER PATENTS. THIS IS A REMARKABLE ACCOMPLISHMENT, AS YOUR CREATIVE RESEARCH IDEAS LED TO SO MUCH HIGH-QUALITY WORK. HOW DOES IT FEEL? DO PATENTS REALLY PROTECT THE RESEARCH IDEAS ON WHICH SIGNIFICANT INVESTMENTS ARE MADE?

There could have been more patents, it just depended on the boss at the time. There was a period when patents were a business priority for SLB. They were good for my career, so I did them; but explaining the idea to lawyers was not fun work.

I think it depends, but patents probably don’t work for data analysis ideas. I think in SLB the position changed to one of early publication as the best way to protect processing ideas, but I’m speculating.

10. LOOKING AT THE BODY OF WORK THAT YOU HAVE DONE I NOTICE THAT YOU HAVE FOCUSED MORE ON BOREHOLE DATA CENTRIC PROBLEMS, AND LESS ON MAINSTREAM SEISMIC DATA CENTRIC. PLEASE DO NOT GET ME WRONG HERE, AS SOMEONE MUST WORK IN THOSE AREAS AS WELL, BUT I AM CURIOUS TO KNOW WHY THIS PREFERENCE?

I spent a third of my career inside a surface seismic company, so I had that focus too, but it’s true, my job was usually to get more value from the surface data by the integration of borehole data. Borehole seismic data was always a vector wavefield recording, so dealing with 3C polarizations was an added complexity that gave a lot of runway for taking research in different directions. Anisotropy was, and is, an endlessly fascinating aspect of borehole seismic and sonic data for me, and having gurus like Doug Miller, Mike Schoenberg, Chris Chapman, and Colin Sayers for tutelage on the theory was hugely beneficial during my career. Vector borehole seismic data has been augmented or supplanted by DAS optical fiber data these days, but there is an important directionality to DAS data too. I have enjoyed considering anisotropy in that problem as well.

With the Chapmans and Jim Rutledge at the Athenium Club in London after Chris was awarded the gold medal by the Royal and Ancient Society, 2013.

11. I STRONGLY FEEL THAT BOREHOLE SEISMIC HAS ALWAYS RECEIVED STEPMOTHER TREATMENT IN OUR INDUSTRY. BOREHOLE SEISMIC MEASUREMENTS ARE REQUIRED FOR INTEGRATION WITH SEISMIC, BUT IT DOES NOT GET THE RECOGNITION IT DESERVES. THERE HAS NOT BEEN A DISTINGUISHED INSTRUCTOR SHORT COURSE (DISC) FOR IT, NOT AS MANY PUBLICATIONS, AND VSP REMAINS UNDERUTILIZED WITH ONLY THE TIME VELOCITY VALUES BEING USED WITH LITTLE APPLICATION FOR Q ESTIMATION AND ANISOTROPY. WOULD YOU AGREE?

Yes, I agree, but a lot of it has to do with the size of the business. Annual borehole seismic (BHS) revenues generally are dwarfed by those of surface seismic, although margins for BHS are usually excellent. Those of us in the BHS community have always lamented the lack of investment in borehole seismic research. There hasn’t been a DISC, but the EAGE has been much more pro-active regarding BHS. They have been holding a borehole geophysics meeting every two years for a long time, and I know SLB has organized several courses that I used to lecture at in conjunction with those meetings.

Giving the keynote address at EAGE Borehole Geophysics Workshop in Abu Dhabi, 2017

With SLB colleagues after giving a school before an EAGE BG Workshop, The Hague, 2019

12. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGING PROBLEMS THAT STILL NEED TO BE SOLVED IN BOREHOLE GEOPHYSICS?

Imaging results are often disappointing – I think because the unique geometry is not properly understood or accounted for.

13. YOU HAVE A LONG CAREER WITH RICH EXPERIENCE BEHIND YOU. LET ME ASK YOU AN OPEN-ENDED QUESTION, ‘HOW DO YOU BRING IN ACCURACY IN YOUR RESULTS WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING FOR HYDROCARBONS’?

I have never looked for hydrocarbons myself per se, but I have worked to aid in quantitative interpretation through the proper planning, processing and integration of BHS and sonic surveys for calibration. Accurate measurements of AVO and anisotropy are a common objective. Long offset AVO and anisotropy were a focus of my work with Rune Hope in Total 1998-2002, for example.

Celebrating an EAGE (Helsinki) best paper award for co-author Rune Hope from Total at his apartment in Paris, 1999

14. COULD YOU CITE FOR US AN INSTANCE WHEN YOU HAD TO MAKE A TOUGH CHOICE/DECISION IN YOUR WORK, AND IT PANNED OUT WELL FOR YOU?

I once had to push really hard to hire a guy into my group who was rated as a C-performer. He turned out to be a super hard worker and was very curious, with loads of ideas to discuss over beer. Being an international transfer made it doubly hard, but it worked out very well for both of us. Related to this question, while it may seem tough at the time, every time I found a way to use “sorry” in a sentence I feel like it panned out well for me.

15. YOU HAVE HAD EXPERIENCE IN WORKING WITH 3D VSP AND MICROSEISMIC DEVELOPMENT. I AM CURIOUS TO KNOW WHY THE LATTER WAS PICKED UP MORE READILY AND UTILIZED, WHILE THE FORMER RECEIVED A LUKEWARM RESPONSE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES IN THEIR USAGE?

I think microseismic was successful because it is fundamentally a 4D product, even from a single vertical well recording, thanks to the polarization vector being used for event back-azimuth. I don’t think the imaging geometry of 3DVSP or even Walkaway VSP (WVSP) is properly understood from the point of view of Amplitude Versus Angle (AVA) or illumination variation, even today. The unique geometry of multi-offset VSP results in a difficult imaging problem that requires the inclusion of spatially variable prior information, and I don’t think that is being done, even in elastic Full Waveform Inversion (FWI).

16. TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL CAREER IN A COMPANY, AN INDIVIDUAL MUST REMAIN ‘INDISPENSABLE’. WOULD YOU AGREE? HOW DID YOU DO THIS? WHAT WAS YOUR ‘MANTRA’ WHICH HELPED YOU REMAIN MOTIVATED IN YOUR JOB FOR SO LONG, AND HOW DO YOU THINK YOU REAPED THE BENEFITS THEREFROM?

I didn’t do anything on purpose in this regard, but I always liked to be close to commercial operations, developing new stuff on the fly to try to solve an immediate problem. When it worked the clients loved it and sometimes word got back to management. I also developed software in my first job that is still used commercially, so maybe they kept me around to maintain it. My first product was called “Wavana”, for VSP wavefield separation and slowness plus polarization extraction for TTI inversion. Another one was called “Avolog”, which was interactive and became my research prototyping platform. For that one I was tasked with developing an AVO modelling application to support the first dipole sonic tool, the DSI. On occasion there were also internal awards, which helped. The best award I ever got was for best field paper at the 1995 Oilfield Services Symposium, which came with 1000 stock options. It was on drill-bit seismic for pore pressure prediction offshore Vietnam. The previous year I presented on AVO and anisotropy and had an embarrassing, although humorous, incident when the overhead projector became unplugged while I was dragging it across the stage. I was also told that the talk was too complicated. I was better prepared the next year!

At one point my mantra was, “Don’t underestimate the value of knowing something at only a single location if you know it well.”

First Avolog product, 1992. Time-based acoustic impedance (AI), Poisson’s ratio (PR), Elan (product name); ray-trace CMP synthetic after NMO correction with intercept (I), gradient (G), and product (I*G) trace attributes. Example from offshore South Africa.

17. PLEASE TELL US ABOUT A PROJECT WHICH REQUIRED INTERDISCIPLINARY COLLABORATION, I.E. THE INPUT FROM A GEOPHYSICIST, GEOLOGIST, AND AN ENGINEER.

This happened a lot, owing to the naturally central role of borehole seismic. A good example might be look-ahead WVSPs for marker depth and pore pressure prediction as we did with BP in the mid-2000s for Gulf of Mexico salt-exit predictions. We had to turn these jobs around in 48-72 hours and were invited into the war room with the drillers for those. A recent favourite was a multi-disciplinary feasibility study for a Barents Sea seismic monitoring project. It took two years and involved geomechanical / stress modelling from production simulation converted to prestack seismic responses and predicted microseismic moment tensors.

18. DID YOUR COURSES IN CREATIVE WRITING EARLY ON IN YOUR LIFE COME IN HANDY WHEN YOU STARTED PUBLISHING? HAVE YOU EVER TOYED WITH THE IDEA OF CONDENSING YOUR RICH LIFELONG EXPERIENCE IN THE FORM OF A BOOK?

I could say yes but I have always enjoyed writing so I’m not sure. I think being exposed to foreign languages and learning French early in my career improved my English, but it still needs work.

After the recent passing of my wife and writing her obituary I started thinking about writing a joint memoir of our 40 years together. There are so many interesting stories. Maybe that’s something to work on when I’m truly retired.

19. WHAT MESSAGE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG ENTRANTS IN OUR INDUSTRY?

Look for that aspect of your work that excites you the most and run with it. It is probably what you’re best at and it will reward you the greatest in the long term.

20. SCOTT, APART FROM THE SCIENCE THAT YOU PRACTICE, WHAT ARE YOUR OTHER INTERESTS?

I golf (just got my second hole-in-one in February), play a bit of keyboard, try different recipes, used to enjoy reading history, have three dogs to take care of by myself now and look forward to watching my granddaughter grow up. It seems like I’ll be doing more fishing now. I only curl once a year at the Doodlespiel but I do research into curling as a hobby. Curling is an open and somewhat controversial problem in classical mechanics. I have mounted a smartphone on a rock and have come up with a force model that fits the data pretty well. I recently simulated the draw portion of Niklas Edin’s super spinner shot at the 2023 world championships. I published a Geoconvention paper on curling a few years ago and there’s another one coming. It’s great geeky fun.

SCOTT, THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS WITH OUR MEMBERS. I AM SURE YOUR EXPERIENCE AND WORDS OF WISDOM WILL INSPIRE TODAY’S GEOPHYSICISTS. I ENJOYED GETTING TO KNOW YOU THROUGH YOUR EXPERIENCE.

Thank you!

In my home office, Katy, Texas, 2024