> Tony Dore : Like a Kid in a Candy Store

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Doré Like a “Kid in a Candy Store”

Finding Art in his Science (by Ken Milam, AAPG Explorer 2011).

AAPG award-winning geologist Tony Doré once almost tossed a budding career in geology to hit the road with his guitar.

Fortunately for the profession and the industry, he chose geology – and finding the art in his science, Doré eventually found himself leading some stunningly successful oil-finding efforts.

While scaling the corporate ladder with Conoco and later Statoil, he built a reputation as a “forward-thinker,” integrating ideas from industry, academia, earth science and new technologies from different disciplines.

Along the way, he said, he also developed a passion for "the deal."

For his contributions to geology, Doré recently was honored as a member of the Order of the British Empire – one of his country's highest civilian honors – and last month he received a 2011 AAPG Special Award, presented at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston and given for a career that is “worthy of Association recognition.”

Doré, who during his career with Conoco had developed expertise in basin modeling, stratigraphic correlation and northwest European paleogeography, said he felt like a kid left alone in a candy store when he joined Statoil in 1994.

"Statoil had something much more ambitious in mind and gave me free rein to pull together the whole tectonic evolution of the northeast Atlantic as the basis for their ambitious acreage acquisition policy,” he recalled shortly before receiving his AAPG award.

“It allowed me to further develop ideas on ocean margin structure, basement reactivation, passive margin compression, volcanic margins, exhumed petroleum systems and frontier source rocks.”

A Man for All Seasons

Doré said that of the various ideas his teams pursued, several proved fruitful in searching for oil and are often quoted by industry and academia, including:

Having an integrated view of the tectonic evolution and petroleum systems of the North Atlantic.

Understanding the behavior of uplifted (exhumed) petroleum systems, and systematizing the differences between those and continuously subsiding systems.

The nature and mechanics of inversion on passive margins and its importance to prospectivity.

And, in his words, “Our models of basement reactivation on the northeast Atlantic margin seem to have been quite influential.”

Doré also has been lauded for encouraging the use of new technology.

“When I started in Statoil the big deal was AVO and amplitude-driven exploration,” he continued. “There appeared to be a sincere belief in the industry that we would be able to achieve 100 percent predictability in exploration using these techniques.

“It seems absurd now, but that was not an uncommon mentality,” he said. “As usual, nature turned out to be not quite so simple.”

Entry to the Gulf of Mexico has been a crash course for Statoil on use – and necessity – of wide azimuth, rich azimuth and full azimuth 3-D seismic, imaging of complex subsalt prospects, he observed.

“I am very impressed – over-awed, even – at the new breed of Gulf of Mexico geoscientist who can deal with complex imaging problems while simultaneously disentangling stratigraphic relations through multiple phases of salt canopy formation,” he said.

He also currently is “particularly interested in Arctic technology, by which I mean the whole spectrum, from exploration to environmental to field development. The challenges in the Arctic – particularly in deep ice-covered waters – are so great that industry cooperation between the few key players will be required, pretty much in the way they did in the early stages of Gulf of Mexico with Deepstar.”

Game-Changing Impact

Refocusing from northwestern Europe to North America was challenging, he said.

“When I was charged with (re-entering the Gulf of Mexico) the geology was completely different to what I and my small band of geoscientists had encountered in northwest Europe,” he said, “but we commissioned some very good advisers and learned fast.

“When the merger between Statoil and Hydro took place and eastern Canada came into his portfolio, it was much more like the old familiar North Sea petroleum system,” he said.

"Statoil had exited from the Gulf in 1999, so ... bringing us back required building corporate belief,” he recalled. “We took the best advice we could and decided to focus on just a few emerging ultra deep water plays. We also targeted companies with large portfolios and expiry issues in our focus areas who we figured might need some help in getting their acreage drilled.

“Some bluntly told us to go away,” he said, “but others saw the potential of the match and welcomed us through their doors.

Because of the hard work of “a few great people,” the company succeeded in building corporate conviction and re-entered the Gulf in 2004. The initial deals were a multi-well farm-in with Chevron followed by a bigger deal with ExxonMobil.

“Both were in the deepwater Paleogene play,” he said. “Both led to discoveries, and it goes without saying that a bit of oil certainly helped lay the psychological foundations to continue.”

When the Encana deepwater GoM acquisition came along “it fit perfectly into our strategy and our initial position,” Doré said, “and that deal is widely regarded as the game-changer that made us a real GoM player. We have been able to build out from our initial strategic focus to the quite significant position you see in North America.

“I would never claim responsibility for Statoil's success in North America,” he said, adding “there are many visionary people who deserve that accolade. But I would passionately argue that my team laid the basis for it.”

A Song In His Heart

In nominating Doré for the AAPG Special Award, Phil Christie called his friend and colleague an "enlightened senior manager" who has maintained cutting-edge technical contributions despite a demanding work schedule.

Doré has had some 50 peer-reviewed papers published and edited six books, including the latest in AAPG's "Petroleum Geology of NW Europe" series.

He also has served on numerous bodies involving both academia and industry.

"How Tony finds the time for these extra-curricular activities and holds down a demanding management role in Statoil-Hydro is amazing,” Christie said, “but it testifies to his drive to promote a single community of geologists undivided by academic or industrial affiliation.”

"It's pretty rare to get to VP level in an exploration company and publish a lot,” Doré said. “They are usually mutually exclusive – so my main advice is that to do both you've got to love geology and you've really got to want it. There will be no financial benefit from the academic side.”

A good partner helps, too.

“My wife, Barbara, likes me playing guitar and writing papers, but she's probably thankful I'm not into golf," he said.

He is still into music, though, calling it "icing on the cake," and he proudly notes that he received his OBE at Buckingham Palace the same day as alternative rocker John Cale, and that his award was announced at the same time as Graham Nash's.

Incidentally, Doré played in the Statoil rock band The GEX Pistols (GEX being Global Exploration), plays several instruments and says he suffers from "guitar acquisition syndrome."

Meanwhile, professional changes and challenges keep coming.

“I've moved from VP exploration North America to VP exploration New Ventures North America,” he said. “Since chasing down new opportunities is the fun part for me, I'm happy. My canvas is anything onshore or offshore from the Canadian Arctic and Alaska through the Lower 48 to Mexico.

“So," he said, “you could say I'm back in the candy store.”


Citation – To Tony Doré, for an outstanding career simply doing what he loves most (by Phil Christie).

Despite the commonly-held perception that British society is class-ridden with a nuanced hierarchy of mediaeval titles and medals, Brits generally don’t like fuss and attention. “Good show, Carruthers, keep up the good work !“ is as much praise as one can reasonably expect in a lifetime, so I am sure that no-one was more embarrassed or amazed than Tony Doré when told that he was going to receive the 2011 Special Award for simply pursuing his life’s passions. The thing is that his driving passions have had enormous impact on his company, his profession, his science and his colleagues and it is my pleasure to make him squirm a little by recounting some of those achievements.

Tony took his PhD in the marine geology of the NE Celtic Sea from University College London in 1977 and cut his industry teeth with Britoil as an exploration geologist. After 3 years he moved to Conoco where he rapidly rose through technical and managerial positions including Chief Geologist in Norway and Chief Geoscientist for Advance Exploration in Houston. In 1994, Tony joined Statoil in the UK returning to technical work with acreage evaluations in the North Sea and West of Shetlands. His exploration talents ensured that his geographical empire expanded from the UK to Western Europe, to International and, following the merger between Statoil and Norsk Hydro, to his current position as Regional VP for North American exploration, covering the USA Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, Canada and Alaska.

Exploration passion and the thrill of the deal combine to make Tony a consummate finder of oil in the ground and in other people’s portfolios; it is fair to say that much of Statoil’s present positions and discoveries in the GoM, Brazil, Alaska and Canada follow from his professional judgement in where to drill and what to buy into. Throughout his career with Statoil, Tony has been an enlightened senior manager who has influenced his organisation to embrace new geological play concepts and new technology to explore and exploit them. It is not a coincidence that Statoil has emerged as one of the fastest adopters of new technology and competes actively on the global stage. This is due in large part to the recognition that open interaction with science and technology outside the company provides challenge and stimulation for new concepts in exploration and access. Tony is one of the architects of this way of thinking which stems from his attitude to his science, exemplified in his own professional life.

Instead of abandoning science after entering industry, Tony has continually pushed back the frontiers with some 50 peer-reviewed publications including several seminal works on the opening of the north Atlantic Ocean and the structure and petroleum geology of the northwest European Atlantic margin. This is a complex magmatic margin exhibiting tectonics, subsidence, intrusive and extrusive volcanics, along-strike segmentation and compression/inversion but the proven existence of petroleum systems in the non-basalt-covered areas makes the region’s geo-political stability a tempting counter to its icy, stormy waters. Tony’s published tectonic-palaeogeographic syntheses of the North Atlantic-Arctic region present a wealth of ideas, forming a much-cited basis for exploration and academic research. Statoil remains the leading explorer in this challenging frontier province, achieving the first offshore penetration of the basalt sequence and a second well planned for 2011, in addition to the successful joint discovery of Rosebank in conjunction with Chevron.

I first met Tony when we both sat on the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council’s Management Committee for the joint industry-academic Ocean Margins research programme. We were part of the team trying to decide how to get the best research and training bang for the buck out of the programme budget and ended up having a great deal of fun together. I then kept coming across Tony on various bodies such as the UK industry liaison panel for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme, the Earth Sciences Advisory Board at Durham University (where he is also Honorary Professor of Petroleum Geoscience and a Director of the Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems) , and the Editorial team of the journal Petroleum Geoscience. Either the UK is a geoscientific microcosm or Tony manages to be everywhere at all times, popping up at just the right moment like an exchange meson for the force that binds industry and academic research. How Tony finds the time for these extra-curricular activities and to hold down a demanding management rôle in Statoil is beyond comprehension but it testifies to his drive to promote a single community of earth scientists undivided by academic or industrial affiliation. I am sure that Statoil sees benefit in supporting these activities through the exchange of innovative ideas across the corporate boundary and the opportunity to enhance the development and career prospects of young geoscientists.

Tony’s impact on colleagues can be seen through his active contributions to the AAPG, the Norwegian Petroleum Society and the Petroleum Group of the Geological Society of London, where he has been one of the drivers behind the great expansion of the group from 1997 onwards. He has edited the output of several conferences including the monumental proceedings of the 6th Petroleum Geology Conference of NW Europe in collaboration with Bernie Vining of ExxonMobil. His dynamism resulted in the award of the GSL Petroleum Group Silver Medal in 2007, a fitting recognition for his outstanding contributions. And, lest I forget, he was also recognised by the decidedly non-mediaeval current British monarch with the award of Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s 2010 Birthday Honours List.

Whether it is geology or playing music (a whole new story) Tony’s passion shines through his energy and commitment – a truly exemplary act that stands out because it is so difficult to follow. It is a personal pleasure both to have nominated him for this prestigious award and to have the privilege of writing this citation.

Reply (from Tony Doré)

Phil Christie’s got it dead right. I really do get uncomfortable with accolades. Other people hide behind the sofa during horror films; I hide during the Oscars. In the past I’ve often been skeptical about geology awards. Geology is a science not a beauty contest, right? Of course, my perspective changed overnight when I actually got one. I discovered that, like everyone else, I really do have an ego after all: quite a large one, actually. So there is no way to disguise the unmitigated and shameless pleasure I felt when I heard I was to receive the 2011 AAPG Special Award.

As well as being uncomfortable with praise, we Brits have a saying that I am sure exists in various forms throughout the world: “You wait hours and hours for a bus, then two come at once”. So this year receiving a gong from the Royal Family (see Phil’s testimonial), and being honored by AAPG, the largest and most prestigious petroleum geology organization in the world, certainly fits that pattern. The fact that two of us from Statoil are receiving AAPG honors this year (see Ole Martinsen’s Outstanding Research Award) provides further support to the old adage, and speaks well of some enlightened Statoil executives who understand that encouraging scientific contributions outside the corporation can be a major motivating influence. Add in the tumultuous events in North American petroleum exploration, and some radical career direction changes for me, and this really has been quite a surreal year.

I gave some thought to Phil’s strap line about “doing what I love most”. It didn’t take me long to realize that, uncannily, he’s got me fair and square again. It’s true. I’ve been able to put bread on the table by doing something I really love, and I count myself lucky. Back in the Early Holocene, after some hiking trips to north Derbyshire on which I picked up some minerals and fossils, I earnestly informed my mum and dad that I was a geologist. I was 8. I am eternally thankful that, instead of saying “Shut up and watch TV”, they rushed out to buy me some books. I’ve been a geologist from that day, despite my myopic headmaster who informed me that kids like me shouldn’t set their sights so high. I haven’t really wavered, except perhaps in the late seventies when, struggling with a difficult Ph.D., I was half convinced I wanted to ditch it all and go on the road as a musician. Luckily my wife Barbara (36 years together and still going strong) put it simply for me; “Either finish that thesis now,or move on and be happy about it!” I chose to go for broke on the geology and keep music as the icing on the cake, a decision I have never regretted.

Some other pivotal career moments spring to mind. One was in 1994, when I joined Statoil. In my earlier Conoco life, I had built a scientific reputation on basin modeling, stratigraphic correlation and northwest European paleogeography. Statoil, however, had something much bigger in mind and gave me free rein to pull together the whole tectonic evolution of the NE Atlantic as a basis for their ambitious acreage acquisition policy. To me, that was the geological equivalent of being a kid left alone in a candy store. It allowed me to further develop ideas on ocean margin structure, basement reactivation, passive margin compression, volcanic margins, exhumed petroleum systems and frontier source rocks. Even through progress up the managerial ladder, I’ve managed to keep those themes going to this day. It hasn’t been easy—I don’t write papers in work time—but has been made possible by a very tolerant and supportive wife, and not least by my long-term conspirator Erik Lundin. Erik, “ideas-man” extraordinaire, worked with me on most of the above themes. Even when I’ve been at my most snowed-under by business, Erik has always been there keeping the geology alive. It’s easily been the most productive collaboration of my career, and I’m thrilled that Erik still allows me into his magical geological world.

Phil mentions "the thrill of the deal" and yes, I have to say that despite all my expectations to the contrary, deal-making provides an adrenaline rush that’s almost up there on a par with new geological ideas. One of the biggest thrills, for me, was doing the two deals that brought Statoil back into the Gulf of Mexico. When my boss at the time, Bill Maloney, told me he wanted me to lead re-entry into the Gulf I wondered if I was hearing him right. After all, the corporation had only exited the area a few years previously. But we managed to build a strategy, get company backing and pull it off just in time to get back on the discovery train. I would never claim that Statoil’s current major presence in North America is down to me, but I can say with some confidence that my team helped lay the basis for it. So to Bill, my inspirational co-workers Helen Butcher, Berit Tvedt, and many others whose creativity and energy made those and many subsequent deals happen—I salute you. We’ve found a lot of oil together!

It’s traditional in these responses to thank one’s family, and since mine are a most delightful bunch I‘m not going to miss this opportunity. So—grateful thanks to my wife Barbara (who runs a patient advocate group), my son Michael (a post-doc mathematician), my daughter Jenny (a graphic designer) and not least mum and dad who started me down this "rocky" road. Without your support, encouragement, lack of pretension and off-the-wall sense of humour none of this would be possible. If I’ve managed to reciprocate, I’m glad. And AAPG — I can’t thank you enough for the Special Award. Living in the company of the Brothers Schlumberger, Nikolai Lopatin, and the first geologist on the moon is going to be tough, but I’ll give it my best shot.