Oil is Found in the Minds of Men
“Oil is Found in the Minds of Men.”
Address to the Red River Desk and Derrick Club, Shreveport, Louisiana; 26 May, 2009 by John Takach
Early in the Twentieth Century, these words were spoken by Wallace E. Pratt, a pioneer petroleum geologist and one of the men who built both the Humble and Standard Oil Companies. Since Mr. Pratt was responsible for efforts that discovered vast quantities of hydrocarbons, we may deduce that he knew something of the means by which it was found. Notice that Wallace Pratt did NOT believe that oil was found in an optimized corporate organizational chart; or that oil was found by the newest ‘black box’ technology. Rather, he believed that oil is found “in the minds of men.”
Seven months before I was born, Parke A. Dickey conveyed the same notion in a different manner. Dr. Dickey, a professor at the University of Tulsa and author of numerous works on petroleum geology said:
“We usually find oil in a new place with old ideas. Sometimes, we find oil in an old place with a new idea, but we seldom find much oil in an old place with an old idea. Several times in the past we have thought that we were running out of oil, when actually we were running out of ideas.” – University of Tulsa Petroleum Geology Professor Parke A. Dickey, September 1958.
These men were talking about scientific discovery in the Oil Business, but they were really explaining the fundamental principles of Discovery in general. They had observed that all great Discoveries begin as an idea, a random thought that entered someone’s head; and they had observed that Discoveries were not made as much by those whose ideas were innately superior – but by those who had the confidence to follow through with their own ideas. We each have ideas that enter our heads unbidden. You do not ‘decide’ to have an idea. Neither can you prevent ideas from happening. The key lies in what we do with our ideas once inspiration strikes!
How similar is this to what Galileo meant when he said:
“Bear in mind, Gentlemen, that in questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” – Attributed to Galileo Galilei by François Arago, 1859.
Galileo, as we all know, is famous today for his many innovative ideas concerning astronomy, physics, and the scientific method. He believed in these ideas enough to tirelessly test them experimentally. And, having proven the validity of these concepts, Galileo defended ideas such as heliocentrism[a] against a consensus of authoritative opinion hostile to his views.
How often today do we hear that “the majority of scientists believe” or “all serious scholars know.” In my experience, consensus is the antithesis of Discovery. We do not ‘vote’ on scientific truth. Any scientist who has sound arguments based upon conclusive data will rely upon the evidence to state his case. When someone relies upon a consensus of opinion, it usually means that his arguments will not stand on their own merit.
In the end, Galileo was suppressed by the consensus, and he spent the remainder of his life under house arrest, forbidden to speak of his ideas. The majority opinion prevailed, and Galileo was discredited; they all continued their careers, obtained the prestigious university appointments, and became rich and famous, while Galileo was left on the sidelines. So much for the “happy ending!” So what good is this whole Discovery thing, then, you ask? Why on earth would ANYONE wish to subject himself to that kind of heartbreak? To have worked harder, taken more risk, been more correct in every way, and to have ended life as a failure? Who wants it?
Who remembers Galileo’s chief opponent? (Raise your hand if you know his name?) Who, then, remembers ANY of Galileo’s opponents? Ahhh! So there is some value in doing the right thing after all. Galileo’s choice never enabled him to date a supermodel or drive a Maserati or live in the biggest house…but it did make the world a better place for his children, and their children, and those of us living today. Each of us experiences that inner desire to make the world a better place. Few of us want to make the world a worse place. (Raise your hand if you want to make the world a worse place, and I’ll retract that last assertion!) So, at some point, we must grow up and realize that if we aren’t part of the solution, then we may be part of the problem.
“Behold the turtle, he only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” – James Bryant Conant, President of Harvard University from 1933 – 1953.
Did Galileo realize that his legacy would last for a thousand years? I don’t know… but each of us today owes him a debt of gratitude. Doing “the right thing” then, has an intrinsic value that each of us covets. I will submit for your consideration, but will make no attempt to prove, the thesis that standing up for the right thing has more to do with life-satisfaction than does mere monetary reward. Not that I oppose monetary reward.
Isaac Newton, born the year after Galileo’s death, eventually proved the merit of Galileo’s work, and it seemed that everyone recognized the necessity of Discovery, even when it threatened the status quo. But about eighty years after Newton, a young Thomas Young presented his theory on light to the Royal Society in London. The behaviour of light, Young proposed, could be explained as a “wave” phenomenon. This conjecture was considered by many to be “unacceptable” because the esteemed Sir Isaac Newton had determined that light was composed of and best explained as particles.
An unconfirmed anecdote relates how, when Young had finished his discourse, one of the Royal’s distinguished elderly statesmen proceeded publically to take him to task. “If light,” he commenced, “is a wave, then it must exhibit patterns of constructive and destructive interference, much as the waves emanating from two rocks thrown into a pond. We are in a room filled with light. Do you SEE any interference patterns? No? Then light is NOT a wave. QED.”
This obvious and apparently conclusive proof could have devastated Young’s theories. But rather than give up, Young thought over the truth implicit in his adversary’s claims. Perhaps light interference patterns could be demonstrated if the experiment was properly set up for that specific purpose? Back to the drawing board went Young, and in the end (1801?) he developed his famous “Double Slit Experiment.” By passing light onto a screen through two slits in an opaque plate, an interference pattern of light and dark bands could be created. This experiment is intrinsic to the study of modern quantum mechanics.
Thomas Young could have “quit” when he received criticism. He could have accepted the rebuke of that elderly physicist, bent to the will of the consensus, quivered in fear at the thought of contradicting Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest physicist who had ever lived – and light would have remained “particles” for years. Conceivably, if Young had not thought more deeply than the seemingly conclusive arguments against his theories, we might never have entered the nuclear age. But he never gave up on his idea. He worked on it until he could convince himself one way or the other whether this notion was correct. And in the end, he convinced the entire world, as well.
Thomas Young passed in May of 1829. François Arago gave the eulogy at the Institute in Paris saying,
“The death of Young in his own country attracted but little regard.”
But whether you have ever before heard his name, he improved the life that you live today.
Now we begin to see the emergence of a pattern:
1.) We have an idea
2.) We decide to pursue this idea
3.) If the idea still has merit (after our investigation); we try to persuade others
4.) We meet with opposition (New ideas engender controversy)
5.) We adjust/augment our model based upon serious criticism
6.) If the idea still has merit; we implement our plan
7.) We make a Discovery…or we fail. Yes, each time we “stick our neck out,” we run the risk of failure. But therein also lies our only hope of success.
But I thought this talk was about Discovery in the Oil Business, you ask? Most of us do not aspire to contribute to the field of quantum mechanics. So we return to Oil & Gas:
In 1982, a young Hunt Energy geophysicist, six months out of college, was searching for overlooked deposits of petroleum in southern Lafayette County, Arkansas. As he mathematically determined the depth in feet to the Smackover Formation from seismic “echo’s”, he realized that a geologic structure existed between the existing well control – a structure which could potentially be conducive to the accumulation of hydrocarbons in commercial quantities. He worked on the problem for several weeks, succeeded in creating his most probable “picture” of the geologic structure, and showed his work to his District Geophysicist.
The District Geophysicist was a thirty year veteran, with much of his experience in the ArkLaTex region. He reminded his young protégé that the new structure existed in a separate fault block, and that this could affect the variables used for converting the map to depth. Since there was no way to “measure” these geologic changes, the junior prospector was advised to drop this area – to look instead for a feature that could be proven to be a structure. The younger man followed his boss’s direction and began to pursue other leads.
But something in the back of his mind continued to “gnaw at him” concerning the dropped area. As he depth-converted adjacent areas, he developed intuitively the conception that geologic changes in this region were insufficient to create a structure of the magnitude that he had previously observed. So he approached the problem backwards. He imagined the greatest change in rock properties that was geologically possible. Introducing that change into his new fault block diminished the magnitude of the prospective structure, but a significant feature still remained.
Armed with his revised analysis, he once again approached the District Geophysicist. The senior man listened patiently while the neophyte explained his new reasoning, quietly thought about the logic, and then endorsed the project. In so doing, he also taught his young apprentice a most important lesson about Discovery. This District Geophysicist, having lived through the Discovery process many times, had NO COMITMENT WHATSOEVER to his previous opinion. It mattered NOT A BIT who was “right”, and who was “wrong”. All that mattered was the idea – finding the good idea, evaluating the good idea, following through with the good idea. Nothing else matters for exploration.
The younger man could have given up on his beliefs. He could have “bowed” to authority; not rocked the boat; done the political thing. But instead he did the right thing. In so doing, he gained a new confidence for his boss, whom he learned would also do the right thing. And in the end, the idea led to several wells which produced around thirty-five BCF equivalent of condensate and natural gas. At $5.00 per mcf, this would generate $175 million in today’s market.
I have a more technical version of this talk wherein I give three examples of oil and gas discoveries. With a little effort, we could come up with many more than those three. But the points we have made tonight will apply to virtually every one of those Discoveries, and these principles are what is important. In each case, “Oil was found in the minds of men – or a man.” As George Bernard Shaw once said:
“Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.” – George Bernard Shaw
In summary then, we have observed that we all have ideas. It’s not something we can control or turn off – we can’t stop the ideas from happening, it’s just the way humans are “wired”. Each of us has the potential for ideas that are valuable. But if you don’t believe in your idea, no one else will. An idea is like a ‘seed’, which must be nurtured to grow into something of value.
When we share our ideas, there will generally be opposition – In fact, you should most beware an idea when there is NO APPARENT OPPOSITION. This is likely an indication that consensus has been reached on some basis other than the soundness of the argument and the merits of the underlying concept. If the reason for such consensus is the prestige of the idea’s promoter, or some political consideration, then inappropriate resources may be allocated to an idea that lacks intrinsic merit. Such an idea is likely to produce disappointing results. Beware the sound of one hand clapping! Discovery frequently threatens the status quo, and an adverse reaction is often the result.
Each of us has some area where we see a ‘better’ way of doing things. Each of us has an ‘untested’ idea whose merit calls out to us. Each of us has a burning desire to improve some facet of our surrounding environment, to ‘fix’ some problem according to our own, God-given inspiration. Each of us has the ability to ‘see more clearly’ on a given subject. These are the tools that we use to find undiscovered pools of hydrocarbons, and conversely to address all of life’s other shortcomings.
We owe it to ourselves to investigate these ideas, to look for ways to improve the world around us – to go beyond the status quo. Not only do we do this to Discover new deposits of oil & gas; but we do this to make our jobs, our schools, and our communities each a better place. Not because we’re “street-smart” and there’s something in it for us. Rather, we do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. So I encourage each of you to follow through with the ideas that you think have merit; to believe in your dreams; to believe in yourselves; and to go forth from this dinner tonight with a renewed commitment to becoming a participant of the process of Discovery!
[a] The theory that the Sun is the center of our Solar System, and that the planets revolve around the Sun.
The accepted theory in Galileo’s time was geocentrism; which held that the sun and all planets revolved around the Earth.
 KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Second Wallace E. Pratt Memorial Conference; “Petroleum Provinces of the 21st Century” January 12-15, 2000, San Diego, California; Exploration into the New Millenium; by Michel T. Halbouty, Chairman and CEO, Michel T. Halbouty Energy Co., Houston, Texas.; Search and Discovery Article #10010 (2000); http://www.searchanddiscovery.com/documents/halbouty/index.htm
 Tulsa Geological Society digest, 1958, Oil Is Found With Ideas, Parke A. Dickey, p. 84
 François Arago, Biographies of distinguished scientific men, Published by Ticknor and Fields, 1859, LaPlace, p. 365
 E.g. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632; in Italian Dialogo dei due massimi sistemi del mondo); Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences (1638; in Italian, Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche, intorno a due nuove scienze)
 1,600 Quotes & Pieces of Wisdom That Just Might Help You Out When You’re Stuck in a Moment (and Can’t Get Out of It!), By Gary P. Guthrie, Published by iUniverse, 2003, ISBN 0595274048, 9780595274048
 Thomas Young, Experimental Demonstration of the General Law of the Interference of Light, “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London”, vol 94 (1804)
 The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal: Exhibiting a View of the Progressive Discoveries and Improvements in the Sciences and the Arts, By Robert Jameson, Published by A. and C. Black, 1836, Vol. xx, Biographical Memoir of Dr. Thomas Young, Arago, p. 236.
 Say Hello to your very own book of Quotes, By Shaw George Bernard, Published by Quotations Book, p. 35