Making a Difference

Angola Field Trips Are Geology – And More

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
Tako Koning
Tako Koning

AAPG award-winning geologist Tako Koning doesn’t need to be schlepping through the oil seeps, dotted with abandoned land mines, in the Barra do Dane and Libongos regions of Angola, leading a group of shaking and frightened tourists, students and geoscientists on a geological tour – many wondering if it’s safe to use the nearby bushes for a bathroom break.

In case you’re going, make a note: It’s not.

“So why do I lead these field trips?”

Koning has a way of anticipating the questions.

It must be for the passion, for it’s certainly not for the paycheck.

“I lead the trips on a volunteer basis – no one pays me to do this.”

So, this time, I ask the question.

“I like to share my knowledge of the fascinating geology of this area,” he says, simply.

Angola’s Dande River, a popular picnic site for field trip groups: Rest, food and geology. Photo courtesy of Angola Field Group
Angola’s Dande River, a popular picnic site for field trip groups: Rest, food and geology. Photo courtesy of Angola Field Group

“This area” is Angola.

For him, it’s a long way from home.

Except for him, it now is home.

Koning, who received AAPG’s Public Service Award in 2010 after a lifetime of mixing humanitarian aid with his science on a global basis, was born in Holland, but raised in Canada. It was there, at 21, he started a 40-plus-year career by working for Texaco. He also has published more than 100 papers and abstracts, received awards, and been acknowledged in journals and magazines.

Over that span, he’s had positions in Indonesia, Nigeria and, lastly, Angola.

He retired about 10 years ago … for about a half hour.

He’s now in his second career, and still in Angola, where he worked as a consultant for Tullow Oil and now holds a similar position in Luanda with Gaffney, Cline and Associates.

But what has him passionate these days, really for the last eight at the time of the interview, has been the field trips that he has been leading in Angola – trips he calls “Geology Field Trips with a Difference.”

They have been designed and planned so visitors and natives can experience the geologic wonders of a country he has come to love – and along the way, experience a few of its heartaches, as well.

As he says, “It provides people the opportunity to visit, as part of a group, a beautiful area of Angola.”

War and Peace

Koning has led approximately 20 trips over the past eight years, which means close to 800 people have seen from a geologic perspective this war-torn, yet often pristine place.

Specifically, he shows his group outcrops that are lovely to view and, for explorationists, important clues to the subsurface.

“I also show them interesting and historically significant oil seeps that have formed rich asphalt deposits,” he said.

He then talks about the wonders of having lunch at an outcrop consisting of fractured Precambrian granites.

“The attendees are provided the opportunity to see rocks as young as Miocene sandstones to as old as 2.5-billion-year-old granite,” he said. “Not bad for a one day field trip.”

It’s not just about the rocks, though.

“It is more than that,” Koning said. “The area which we traverse is beautiful with rolling hills along the coastline and semi-rain forest in parts of the trip.”

He doesn’t go alone, often being joined by his wife, Henriette; the Angolan Field Group, which she started; military deminers; and members of the Society of Petrophysicists and Well Log Analysts.

“What makes these field trips a little different from geologic field trips in places like the USA, Canada or Europe is that the area we traverse was affected by military conflict,” Koning said. “There is a real and present danger of land mines in the area.”

Though Angola’s 37-year civil war ended in 2002, one can still find many of these land mines – as well as an abandoned Russian tank.

Still, peace and progress have now introduced a new kind of danger that goes beyond discarded weapons of war.

“In actual fact, the biggest rush on the field trips is not land mines,” Koning said, “but the possibility of traffic accidents.”

And that is because Angola, thanks largely to increased oil production, is experiencing boom times. The country’s population has increased from 0.5 million in 1975 to more than five million today. Oil production is up to almost two million barrels per day for this southern African nation.

(According to the CIA World Factbook, the country ranks 16th internationally in oil production – more than Libya.)

Talk About Geology

But with growth comes … traffic.

It’s a mess.

“I highlight the importance of defensive driving [and carpools are the mode of transportation to the sites],” he said, “but I must confess that I am always relieved when everyone returns safely back to Luanda.”

Everyone … including people who already live there.

“The trips are not only for expatriates,” he said, “but many Angolans.”

He says having Angolans join him is special. While the geoscientists on tour have wanted to explore the countryside for years, the people of Angola have been afraid to.

“During the civil war, Angolans did not leave their homes in Luanda (the capital) and venture into the countryside,” he explained, “so many of the Angolans on my field trips have not been to the areas which we visit.

“For me, it is very satisfying to be standing at a battle site near the Bengo River and explain to them the geology of the area and then discuss the battle that took place there in 1975 – a time just prior to the country’s independence from Portugal,” he added.

What’s most satisfying, he says, is what happens to his participants when the trip is over.

“Everyone benefits from information-sharing,” he says, equating this type of give-and-take with what occurs at any AAPG annual convention.

“From a broader view point,” he continued, “my opinion is that if people shared more information and communicated openly and effectively, the world would see much less conflict and there would be better standards of living.”

And fewer tanks and land mines.

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