When Shane Matson was in college he received a collection of geological studies.
The books had sentimental value in his family, but they were a little overwhelming for a student with limited living space.
“It was 15 boxes of books, and when you’re in college you’re thinking, ‘What am I going to do with this? These are maps of Osage County. That will never be relevant,’” recalled Matson, now an AAPG member and a geologist with Spyglass Energy Group in Tulsa.
The collection of studies was compiled by his great-grandfather, George C. Matson, a famed petroleum geologist. George Matson served as the fifth president of AAPG, following the estimable (and near-legendary) Wallace Pratt.
Shane Matson earned his degrees in geology from the University of Arkansas and joined Tulsa-based Ceja Corp. in 2003, initially working with Ceja’s seismic crew as a juggie and eventually getting an assignment to work a horizontal Mississippian chat play in – where else? – Osage County, Oklahoma.
George Matson had made his fortune there. He acquired a lease in an area that turned out to be the heart of the Burbank Field, a super giant major mid-continent oil discovery that ultimately produced more than 120,000 barrels per day.
By fall of 2003, Shane Matson was working on a horizontal well play in the Osage County tripolitic chert, “just a township away from where my great-grandfather bought a lease that changed his life,” he said.
“It was probably the opportunity of a lifetime for me. The only horizontal wells of real importance in Oklahoma at that time were coalbed methane,” he noted.
Ceja’s vice president of exploration, AAPG member Ron Snyder, allowed Matson and two colleagues (engineer Dan Jacobs and AAPG member Ron Haveman) the chance to run with a development project in the Osage County chat.
They were not exactly familiar with the concept.
“I had never heard of the words ‘tripolitic chert’ before,” Matson recalled. “Welcome to one of the most complex reservoirs in the country,” Matson recalled friend, fellow AAPG member and managing partner of Spyglass Energy Group Charles Wickstrom as saying.
The first challenge for the three was, “none of us had ever drilled a Mississippian chat well,” he said. “Collectively, we had five years’ experience among us – we had drilled three or four horizontal wells in the Mississippi chat before we drilled our first vertical!
“It was a great experience,” he added. “‘Geosteering’ was not even coined as a word, so far as we knew, but the three of us managed to put together a methodology that allowed us to learn as we went along – and learn what we did.”
George Matson had a different career path. He left the family farm and went to college to become a doctor, but decided to pursue geology instead.
“He was a very interesting person, like a lot of these explorers who were born in the late 1860s and the 1870s,” Shane Matson said. “He was born in Nebraska in a sod hut and was raised, I think, with eight sisters.”
After earning a master’s degree in geology from Cornell University, George Matson went to the University of Chicago to study for a doctorate.
His son – and Shane Matson’s grandfather – Tom Matson, a retired petroleum geologist living in Tulsa, who also has an oil finding legacy, picks up the story:
“Dad had finished his academic work in 1910, but they wouldn’t give him his degree unless he appeared in person to accept it. He wasn’t about to come back from abroad just to do that,” Tom Matson said.
By that time, George Matson had been recruited by the Mellon family, chief financiers of Gulf Oil, and sent to Colombia to study the possibility of acquiring an oil and gas concession.
“They’d go on Mellon’s private yacht to South America. They took three geologists – another one of them was Shorty Wilson,” Tom Matson recalled.
George Matson was recruited into the oil business at the University of Chicago and asked to name his starting salary.
“Dad asked for a couple of thousand dollars a year,” a significant amount of money in those days, Tom Matson said.
Later, George Matson asked the recruiter how much he’d been prepared to pay. The answer was, “You’d be sick if I told you,” his son recalled.
At about the same time, the noted petroleum geologist Arville Irving (A.I.) Levorsen was beginning his career in Texas and Oklahoma; in the 1920s he lived across the street from George Matson.
In a eulogy, Pratt later said:
“Levorsen’s genius for teaching enabled him so to express his ideas on the occurrence of oil, on the nature of oil fields and on the art of oil-finding as to make them intelligible to all men. As a result, his presence as a speaker at their annual conventions was sought just as eagerly by the independent oil-producers as by his fellow geologists.”
It was summer in Oklahoma, and Shane Matson initially wasn’t sure about the wisdom of taking on the horizontal well project or his own choice of career path.
“It was a questionable move, going to Osage County in August,” he said. “The ticks and chiggers are just terrible.”
And maybe there is something about August in Osage County, but by June 2005 the company had drilled 17 successful horizontal Mississippian tripolitic chert exploitation wells there.
Shane Matson said “a lot of buzz” developed around Mississippian exploration in northern Oklahoma.
“There is a lot of interest in the Mississippian,” he said. “The problem there is, it’s very hard to get your hands on what’s happening and who is doing what. Within our own companies it is hard to know what is happening.”
So he and his colleagues decided to write a paper about their experience in the Oklahoma Mississippian tripolitic chert, with the idea, “Now that the dust has settled, how did things work out?”
“The three of us had known the project was successful, but we were going so fast and furious we never had the chance to look back and see what happened,” he said. “We would drill a couple of wells, get them online, then drill another two.
“We rarely looked at the production profiles of each well.”
George Matson and his wife were expecting a child in 1917. The Mellons sent their yacht to bring the couple back to Tulsa.
“Dad went to work for Gulf and he took the streetcar, which went right up Main Street. He was chief geologist for (Gulf’s) Gypsy Oil Company,” Tom Matson said.
Gulf started Gypsy Oil to handle its Oklahoma production operations. Gypsy’s offices in Tulsa were in a brick building at Cameron Street and North Cincinnati Avenue, now home to the Gypsy Coffee House.
“George left Gypsy in the mid ‘20s and went to work for J.B. Schermerhorn, where he worked until 1929,” he recalled. “He had made a bunch of money in the Burbank and he eventually retired. He found a nice little oil field for Schermerhorn in the 1920s, right by the town of Garnett, Kansas.”
That field had the unusual distinction of paying out all of its discovery costs in one week, he said.
In the late 1920s the United States was entering a period of economic decline, leading to vocal criticism of the nation’s treasury secretary. That happened to be A.W. Mellon, who had sent the recruiter to Chicago who brought George Matson into the family’s oil business.
By that time, George Matson had sold out his leasehold in the Burbank field and was independently wealthy.
“That was the lease that really allowed my great-grandfather to do what he loved, which was the science,” Shane Matson said.
“With the Depression hitting, dad was sitting on top of the world,” recalled Tom Matson.
During the next two decades AAPG built up a strong meetings program, high on attendance and collegiality – but lacking in the area of presentations. The skilled delivery of someone like Levorsen was a rare exception.
“They were having a hell of a time with the society,” Tom Matson said. “The talks were lousy and they were terribly delivered. They were just dreadful.”
AAPG’s leadership decided to institute an award for the best paper presented at the annual meeting, to encourage improvements.
On behalf of AAPG’s convention department, the Matson family was approached by the distinguished geologist Elmer W. Ellsworth.
“Lefty Ellsworth promoted me for some money, and I said, ‘Sure, we’d be glad to.’ We just gave them a bundle of money,” Tom Matson said.
That established the George C. Matson Memorial Award, given each year at AAPG’s annual convention in recognition of the best AAPG paper presented at the convention the previous year.
A separate award was established for the best papers presented at AAPG section meetings. The A.I. Levorsen Memorial Award recognizes the best paper presented at each of those meetings, with particular emphasis on creative thinking toward new ideas in exploration.
The award is perpetuated by the Levorsen Memorial Award Fund, established in 1966 by Levorsen’s friends to create a lasting memorial to him.
At the AAPG Mid-Continent Section meeting in October 2009, Shane Matson and his co-authors Ron Haveman and Dan Jacobs received the Levorsen Award for their paper, “Exploitation of the Mississippi Chat Using Horizontal Well Bores in Osage County, Oklahoma.”