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Well of the Week – A clear rule(r) to guide the decision making process

Geology is a science; exploration is a business.

Marlan Downey

The last couple of Petro NinjaEnlighten Geoscience Well of the Week articles have been contemplations on the drilling decision making process. This final entry in the trilogy is also a trip down memory lane to my early days at Gulf Canada Resources Inc. Let me set the stage a little bit.

Back in the mid-1980’s, windows meant you had been promoted from an interior office. Our desktops were real, not virtual. And they were a lot less cluttered given that there were no keyboards or screens. Computers were reserved for special purposes (primarily accounting and some seismic processing), and maps were paper. Generating those paper maps was a laborious process. Each well location was hand-drawn on to Mylar® by a draftsperson. Blank base maps would be run off as “bluelines” and smelt of ammonia. Given all of this infrastructure, maps were generally plotted at scales of 1:50,000, 1:100,000. For all of its drawbacks, having these set scales had an advantage.

As a freshly lithified geologist, I paid attention to the more experienced members of the team. I noticed that the geologists working the West-Central Cardium and Viking were always taking a Lucite ruler, placing it on a contour map and looking intently at it. These maps rarely had contours or data on them. This team had an incredible history of success. What was their secret?

Figure 1. Picture of an invaluable exploration tool. A Lucite ruler. (image copyright: (

And then I started being involved in land sale meetings. The Division Manager had an identical ruler tucked into the pages of his Day-Timer (yet another antique!). He too would pull it out and slap it on the map. Same modus operandi for the Vice-President when he reviewed plays. I still did not know what magical powers were in these rulers, but I had to get one. Maybe two rulers!

Eventually, at an after work get together at Bottlescrew Bill’s, I asked one of the area geologists: “What’s the deal with the rulers”? He looked as though it was a question he had to think about for a minute. His explanation was pretty simple: “Oh, that. We noticed that if you lined up the ruler on a 1:50,000 scale map so that it covered all of the producing wells, any proposed wells along trend that did not fall under the ruler were not worth drilling”.

The reasons for this linearity could be explained by all sorts of scientific principles. They were undoubtedly familiar with a paper relating the reservoir trend to a forced regression or some such esoterica.

But in the end, raises, promotions and stock options hinge on successful drilling programs. When you have to distill all of the information down to make what is an important financial recommendation, it is only human nature to reach out a little extra reassurance through a less scientific but dependable rule of thumb.

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