Wold: A Pioneer With Sights on Tomorrow

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
John S. Wold
John S. Wold

You’ve heard that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?

John S. Wold, this year’s AAPG Pioneer Award recipient, admits that his life-long love of geology started as a boy digging through a dumpster.

It’s a memory that still brings a smile – how young John, when walking to public grade school from Union College where his father was head of the chemistry department, would pass by the college dump.

“In the dump were the geological deposits – used mineral samples from all over the world!” Wold recalled. “I would go in there and pick out the ones I liked. That got me interested in minerals.”

Since first digging his hands into geology, literally, Wold has accomplished and achieved more than most, politically and scientifically.

In fact, there’s a plethora of reasons why he’ll be honored in Houston – in areas as diverse as government policy, oil, gas, uranium, coal and soda ash – with the Pioneer Award.

Some of his accomplishments include:

  • Being chosen by the Associated Press and United Press International as “Wyoming Man of the Year” in 1968, “Wyoming Mineral Man of the Year” in 1978, “Oil/Gas and Mineral Man of the 20th Century” by the American Heritage Foundation of the University of Wyoming in 1999, and in 2001 being awarded AAPG’s Public Service Award.
  • Serving two-terms as Wyoming Republican state chairman, Republican state finance chairman and member of the Republican National Committee.
  • On a national political level, he was the first professional geologist to ever serve in the U.S. Congress (in the House of Representatives, 1969-71).
  • He also was the author and sponsor of the National Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970, which emphasized the need to strengthen national security by establishing a strong, domestic, free-enterprise mineral industry.
  • He introduced Exxon, Mobil, Sun, Mapco and other major players to the coal resources of the Rocky Mountains in the early 1970s.
  • In 1973, he founded the Wold Nuclear Company that discovered the Highland Uranium Mine, which became the largest uranium solution mine in the world.
  • He developed soda ash technologies that have shown the potential to revolutionize Green River operations, through his Wold Trona Company at Hazen Research and Colorado School of Mines Research Institute of Golden, Colo.

Wold, still active at 94, is the chairman and CEO of GasTech Inc., associated with British Petroleum Co. and Linc Energy of Australia, which are working on deep underground coal energy extraction technology.

He also is CEO of American Talc Company in Van Horn, Texas, which operates what is considered the largest and most efficient talc mine in North America.

Furthermore, he is a past director of K-N Energy; Empire State Oil Company; Midland Energy Company; National Association of Manufacturers; past chairman and CEO of Nuclear Exploration & Development Company, director of Sierra Madre Foundation for Geological Research, recent director of Plains Petroleum Company and of Coca Mines and chairman of the Wyoming Natural Gas Pipeline Authority.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Wold said. “I’m a dreamer, and I have been involved in some cutting edge activities in respect to mineral extractions.”

A Passion for Education

When asked what his motivation to continue on at 94 years old, and after having achieved so much already, Wold answered, “My motivation comes from doing something interesting in geology that can be financially rewarding, so that I can take care of some of these other crazy ideas that I have.”

One of his “crazy ideas” includes a mission to improve the state of the United State’s public schools.

“I’m very worried about the future of my country,” Wold said. “Between a quarter and a half of our high school students in America today never graduate – we’re dumping millions of uneducated kids into the labor force.

“And we’re going to pay for it in the years ahead,” he said, “unless we can get our public schools back in shape and competitive with what we’re facing abroad.

He believes there are two keys to improving education in America: improving parenting skills, and reforming the teacher unions.

“I think if I were in Congress, I would be very forceful in my thoughts with respect to public school education,” he added.

But, obviously, he’s no longer in Congress, so Wold continues to fight the battle to improve American public education by giving generously to many different schools and programs.

Particularly, he has contributed greatly by setting up chairs of science and religion at the University of Wyoming, Cornell and at Union College. He also recently funded a building at Union College that will house a program that brings engineering, art and social studies together.

“So many technical people have so little education in the arts and sciences of arts – and very few art people have understanding of science,” he said. “This program is designed to cover that shortage of educational background for scientists and for social studies majors.”

Besides education, Wold still holds passionate opinions on the state of America’s energy future – and has hope the industry will find a way to provide what’s needed.

He provided an example of how if an American company wanted to drill on federal land it would take two years to get permits, but if the Chinese wanted to drill on their land it would take only three days.

“That’s why most of the major drilling has to be done overseas where we can get permits, and we can do it in a quarter of the time,” he said. “That’s the difference.”

And so the man honored for pioneering efforts still has sights on the future.

“We usually don’t reach the ultimate goal we’ve dreamed of,” he concluded. “But ... in any event, you’ve made some difference, you think – and that’s what counts.”

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