Passion Play: Denver Rocks

Big crowds, big emotions produce a Rocky Mountain high

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

There was plenty of “passion” on hand in Denver at this year’s AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, but that’s only part of the story.

The rest of the story? There also were plenty of people.

Despite a stressed global economy as well as dark clouds over the industry for the first half of the year, the 2009 ACE brought together 7,452 enthusiastic oil and gas professionals from nearly 90 countries – the third largest number of convention attendees since the 1993 meeting in New Orleans.

“I was thrilled that our registration and attendance was as strong as it was,” said Randy Ray, Denver’s general chair. “Because of economic challenges and the swine flu outbreak we were conservative with our projections, but we exceeded our expectations significantly.”

Hosted by the Rocky Mountain Association of Petroleum Geologists and built on the theme “A Passion for the West Lives On: Are You In?” the conference featured more than 1,000 oral and poster presentations over three days, in addition to field trips and short courses spanning a week.

More than 260 exhibitors also were on hand to demonstrate the latest technologies and services available to the E&P industry – an offering that generated considerable traffic and excitement throughout the meeting’s three full days.

The same can be said about the meeting’s official start.

The opening session, in addition to drawing a standing-room-only crowd to the large Four Seasons Ballroom, featured entertainment, videos, emotional moments and inspiring words that brought much applause and excitement to the event.

The “traditional” opening started in a non-traditional way, featuring the sounds of the award-winning Rocky Mountain Children’s Choir and a surprise premiere showing of the “We Are AAPG” video (see related story, page 36). The session also featured words from Ray, a video sneak peek of Rio – destination for the 2009 International Conference and Exhibition –Scott Tinker’s inspiring presidential address and the emotional honors and awards ceremony.

“This year’s Opening Ceremony was very professional – just light years beyond what I’ve seen in the past,” Ray said. “Scott Tinker’s talk was just outstanding and reminded everyone that we are the minds that imagine the future.”

Session highlights included:

  • Tinker, after first describing the current global energy environment and noting the challenges looming in the coming decade, called on all to take personal responsibility for the world’s energy future.

“Efficiency and diversification are vital,” Tinker said. “We can and must be more efficient across the board in the way we use energy. As with stocks or real estate, the more diverse our energy options, the more secure we are.”

He described some of the options.

“There “likely will be a growing electrification of the vehicle fleet,” Tinker said. “Although it is difficult to know, thoughtful studies indicate that plug-in hybrid vehicles – those that run on liquids and electricity – represent a reasonable transition path to a more efficient car and light-truck future. The electricity must come from somewhere!

“Alternative energies – solar, wind, tides, waves and geothermal – can and must grow. My forecast doubles alternatives approximately every seven years; no easy task. These are not limited by resource – there is plenty of wind and sun – but rather by efficiency, economics, kinetics, thermodynamics, resource limits and technology, energy density and infrastructure. Quite simply, wind, waves, tides, biomass and solar are low-density ‘fuels’ that require a tremendous amount of infrastructure and Earth surface area, given current technology.

“A grand challenge in energy involves major improvements in electricity storage and smart, efficient transmission grids,” he said. “Battery technology has advanced, but batteries are still relatively inefficient, expensive and chemically intensive, and thus they represent an environmental challenge.”

Tinker concluded that “we must build a bridge into the future.

“Given these challenges, the transition from a fossil-energy present to an alternative-energy future will take time,” he said. “As with the building of any bridge, a solid foundation is vital. That foundation is fossil fuels.

“I am often asked, ‘How we can reach the policy makers?’ Perhaps it is not the policy maker who needs to be reached, as policy makers are simply instruments of the voting public. Poorly informed policies result from a poorly informed voter.

“If you want to influence a policy maker,” Tinker said, “educate her voter base.”

(Tinker’s complete speech can be found online at; and a video of the presentation.)

  • The annual honors and awards presentation ended with presentation of the Sidney Powers Memorial Medal to Marlin Downey – an emotional moment introduced by his daughter, Julie Garvin.

“What elevates and differentiates Dad beyond the level of a highly successful businessman is his regard for the human element of this business,” Garvin said. “He may have been the first to come out with the notion of the value of people, back when the exploration staff was just considered a large overhead expense and the first thing cut during tough times.”

Garvin quoted a “landmark” paper Downey wrote in 1992: “It all begins with people … profitable exploration requires wise investment of risk capital in people’s ideas,” he wrote.

“You can use all sorts of fancy risk management techniques, but if applied to poor exploration ideas (it) will not create an iota of value,” she said. “And in order to create great exploration ideas, you must invest in people and provide an environment that stimulates innovation.”

After a brief video presentation of Downey’s personal experiencesand professional career, Garvin said “as a public figure, this is how we’ve seen him as both the professional, and the man. But from my perspective, it’s his incredible warmth, down to earth style and his unquestionable honor and integrity that makes us all feel very lucky to be associated with him.”

“It’s why we honor him today.”

(A video of Garvin’s presentation and Downey’s acceptance of the Powers award can be found online at

Other convention highlights included:

  • All-Convention Luncheon speaker T. Boone Pickens spoke to a record luncheon audience of 1,200-plus about the future of energy, using an interactive Q&A format.

“(It) was wonderful,” Ray said. “The interview style went very well, and of course T. Boone Pickens is very entertaining to listen to.”

  • The Michel T. Halbouty Lecture featured Guilherme de Oliveira Estrella, director of exploration and production for Petrobras, who gave a comprehensive look at the company’s exploration history and hopes for the future.
  • Division of Professional Affairs Luncheon speaker John Hickenlooper, geologist-turned brewpub pioneer and current mayor of Denver, talked about public service and ways to become involved.
  • This year’s Management Forum, offering a business-world look at the profession and industry, featured Pete Carragher, BP’s vice president of geoscience and exploration; Mehmet Uysal, the Turkish Petroleum Corp.’s president and CEO; Lynda Armstrong, Shell’s technical vice president; Abdulla Al Naim, Saudi Aramco’s vice president of exploration; Sue Payne, ExxonMobil Exploration’s resource operations manager; Mike Bahorich, Apache’s executive vice president and technology officer; and Fernando Aguilar, CGG Veritas’ president-Eastern Hemisphere.

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