NAME: Dr. Mark Tingay
CURRENT TITLE: Director, Critical Stress Geomechanics and Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Adelaide
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Petroleum geomechanics, pore pressure prediction, mud volcanoes and tectonics
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 17
EDUCATION: Completed my PhD in petroleum geomechanics in 2003, University of Adelaide. I also have a Graduate Certificate of Education in Higher Education.
What’s your job like?
I’m a self-employed consultant, specialising in petroleum geomechanics and pore pressure prediction. I usually work in my client’s offices, but also at home. My job mostly involves helping to plan and drill petroleum wells safely and efficiently. I also work on reservoir aspects of geomechanics, in particular understanding how CO2 injection or hydrocarbon production will affect rock stresses and fluid pressures, and the potential for fault reactivation. I also have an adjunct role at the Australia School of Petroleum in South Australia, through which I supervise PhD and Masters students as well as pursue my personal research topics.
What’s a typical day like?
Most of my days involve working on some specific project for a client. This might be interpreting data for stresses and developing geomechanical models for a CO2 sequestration project; trying to predict the pore pressures and geological conditions that a planned well may encounter, so that the well can be constructed to avoid hazards such as blowouts or hole collapse. I also do a lot of training, whether it is teaching training courses for companies or societies, or giving one-on-one in-depth training for geologists and engineers wanting to specialise in geomechanics or pore pressure.
It’s pretty much all fun! I particularly enjoy trying to solve the more challenging problems, as well as the teaching side of the work. One of the things I specialise in is determining the origin of high pore fluid pressures (overpressures) in petroleum systems. I am commonly brought in after a company has had a significant and unexpected well control incident, and it’s my job to pick apart what happened and why, and then to develop methods and plans to avoid such incidents in the future. I love that type of work because it is stimulating and because I see the primary goal of my work being to help make the industry safer, both for people and the environment.
Running my own consulting business has a lot of challenges. There is always the insecurity that comes with being self-employed – and the effort you constantly need to put in to find work, build a network, accounting and such. But, at the end of the day, I am working for myself. I have really enjoyed my previous roles in academia and with a big petroleum company, both of which have their major advantages and disadvantages, but I am now enjoying the challenges of consulting.
What’s your advice to students?
It’s an old line, but you really have to try to find something you enjoy and have a passion for. If you are really fascinated by a topic, then you’ll always strive to learn more and do better at it. Ultimately, that will lead to you enjoying work and life a lot more.
The other advice I always give is to really work to learn the fundamentals of what you do. Petroleum geomechanics is a topic that has been ‘in vogue’ over the past 5-10 years, and the numbers of people doing it around the world now are probably 100 times more than when I started in the field. But, the one thing I see again and again is students or new people in the topic learning the workflows and software, but without really understanding the fundamentals and theory.
As I said earlier, one of my common jobs is to try to figure out what went wrong after a significant safety incident has occurred. The root cause often boils down to practitioners simply making assumptions that just aren’t valid for the situation or geology, or because people blindly trusted erroneous data, software workflows or interpretations without question. There is an old saying “assumption is the mother of all stuff-ups” (a different work is usually used instead of “stuff”). Sometimes such a mistake is just an embarrassing ‘oops’. However, in drilling, and many other disciplines, not recognising when an approach or data may be flawed can result in a major accident, or meaning someone doesn’t come home from work.
So, whatever you do in science, really work hard to understand and challenge the assumptions, and the potential flaws, pitfalls and failures, in the work you do. Not only does this make you a more thorough and better scientist, but it’s also a key to finding ways to improve and advance your field of interest.
Oh, and oral and written communication. Seriously, if you can learn to give a good talk, and write without things like hanging participles, you’ll do well!