“The publications of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) constitute the essential part of [the basic library of the petroleum geologist] … No other professional organization in any science so totally dominates its field on a worldwide basis … The scope of the material published by the Association is both truly international and genuinely allembracing within the field” (North, 1985, Petroleum Geology, p. 5).
The AAPG BULLETIN, the standard-bearer of AAPG publications, is still the benchmark for peer-reviewed scientific publications in the field of hydrocarbon-related geology, even though competition exists today from other societies and for-profit publishers.
That the BULLETIN fulfilled a need is shown by the fact that it doubled in size from 1917 to 1919, growing from 13 to 25 papers during its first three years of existence. It became a monthly journal by 1925, and by 1930 the year’s total was 69 papers.
Today the BULLETIN publishes 80-100 papers a year, and AAPG membership surveys continue to give it consistently high satisfaction ratings.
One of the facets that distinguishes the BULLETIN from those of many other geologic publications is that concepts presented in BULLETIN papers can be used in solving the problems of finding and extracting hydrocarbons, without which we still would be traveling by horse and huddling around wood fires at night.
The utility of BULLETIN papers can be measured both by the number of times a paper is cited by other authors and – since many BULLETIN readers use the papers to find oil rather than to write other papers – by the number of times a paper is downloaded from the Internet.
(Here is a list of BULLETIN papers that have most commonly been downloaded during the last decade.)
Since early 2001, AAPG members have been provided with free online access to back issues of the BULLETIN, and people take advantage of this membership service on average 6,400 times a day – or 2.3 million times a year.
The inaugural 1917 issue of the BULLETIN contained a significant number of international papers, and Morley’s 1966 review of the first 50 years of AAPG history mentioned complaints to the effect that there weren’t enough papers on topics and regions pertinent to the interests of specific AAPG members.
Such perceptions still echo today and derive from the immediacy of oilfield problems – which would benefit from directfit tools if they existed.
Hydrocarbon geology, however, is typically a science of inference and analogy. Don’t look in the BULLETIN for the 13 mm wrench needed to turn a 13 mm bolt; rather look for concepts on how to recognize a 13 mm bolt as well as how much and in which direction to turn it.
Also recognize that if you don’t have a 13 mm bolt that needs turning today, you might find one tomorrow: BULLETIN papers have relevance and application over the long haul – they are not newspaper-type articles that are useful only today.
The BULLETIN has experimented with providing readers with more directly applicable geologic tools, such as local field studies in the E&P Notes series.
This series was popular with geologists in the trenches, but it turned out to be nearly impossible to find authors for the series, since those geologists with the field data didn’t have time or couldn’t always get permission to publish the data.
Ultimately, contract writers were paid to write most of the pieces – but that ran counter to the philosophy of the BULLETIN as a peer-reviewed scientific journal. For better or worse, that practice was discontinued, although the series continues to receive occasional submissions from volunteer authors.
In fact, with the exception of the few dedicated and essential AAPG publications staffers at headquarters, the BULLETIN has always been supported and run by volunteers: the elected editor and all the associate editors as well as reviewers and authors are unpaid, donating their time and expertise. Some have permission to work on BULLETIN issues on company time, others spend evenings at the kitchen table over manuscripts lit by a guttering candle.
The AAPG elected editor, who is a member of the AAPG Executive Committee, was originally appointed – it was an “elected” position, but with a single candidate.
Since 2000, however, there have been two candidates who stand for the position, even when it’s difficult to find a minimum of two qualified individuals willing to be considered for the position. Qualifications include not only some knowledge of publication, but also someone with significant available time and a willingness to undertake the job.
A thick skin is useful, too.
Successive editors have had different approaches to the position, but there is no escaping the operational nuts and bolts of obtaining reviews, synthesizing reviews, making acceptance decisions and working with the AAPG headquarters publications team in turning around 150-200 manuscripts per year – as well as with the AAPG Executive Committee in directing high-level Association strategies. In fact, the position involves surprisingly little editorial wordsmithing.
The monthly BULLETIN was first offered in electronic format in about 2004, which provided a significant savings in postage costs to AAPG and improved the rate of successful and on-time monthly deliveries worldwide. For these reasons, student membership only comes with an electronic version of the BULLETIN.
Other members, however, have found that they do not make time to at least peruse the BULLETIN if it isn’t a physical presence on the desk, and about 10 percent of the AAPG membership still choses paper/ hardcopy delivery of the BULLETIN each month.
The rate of manuscript submissions to the BULLETIN ebbs and flows. At present there is a backlog of accepted papers in the queue awaiting publication, but at other times there has been a shortage of papers.
Manuscripts are submitted to the BULLETIN by authors who have a geologic story to tell and who feel that the BULLETIN is the place to share it with folks who might benefit from it. High professional visibility to the right audience is an important part of why authors submit papers to the BULLETIN.
But, it is circular – the BULLETIN must remain an attractive venue for authors if it is to attract quality papers, and quality papers make it an attractive place to publish.
The AAPG BULLETIN is many things:
- It is a prestigious forum to publish scientific papers focused on hydrocarbon geology.
- It is a repository for a wealth of information.
- It is one of the most visible reminders of the benefits of belonging to AAPG.
The BULLETIN has a 96-year publication history that has evolved and adapted with changes in technology, and it will continue to change in order to meet the needs of the AAPG membership and the community of oil-finding/oil-producing geologists. EXPLORER
Author’s note: References were to Morley, H.T., 1966, A History of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists: First Fifty Years; AAPG BULLETIN, v. 50, and to North, F.K., 1985, Petroleum Geology, Allen and Unwin, Boston.
Also, special thanks to Karen Gail Piqune of the AAPG Foundation Energy Library; to Beverly Molyneux and Paula Sillman of the AAPG publications team; and Jim Blankenship, Scott Cooper, Gretchen Gillis and current AAPG elected editor Mike Sweet.