Ammar Zolkipli

My Ramblings on Oil and Gas

Blog Post created by Ammar Zolkipli on Nov 16, 2016

Upstream, G&G, E&P, Seismic, Subsurface. In my short and early career in oil and gas companies, these are the buzzwords and things I had to understand to do my day to day job. I am not a geologist, geophysicist, or any petroleum engineer. I am an IT guy. I was fortunate to have skills in an obscure technology called UNIX and data storage back in the day (early 2000s), to snatch me a job with the top O&G service company of the time, Schlumberger. I was hired by the business unit called, Geoquest that later merged with other IT based businesses to be called Schlumberger Information Solutions (SIS). My job was simple. I was to move to a small town called Miri in Borneo, and support a few enterprise customers, like Shell, Petronas, and Total. By support, it means delivery and day-to-day support of the our software and hardware solutions in their offices.


Now, before I proceed, I think a little history is good to set the scene. While the majority of the world doesn't know where Miri is, and probably thinks Borneo is a huge jungle island, they're mostly correct, except in the case of oil and gas business. Shell found first oil on top of a hill in Miri more than 100 years ago. This unofficially established Miri as the hub of oil and gas business in Malaysia for a number of years, until the creation of Petronas back in the 70s. But, the ball was already rolling. Shell had already established their E&P business on this jungle island. And after tens of years, their investment developed the locals into subject matter experts. We're not talking about just the field technicians and roughnecks that work in the field. We're also talking about high flying executives who would later take on senior positions back in the Hague. We have geologist , geophysicist and engineers who are not only world class, but sought after in many other regions. Shell did good. And after it's establishment, Petronas also continued along the same path.


What does that have to do with my story? Well, after close to 100 years of O&G development, Shell & Petronas spent millions building up their Miri office into one of the most advanced Petro-IT centers in the world. For a kid just fresh from college, I came in to support and deploy state-of-the-art systems of the day. Back when virtual reality was just in it's early adoption stages, Shell built a massive virtual reality immersive theater that could house 40 people at a time. They used the system to do many things like platform and righ modelling, drilling and completions planning, and 3D seismic interpretation. And this was the tip of the iceberg. I had a chance to handle a 24 node seismics processing system running on Sun E450s, connected to 30x 3592 tape loading systems. Not big for todays standards, but back in those days, you could count with your fingers the number of processing systems of that size. And not forgetting, the hundreds of UNIX desktops with SIS's flagship software, GeoFrame. It was the first desktop app I knew of that needed an oracle DB installed on every desktop, to run the app. My old boss would call it the Monster. And of all the systems that I had to take care of, the one that was most unappreciated, but in my opinion most important solutions we provide, a seismic data management system, Shell lovingly calls, SDMS. This was a turnkey system that had a lot of tech  put together. We had a Sony Petasite tape system, NAS storage built from SUN E450s, and later on NetApp FAS900s, An E450 installed with HSM software from SamFS, and the SIS software that brings it all together, Finder. It was a crash course into the world of database management, systems management, tape management, and HSM all in one go. On top of that, I had to learn what is seismic data. Since SDMS was coupled with the seismic processing system, I learned, hands on from the actual experts, what actually happens after raw seismic data gets acquired from the field, and what we do after that to import the data into a centralized data management system, to service a few hundred end users, on specialized desktop applications, to find pockets of oil and gas underneath the surface of the earth, and how to drill the oil out of the ground, and how to extract that oil and send it back to shore to be processed. This was one of my earliest periods of having fun at work. The impact of the business was clear to me in everyday life. The tech I played with was the latest and coolest at the time. The chance to work in Miri was exciting. I had fun.


After that, a few things had happened. I grew. I changed. I adapted. I had more amazing fun periods in other types of things. But, oil and gas was still dear to me. Every so often, there would be opportunities to go back and do something in that space. Sometimes it was great and successful, sometimes it was not, and horrible. But through it all, I always come out of it, thinking that I've learn something new.


Now, I'm given an opportunity to take another crack at E&P. This time around it's a different twist to the same things I used to work on in my early days. I get to work with people building the tech for data acquisition. We get a chance to try and modernize the data management stack. My company has aspirations to fully integrate into the upstream O&G business, and is investing. Not just in IT. But also in other parts of the business, using our technology. It's early days. There are many things that are uncertain, and there's a chance we won't really get anywhere. The only thing I can be sure of, the team is composed of highly motivated people who are willing to grind it out. This is going to be a fun ride.