One of the
highlights of last year's AAPG annual meeting in Houston was the
DPA/SIPES luncheon address by Michel T. Halbouty.
With a booming voice that belied his age — he was just three months
shy of 93 years — Halbouty gave a moving tribute to the heritage
of the petroleum geologist.
The guest list included the Who's Who of the international
world of petroleum geology. Halbouty, an AAPG past president, and
37 other distinguished geologists were honored at the luncheon.
"I was always extremely proud to be a geoscientist,
a student and disciple of the earth," Halbouty said in his tribute,
as he described what it takes to be a successful exploration geologist:
"To put it in the common vernacular, unmitigated
Each of the honorees hosted a table at the luncheon,
rubbing shoulders with students, retirees and working geologists,
and sharing their perspectives on where we've been and where we're
going as a profession.
In conversation with several of the honorees, it
became apparent that exploration geologists never really retire
— these oil finders possess an intrepid spirit that drives them
to reconfigure themselves, moving into new and valuable roles.
"Post-retirement" activities included starting new
oil and gas companies, joining academia, and mentoring and training
the next generation of oil finders.
Here's how four of them are keeping busy — and how
they described their own legendary works.
Don't Stop Now
Masters, an AAPG member honored at the luncheon, didn't take
mandatory retirement at age 65 from Canadian Hunter Exploration
lying down. "It was quite a blow," Masters said. "I had no intention
Ten years later, Masters is now president of Denver-based
DDX, an exploration company that he founded in the late 1990s. Masters'
formula for success is capitalizing on the "technical soft spots
in the industry." He built his career — and Canadian Hunter Exploration
— by exploiting by-passed pay zones in the Elmworth/Wapiti gas
field situated on the western flank of the Western Canadian Sedimentary
Elmworth/Wapiti, located in west-central Alberta
and adjacent British Columbia, is the classic example of a deep
basin (basin center) tight gas sands play. In 1979, Masters estimated
the field to contain 440 Tcf of gas (AAPG BULLETIN, V.63, Number
2). Today, Masters admits that this 1979 figure was based upon a
"sophomoric understanding" of Elmworth, and probably overstated
the field's recoverable reserves.
"The size of the recoverable reserves at Elmworth,"
he said, "is a moving target. It's a damn big number, and probably
exceeds 30 to 40 Tcf."
The key to the discovery of Elmworth/Wapiti in 1976,
explained Masters, was the development of an innovative technical
approach to identify by-passed pay in low porosity and permeability
Mesozoic sandstones and conglomerates. Canadian Hunter led the exploration
pack in the calibration of geological-petrophysical-reservoir engineering
data to exploit basin centered gas.
"The rocks," he said, "were more significant than
the electrical logs."
According to Masters, tight gas sands — or low quality
reservoirs — represent the future of exploration in North America.
"Gone are the days that an explorationist will find
100 millidarcy rocks on top of large anticlines," he said, suggesting
that basin centered gas, coalbed methane, oil shales, oil sands
and gas hydrates will play a vital role in satisfying North America's
projected appetite for energy.
Concerned by the growing trend of E&P companies
that are being driven by a financial versus an exploration mindset,
Masters lamented, "I think that explorationists in this country
have lost their souls." This sentiment echoes his 1984 comments
in AAPG Memoir 38, Elmworth — Case Study of a Deep Basin Gas Field:
"The discovery of a major oil or gas field onshore
in North America is a significant event to geologists. But, the
discovery of a super giant field in a subtle trap is so unique that
it fulfills the fondest hopes of all explorationists and confirms
their faith that the earth holds hidden treasures that cannot be
known by statisticians or economists."
Ensuring the Next Generation
J. Weimer, professor emeritus at the Colorado School of Mines
department of geology and geological engineering, began his career
with Union Oil Company of California, exploring West Texas and the
foothills of northern Montana and southern Alberta. He later became
a consultant specializing in the Rocky Mountains, the Green River
and Powder River Basins.
Weimer, a 52-year AAPG member, reflected upon his
exploration experience in the 1950s and 1960s, and how things have
"Today, we have the advance of knowledge regarding
the total petroleum fluid system," he said. "That helps explain
why some traps are filled and others aren't.
"Back then, we had trouble convincing people that
they should look at stratigraphic plays as having large potential."
He was, however, successful in selling some of his
stratigraphic plays, leading to oil and gas discoveries in the Green
River and Powder River Basins.
In 1957, Weimer joined the Colorado School of Mines
and taught applied courses in petroleum exploration and stratigraphy.
What prompted Weimer to leave exploration and go into academia?
"I thought it was better to train a couple of hundred
oil and gas geologists than to continue working myself."
Under Weimer's tutelage, between 2,500 to 3,000 geoscientists
have had the opportunity to take applied courses in oil and gas
exploration, either on campus at CSM or elsewhere in the world.
His courses usually involve a field component.
"I've always viewed training in the field as the
ground truth," Weimer said. "Books are written by men and women,
but they're sometimes wrong. The field is always right, if you can
Retirement in 1983 from CSM marked the beginning
of a new phase in Weimer's life — he went back to "hands-on" exploration.
He also continued to teach the principles of petroleum exploration,
and he served as AAPG president in 1991-92.
What advice did Weimer impart for the next generation
of petroleum geologists?
"It's a whole different ballgame today," he said.
"There's a strong emphasis for the young person to chart his or
her own career path.
"Whatever position young geologists accept, they
must excel in that position."
Equally important, Weimer advised young geologists
to become knowledgeable in managing their finances so that they
can ride out the cycles in the industry.
Finding the Niche
A. Gibbs, another AAPG past president, is chairman of Dallas-based
Five States Energy Company. He remembers a time when geologists,
geophysicists and engineers were not allowed to talk to each other
"We've come all the way from working in rigid professions
to total integration," he said.
Gibbs' greatest satisfaction has come from mentoring
and training young people, and seeing them become successful geologists
"I have always encouraged companies to bring on student
help," he said. "It's akin to the old guild system, like a geological
Gibbs recommended that geologists find their niche
in the profession of geology and develop their careers around it.
He has developed his niche in the business side of the oil and gas
"The AAPG," Gibbs said, "has always straddled the
fence between science, the business and the profession — yet geologists
are not trained well in capital formation."
Being able to work with financial people, however,
has enabled Gibbs to get his prospects drilled.
Yeilding to Success
in the petroleum industry take many forms: Included among the group
of distinguished geologists was Cindy Yeilding, who was the leader of the BP team responsible
for the 1999 discovery of Thunder Horse. Estimated to contain one
billion barrels of recoverable reserves, it's the most significant
discovery to date in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. Thunder
Horse is situated in 6,000 feet fo water in the Boarshead Basin,
some 125 miles southeast of New Orleans.
"The road that led to the Thunder Horse discovery
was a team effort," Yeilding said. "We came out of a string of dry
holes in the deep water; we went back to the basics; we ignored
seismic amplitudes; we did an elephant hunt for structures that
had good closure, fetch, focus and reservoir."
According to Yeilding, two critical factors led to
the discovery of Thunder Horse:
- Management remained committed — despite the string of dry
holes — to providing resources to the exploration team.
- Deepwater drilling technology caught up with the exploration
play, enabling BP to successfully drill and test the structure.
"BP is a cool place to work if you like exploration,"
She was being modest. Yeilding was, by far, the youngest
geologist honored at the luncheon that day.
"I kept thinking that it's not for me to be part
of this group," she commented, somewhat in awe of her surroundings.
In her late 30s at the time of the Thunder Horse
discovery, Yeilding has earned her stripes, joining the ranks of
legendary oil finders. She is focusing on the next exploration challenge
in her career.
Clearly, that's what legends do.