Tad Smith’s music to rocks journey

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Editorials
7/14/2017

Tad Smith presents at the Geophysical Society of Houston.

 

If not for a change of heart, Tad Smith might have been a professional violinist. But Apache’s director of geoscience for the Exploration and Production Technology department had second thoughts in college that led him to a Ph.D. in geology  from Texas A&M and ultimately to one of the most influential jobs at Apache.

Smith was recently named to the Texas A&M geology and geophysics department advisory council, an honor that underscores his contribution to Apache and to the oil industry more broadly. The advisory group of 25 meets twice a year in College Station, Texas, addressing everything from curriculum to fundraising to alumnae relations.

The appointment comes at a critical time for oil companies, given their increased reliance on universities like Texas A&M to provide them with future leaders to navigate an increasingly complex energy landscape. The good news:  A&M’s geology and geophysics department has seen an 80-percent increase in undergraduate students in the past two years.

“It’s in the industry’s best interest to make sure our feeder schools have the resources and guidance they need to prepare students for a career in earth sciences,” said Smith. “We need people who are passionate about this field, people willing to speak up, people who can make a difference.”

Smith is that kind of person, underscoring Apache’s vision to be a premier exploration and production company. His mandate reflects the company’s core values of innovation, safety, environmental responsibility and profitability. But he finds most compelling Apache’s ethos of empowerment.

“This is the best corporate culture I’ve ever been part of,” said Smith. “Everyone on my team is always looking for new and better ways of doing things.”

As a child, Smith couldn’t have imagined he would be in the corner office of a Galleria tower. Raised in rural Ohio, he is the son of a country doctor and the second of three children. When he was in fifth grade, his father bought a nearby 300-acre farm. It was a boy’s paradise, complete with a barn, a creek and a couple of abandoned buildings.

“I liked to be outside,” he said. “Running, fishing, playing – you name it.”

It was this love for the outdoors that would ultimately lead Smith to geology. But he also had another passion: violin. Where his brother and sister took the path of his father and became doctors, Smith was determined to make a career in classical music.

He enrolled in the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music as a college freshman. But Smith transferred to Ohio Wesleyan University, as a geology major – in part because of his love of the outdoors, and also because he had a cousin who worked as a geologist for the Army Corps of Engineers and became intrigued with geology as a career.

Interestingly, Smith doesn’t see the two disciplines – music and geology – as unrelated. “Geologists are a pretty creative bunch, but they also know there is an order and structure to the earth,” he said. “The same thing applies to music. It also has an order and structure, so it’s not a surprise to me that the process of making music would also appeal to a lot of geoscientists. I know lots of geologists and geophysicists who play instruments.”

After completing his master’s degree in geology at Washington State University, Smith traveled to Texas A&M to pursue his Ph.D. on carbonate rocks. In later years he met Mike Pope, who is now head of A&M’s geology and geophysics department, having succeeded Smith’s graduate adviser and former A&M professor, Steven Dorobeck.

“Tad is very accomplished,” said Pope. “It will be nice to have a carbonate guy on the advisory council, not to mention someone who knows the industry so well.”

Smith’s oil industry career brought him to Apache in 2010, where he worked in petrophysics and seismic rock properties for the Exploration and Production Technology group. He took over as Apache’s director of Geoscience two years ago and manages a group that provides technical services for all regions within the company.

His team’s work is helping Apache extract oil productively and efficiently across the globe, from the Permian Basin, to Egypt and Suriname. His team provides specialized technical services to the regions to help them achieve their goals. They are also responsible for keeping up with and testing new technologies that are being developed at various universities and within the vendor community. “Basically, we look to apply technologies that will help geoscientists and engineers make better decisions at lower costs,” said Smith.
Last year, for example, Smith’s team joined with James Parr’s New Ventures group to acquire seismic data from Suriname’s Block 58. This gave them the opportunity to test new data acquisition and processing technologies as well as acquire higher quality seismic data at a much reduced cost. Smith’s team is also playing a key role in the Permian and is using new technologies to rapidly characterize hundreds to thousands of feet of core. This work helps the region geoscientists understand the details of the reservoirs and build better geological models.

Smith stays active in the music world. Besides his work with the TAMU advisory council, he serves on the board of trustees for the Houston Symphony (“What inspires a man write the music he did?” he says of Beethoven). He’s also involved with the Geophysical Society of Houston (he is a former president of the GSH and has been actively involved with the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG). In the fall of 2011, Smith was the North American Honorary Lecturer for the SEG, and later served on the editorial board for The Leading Edge, an SEG publication.

“Reaching outside our daily sphere of influence makes us better people,” he says. “Fundamentally, I think that’s an important part of our license to operate.”

In his new role at Texas A&M, Smith will be advising a department that has some 500 undergraduates, 150 graduate students and 32 faculty. With its first geology classes dating back to 1903, A&M has played an important role in the evolution of the oil industry, and is poised to make an impact on the future of energy.

“It’s too early to say how I’ll make an impact,” said Smith. “But there’s no point in being on these types of councils or boards if you’re not going to try to make a difference.”

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