Sunday, June 2, 2013

TOPP Interview: David Cromwell, Incoming President of the WTGS and Geologist for BC Operating

Hello guys and gals.  This is Jay Leeper with The Oil Patch Post.  I have as my guest for today Mr. David Cromwell, Geologist with BC Operating and Incoming President of the West Texas Geological Society.  Mr. Cromwell has been a geologist in the west Texas area for close to 40 years and was nice enough to sit down with me to offer some insight in the Oil & Gas Field.  I knew his schedule was very busy and was appreciative that he took time to visit with me late into the day.  I also appreciate that he took an educational perspective to his approach of the business.  It appealed to the Educator in me and resonated the value of a person taking initiative to seek self improvement.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

JL:  Dave, would you like to say “Hi” to everybody?

DC: (With a wave) Hi!

JL: As we get started, would you mind telling everybody a little about yourself and maybe some of what you've done in the field?

DC:  This is Dave Cromwell.  I got my undergraduate from the University of California in 1969.  Spent 3 years in the Army.  Got out and went to graduate school in Oklahoma.  After 2 years, I got my masters and started in 1974 with AMOCO in Houston.  I started working the Permian Basin with AMOCO then started working the Permian Basin for the next 40 years.  I came to Midland in 1976 with Bass Enterprises and Production Company.  I've worked with several companies and have been laid off twice in my career.  Some of those times were pretty long in between jobs but always worked my way back in.  Always been in the business.  I've been on the fringes sometimes doing mud logging, chasing core, whatever I could to keep active out here.  I’ve seen several cycles come and go.  I’ve enjoyed it.  This is a great time for the oil industry and a great time to be involved. 

JL: Very cool.  I know you’ve been in the industry for a long time.  What characteristics do you believe helps make a geologist successful in this industry?

DC: Well, basically ,Jay, I consider 4 criteria to be a good geologist.  The first is a good technical, sound background in the science.  The second is a personality that is optimistic.  Thirdly, a personality that is creative.  Fourthly, you have to have a little luck.  Those first three criteria kind of define who you are and how you go about this business.  Staying technical is very critical.  As I’ve gotten along in my experience the terminology has changed, new ideas have come and gone, the science has improved considerably but if you don’t stay technical you’ll find yourself in a lot of hot water.  I don’t mean technical by becoming savvy with just the computer.  I’m talking about in the science itself.  One of the main venues to keep you technical is to join the societies that are available to us.  For us, that’s the West Texas Geological Society (WTGS) and the Permian Basin Section of the SEPM that are both local here.  Also, to be involved in the regional as well as the South West Section of the AAPG and even going to the national meetings every once in a while.  The basics for us in a provincial sense are the local societies that offer continuing education, field trips, and a monthly meeting.  All are good in keeping our minds active in what’s going on in the Permian Basin. 

JL: Didn’t you just get back from the Nationals?

DC: I just got back from Pittsburg this week.  A lot of the talks there were centered on shale.  I enjoyed it although the talks were somewhat regionalized.  Marcelles.  Bakkin.  There were some good posters and information on the Permian Basin.  It was good to visit with those people.  Like I’ve often said, you know, I’ll often go to Pittsburg or Houston to meet people from Midland.  It’s always good to meet old friends and visit with new ones.  I met with a friend of mine that I worked with at Energen and had lunch together.  That’s just an example of keeping up with people as well as keeping abreast of the technical side of things which is important.  I think things have changed for the geologist since I started working nearly 40 years ago.  For one thing communication has been very much to the betterment of the geologist and what’s happening on-site.  With the satellite radios and telephones today communication is just wonderful.  You get to take a look at the mud logs in almost real time whereas before that you were lucky if you got to see a mud log once a week because of snail mail.  As a mud logger, I had to go into town and fax at the local truck stop twenty years ago.  Before that even talking to the rig was nearly impossible with the dead areas going on.  Then they came out with the special phones and then bag phones so there’s been a progression that’s improved dramatically your ability to find out what’s going on out on the rig.  Now, computers have played an important part in the improvement of the geologist because you have so much data that’s being entered into the computer whether it be well logs or mud logs or scout ticket data that’s accessible at your fingertips as well as the services that you can subscribe to to get that data that helps you to do your job.  You can use the data to generate structure maps, isopack maps, or whatever in between maps you’re interested in.  I think, that being said, I don’t think there is any substitute for a geologist contouring his own map and adding the geological bias he feels is prevelant in that particular area and what’s going on.  To me, a computer map is a regional generated map that can help you in a broad sense but the nuts and the bolts of everything are depending on you as the geologist to make your interpretation to contour your map accordingly.  So, those two things have dramatically have improved the ways us geologists have moved forward in the almost 40 years I have been involved in the business.  I feel very fortunate that I have been around to experience that. 

JL:  What are some of the differences you have seen between the generations of oil professionals?

DC: Well, I mentioned that computers have changed the way we do the business, and to a certain extent I feel the young professionals rely on the computer too much.  They’ll get the data output from the computer and think it is the gospel so to speak.  Basically, you have to remember that the computer is only as good as the data that was put into it.  If you get bogus data in then you’re going to get misinterpretation of the information.  I think it’s incumbent of the younger geologist to take a second look at  the data that’s generated and verify that data by hand checking their wells to see if they agree and also to double check some of the surrounding wells.  Correlations are very complicated especially in a stratographic basin where the lithologies are changing between the limes and shales and sands so that it makes correlating difficult.  There are some good services that have done a admirable job to make correlations reasonable but I think it’s incumbent on the geologist to A) double check their work especially after an initial map has been generated so that they understand what the data represents and like I mentioned earlier B) go in and fine tune the map into a smaller area so that you contour it yourself adding your bias and interpretations.  If you’re correlating deep water sands perpendicular to the strike line and you know your sands are meandering into the basin so that you need to understand that near shore parallax systems where the sand lines are parallel to the strike line.  There’s a big 90 degree difference on how that sand body can be interpreted.  If you understand the nature of the sands for example is the Turberdite then it’s going to flow into the basin, bifurcate as it gets into the basin further down slope and where you are losing your differential energy and it helps you to understand that you need a bias on the isopack maps to reflect your interpretation.  A computer may or may not do that.  Some programs can add a little bit of bias to it but can’t substitute what you think it should be and how you think those contours ought to go. 

JL: So how is a new professional to get better at what they do?

DC: Well, like I mentioned, they need to get current on the new technologies coming out and they also need to understand other disciplines as well.  Everyone is talking about the team concept now where you’re working with land men and engineers, geophysists, as well as management to get your point across.  I think it’s important for a geologist to be in communication and understand the other disciplines that others have that compose your team.  Not necessarily to know their details but to have a general understanding of what everyone can bring to the table.  It’s also important to remember that the whole business is price driven.  Unfortunately we don’t control the price.  So you’re in a situation where you’re in a reactionary mode.  Like I said, I’ve been laid off twice in my career; both times after a bust.  I think the current status here is that things are going good and personally I feel that the Wolfberry Play, for example, is a valid play that has a lot of technical merit to it.  You’ll see it move forward.  I also think that if you see oil get below $70 a barrel and it stays below that where the hedges start wearing off companies will start moving their hedges around I think you’re going to find things will slow down here considerably.  That’s just my personal opinion on the Wolfberry.  I think it’s more price sensitive that say the Wolfbone, Bonespring, or Wolfcamp formation play that you have going on in the Delaware.  I think it’s a little more economic than the Wolfberry play.  But when you’re spending $8-$10 million for a lateral well it takes a lot of reserves to recover that and so reserves are dollars and dollars are what drives the business.  I think this play is going to go on for quite a while.  This is kind of a different play because everyone is using the term “resource” play.  What does “resource” mean?  Does that “resource” mean provincial everywhere? No.  There are going to be sweet spots in every resource play.  This is Mother Nature you’re dealing with.  Lithologies change, the Earth is a dynamic system.  I was taught that 3 things define a reservoir and that’s source, seal, and trap.  Right now with a resource play, your source is your reservoir.  You got rock that you’re looking at that’s very low in porosity and permeability that you’re trying to get the oil out of.  With the new techniques like horizontal drilling and high horsepower, high volume frack jobs are able to access the nano-pores (if you will) to recover quite a bit of the oil in place.  From a Permian Basin perspective, I think the economy is here to stay for quite a while.  It’s encouraging to see the US become less dependent on the foreign oil reversing the depletion trend that has been going on up until the last 4-5 years.  Since I’ve been involved in the business, we are just now seeing resource plays contributing to the trends. 

As the evening wore down I could see the enthusiasm and passion that seem to be a common factor for those who seem to be successful in this line of work and showed no signs of dimming even as the time passed.  You could tell that Dave loves what he does and still has a lot to offer.  Part of me wondered if this is what the young professional could take; to love the work and not be in it for the pay.  I keep liking a geologists job to that of a detective in a novel.  How do you take the information you have and find something you can’t see in a place you can never go?  It’s amazing to the layman.

Thank you for taking time to read my little blog.  If you would like to contact David Cromwell, his email is  He would be glad to answer any questions and clarify.  I consider him an excellent resource for people to reach out to if you have questions or want advice.

Take care, all, and I hope to see you somewhere on The Oil Patch!