Petroleum geologists and engineers: bridging the ‘two cultures’
I n 1959, the noted British scientist and novelist C.P Snow titled his Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge The Two Cultures. Snow argued that the intellectual life of the modern world is split into ‘two cultures’, namely the sciences and the humanities, and that the wide gap between these two is a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems. Snow’s book with the same title became a bestseller and the title itself has become a household name. Indeed, we also find ‘two cultures’ within the sectors of a given enterprise. In the petroleum industry, for example, we sometimes hear of the cultural differences between the upstream and the downstream, between the geologists and the engineers, or even among the geoscientists (geologists, geochemists and geophysicists) and among the engineers (reservoir, drilling, and production). I have even heard of the subtle differences between geological engineers and engineering geologists! Having different mindsets and training backgrounds is unavoidable, necessary and even desirable for the performance of our jobs. However, if our mindset becomes too closed, then we function in a trap and cannot see our blind spots; or even worse, we cannot communicate and work with our colleagues in the other fields of the industry. Therefore, while maintaining our expertise and standpoint is necessary, keeping an open-mind and striving to understand the other perspectives and fields of knowledge are equally important. After all, nature is not divided into various disciplines, departments or business units, but that the natural world with its resources is an interconnected whole. The petroleum industry functions on both geoscience and engineering (Figure 1). Dialogue, openness, and learning from each other’s culture indeed improve the performance of the industry and save financial resources as well. I have worked for both the oil industry and academia, and, in recent years, I have taught a graduate course on petroleum geoscience for engineers, which has provided me a wonderful opportunity to see the bridges between petroleum geoscience and engineering, and how the geoscientist and the engineer can learn from each other. An important point here is that we should not generalize our statements about either group, nor should we let our notions and impressions turn into prejudice. Therefore, rather than splitting my discussion into geology vs. engineering, I highlight four important points that we all, whether geologists or engineers, need to keep in mind in our work and interactions.