Erik Thomsen

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Erik Thomsen
ErikThomsen.jpg
Latest company Amoco Production Company
BSc Physics, 1935
BSc university Antioch College

Erik Thomsen was a Doodlebugger. He graduated from Antioch College (in Ohio) in the middle of the Great Depression. Following a summer with the CCC, he went to Harvard for graduate study in geophysics, but dropped out after one year, for a geophysical job with the Tennessee Valley Authority. In those days, a solid job offer was worth a lot more than a graduate degree from Harvard. Once employed, he was able to marry his college sweetheart, Alice Barnard.

But the threat of war in Europe was becoming more evident every day, and it was clear that the nation needed to have access to copious reserves of petroleum, in case the war should come to America. So, exploration for domestic supplies of oil was heating up, and Erik found an opportunity to join that effort, with Western Geophysical in California. At the time, Western had a long-term contract (for geophysical services) with Standard Oil of Indiana (Stanolind), one of several independent entities created by the 1911 breakup of the Standard Oil monopoly .

A couple of years after Erik joined Western, a corporate decision at Stanolind was made to terminate the contract with Western. A disposition of the employees and secondees had to be made. But Erik had distinguished himself in his short time with Western, so when the Western CEO, Henry Salvatori, came to Erik, he had good news: “Erik, of course you will be coming with Western, as we contract with other oil companies, to explore for oil in California.” But Erik replied, “Sir, I wish you had spoken to me earlier; just yesterday I committed to join Stanolind.” In those days, a firm job offer in hand was worth a lot more than the possibility of another job elsewhere. Nobody said, “Give me two weeks to think it over.” And once given, a man’s word could not be taken back. A Western friend, Moe Widess made this same transition,

This began a long career with Stanolind and its corporate successors, Pan American and Amoco. Erik and Alice eventually accumulated about 45 Doodlebugging stops throughout the American Oil Patch (mainly Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana). This saga was remembered by Alice for TLE [1] in 2005. Erik became well-known in the company as a prolific oil-finder, in Oklahoma, the Permian Basin, the East Texas oilfield, the near-offshore Gulf of Mexico, and the British North Sea. He was a founding member of the Geophysical Society of Oklahoma City [2], and served as its first Secretary.

He is recognized by Amoco alumni (e.g. by Sven Treitel) as the inventor of Bright Spot technology, in the early 1950's, long before this was public knowledge. In those days, amplification of the signal was done in the field, with a practiced swing of the technician's arm, on a rheostat in the recording truck. With those informal procedures, "everybody knew" that the amplitude of the recording was meaningless; only the arrival time was important. But Erik noticed that many of his drilling recommendations, which turned out to be discoveries, were on prospects which had large amplitudes. He repeatedly brought this to the attention of Amoco management, but was repeatedly ignored. However, when the same idea was found by Mobil, and became public knowledge in the 1960's (because of their bidding practices in auctions in the the Gulf of Mexico), he became a hero inside Amoco. This Bright Spot technology was the (post-stack) precursor of the AVO and AVOAz technologies, which were not feasible in his day.

Erik Thomsen retired from Amoco in 1974, and lived in Houston until his death in 1999.

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