IBA participants

This spring, the University of Montana Geosciences Department fielded a team of four to compete in AAPG’s annual Imperial Barrel Award Competition.  The eight-week program tested the geological backgrounds of Isabellah von Trapp, Sara Stotter, Megan Mave, and Nathan La Fontaine, in their efforts to analyze the petroleum potential of Alaska’s Bristol Bay Basin. The students had little prior experience in applied basin analysis, but quickly developed skills in areas such as seismic and well interpretation, gravity and geomagnetic map interpretation, geochemistry, subsidence modeling, and play and prospect evaluation. Their hard work was rewarded in Denver on March 4th, where they presented their findings to a panel of experienced industry geologists. Out of 10 teams representing schools from throughout the Rocky Mountain Section, the judges awarded the University of Montana team with 3rd place for their basin evaluation presentation.

IBA team researching

The team working together to interpret their seismic data.

Along with the technical and geological skills IBA instills in its participants, the competition is meant to provide an experience in which success can only be accomplished through effective team work. The UM participants learned this quickly, and divided their efforts to accomplish the different facets of the project. When challenges in certain aspects of the project arose, the team worked together to solve them and continued moving forward with their analyses. The team’s friendship grew throughout the eight weeks, only strengthening the team bond and effectiveness.

All of the team members agree that the experience provided far more learning than is experienced in a classroom setting during an academic semester. The necessary, complete understanding of the petroleum system and all of its individual components provided the first time in which the integration of so many aspects of geology was required. Along with such a rewarding professional experience, each of the team members were granted 4 graduate course credits for their participation in the program.

The team’s culminating experience in Denver was extremely rewarding, and they want to thank AAPG and the participating companies that contributed to making the competition possible. An icebreaker the night before the competition provided the opportunity to relax for a couple hours and socialize with fellow students and industry professionals. The team enjoyed networking over good food and beer, and were made quite comfortable during their stay with other teams at the Magnolia Hotel in downtown Denver. While there, the team entertained many confused passersby with their practice presentations in the lobby.

On competition day, the team was eager to present the result of their hard work. While each of the members were quite nervous and unsure of what to expect, they delivered an effective presentation showcasing their workflow, evaluation processes, and final recommendations. Afterward, they answered questions from the judges, both regarding their geological interpretations as well as their knowledge of the region’s current geopolitical situation. While the questions were challenging, the judges were all very approachable and interested in the team’s work, interpretations, and recommendations.

This year’s team (their 2nd) is excited and proud to continue the University’s young and successful participation in the IBA program (UM’s 2015 IBA team placed 1st in the Rocky Mountain Section). As the UM AAPG Student Chapter leadership, the four participants look forward to advertising the program to both undergraduates and incoming graduate students, in hopes that a new team will be fielded again soon. They are thankful for the assistance from their faculty advisor Michael Hofmann, as well as their two consultants, Dave McGee and Marc Hendrix.

IBA team after the competition

The UM team moments after winning 3rd place in the 2017 IBA competition. (Left to right: Megan Mave, Sara Stotter, Isabellah von Trapp, and Nathan La Fontaine)