It’s About The Science

AAPG President John Lorenz presented a plaque from AAPG commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Col. Edwin Drake discovery of oil in Titusville, Pa., during ceremonies in late August at the Drake Museum in Titusville. From left is Barbara Zolli, director of the DrakeWell Museum, Lorenz, AAPG member Larry Woodfork – a member of the Oil 150 Celebration Committee – and, of course, Col. Edwin Drake (as per a locally hired actor).
AAPG President John Lorenz presented a plaque from AAPG commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Col. Edwin Drake discovery of oil in Titusville, Pa., during ceremonies in late August at the Drake Museum in Titusville. From left is Barbara Zolli, director of the DrakeWell Museum, Lorenz, AAPG member Larry Woodfork – a member of the Oil 150 Celebration Committee – and, of course, Col. Edwin Drake (as per a locally hired actor).

Don’t let anyone tell you differently: Geology is a difficultscience. Strictly speaking, geologists can’t use the scientific method of hypothesis-test-analysis-conclusion because most geologic problems deny us the critical experimentation stage. Instead, we’re presented with the superimposed results of several of nature’s ancient experiments and asked to sort them out. To add insults to the mix, we’re given only incomplete datasets with which to do the sorting, and we are evaluating rocks that are inaccessible in the subsurface.

The incomplete nature of the datasets makes it difficult to predict the attributes of a reservoir. Characterizing a reservoir with outcrop, core and geophysical data is akin to reconstructing the outlines and mechanics of an automobile using a couple of fenders from what might be a similar model found in a junkyard, a few samples of the paint and by looking at the car from a distance through a heavily smoked piece of glass. The reconstruction is aided by the theoretical knowledge that the car probably had four wheels and an engine. Is it a 1956 Buick or a 2009 Volvo? Such reconstructions are not easy, yet we consistently make them with a high enough degree of success to keep employers and investors happy.

Ourscientific and economic successes are due to our ability to think in four dimensions, both constrained and inspired by geologic theory. The ability to think in four dimensions results from formal education reinforced by experience. Geologists who have enough education and experience to be able to say “I’ve seen something like that before” are ahead of the game. Personal experience derived from longevity count for much in this profession, but no one can experience it all.

Enter AAPG.

Four of the seven purposes of AAPG, as outlined in our Constitution, are related to fostering and disseminating hydrocarbon-related geoscience: We are a science-based association.

Fosteringadvances the science, promoting and supporting research. AAPG helps push back the forefronts of science by supporting student research and providing the potential for connections between academia and industry. Programs are in the works to expand that support, including one that brings together industry funding, academic research, and the National Science Foundation.

Disseminationmakes sure that the results of research, whether fostered by AAPG or by other entities, becomes available to the people who can use it. Research that doesn’t get published or at least presented at a meeting might as well be a hobby. AAPG online and hardcopy publications, plus various AAPG-sponsored technical meetings and programs, disseminate geoscience with remarkable efficiency considering the basically disorganized nature of this profession.

This year’s presidential program is wrapped around the concept that geoscience is the core of AAPG. Part of the program is aimed at making people aware of the reality that AAPG is the world’s premier broker of hydrocarbon-related geoscience. Another part of the program is aimed at enhancing that reality by encouraging programs such as the Hedberg research forums, the previously mentioned financial support for research and vital programs such as field seminars.

If you’re lucky enough to get outside and onto outcrops regularly, you know that in addition to enjoyment of some rather scenic parts of the world, outcrop work leads to both enlightenment and humility. Outcrop work modifies the concepts one carries from the office according to the reality of the rocks and leads to new concepts, while new and sometimes embarrassing questions arise with unsettling frequency. This is geoscience in action. Getting something useful out of that geoscience involves testing those ideas, developed on the basis of the outcrop and subsurface data, by drilling. AAPG was formed so that we would have that geoscience to apply to the practical problems of finding and recovering the hydrocarbons that run civilization.

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