Past Messages


Ron Waszczak, Winter 2001

waszczakDuring the next months, my term of office will be drawing to its close. In writing this, my final President's Column for the NEWS, l would like to take the opportunity to say it has been my pleasure and honor to serve the membership of the GCSSEPM. I would also like to thank the current team of Section officers, Foundation trustees, and Annual Convention and Research Conference committeemen and volunteers. Their dedicated hard work and support have been crucial in planning and organizing our program of activities that will come to full fruition during the remainder of 2001.

This years Annual Convention "Odyssey to Success: 100 Years of Gulf Coast Exploration" will be held October 17-19, in Shreveport. This years Research Conference "Petroleum Systems of Deepwater Basins: Global and Gulf of Mexico Experience" will be held December 2-5, in Houston.

Furthermore, I am delighted to report that during the year our Section membership has increased for the first time in a long time. This is an apparent effect of our membership campaign. It is certainly a testament to the reputation and appeal of our technical program. Thank you Members for supporting and sustaining the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM.

There is more good news. Buoyed by the upturn in exploration and production activity, there are (at last!) new opportunities for sedimentary geology specialists. As an example, information gathered by the Industry Biostratigraphy Committee, an affiliate of the North American Micropaleontology Section of SEPM, reports that US employment of biostratigraphers within major oil and gas companies and at outsource biostratigraphy consultantcies has stabilized and is, in fact, undergoing moderate growth. Reporting companies (including BP/Amoco, Exxon/Mobil, Shell US, Chevron, Texaco, Conoco, Unocal, Phillips, and BHP) indicate a re-commitment to use of biostratigraphy. The evidence: The re-creation of several company-internal biostratigrapher positions -- some permanent, some term-consults, and some seasonal internships. There have also been a few new positions created among outsource biostratigraphy service providers and among university post-doctoral programs. Taken together, these re-created positions in technology service and in technology development are a positive response to increasing industry needs and demands.

To what effect have industry forces changed and reshaped the occupation of biostratigrapher since 1985 when unprecedented decline of employment in the discipline began? Industry forces that reduced employment and redeployed biostratigraphers have, in important ways, refocused and forced change in the responsibilities of those who have survived. Here is my view of the current state of the discipline.

Biostratigraphers now employed as outsource service providers are busy working harder than ever to meet the increasing needs of the petroleum industry. The success of these biostratigraphers lies in the opportunities they have seized. They have exploited their deep expertise in micropaleontologic analyses of a specific microfossil group (principally either foraminifera, calcareous nannoplankton, or palynomorphs). They have exploited their profound experience and understanding of the nuances of fossil populations within a specific geographic niche (e.g. deepwater Gulf of Mexico, North Atlantic margin, etc). There is increasing demand for their high-quality data for application within the oil and gas industry.

Biostratigraphers now employed within the major oil and gas companies are allocating more mantime to data acquisition, outsourcing 25% to 100% of their micropaleontologic analyses. Within these companies, real need for skilled data interpretation and data integration are met by in-house biostratigraphers who have a breadth of expertise with the range of fossil groups, are functional with specialized paleontologic data-processing software, and apply the discipline effectively in multi-discipline teams. The opportunity that these biostratigraphers have seized: They have exploited their interface with geological, geophysical and engineering teams where biostratigraphy's greatest technical strengths are surfaced and exercised.

As a Best Practice, those whom oversee play and prospect analyses and pre- and post- spud formation evaluation are now including biostratigraphy at the front-end of project plans. Throughout project life, they employ company-internal biostratigraphers for expert interpretation and integration of biostratigraphic data.

As a Best Practice, biostratigraphers on these teams work to improve the sufficiency of biostratigraphy data that are acquired. Data acquisition begins anticipating the highest end-use of paleontology datasets. Are data acquired for "tops", or eco-stratigraphy or bio-sequence stratigraphy? If the latter two are requisite, a quantitative species and abundance inventory is required to produce true and reliable information. Only through well-thought data gathering protocols can needed chronostratigraphic and paleoenvironmental information be obtained.

As a Best Practice, biostratigraphers are applying sophisticated value-adding methodologies to data. The methods require not only digital data capture for data storage and retrieval, but also software for interactive processing for attribute extraction. Value-adding methods now in use include multivariate analysis, graphical correlation, and ranked and scaled correlation.

The strengths of the discipline of biostratigraphy are now being realized in simple but also sophisticated ways in today's new frontier play and prospect analyses and in exploration and appraisal drilling. In decisioning while drilling, biostratigraphy has traditionally provided a unique real-time evaluation of predicted Vs actual penetrated section. Biostratigraphy is also employed as the singular method of identifying and correlating horizons in areas where seismic or wireline control is poor or ambiguous. For example, biostratigraphy improves sub-salt and near-to-salt stratigraphic resolution. For example, biostratigraphy is often the only objective basis for correlation across structurally complex areas such as fold and thrust belts. Biostratigraphy also inputs to sedimentology and sequence stratigraphy. Here, biostratigraphy calibrates the age and delineates the duration of important petroleum system elements, including the deposition of source, reservoir and seal facies; eustatic and tectonic events; and the identity and nature of sequence boundaries and flooding surfaces. The operating premise is "Process controls in evolution, paleoecology and taphonomy are co-dependent of sedimentary sequence processes."

As such, biostratigraphy develops local bio-sequence chronostratigraphies that precisely correlate to a global standard. On the grand scale, biostratigraphy demonstrates synchronicity and correlation of sequences within and among basins, and calibrates sequences and surfaces across oceanic, nearshore and non-marine systems. It is my happy belief that biostratigraphy in its current state-of-art is distinguishing itself in industry as a critical and unifying force in stratigraphic studies.

In writing this, my final Column for the NEWS, I'd like to make this appeal. Authors: the GCSSEPM NEWS seeks short summaries of recent trends and advances in the employment and operating style of practitioners whom specialize in the allied disciples of sedimentary geology. Summaries should highlight current perspectives and future prospects for the discipline as related to petroleum geology. You are welcomed and invited to contribute.