Juan Pablo Urrego-Blanco, Ph.D.
Shell Exploration & Production
Shell Oil Company
Education: Ph.D., physics, University Of Tennessee, Knoxville; B.S., Physics, Universidad Nacional De Colombia (Bogotá, Colombia); Additional studies in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
Growing up in a small town in Colombia, Dr. Juan Pablo Urrego-Blanco knew early on that math and science were passions that would come to define his career. His family was highly supportive of his education, and, when he became fascinated by physics in the 10th grade, it was inevitable that he would go on to the Universidad Nacional De Colombia to earn a B.S. degree in the topic that so captivated him.
His thesis in nuclear physics brought him offers of graduate fellowships from several universities, but the proximity of the University of Tennessee to Oak Ridge National Laboratory inspired him to choose to pursue his graduate studies there. While working on his Ph.D., Dr. Urrego-Blanco spent three years at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland to access the technology needed for his studies at the boundaries of extreme low temperature physics. While there, he developed the first solid polarized proton target system for nuclear reactions with heavy ion radioactive beams.
While Dr. Urrego-Blanco’s love for nuclear physics was apparent, it was his love for his wife that brought him to the petrochemical industry. When his wife was offered a job at Shell Oil in Houston, he applied there as well and was hired as an engineer. His transition from nuclear physics to petrophysics was rapid and, since petrophysics forms the very basis of oil and gas exploration, he quickly took on a significant workload, covering ventures in Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina.
In Colombia, he assisted in a lease sale bid round, contributed to a pioneering light tight oil study, and supported drilling operations. In Brazil, he brought a fresh, critical assessment to a core analysis report on Cretaceous carbonates. He was the focal point for the 50-well Brazil Albian study, integrating the results into new rock property trends, and was a core team member on multiple, high profile wells.
This track record helped establish him as a capable engineer with high technical credibility. Within two years, he was named the sole Petrophysical Engineer for unconventional resources in South America. He was a key part of the team that drilled Shell’s first, light tight oil well in Latin America, launching one of Shell’s most successful projects in unconventional resources globally. The well and core data acquisition programs that he designed and executed are still influencing portfolio decisions today.
In 2015, Dr. Urrego-Blanco led an initiative to benchmark the petrophysical evaluation services that Shell contracts in their exploratory wells. His recommendations were implemented to help optimize spending, with initially estimated savings to Shell of $30 million, and his work has been adopted by Shell’s petrophysics community worldwide.
Perhaps the most recent notable accomplishment that Dr. Urrego-Blanco has achieved relates to one of the most fundamental tasks in petrophysics that has been studied for generations: porosity and permeability. Porosity is a measure of the open space in a rock formation between grains and within cracks or cavities, and permeability is the ease with which water can move through the formation.
Utilizing his expertise form his earlier work in nuclear physics, he developed a novel, and still confidential, proprietary approach to characterizing the relationship between porosity and permeability. By adopting a more intuitive, physically driven formulation that delivers an easier correlation for porosity and permeability, his new method has proven to be both robust and widely applicable.
With all of the technical achievements he has been responsible for, it is no surprise that the leadership of Shell Oil recognizes Dr. Urrego-Blanco as a “high potential individual” and a valuable member of their team.
-By Vinnie Longobardo