AAPG is the reason I have a rewarding career in the petroleum industry.
I graduated high school in 1976 in the village of Elmira Heights, located in southern central New York. I was the first generation in my family to attend college and I didn’t know what courses to take or career path to follow. I was an “A” student who loved music and hiking on the glacially sculpted hills behind our house. Earth science was not taught in our schools, so I had no idea about the area geology nor about geoscience careers.
Our school guidance counselor was more of a disciplinarian than someone who provided guidance about college, so I sought out the advice of a high school teacher I respected: Mr. Rainer taught geography and was as passionate about the subject as he was about teaching. He suggested classes that would get me involved with the Middle East because of its growing role in global economics. OPEC was gathering strength and the oil embargo was soon to follow.
I attended the State University of New York at Binghamton (now Binghamton University), and having always done well in science and math, I signed up for those prerequisite courses and, as recommended, took Arabic as one of my electives. The spring of my sophomore year, I was fortunate my Arabic professor, Dr. Joseph Bell, recognized that I was still searching for direction and told me I needed to take a geology class because “the Middle East means oil” and geologists are needed to develop the resource.
A Blend of Science and Art
Dr. Paul Enos taught introductory geology that year. His lectures and countless acetate overheads from geoscience journals and books in the pre-PowerPoint and Internet era demonstrated that geology is a blend of science and art. The physical principles that control geologic processes could be explained with equations or artistically drawn and visualized with contours. That semester, I discovered geology is a science that explains the geomorphology of the hills I loved to hike, is both analytic and intuitive, and would be my college major.
I didn’t comprehend what I would “do” with a degree in geology until I heard a presentation by Binghamton alumna and AAPG Visiting Geologist Susan Landon. Susan was an Amoco (now BP) exploration geologist and in her tailored tweed suit, was the model of a late 1970s career woman. As she vividly described and illustrated petroleum exploration geology with her 35-millimeter slide presentation, I began to see that paleontology, stratigraphy and structure were no longer lab and field exercises but useful tools for creating “prospects.” Susan was my first AAPG role model. The next semester I signed up for a course in petroleum geology and committed to doing an honors thesis.
I graduated with a bachelor of science in geology with honors in 1980 and I received the Glenn G. Bartle Award for Excellence in Geology. Bartle was a geologist, oil finder and AAPG Emeritus Member. His AAPG Bulletin memorial in 1979 cites, “In 1966, Glenn came back to his office in the geology department at SUNY-Binghamton to re-commence the profession he loved well – geologist and oil finder.”
AAPG Conferences and Connections
AAPG’s Annual Convention was in Denver, Colo. in 1980 so, armed with my degree in geology, I purchased a one-way plane ticket to Denver because I knew I was going to work in the petroleum industry. I remember the convention and listening in fascination to the language of exploration and development geology in the oral sessions, being overwhelmed by the petro-slang in the Exhibits Hall, and the standard geologist conversational phrases, “I work on the … formation” or “I work the … basin.” It was a new language to learn. It was also a harsh reality. My four-year degree condensed into two years qualified me to be a mudlogger.
My first job was on a drill rig with cuttings and core, not for oil and gas, but with the U.S. Geological Survey Uranium and Thorium Branch. Continuing to look for petroleum opportunities, a year later I went to the chief of the USGS Oil and Gas Branch and author of AAPG best-selling book “Color Guide to Carbonates,” Peter Scholle, and asked to be transferred to his group. He told me about a project in the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas. My enthusiasm and interest in carbonates must have shown. He arranged for the transfer and for me to be a student volunteer for an AAPG field course he co-taught with Robert Halley on the Guadalupe and Sacramento Mountains. That trip would cement a lasting interest in the Permian Basin and carbonate reservoirs.
After that AAPG field course with petroleum geologists, I registered for an evening seminar series on depositional models in petroleum exploration and production. It was networking in that seminar series that lead to my first job working for an oil company. Paul Crevello, a Marathon Oil geologist in the class, was planning to do field work on the Jurassic carbonates in Morocco. He was looking for a geologist who spoke some French and Arabic to be a field assistant. I could do that!
I resigned from the USGS for a “boots on the ground” education in carbonate stratigraphy.
I was now fully committed to graduate school and to work in the petroleum industry. I became an AAPG member in 1984, graduated with a master’s in geology from the University of Colorado in 1985, and began working full time as a reservoir geologist at Marathon’s Denver Research Center.
AAPG – Courses and Committees
During my three years at the Research Center I never stopped learning. It was at two AAPG short courses – on reservoir geology by Bob Sneider and reservoir engineering by John Farina – that sealed my future as a reservoir geologist.
In 1988 I asked for a transfer to the Midland, Texas production office.” I wanted to learn more about field operations to apply new technology to development projects.
My 15 years in Midland were some of the best of my career. The West Texas outcrops, subsurface geology and the people who worked it were exceptional. We participated in some of the first 3-D reservoir characterization projects, implemented fractured reservoir co-production projects and witnessed the birth of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs. Together we organized symposia, field trips, short courses and core workshops to share that knowledge.
In Midland, I also began to take on committee work and leadership roles within AAPG. Bill Morgan of the Union Oil Company of California asked me to be a committee member and then mentored me to become chair of the AAPG Grants-in-Aid Committee. As the head of a global committee, the GIA chair met with leaders on the International Liaison Committee (prior to the formation of AAPG regions). I was introduced to one of my most influential AAPG role models, Pinar Yilmaz of ExxonMobil. Pinar took the time to discuss international growth strategies and connect me with her diverse and international network that continues to serve me well today!
My work as chair of the GIA Committee caught the eye of Robbie Gries, the first female president of AAPG and inspiration to many. She cornered me at the 1999 Convention in San Antonio and said, “I need a ‘Denise Cox’” which led to a chain-reaction of AAPG committee chair appointments, my appointment as AAPG Student Focus Committee manager, and eventually to serving as secretary on the AAPG Executive Committee in 2012-14.
AAPG – My Career Partner
My experience of learning to lead through AAPG committee work paralleled my multidisciplinary team lead roles within Marathon. My technical knowledge served me well when I transferred back to Denver in 2002 to work coalbed methane and unconventional reservoirs in the Powder River Basin. My global network rescued me a year later when a force transfer and Denver-Houston commute became impractical. With respect, I resigned from Marathon and became a consultant for Storm Energy, Ltd., the company my husband Kurt Cox established.
In 2009, Kurt and I moved to Panama City, Fla. to be with family. AAPG and DataPages became and remain my lifeline to the petroleum industry. As an AAPG Certified Petroleum Geologist, the Division of Professional Affairs provides my global geoscience credentials.
I transitioned from a global technical consultant to vice president of Storm Energy as I became more involved with acquisitions and learned “the business of the business.” In 2016, Kurt embarked on a career change as a writer and I stepped up to the role of president of Storm Energy.
That was also the year I was nominated to stand for AAPG president. In this role, my technical knowledge, business skills and professional network are helping AAPG. I am honored to have the opportunity to speak about the petroleum industry and the vital role we play in sustainable energy development. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my career story with current and future geoscientists about the importance of being a Member of AAPG.
What Sustains You This Month
I’m writing the President’s Column while sitting a conventional, vertical, wildcat well. You only have one chance to hear, smell, see, feel, and – yes – taste the reservoir. To know that the idea you generated or the project you invested in has value because of your understanding of the petroleum system, stratigraphy, depositional facies and diagenesis. To be on location anxiously watching the geolograph and mudlog tick down to the pay. To see the mudlog gas show and blow the horn to stop drilling and circulate bottoms up. To call for the DST and yelp when gas-to-surface lights the blewie line and flares across the pits. To hold back tears when pipe after pipe breaks and it’s oil. To sigh in relief when the logs confirm the pay thickness and saturations are economic.
Rank exploration. Calculated risk. This is one of the joys of being a petroleum geoscientist. This is why we are AAPG. #AAPGSustainsMe