Bureau of Economic Geology

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Bureau of Economic Geology
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SEG Distinguished Achievement Award 2018 [1]

The Bureau of Economic Geology is an ideal recipient for SEG's Distinguished Achievement Award for several notable contributions. These contributions include: (1) making the earliest recognition of reflection seismology and earliest development of seismic stratigraphy, (2) transferring 3D seismic technology to independents in Texas and surrounding states, (3) serving as the first organization to release 3D digital seismic data sets to the public, (4) managing the Devine Test Site, (5) running several dedicated seismic research labs, (6) emphasizing the training of graduate students, (7) establishing a robust program for educating K–12 students in the geosciences, and (8) maintaining the largest U.S. core repository. Over the years, several notable SEG members have conducted research at the Bureau. The list of SEG offices, awards, and honors distributed among these researchers is an impressive list for any organization and testimony that, as a collective group, Bureau geophysicists have made valuable contributions to SEG.


Citation for the SEG Distinguished Achievement Award 2018

By Mike Forrest

The SEG Honors and Awards Committee and the SEG Board of Directors honored the Bureau of Economic Geology with the Distinguished Achievement Award at the 2018 Annual Meeting for a century of contributions to geophysics in oil and gas exploration and development.

The Bureau of Economic Geology, established in 1909, is the oldest organized research unit at The University of Texas (UT) at Austin and serves as the State Geological Survey of Texas. Led by Director Scott Tinker for the past 18 years, the Bureau's research in exploration geophysics started in 1920 and expanded under Bob Hardage's leadership from 1991 to 2018.

I was aware of some, but certainly not all, of the Bureau's work in the application of applied geophysics to help understand the geology of earth. Let's review some of their laudable accomplishments.

In 1920, Johan Udden, the Bureau's first director, published a paper in what is now called the AAPG Bulletin that explained how seismic reflection imaging could be used to map subsurface structure. The short text with one simple figure was published 10 years before SEG was founded. In 1925, Dabney Petty, associate geologist with the Bureau, joined his brothers Van and Scott Petty to form the Petty Geophysical Engineering Company to provide reflection seismology services. So, the heart and soul of geophysics — seismic reflection technology — was introduced by Johan and Dabney through their association with the Bureau.

During the 1970s, the Bureau's Frank Brown and Bill Fisher brought Petrobras geologists and geophysicists to Austin to spend several months in intensive analysis of an offshore Brazilian basin. They developed seismic stratigraphic interpretations of passive and rifted Brazilian basins, which led to a contribution to AAPG Memoir 26 (1977) on seismic stratigraphy, a volume promoted by Peter Vail and Bob Mitchum with Exxon.

Bob Hardage, a past president of SEG, joined the Bureau as a senior research scientist in 1991 after working for Phillips Petroleum. He was interested in developing seismic vector-wavefield technology. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, he worked with past SEG presidents Milo Backus and Bob Graebner to develop shear-wave technology to improve reservoir characterization and prospect evaluation.

Under Bob's leadership in the 1990s, the Bureau was instrumental in expanding the application of 3D seismic data to reservoir characterization and explaining the technology to small companies. The release of the Stratton digital 3D seismic data set with 20 digitized well logs coincided with the efforts of several entrepreneurs to develop PC-based 3D seismic interpretation technology. Through his efforts, the Bureau was established as a key player in applying 3D seismic technology in reservoir characterization.

Many geoscientists are aware of the Devine Test Site near San Antonio, Texas. The Bureau manages the 100-acre site, which is a state-of-the-art public-domain geophysical research facility for academia and industry that was donated to UT Austin in 1998 by BP. The test site is used for surface-based seismic and potential-field experiments performed in conjunction with downhole and crosswell experiments.

In 2015, the Texas Legislature provided funding for the Bureau to design, acquire, and deploy a statewide seismic monitoring network to research earthquakes, including the possibility that some events might have been induced by wastewater disposal wells. The resulting program, TexNet, has been characterized as the most advanced statewide earthquake research program in the United States. In addition, the Bureau continues to conduct leading research in seismic processing and interpretive applications in conjunction with the industry and government.

I speak for all SEG members in congratulating the leadership and staff of the Bureau for their accomplishments in geophysics over many years and their well-deserved Distinguished Achievement Award.

References

  1. The Leading Edge Volume 37, Issue 11