The famous phrase “I a geologist” is one from a young man 29 years of age named Charles Darwin. After his introduction to geology at the age of 21 by Adam Sedgwick, Darwin would eventually embark on the famous voyage of the Beagle which lasted from 1831 to 1836. He would soon thereafter publish in 1839 “Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Around the World, under the Command of Capt. Fitzroy, R.N.” In 1842, he published “The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs. Being the First Part of the Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle, under the Command of Capt. Fitzroy, R.N. during the years 1832 to 1836,” and in 1844, “Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, together with Some Brief Notices of the Geology of Australia and the Cape of Good Hope, Being the Second Part of the Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle.” And in 1846, he published “Geological Observations on South America. Being the Third Part of the Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle.” Prior to his extensive work in evolutionary biology with the 1859 publication of “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life,” his early published works focused on the formation of coral reefs, paleontology, rock cleavage, petrography, the structure of the earth, the formation of rocks and his efforts to create a “simple” geology based on an understanding of the vertical motions of the earth’s crust, elevation and subsidence. At the age of 29, Darwin transformed himself from young man to naturalist and yes, a geologist, referring to himself in his notebook as, “I a geologist have ill-defined notion of land covered with ocean, former animals, slow force cracking surface &c (sic) truly poetical.”
I bring this up because of the importance of how we define ourselves. How we define ourselves reinforces our perception of the relevance of what we do. Being relevant means having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand – that being how we decide to spend our time, assuming that we spend our time with pursuits that matter to us.
The same goes for organizations and how they promote the importance of such concepts as environmental stewardship and sustainability as they are applied in the context of social, economic and environmental interactions. How an organization spends its time and resources define its relevance. It was relevant to Charles, it is relevant to AAPG and it is relevant to us as individuals.
During my tenure as president of the Division of Environmental Geosciences, I have had the opportunity to illuminate some of these concepts and bring them closer to the forefront, reinforced by a new national “America First Energy Plan” that endorses them. However, based on the importance and relevance of such concepts as environmental stewardship and sustainability as it is applied to the energy sector, we do not see this relevance expressed in DEG membership, and I ask: Why? The overall membership of DEG makes up about 2 percent of the total membership of AAPG. Domestically, the Gulf Coast section makes up a little over a third of the membership, followed by the Eastern section at about 18 percent and the remaining sections hovering around 10 percent each. International membership makes up about 16 percent of DEG’s membership. This is not a very large sector of the whole and I found myself questioning why DEG’s membership was not more than it is.
Something is not right and my concern is not without foundation.
Environmental Stewards By Any Other Name
As I listened to the oral presentations and toured the various posters presented at the sectional and leadership meetings I attended during my tenure as DEG’s president, I would ask students and professionals two primary questions: how do they professionally define themselves and what exactly they do in their day-to-day working lives?
An appreciable number of responders defined themselves as petroleum geologists, structural geologists, exploration geologists, petroleum geochemists, seismologists, quaternary geologists and glaciologists, etc., notably, based on their academic training and current position in the workforce.
However, when I inquired as to what they actually did for work, day in and day out, I was not disappointed. The responses included permitting and land use, environmental studies (i.e., under the National Environmental Protection Act, or at the state level under such regulatory program like the California Environmental Quality Act, etc.), co-produced and wastewater management, which included induced seismicity and water quality studies associated with underground injection operations, aquifer exemptions, responding to oil spills and gas leaks, dealing with well integrity and abandoned well issues, and fugitive emissions and air quality monitoring programs, to name a few. Some were engaged in litigation involving environmental issues and impacts, climate change discussion, public hearings and outreach efforts. The majority were occupied with a preponderance of regulatory-compliance related activities.
What all these activities have in common is that these individuals are all environmental stewards in one form or another. Their activities have a significant environmental component – they are environmental stewards, they are environmental geologists. I define myself as an environmental geologist. Formally trained in petrology and geochemistry, I found that, throughout my 40 years of professional practice, just about everything I have worked on had an environmental component. In many cases, a significant one. Thus, over the years I realized I was not an engineering geologist nor a geochemist or a regulatory geologist. Yes, I was scientifically and technically trained in these areas, but with regard to what I contributed most, in my view, was being a responsible environmental steward. When boiled down to its elemental form, it was all about being a responsible environmental steward in the areas in which I roamed and of which I wanted to be a part.
My areas of interest were past, present and soon-to-be industrial sites. These included nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal and other energy-related sites and facilities, hazardous waste landfills, oil and gas fields, refineries and tank farms, and mining operations. Industrial sites are fascinating not only for their necessity and usefulness, but also from an historical and environmental perspective.
There is a term for a specific form of this affliction: environmental tourism. These are locations where communities and companies celebrate their industry’s history and technology and promote self-motivation and high safety standards. Like a forbidden fruit that should not be enjoyed, these are symbols of society’s growth over time. These are sites and destinations where a particular type of expertise from the past, present or future is showcased to the public. These include industrial heritage tourism, companies that open their doors to visitors to highlight their technology and methods or scientific tourism.
These destinations that celebrate sites such as cosmetic plants, breweries, bullet trains and underground salt mines are all over the world: France, Germany, the Philippines and Poland. In the United States, consider the Ford’s assembly plant in Detroit, the Naval Yard in Brooklyn or Virginia’s Belle Isle, or the numerous oil and gas fields and mine sites throughout the country.
I live in such an area: the Mother Lode, an area whose natural landscape was devastated by hydraulic mining while providing a venue for unsurpassed growth and development of a new land.
From an oil and gas perspective, think of the THUMS Islands off Long Beach, Calif., the Drake’s Well Museum and Park in Titusville, Pa., and the numerous oil and gas museums and fields throughout the country. And note that the more successful we are in the development of a field, urban encroachment and infrastructure pressures follow. Being involved and engaged with the history of our industry and profession and promoting public outreach, introduced me to concepts like sustainability and environmental stewardship for the industries that have provided a quality of life and societal benefits historically unsurpassed.
Rethink Your Self-definition
Why DEG membership is reflective of a small sector of the AAPG family in my humble view is simply a matter of how we define ourselves. We are all environmental stewards, and as you attend the various meetings and conventions and take notice of the many topics dealing with environmental issues in the petroleum industry – induced seismicity, underground injection, waste water management, soil and groundwater contamination assessment and mitigation, well integrity, abandoned oil and gas wells, climate change, fugitive emissions and carbon capture, storage and utilization – consider being a part of DEG. If you think you are not an environmental geologist, maybe you should think again. If you are not a member of DEG, maybe you should be. If Charles were alive today, I suspect he would be.