Fred F. Meissner , the 2008 recipient of the Sidney Powers Memorial Award, died at his home in the Denver area on September 18, just weeks after being notified of receiving the highest honor given by the Association. He was 75.
The honored exploration geologist, college professor and consultant, a pioneer of the concept that methane gas could be extracted from coal beds, will be the second posthumous recipient of the Powers Award, the first being Meissner’s friend and colleague, Norman H. Foster in 1999.
Meissner authored over 45 publications, papers and poster sessions focusing primarily on hydrocarbon generation, migration and accumulation.
He was widely known for his technical acumen and his teaching ability. In receiving the Grover Murray Distinguished Educator Award in 2005, Meissner said:
“I am neither an academic nor a professional educator. All of my professional life, I have simply been a practicing petroleum geologist.”
Career of Excellence
Born and raised in Denver, his connection to the Rocky Mountains was cemented with his earning a geological engineering degree in 1953 and a master’s at the Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colo., in 1954, the year he joined AAPG.
Following service with the U.S. Corps of Engineers in the Korean War, he began his professional career with Shell Oil Co., where for the next 17 years he worked with a number of leading petroleum explorationists and, notably, with M. King Hubbert, acknowledged by Meissner as his mentor.
Meissner told the story that while he was a graduate student he recognized Hubbert’s hydrodynamic work as a key to certain aspects of petroleum migration and trapping. When at Shell, he was able to apply the concepts to the occurrence of oil accumulations in deepwater turbidite channels that he identified and mapped in the Delaware Basin of west Texas.
He took to management his idea that the presence and potential of tilted oil/water contacts in the turbidites would be highly productive. He said the idea was derided, that oil/water contacts could only be horizontal.
However, a new manager saw merit in the new idea and encouraged Meissner, who used the concept to develop several prospects, three of which found new oil fields.
As a result, Meissner was transferred to the Shell Research Lab, in Houston where he worked personally with Hubbert.
“I found him to be one of the best overall teachers that I have ever been exposed to,” Meissner said of Hubbert in 2005. “I patterned many of the courses I have taught after the format that (Hubbert) used.”
However, Meissner was not harsh in his approach to students, a trait of which Hubbert was notorious.
Go West, Young Man
As Meissner’s reputation as a scientist grew his assignments became diverse and his undertakings included teaching in-house courses at the lab and at international offices.
Working in 1973 at Shell’s Denver office, Meissner chose to answer the longtime lure of the Rockies when that office was closed and consolidated in Houston.
He joined Trend Exploration, which was formed by AAPG member Tom Jordan and included Norm Foster on the management team. There, Meissner worked on a number of important discoveries, including the giant Irian Jaya field in Indonesia.
He then worked with Trend’s successor company, Filon Exploration, and later with Webb Resources and Bird Oil. In all the affiliations he was a principle, with titles ranging from exploration manager to vice president.
In 1978 he gave a landmark paper at the Montana Geological Society’s Williston Basin Symposium, which incorporated the concept that source rock may be a frequently overlooked reservoir rock, and that the change in phase from solid organic matter to a liquid during hydrocarbon generation causes abnormally high pressure in source rocks – and this is a primary and significant cause of fracturing in both source and adjacent reservoir rocks.
His early recognition of the generation and potential production of gas from coalbeds and carbonaceous shales was published in a paper he co-authored in 1977 with Ed Dolly.
From 1986 to 2004 he was an adjunct professor at his alma mater, where he sat on thesis committees, taught a graduate course in advanced petroleum geology and was a guest lecturer.
In 1991 he began his consultancy where he worked basins worldwide as well as teaching short courses, including for the Rocky Mountain Section of the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council.
A Lasting Legacy
A contributor to the AAPG BULLETIN while still with Shell, Meissner’s activities with the Association includes serving as an associate editor from 1981-83 and 1985-87, serving on the Education, Convention and Publications committees and as a Distinguished Lecturer in 1980-81.
Meisssner won the EMD Best Paper Award in 1984, and received AAPG Honorary Membership in 2001 and the Grover Murray Memorial Distinguished Educator Award in 2005.
Despite being weakened by his battle with esophageal cancer, on Sept. 1 – about two weeks prior to his death – Meissner led a field trip for about 30 members of the geology study group to which he belonged – “Geology and Mining History Along a Portion of the Mineral Belt Trail, Leadville, Colo.”
Eulogists at his funeral included a past student and AAPG member Bob Raynolds; past Powers Medalist, past AAPG president and CSM colleague Robert Weimer; and Ray Thomasson, also a past AAPG president and Meissner’s prospect partner in a well that is now drilling.
Thomasson told a story related by Meissner’s Shell friend and protégé Larry Meckel that typified Meissner’s philosophy and style of teaching:
“Fred said that petroleum geology is a science and the application of petroleum geology is an art form. Just as in fly-fishing, you have to start with the right equipment and you have to know how to use that equipment – that’s the science. But to be successful you have to think like a fish – that’s the art form.
“Translated by Fred, to be successful at finding oil and gas you have to think like a bubble of oil and gas. Where and how was it matured, how did it travel through the rocks and why and where was the logical place for it to end up.”
Meissner’s posthumous awarding of the Powers Medal is in the memory of a rare explorationist – not only could he find oil, he could teach others how to find it. He could think like a bubble of oil.