The Passion and Precision of an 'Explorationist'

Larry Meckel Wins Sidney Powers Memorial Award

“So what?”

In his long career, going on 50 years, he routinely asks that question, not to dismiss, but to challenge both students and co-workers.

He is presently an adjunct professor at the Colorado School of Mines where he teaches graduate level courses in advanced petroleum geology, recent sand models, unconventional petroleum systems, and geology and seismic signatures of reservoir systems.

“Classroom and field trip courses,” said Meckel, specifically about academia, “are only valuable if the observations can be used to answer the critical question of how do you use that information to find oil and gas.”

He has a name for people who ask such questions – a name for people like himself.

“The one word I would use to describe myself is ‘explorationist,’ regardless of what the target is,” said Meckel.

He calls it his first love.

It’s where his passion is and has always been, and he sees how it motivates others.

“To solve problems and to explore, be it for a new good restaurant, a new hiking trail or a new field is exciting,” he said.

But it's precise work, he noted, and it takes a laser-like focus.

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“So what?”

In his long career, going on 50 years, he routinely asks that question, not to dismiss, but to challenge both students and co-workers.

He is presently an adjunct professor at the Colorado School of Mines where he teaches graduate level courses in advanced petroleum geology, recent sand models, unconventional petroleum systems, and geology and seismic signatures of reservoir systems.

“Classroom and field trip courses,” said Meckel, specifically about academia, “are only valuable if the observations can be used to answer the critical question of how do you use that information to find oil and gas.”

He has a name for people who ask such questions – a name for people like himself.

“The one word I would use to describe myself is ‘explorationist,’ regardless of what the target is,” said Meckel.

He calls it his first love.

It’s where his passion is and has always been, and he sees how it motivates others.

“To solve problems and to explore, be it for a new good restaurant, a new hiking trail or a new field is exciting,” he said.

But it's precise work, he noted, and it takes a laser-like focus.

Meckel, who also won the 2011 Grover E. Murray Memorial Distinguished Educator Award, said,“Maybe that is why running critiques has always been a practical, hard hitting” journey, one where he has always tried to “connect the dots.”

A Career of Discovery

Meckel grew up in the refining town of Baytown, Texas, along the Houston ship channel, and like many geologists, his love of the science began early.

In his case, it began on family vacations, collecting rocks.

He went to Rice University where he earned a bachelor’s in geology in 1959, graduating with honors and a membership in Phi Beta Kappa. He then attended Johns Hopkins University for graduate studies. More importantly – and more on this in a minute – he met his future wife Barbara, also a geologist.

(Of their four children, incidentally, two are also geologists.)

After graduation, he spent time with Shell as a research geologist and then managed its Geologic Research Department in charge of geological, geochemical and seismic stratigraphy research. He was a partner and vice president of Sneider and Meckel Associates Inc. before forming his own company, L D Meckel & Company in 1981.

Along the way, he has been a Member of AAPG, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists and the Mexican Geological Society. During his career, in which he has published more than a dozen papers and authored more than 60 in-house studies and reports on various basins, stratigraphic units and play opportunities, Meckel has worked in almost every basin in North America and several on other continents.

“I am fortunate to have been party to major discoveries in all three main North American countries: Canada, the United States and Mexico,” said Meckel.

Milestones

To that end, he said, there were watersheds along the way that changed his life and career.

But there was one year in particular –1974.

Elmworth.

“At that time, my work gradually shifted to a new and not very well understood type of play – the unconventional tight gas accumulations. I was part of the large Hunter-SMA team that did the work leading to the giant Elmworth Field in the Alberta Basin. That success was indeed a career changer,” Meckel recounted.

Elmworth, the largest gas accumulation in Canada, he said, came along via log evaluations which showed that the Lower Cretaceous Falher sands in more than 50 existing dry holes covering more than 60 townships in the deep part of the Alberta Basin had movable gas at economic rates and no water.

“Facts like this are stubborn things, even in light of early unsuccessful wells. However, perseverance paid off and the discovery well was in 1976,” he said.

He tells a great story about doing helicopter outcrop mapping in British Columbia of part of the basin to accurately extend the trends emerging in Alberta. It was a new exploration fairway maybe 100 miles across.

“We identified the key beach conglomerates (sweet spots) in the same units in outcrop and could now draw a‚ ‘best bet’ lease line across the new area,” said Meckel.

He needed to relay the information, but there was only a bank of public telephones.

This was a big deal.

How to express his excitement while being discreet?

“I needed to convey that info back to John Masters (the late geologic legend), at the time, quickly and the only available phone was rather public with others standing by to report in to their companies. So I had to gamble and simply told John,‘I can hear the goddamn seagulls,’ hoping he would understand, referring to the exact statement he once made to me on a field trip standing on the beach at Galveston Island. He understood and hung up without a goodbye. That brief incident was later picked up and quoted in The Wall Street Journal,” Meckel said.

There were other seminal moments as well. In the early 1980s, Sandy McCormick in Houston connected him to the very early thinking and technology of horizontal drilling, the first necessary breakthrough to really efficiently produce these tight gas sands.

“Multistage fracs would come a decade later,” he noted.

The ‘I’ in ‘We’

Larry Meckel, this year’s AAPG Sidney Powers Memorial Award recipient, has always had his eye on the prize: the discovery.Inevitably, and somewhat parenthetically, when all AAPG award winners are contacted for stories like this –it’s almost a template – they talk about the help and support of people in the industry. Nothing wrong with that, obviously, but Meckel sends a list clearly delineating who’s responsible for what.

The list includes: Barney Bernard and Rufus LeBlanc (for research); Bob Sneider, J.T. Smith, John Masters, Jim Gray and Fred Meissner (for exploration); and Bob Weimer (for teaching).

Precision.

There are others, of course who inspired and molded him, but one stands out: Barbara Meckel, who he said has been an “absolute critical element all along” and someone who is his colleague, adviser and enthusiastic supporter. They are very much a team. Barbara, in fact, runs L D Meckel with him. Hearing him talk about her reminded me of something his close friend Edward Dolly, this year’s Michel T. Halbouty Outstanding Leadership Award, said about such partnerships.

“There’s an ‘I’ in ‘We.’”

One imagines that when Meckel receives the Sidney Powers in Houston in April, looking out at Barbara, who will no doubt be looking back, will be his greatest award.

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