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Tuesday
Jan042011

Will this change anything?

Stubborn as it is, I often neglect to check the weather forecast before I go out in the morning. I live within walking distance to most things, and I can bear extreme cold for a few minutes (and even run if I have to). So for me, searching for a weather forecast the night before or the first thing won't actually change my morning routine. And that is to say nothing of the reliability of the forecasts!

Every one of us can pick and choose how much information to use in our daily lives. On one end of the spectrum is no information, where uncertainty and ambiguity reigns. On the other end is total information, which can be unwieldy and noisy. One way to hone in the appropriate balance is to ask the question, "will this change anything?"

When deciding whether to run a fancy diagnostic borehole tool, say, or to redo a structure map to include new well data, the wrong thing to ask is "what will this information do for me?", or even, "will this technology or method work?" Instead, we should be asking, "will this change anything?" 

Will adding (or excluding) this ingredient change the taste or outcome of my meal?

If the drilling engineer on your team is on the ball, cost conscious, and able to drill at 40 metres per hour, then LWD (logging-while-drilling) information may not actually allow you to steer the well on the fly. It's nice data to have after the fact, but it won't change how you drill the well. If your team's strategy is to drill relative time structural highs, then re-doing a velocity model for more accurate depth maps may be a waste of time. 

When we talk about how information might change our plans, or change our understanding, we are talking about it's value.  Asking, "will this change anything?" is really trying to pin down, "how much do I value this information?" The weather channel might be more valuable to you than it is to me, but how valuable is it? Will it change anything if you have to get on without it?

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Reader Comments (4)

Good post. In my experience, many decisions made in the oil industry are made with the "gut" or tacit knowledge and data is used to give people the comfort they need to put their chips on the table. In many cases, additionally acquired data is used when it corroborates the existing interpretation, but dismissed as too uncertain otherwise.

I agree that people need to just start feeling more comfortable about being uncomfortable.

January 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterj

J: Thanks for your comment, absolutely well said. We all must resist the confirmation bias. But how? Sacrificing our collective egos and embracing diversity is certainly a part. Have we strayed too far from the scientific method? How should E&P companies 'use' science and technology?

January 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterEvan Bianco

Is using your "gut" straying from the scientific method? I read an interesting Havard Business Review article which proposed "gut" feeling is actually a form of pattern recognition based on experience. So one could make the argument that your "gut" feeling is really a raw, instinctive use of the scientific method.

My personal opinion is that science and technology should be used to create models to represent reality. Once there is a quantitative model in place you can verify your "gut" feeling by seeing what assumptions are necessary to confirm your feeling. The application of science and technology is only as good as the assumptions used, and in the oil industry there are just so many assumptions and non-unique interpretations that there will always require some "gut" feel to adequately decribe the decision you're trying to make.

January 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterj

Thanks again for your comments j: Can you point me to that article? Sounds great. Your gut, which I will call here a 'model', may be different than mine because of past experience or what you bring as background to the problem (a priori information). Geophysicists call such things "ill-posed inverse problems", engineers call them "cost functions" or "optimization functions". The fact that it is rare to (intentionally) drill economically dismal wells has fascinating implications. Our gut must be swayed by lop-sided information. I can't suggest a remedy for this, but I think it's important at least to be aware of it.

If your gut feeling can be swayed by new information, then maybe the scientific method is taking place instinctively. Inverse problems too, can always be updated with new information.

As a comparison, in medicine, the preferred study or research method is the "double-blind randomized control trial". Is there a place for this method in subsurface oil and gas science?

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

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