The Value of Exploration

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

This edition of EXPLORER began with President Paul Weimer presenting a detailed analysis of membership trends in the Association. It’s an important topic because these trends are harbingers of AAPG’s future – and they should force serious thinking about how we recruit and retain tomorrow’s members.

That may look significantly different than it does today.

But I’d like to close this month’s issue with some thoughts on one of the core aspects of our science and profession: Exploration. It’s a fundamental human drive that has attracted past generations into petroleum geology.

I’m currently reading Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium. Tyson regularly lectures and hosts science television programs to promote science literacy – and, like Carl Sagan a generation ago, he is an unabashed promoter of space exploration.

Despite its high price tag, Tyson argues that the value of space exploration is twofold:

  • First, it advances science and technology in many disciplines, often serendipitously.
  • Second, bold challenges – such as putting a man on the moon – inspire the best and brightest to pursue science and engineering careers.

Achieving something so audacious is inherently motivating. Absent such a goal, it is little wonder that in the past decade so many quantitative Ph.Ds. chose instead to pursue careers in financial engineering.

Exploration doesn’t happen in a vacuum (except for space exploration, of course). There are factors that drive humans to explore, and Tyson suggests three:

♦ Military competition.

Space exploration has its roots in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is no accident that nearly all of NASA’s astronauts were military aviators. And only one scientist ever walked on the moon: Apollo 17’s Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, a geologist and AAPG Honorary Member.

♦ Honor and glory.

There are bragging rights to being first to explore or achieve something. As a boy I was inspired by mountaineer Reinhold Messner’s feats of scaling Mt. Everest – the highest point on Earth – alone and without oxygen. To an armchair mountaineer that is a superhuman accomplishment.

More recently, explorer and filmmaker James Cameron dove the Marianas Trench – the deepest point on Earth – and demonstrated that we still have much to explore on this planet.

♦ Commercial.

Finally there are the commercial interests that drive exploration. That certainly characterized early traders and explorers – looking for faster or better paths to obtain goods, or deliver them to market. Finding and producing natural resources fits this category, as does the emerging commercial space industry looking to take away the government monopoly on space travel that has existed to present.

The commercial reward of finding and developing oil and natural gas certainly fuels the exploration drive of many AAPG members. But so does the recognition that comes from finding and communicating new scientific discoveries and breakthroughs. It’s all exploration.

Fact is, our profession and industry are advancing the frontiers of science. And we’re doing so to meet the daily energy needs of a growing global population.

Ensuring an affordable and plentiful global energy supply is an audacious challenge. Energy is the foundation of modern society and enables mankind to explore the stars and the depths.

Can we craft a compelling narrative to attract the best and brightest into the energy geosciences, and to foster that spirit of exploration in the next generation?

It starts with that dream and desire to do important work.

“There are a lot of things I have to do to become an astronaut,” says four-year-old Cyrus Corey in Space Chronicles. “But first I have to go to kindergarten.”

That’s a great plan, Cyrus. And take a class in geology the first chance you get.

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Director's Corner

Director's Corner - David Curtiss

David Curtiss is an AAPG Member and was named AAPG Executive Director in August 2011. He was previously Director of the AAPG GEO-DC Office in Washington D.C.

The Director's Corner covers Association news and industry events from the worldview perspective of the AAPG Executive Director.

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