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Faces of the Industry: Mick Lambert

Jeannie Stell chats with Mick Lambert, president and CEO of Wireless Seismic Inc., for about his career, the future of seismic innovation, and surviving the current downturn.
Faces of the Industry: Mick Lambert

OILONLINE: What first attracted you to the oil and gas industry?

Lambert: I started out in the industry as a seismic processor and was primarily attracted to the high computing component of the seismic industry. Of course, high computing back then looks more like an abacus today. While my formative years in the industry were in the technical ranks, I quickly started to gravitate toward the business-dominated disciplines within a few years.

OILONLINE: What has been the biggest challenge (for you or for the industry) during your career?

LAMBERT: The volatility of the oil and gas industry, and thus the seismic industry in general, has always been the biggest challenge over the years. Trying to execute on anything like a long-term business plan is always problematic. No sooner do you get into the flow of a business plan, than you often have to significantly alter the plan to react to, and accommodate, an industry downturn.

OILONLINE: What has been the biggest opportunity of your career?

LAMBERT:  The oil and gas industry has proven to be a very dynamic industry with an abundance of opportunity and excitement. The very volatility that creates so many challenges on the downswings, also creates huge potential benefits during the upswings.

Generally, people in this industry are measured and judged based on the actual results that they achieve and not on just maintaining a pulse. Opportunities are abundant for those that are prepared to work hard and be creative. Progression within a company can often be rapid, especially in the expansion phases of the industry.

Travel opportunities are an inherent element to the industry and international deployments are almost always available. While many of the ‘oily” international postings are not necessarily at the garden spots of the world, great professional experience and a much better understanding of other cultures are the primary benefits. And most of these foreign postings are well paid and the lifestyle is very comfortable.

For those that can “outlast” the industry volatility in their early years, their mid-career years can be leveraged into opportunities for entrepreneurship. For example, working for a small exploration company, while risky, can be very exciting and financially rewarding. There are not many industries where very large capital spending decisions (e.g. wildcat drilling) can be made by a small and mostly independent technical and business team, without the heavy bureaucratic oversight common in most other industries.

OILONLINE: You’ve worked extensively around the world. What was your favorite region in which to work, and why?

LAMBERT:  I have travelled extensively for business over the years but I have lived mostly in Houston. I enjoy travelling to the Middle East, mostly because it is such a huge contrast to western cultures. I also like Eastern Europe, Russia and the FSU, for much the same reason, although both regions are completely different.

OILONLINE: You’ve seen and created a lot of new technology for the industry. Any ideas on what the next big thing might be, or are small changes to a specific current technology needed?

LAMBERT: I have spent my whole career in the seismic industry. During that time, the pace of progress within almost all areas of the industry has been strictly gated by progress and advancements in the computing industries. At the high end, large-scale computing for data processing and subsurface imaging applications has always been at least three orders of magnitude behind where the industry would like to be and at the low-end, micro-computing technologies for seismic acquisition systems have always been too energy-inefficient and too costly for the number of recording channels required for subsurface imaging to be fully cost-effective.

There needs to be another quantum leap at both ends of the computing scale to facilitate the real long-term needs of the seismic industry – remembering that seismic is the primary tool for delineating the subsurface for drilling decisions, and thus a critical step in the global search for hydrocarbons.

In the future, onshore seismic crews with 1 million recording channels will be deployed at very dense group intervals, with full azimuth coverage and recording more of the full wavefield (i.e. 3-component recording). This would mean that a seismic recording channel would have to sell for less than $25 – versus the average price today of $750 per channel. This would require a significant reduction in the power consumption and cost of micro-processors, flash memory and the related electronics.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that this 1-million-channel milestone will eventually be achieved. In fact, my father-in-law ran seismic crews for the main portion of his working life. When he retired several decades ago, he was dealing with an increase in his crew’s channel count from 6 channels to 12 channels – and he thought that 12 channels was far too many to manage. Today’s crews often deploy 15,000 channels and sometimes up to 100,000 channels – so the long-term trend is clear.

On the processing side, the implementation of massively-parallel Linux-based compute clusters revolutionized the seismic data processing industry, starting in the early 2000s. Algorithms that had been “waiting in the wings” for decades to be implemented could now be commercially deployed -– and to great effect. However, there are many more formulations of the full wavefield algorithms that will still require several more years (or decades) of the continued increase in “compute power per square inch” before they can become commercially viable. Also, it could be argued, that the structural component of seismic subsurface imaging has been largely solved by such algorithms as reverse time migration (RTM), and that future advances in computing will result primarily in more advanced rock property attributes – with less focus on the mostly-solved structural imaging.

OILONLINE: What advice can you give to small- and middle-sized companies to help them survive through this low oil-price environment?

LAMBERT: Don’t panic and stay focused. Analyze your competitive differences and do what you can to enhance these differentiators. If at all possible, do not cut out any of the directly-relevant R&D budget – and preferably “double down” on innovation if at all possible. This will allow the smaller companies to come out of a downturn with their guns blazing – taking advantage of the negative inertia that is created at the bigger competitors as they undergo their protracted and often debilitating downsizing activities

OILONLINE: What advice can you give to new university graduates that are considering the energy industry as their career focus?

LAMBERT: If you can stomach the uncertainty and the periodic severe industry downturns, then the energy industry is a great place to organize a career. There is innovation, risk-taking, international opportunity, the potential for rapid advancement, entrepreneurship (once you have some experience), and access to high compensation structures. This applies to both white collar and blue collar roles.

OILONLINE: Is there anything else that you’d like to accomplish before you retire?

LAMBERT:  I have always been driven by bringing new and innovative technologies to the market – dragging them out of the research labs and getting them into the commercial mainstream. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to be a member of technology-driven teams that have successfully taken such technologies full cycle. As my last hoorah, I would like to see my current mission with Wireless Seismic Inc. – to get radio-based onshore seismic acquisition systems to become the dominant replacement technology for cable-based seismic recording systems - fully accomplished. And we are well on our way to achieving that goal.

About Mick Lambert

Michael (Mick) Lambert has 35+ years’ experience in the seismic industry and currently serves as president and CEO of Wireless Seismic Inc. Mick joined the company in December 2010. Prior to joining Wireless Seismic, Mick spent 16 years with GX Technology Corp. (GXT), serving as president and CEO from 1998 until 2004, then, as president until 2006, after GXT became a subsidiary of Input/Output Inc.

Mick also served as president of Ikon Science Americas, and spent four years with CogniSeis Development in business development roles and nine years with Seiscom Delta Inc. spending seven of those years in seismic data processing roles and later in sales and management positions. Mick was born and educated in the UK. He moved to Houston in 1982, where he currently resides.

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