The Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG) has undergone several transformative changes in recent years due to the downturn in the oil and gas industry. Financially prudent decision making in prior years has permitted the society to weather the worst imaginable economic period for oil and gas with a cash reserve still somewhat intact and a financially strong Foundation.
Not that the downturn hasn’t taken its toll on the CSEG. Cash reserves are down, membership is about 35% of what it was in the mid-2010s. The CSEG downtown office has been vacated, partially motivated by people having to work at home during the Covid years and the CSEG Executives realizing that it can function this way more economically. A significant cost savings has been realized by getting out from under an office lease. The Recorder is now a single feature article once a week in the online newsletter. Gone are the multipage publications that are offered in hardcopy or virtual form on a monthly basis as a magazine. The monthly technical luncheons once featured as many as 400-700 guests, crammed into the Westin Hotel Ballroom. Now the technical luncheons are offered virtually, and occasionally physically, but in-person attendance is poor, with fewer than 50 people present and that includes the organizers and the speakers. The convention is a shadow of its former self. Gone are the days when the exhibit floor was full, featuring numerous vendors vying for attention to sell their wares. Budgets have been reduced to contend with a huge drop in revenues associated with fewer members, fewer sponsors, fewer exhibitors, and fewer advertisers. Membership benefits have been suitably scaled back to reflect current yearly cash flow levels.
The CSEG has survived the downturn but not without some bruises and perhaps scars. Our membership numbers are far smaller, attendance numbers at events are much smaller, the yearly financial budget numbers have been scaled back significantly. Many geophysicists have retired or left the industry, likely never to return. Now that oil and gas prices have rebounded and Covid restrictions have been lifted, attendance at CSEG events is still down considerably, reflecting a much smaller society. For many members, the attractions that brought us together were the technical luncheons, the large-scale annual convention, the downtown office that acted as “home-plate” and the Recorder. Individual members will identify differently to the loss of these “anchors” that provided us a sense of community. For some, it might have been the luncheons that they attended in person, for others it might have been the monthly Recorder magazine. Attempts to grow the CSEG nationally and to reach out beyond the confines of the oil and gas industry have not provided the society much diversification, hence the fate of the CSEG still remains tied to the oil and gas industry.
The oil and gas industry has also been transformed as well. The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) once held the hope and allure of exploring for more hydrocarbons, placing geophysics at the forefront of finding new reserves. Despite the fact that, the WCSB still holds a considerable endowment yet to be discovered, industry has focused upon increasing financial rate of returns, de-risking projects economically and hence development operations have ensued. The first signs of these changes were the push for better risking associated with project metrics. This was followed by the Royalty Trust phase. Once those tax incentives disappeared, the oil and gas industry focused on development drilling to the point where it was almost perceived as a mining operation. For many plays being pursued today, there is no risk associated with whether the resource is there or not. The risk has been reduced to how do we exploit the resource economically at today’s prices. Hence the industry has become engineering dominated. Geophysics has been relegated to a back seat position to the engineering extraction focused world. Now that oil and gas prices have finally rebounded to acceptable levels for economic extraction of the resource in the WCSB, enlightened companies have started to realize that understanding the subsurface structure can provide considerable value to exploit those reserves. Geo-steering horizontal wells, keeping them in zone, can offer significant value. Add to that the ability to predict reservoir facies, drilling hazards and reservoir porosity sweet spots, seismic data can add significant value. Geophysics is now key in monitoring many reservoirs (both for production and storage), ensuring cap rock integrity and Frac designs. Yet our discipline is still struggling to prove its value and worth. This is because for some companies, their financial and engineering strength developed during the downturn has actually become their weakness. The layoffs associated with the loss of Petrophysicists, Geophysicists, Geologists and the like have left many companies with a myopic perspective.
So, what does the future hold? Geophysicists have to show how they can add value. We need to develop a business acumen to understand the problems faced by those who control the financial purse strings to a given project. To be technically competent is just a price of admission to the game. Understanding the reservoir is also just a price of admission item. Developing an economic skill set and a degree of salesmanship are required to build a level of trust associated with multiple positive experiences using seismic data in the oil and gas industry for the financial and engineering worlds to see the value. It is a journey of making them aware and feeling the positive economic benefits associated with using the information derived from seismic data. Once they see it, once they get it, you will not find a bigger champion for our abilities and what we can bring to the table. Their investment in seismic data needs to make strategic and economic sense, hence the need for us as a community to develop more of a business acumen.
In time, the CSEG will reflect a growing optimism associated with this re-realized learning about the value of geophysics. Our numbers will gradually increase across the board in all aspects. However, the challenge will be to rebuild that sense of community that we have lost. How is that done in this new virtual world that we now find ourselves? Getting together in person provided that opportunity to network, share experiences and feel that we were connected. To this potential dinosaur who is writing this article, that sense of community is not the same without personal interaction, something that the virtual online world does not provide well. We have lost many of our anchors that previously provided that sense of community. So, how do we re-build that sense of community? As the Millennials are closer to this online technology than I am, I guess this will be the challenge for younger members of the society to solve.
About the Author
Doug Uffen is a CSEG Past President (2002-2003) and a former member of the CSEG President’s Advisory Council (2003-2012). He has served in roles as Executive Advisor to the Geo Canada 2000 Convention, Co-Chair of the Geo-Triad ’98 Convention, served on the CSEG Foundation, chaired the Outreach Committee and DoodleTrain Committees, and was the initial Co-Chair of the Chief Geophysicists Forum in 1998 and was a member of the committee till the year 2020. Doug’s perspective and historical knowledge of the society is extensive having volunteered in various other capacities for over three decades.