Putting Petroleum Geology in Layman’s Terms

It’s hard to read a newspaper these days without seeing an article about oil.

The dramatic slump in oil prices since late 2014 and its effect on prices at the pump has received significant coverage. And here in North America the derailments of several trains transporting hydrocarbons, resulting in large fires, have focused attention on safety measures and further heightened the debate surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline.

Add to these topics the subjects of earthquakes, climate change and clean air initiatives and there is no end to the opportunities to provide our friends and neighbors with factual scientifically accurate information.


Recently I was speaking with Rebecca Dodge, chair of the AAPG Public Outreach Committee, about how we can best prepare our members to engage in these types of conversations.

Dr. Dodge is an associate professor of geosciences at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and has a diverse background in petroleum geology, environmental sciences and remote sensing. She also is passionate about communicating good geoscience and broader energy issues with the general public, starting in the classroom.

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It’s hard to read a newspaper these days without seeing an article about oil.

The dramatic slump in oil prices since late 2014 and its effect on prices at the pump has received significant coverage. And here in North America the derailments of several trains transporting hydrocarbons, resulting in large fires, have focused attention on safety measures and further heightened the debate surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline.

Add to these topics the subjects of earthquakes, climate change and clean air initiatives and there is no end to the opportunities to provide our friends and neighbors with factual scientifically accurate information.


Recently I was speaking with Rebecca Dodge, chair of the AAPG Public Outreach Committee, about how we can best prepare our members to engage in these types of conversations.

Dr. Dodge is an associate professor of geosciences at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and has a diverse background in petroleum geology, environmental sciences and remote sensing. She also is passionate about communicating good geoscience and broader energy issues with the general public, starting in the classroom.

One of the things Rebecca and I discussed was the fact that there are a lot of resources already available to support these conversations. And rather than creating additional material, she and her committee are working to identify and evaluate these resources and post links to them on the committee’s Web page at www.aapg.org for AAPG members and others to use.

Most of the petroleum-related issues currently in the news require a foundational understanding of how oil and natural gas fit into global energy consumption, and they’re rarely presented with that context.

The resources currently posted online come from SPE’s Energy4Me program, the AGI’s Earth Science Week and the National Energy Education Development project. They’re focused on the K-12 audience – some for younger children and some for older kids.

But that doesn’t mean they’re simplistic.

In fact, in my experience, if you can convey energy and science information at an eighth grade level you’re probably going to communicate effectively to a general audience.

That is much tougher than it sounds, particularly for trained professionals such as AAPG members. We sprinkle a remarkable amount of jargon into our conversations about energy and geoscience. And we take for granted that our neighbor has ever really thought about the ground under his or her feet. It’s dirt and rock, right?

But then you start talking about drilling for oil, and their mental image is of a straw poking into an oil-filled underground cave.


In a sense we’ve got to “un-train” ourselves and then retrain ourselves to clearly convey these basic energy and science principles so that our audience can understand. But it is possible – and emulating someone who does it well is a good way to learn this new approach to communicating.

By now most of you have either seen or at least heard of “Switch,” the award-winning energy documentary by Harry Lynch and past AAPG president Scott Tinker.

But the film was just the beginning.

If you surf over to www.switchenergyproject.com you’ll find a host of additional Energy 101 videos discussing energy issues and resources. They have also released a new series of Energy Lab videos. These videos are publicly accessible and they’ve developed a program to support educators with the ability to download curricula and the videos to use in the classroom.

You may never make your own documentary or develop your own outreach materials about energy and geoscience. But there are a lot of resources already out there.

Do you have any particular favorites?

If so, please reach out to Rebecca and the public outreach committee with your recommendations.

Petroleum and geoscience are fundamental building blocks of modern society. Many people don’t know that.

It’s up to us to help our family and friends understand.

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