Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Software Operator

One of the main components of my job as an engineering & geological tech in oil & gas is knowing how to operate a lot of different software packages. Currently I'd say I'm proficient with Petra, Aries, ArcView, HPDI, IHS, and R2V. I can make my way around Grid. I have used Petrel, though not often or well. And of course, I'm excellent with MS Excel and Access. It's critical that I know how to do these things.

However, it is not enough.

If you don't have the domain knowledge, you're a bit screwed even though you may be able to operate the software. It's like knowing how to use a statistics software package; you can create meaningless analyses all day long. (I do not, incidentally, know any statistics software packages, unless you count Excel. Which I'm sure you shouldn't.)

I do have a lot of domain knowledge - I've worked in this industry for over 10 years - but not always exactly what is applicable to the task at hand. As an example, John (an engineer) asked me yesterday to print some logs for a particular well. Well logs look something like this:

The vertical scale is depth in the well. The squiggly lines represent the values of different things. The turqoise filled-in areas on the right were selected to be filled in based on some cutoff. (I just pulled this one off the web, so I'm not sure of the details.)

I did have some log data for the well John was interested in, and I have software to turn that (digital) log data into an actual log like you see above. However, I had no idea which curves he wanted to see, or how they are typically arranged or displayed. The software also gives you approximately one million options about how to arrange and display the logs - think something like making a chart in Excel, and then increase it by an order of magnitude in terms of options and things you can change.

Here is a screenshot showing many of my log choices (they are the things like CAL2, CAL2_1, CALI, etc., in the list on the lower right side):

I picked some of the ones that sounded familiar, like "Gamma Ray" and "Neut. Porosity" and (off screen) "SFL Resisitivity." And I put together some horrible log that probably wasn't at all standard. And then I called John in.

Now, John doesn't know in a formulaic way how a typical log should look, and he doesn't know how to operate Petra at all. But he was able to tell me, for instance, "OK, Gamma Ray and caliper should go on the same track" and "Put the porosities together and let's go from 0 to 80 but reverse it" and "The resistivity, let's use a log scale." So with him directing and me fiddling around with the software, we were able to put together a useful log for him. It ended up looking like this:

With this experience, hopefully the next time someone asks me to print the logs for a well, I'll be able to put something together that is at least reasonable - something that allows them to come back and give me some directions about what they want instead of just writing me off as obviously clueless.

But this is the kind of thing you get an education for. This is why college classes are not dense and efficient like the kind of professional classes you might take in, say, Petra. No matter how whiz-bang you are at running a program, you have to know what you want to get out of it.

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