David Johnston

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David Johnston
David H. Johnston headshot.png
Latest company ExonMobil
Membership Life Member
PhD Geophysics
PhD university Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Biography, SEG Distinguished Lecturer 2013 [1]

David H. Johnston is geophysics coordinator for ExxonMobil Production Company in Houston, Texas. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in earth sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973 and a Ph.D. in geophysics in 1978, also from MIT. After graduation, Johnston joined Exxon Production Research Co. (later ExxonMobil Upstream Research) and held assignments in rock physics research, velocity analysis and interpretation, and seismic reservoir characterization and monitoring. He moved to ExxonMobil Exploration Co. in 2002 where he was responsible for the worldwide application of time-lapse seismic technology. In 2008 Johnston began his current assignment where he provides technical and business stewardship of ExxonMobil's global production geophysics activity, including 4D seismic.

Johnston is a member of SEG, SPE, AAPG, EAGE, and AGU. He served as Secretary/Treasurer of the SEG in 1990 and has chaired the SEG Development and Production and Interpretation Committees. He was an editor of Seismic Wave Attenuation (1981), Reservoir Geophysics (1992), and Methods and Applications in Reservoir Geophysics (2010), all published by the SEG. He is an editorial board member for Interpretation, the new SEG journal.

Johnston was awarded Best Presentation by the SEG in 1993, honorable mention for Best Presentation in 2010, and Best Paper in The Leading Edge in 2005. He was an SPE Distinguished Lecturer from 1992 to 1993, the SEG Distinguished Lecturer in 1999, and an AAPG Distinguished Lecturer in 2008. In 2003 he received Honorary Membership in the Geophysical Society of Houston and in 2004 he was awarded Life Membership in the SEG. In 2007 Dr. Johnston was the first recipient of ExxonMobil's Peter Vail award for distinguished technical achievement.

SEG Life Membership 2004

David H. Johnston is being awarded Life Membership in recognition of his status as a world-class geophysicist who has made fundamental contributions and has shared those ideas with the greater geoscience and engineering communities. Dave received his PhD in geophysics from MIT. He has been employed by ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company and is currently worldwide coordinator and leader for time-lapse 4D seismic with ExxonMobil Exploration Company. He was honored for presenting the best paper at SEG's 1993 Annual Meeting, was selected as a Distinguished lecturer in 1999, and edited Reservoir Geophysics Volume 2. His service to SEG includes a term as secretary-treasurer and as technical program chairman for the SEG/CPS convention in Daqing. Dave has recently been awarded Honorary Membership in the Geophysical Society of Houston for his outstanding contributions. This is just one example of his long and valuable service to the geophysical community. He has also been a key fundraiser for the SEG Foundation, the organizer of numerous technical sessions, an inspirational spearker, mentor to younger geophysicists, and an active supporter of and frequent participant at the Offshore Technology Conference.

Biography Citation for SEG Life Membership 2004 [2]

Contributed by Dan Ebrom

There is a world-famous David Johnston (of the financial world), who is similar to our own David Johnston (of the geophysical world) in that, when David speaks, the whole world listens!

For over 25 years, David Johnston has made fundamental contributions to geophysics in areas ranging from rock physics to time-lapse seismics. But from the beginning, his passion has been to extract the maximum rock and fluid information from seismic data and to extend the applications of reservoir geophysics across the life cycle of a field— from exploration to production.

His impact has been felt beyond ExxonMobil because Dave and his research teams have shared the results of their work through a substantial body of publications and presentations. SEG has benefited from David's significant leadership and service in geophysics in many ways, particularly his articles in GEOPHYSICS and THE LEADING EDGE. As SPE Distinguished Lecturer in 1992-93, he focused on applications of 3D seismic data to development and production. As an SEG Distinguished Lecturer, in 1999 he looked to the future of 4D seismic data in our industry. Dave's service to SEG also included serving as chairman of the Development and Production Geophysics Committee from 1988 to 1990, which helped kick off what has turned out to be a spectacular growth in reservoir geophysics within the Society. Dave was co-editor of the book Reservoir Geophysics, published by the SEG in 1992. He was a founder of the SEG Interpretation Committee, and served as chairman in 1991-92.

Just as importantly, Dave has been tireless in raising funds for the SEG Foundation. Twisting arms just enough to produce a smile (and a check!) is a special Dave Johnston strength! As SEG secretary-treasurer in 1989-1990, he established the Corporate Trustee Associates program and convinced Exxon to be the first member. As a graduate student at MIT, he improved our understanding of seismic wave attenuation through both laboratory studies and theoretical modeling. The 1981 SEG Reprint Series volume on Seismic Wave Attenuation, co-edited by Dave, was a primary reference for many years. After joining Exxon Production Research Company in 1979, he built on this experience and established a rock physics laboratory and was responsible for studies of the electrical and acoustic properties of sandstones and source rock shales.

In the mid 1980s, Dave participated in some early work on the analysis of anisotropy in multicomponent seismic data, coordinating field measurements and processing both surface and borehole data. His analysis of anisotropy in a fractured chalk was presented at the 1986 SEG Annual Meeting— the same year Amoco presented its seminal papers. Dave's research at Exxon went on to include velocity analysis and interpretation, focusing on lithology prediction and time-depth conversion. In 1989 he became group leader for velocity analysis, AVO, and borehole seismic interpretation research and in the early 1990s helped establish 3D seismic attribute research at Exxon. His paper on neural network calibration of seismic attributes was honored as the best at the 1993 Annual Meeting. In 1995 Dave initiated time-lapse seismic research at Exxon and is currently responsible for coordinating the worldwide application of 4D technology at ExxonMobil Exploration Company.

Dave was one of the visionaries who pioneered in extracting significant meaning from 3D seismic data. For a number of years, he has been an industry leader in expanding the applications of geophysics, especially in development and production activities, and in building an understanding of how geophysics can help solve problems in petroleum engineering. Throughout David's entire career he has been a consistent and strong supporter of SEG and its activities. We will continue to look to David in the future for his continued leadership and future contributions.


  1. SEG Distinguished Lecturer, http://www.seg.org/education/lectures-courses/disc/2013/johnstonbio
  2. Honors and Awards Program and Presidential Session, COLORADO CONVENTION CENTER • DENVER, COLORADO 4 P.M., SUNDAY • 10 OCTOBER 2004.