PetroChallenge 2015

Some Rice Earth Science students participated in PetroChallenge, an event sponsored by Schlumberger’s NExT. It is a two day, simulation-based, exploration and production-themed game where you are partnered with people from other backgrounds. There were a lot of Rice Earth Science PSM students. On the regular-track thesis program side, it was just me and my office mate Gary.
   It was a lot of fun! I hope it becomes an annual event and more people participate in years to come. To give a short summary: Each team looks at some simplified geophysical data and comes up with an offshore block that they want to drill and produce. They bid on this block and start paying for more expensive geophysical data such as 3-D seismic reflection and exploration wells. Then comes the costly part of building infrastructure (production platforms, pipelines and whatnot). The team with the highest net worth wins!

   The pros with OilSim, the game software, involved:
– For a person with no geoscience background, it’s a great way to cover what geophysical signs to look for in gravity, magnetic and seismic reflection data. Our speaker did a very good job fastly going over what basins, traps, reservoirs are.
– Teams are rewarded points for spending money on schools, orphanages, sports teams, clean energy constructions (and even bribery!) in the country they are operating at which is biased in the overall scores. Teams who go the extra mile and spend money on safety and environment (using blow-out preventers, buying data on environmentally-sensitive areas to avoid them) are rewarded extra points.
– It becomes highly amusing as some of your actions can cause negative or positive points. You choose to do an action to earn these credibility points and end up with less than what you had initially had. It is randomized and the gambling makes it more fun.
– Teams are encouraged to partner up with one another to lessen their own costs and maximize their profits. It was surprising to see how most teams wanted to keep 70-80% of their shares. This is exactly the opposite of what super majors would do in such an expensive exploration setting.

   The cons with OilSim were:
– The geophysics part… was so very simple. It all came down to “look for small numbers”, “look for anticlines”, “your well test was a success/failure”. There were no logs, there were no cores… Overall, it gave me the impression that the game was designed for economy majors.
– Some of the actions seemed out of order. Teams should look at risk maps the same time they are looking at geophysical maps. OilSim takes you through to the building a production platform segment and then shows you that your facility might be in grave danger of a hurricane/earthquake. Or… Why would I build infrastructure in a country where I haven’t made money yet? That should come after the production has begun.
– The first day was very fast-paced and the second day just sort dragged on. Our presenters tried to keep everyone interested, but you could easily determine which teams will end up in the top three category on the decisions based on the first day.

   I still recommend anyone to attend if they see PetroChallenge being hosted in their school. It was a fun and interactive experience. NExT did a very good job of making diverse teams. My team had a chemical engineer major, an economist, a statistician and me, the geophysicist.
petro_chequeBackstage shenanigans during dinner. We found these large checks for the winner and the runner up. I think all of the people in this photo (save Jennifer and Jessie) knew they certainly weren’t winning, hence the goofy expressions.  From left to right: Tina, Jennifer, Gary, me, Jessie. Photo taken by Zac Zhai.

   Everything aside, our PSM students, Caitlin’s team, won first place, and, Jessie’s team, won second place (Go Rice Earth Science!) and received $1000 and $500 as an award! Schlumberger also gave each member a small gift bag and an internship or a full-time job interview promise. I believe all of those are good incentives to do the PetroChallenge if the experience isn’t enough.
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