Eugene Brumbaugh

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Eugene Brumbaugh
E. R. Brumbaugh headshot.gif
Latest company Shell Oil Company
President year 1983
BSc physics, mathematics
BSc university Juniata College

Eugene Russel Brumbaugh (1924 - 2015) served as the 1983-1984 SEG President.


Gene Brumbaugh was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, in 1924 to Jacob and Laura Brumbaugh, and was the youngest of three siblings.[1] Gene is survived by his wife, Miriam “Mim” Brumbaugh, to whom he was wed on 29 June 1946. They have two children, Cynthia “Cindy” Brumbaugh Walker and her husband, Winston; and Deborah “Debbie” Brumbaugh Mason and her husband, Andrew. Gene also is survived by two grandchildren, Luke Walker and Emily Walker Hill, and her husband, Charles; great-grandchildren, Mason and Sophie Hill; and numerous nephews and nieces.

After graduating from Altoona High School in Pennsylvania in 1942, Gene began his studies at Juniata College, Huntington, Pennsylvania, which were interrupted for military service. He enlisted in the U. S. Navy as an aviation cadet in Pensacola, Florida, and completed flight training just as World War II ended. He returned to Juniata College, where he served in the student senate and was captain of the basketball team. Gene graduated in 1946 with a B.S. in physics and mathematics. From 1988 to 1991, he served on the Juniata College National Alumni Council. He also completed work toward a master’s in geology at the University of Colorado that was interrupted by a job transfer.

Gene joined Shell Oil Company in Sacramento, California, in 1946, where he began working on a seismic crew. He then became party chief of crews in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Basins in California and the Williston Basin in Montana. He supervised crew operations and interpretation in the Powder River, Big Horn, Wind River, and Green River Basins, the Uintah Basin in Utah, and the Denver Basin in Colorado. He was division geophysicist in the Casper and Denver Divisions, followed by staff interpretive assignments in the Anadarko, Ardmore, and Arkoma Basins in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Beginning in 1968, Gene worked in New Orleans, focusing on offshore Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic offshore, and Gulf Coast onshore. He retired from Shell in 1981 to be regional geophysical manager for Tomlinson Interests, Inc., concentrating on exploration in southern Louisiana. Starting in 1983 and for the ensuing years, Gene was a consulting geophysicist who provided services ranging from data acquisition and processing to structural and stratigraphic interpretations. He also served as an expert witness in legal proceedings regarding geophysical issues.

Gene was an active member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), serving as its president (1982–1983), first vice president (1981–1982), Technical Program chairman of the 40th annual meeting, and general chairman of the 49th annual meeting. He served as president and first vice president of the Southeastern Geophysical Society and was made an honorary life member in 1992. He also was a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists, European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, and New Orleans Geological Society and was a registered geophysicist in California. Gene published articles in the Southwestern Legal Foundation Transactions and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists of China Transactions, and was responsible for the section on seismic exploration in An Introduction to Central Gulf Coast Geology, published by New Orleans Geological Society in 1991.

Gene and Mim enjoyed good times with family and friends in the many places they lived because of his transfers with Shell Oil, including four places in California (Sacramento, Paso Robles, Madeira, and Bakersfield); Miles City, Montana; Casper, Wyoming (twice); Denver (twice); Oklahoma City; New Orleans; and Pensacola. New Orleans, where he worked for almost 40 years, was a special place, as was Pensacola Beach for family vacations. Gene was a hardworking geophysicist for more than 60 years, but he always made quality time with family and friends a top priority. Gene and Mim loved to entertain family and friends, whether it was a trip to Pensacola Beach, a New Orleans Saints game, Mardi Gras, dining in the French Quarter, or just relaxing at home with music and enjoying good conversation. Gene was always up for an adventure. He loved to learn something new and make new friends. Gene and Mim traveled extensively all over the world. Gene was an inspiration and mentor to many young people. His enthusiasm for life and fun-loving demeanor endeared him to all.

Creativity, Elephant Hunt, Globalization, Doodle Buggers, and Useful Quotes

The following is a revised online presentation of President’s Columns by E.R. Brumbaugh while he was President of New Orleans Geological Society, 1999-2000, with special appreciation to him for this use of his columns in the New Orleans Geological Society’s NOGS Log, Ed Picou, Editor, and to NOGS.[2]


One never knows when a research fact, outcrop observation, operational statement, well-log analysis, environment-of-deposition analysis or seismic section being shown will "jump-start" in a viewer an innovative combination of scientific principles and/or a new idea or observation--perhaps an innovation that will make a significant contribution in finding additional oil and gas. Such stimulation brings to mind one of Newton's Laws of Motion: "A body at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by an external force." The upgrading opportunities and exposure offered by NOGS, the other local geological societies, and AAPG can be key to such a creative process.

Creativity is not easy to define. It is also not easy to judge which employee will and which one will not be creative within a given circumstance. However, new ideas or techniques are often combinations of known physical principles and observations, which individually are often known to others, but no one has yet combined them. For a person to be creative, that person needs to be fully trained in their own discipline and as near to that as possible in related disciplines. Next, the management environment needs to be correct--by openly encouraging creativity, rewarding it, and being sure that the right person is given the credit. Remember that creativity can stop as fast as it starts. The professional, besides being scientifically well trained, needs to maintain a positive attitude and be adaptable in communicating the idea because he/she will face a plethora of "it won't work" remarks.

In my work experience, I remember when a known physical principle was incorporated into a new logging tool. This led to physical measurements that could have shortened the time it took to make a very important seismic observation--but it didn't. In 1950 while exploring in the Sacramento Basin, the industry was using the then new sonic downhole logging tool to detect the lower velocity of Cretaceous gas productive sands as compared to a higher velocity in the sands that were water-wet. The sonic tool utilizes the physical principle that when piezoelectric crystals of minerals, such as quartz, are subjected to a pressure change they emit an electric current that can be recorded, and when the crystal is subjected to an alternating electric current, it will expand and contract rapidly creating a snapping sound. Accordingly, one crystal is used as a miniature receiver in the tool, and another is used as the sound source. The fact that gas in the pore space of a sandstone reservoir significantly lowered the velocity "rested" in the industry until 1968-1969, when a Shell geophysicist observed high-amplitude seismic reflections over known gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico. Nearby dry holes did not have any strong reflectivities. Thus was born the "Bright Spot" or HCI game in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, the connection was made between a velocity variation due to gas in a sandstone reservoir and a seismic-reflection-amplitude variation. One could have anticipated this. A lot of time was lost and time is money. So each of us should look around our databases with fresh "hi-tech" eyes. We should look for combinations. What are we overlooking?

My experience of 53 years of oil and gas exploration ranges from the San Andreas fault in California to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. I'm a team player, based on my basketball-playing days, an enlistment in the Navy, and 35 years with a major corporation. In summary, the merits of volunteerism--sharing your time and talents with others--is that whatever is good for your company and the industry is also good for you. A recent TV program on restoring old water wheel mills, which combined the dynamics of running water with a revolving wheel geared to grind grain, triggered the question, "What should one do when a good exploration play idea is generated?". First, take the time and be patient enough to document the idea scientifically. Generate a synthetic seismogram to tie the geology and seismic together. Run some realistic models to be sure the idea and observations are geologically scaled properly. Search for and study an analog that can be used to justify the economic expectation by examining the paleostructural history of the trap, the economic quality of the reservoir, and proximity to a source rock. Initially to find the time to do some of this, one may need to utilize before- and after-scheduled hours and the noon hour. A wise man once said "Nothing in business is so valuable as time." Whenever reasonably ready to present the idea, schedule a time and place that is conducive to showing and listening--presenting your thoughts to management in a concise and organized manner. A little rehearsal before hand is well advised. One should never bring up an idea "off the cuff” and in a hallway. A good idea is too precious to waste. Do not expect the results of your initial meeting to be a positive “Thank you, great idea--let’s do it.” Here's where patience comes into the equation. Listen attentively and unemotionally to the questions posed. Do not get defensive with the "nay sayers," and at least try to come out of the meeting with approval to spend more personal time on the project and get some additional staff assistance. Acquiring a seismic line across the analog to demonstrate a "look alike" is often the clincher. Keep in mind that the greater the obstacle, the more fun it is to overcome it. One project I worked on took two years from the idea stage until leases were acquired and a seismic field crew was assigned to acquire data. The idea was a combination of physical principles using seismic-reflection-amplitude variations (bed-thickness variations) to find onshore sandstone stratigraphic traps. The play was a success and is continuing.

So all of us explorationists need to focus our thinking. The industry needs a continuous stream of new ideas.

Elephant Hunt

The exploration philosophy of many companies is based on exploring for oil and/or gas fields with reserves that will have an "economic impact on the company". This has been characterized in the industry as an "elephant hunt." This philosophy started many years ago when, after a study was made of then existing oil and gas fields, a conclusion was drawn that only the large fields were worth finding. The idea of exploring only for large fields, then adopted by the industry, has been around in some form or another ever since. It sounds good, but for the United States and its environs the philosophy is out-of-date. It is also impractical because the larger the company, the larger the field required, and one soon gets to a point of no return. For discussion purposes let us first define an "elephant" as a 100 million-barrel oil or gas-equivalent field that one can find and own and that only necessitates affordable exploration and exploitation expenses. The idea that one is going to find such a field in a structural trap very often is not realistic when one considers the enormous amount of seismic data already acquired in all the U. S. sedimentary basins.

It is not to say that it will not happen, but the chance of it happening is something like "once in a professional lifetime," or it will be found in an unfriendly physical environment. A large stratigraphically trapped field will probably have a similar finding frequency. Although there are more large fields available to be found, there are only a few explorationists who have had the opportunity to study such fields and know how to explore for them. One practical consideration is that a 3-D seismic survey of 70 square miles is needed to image a 100 million-barrel field. This assumes 50 feet of pay and other reasonable parameters and that the survey is ideally superimposed on the trap. If not, a 100 square-mile survey or more will be required to have a chance to image the entire trap. Being unable to lease all the minerals either because of poor imaging or unfriendly mineral owners is another practical limiting consideration. Given all of the above, there are not many companies that are big enough economically to sustain an exploration program long enough for the big one to happen--not even knowing if it will ever happen. So forget the "elephant hunt" before it’s too late. There are more realistic philosophies to adopt.

"Elephant hunt," as the story goes, is derived from a sophisticated geoscientist who was working the outcrops in a sedimentary basin in Central Africa when he noticed that elephants tended to congregate regularly in certain places. To relieve the tedium of sampling outcrops, he decided to plot on a map the herding locations of the elephants. Drawing a line connecting the locations resulted in a large, long and narrow oblong shape. Now this is where years of experience comes into play. He reasoned that the herding locations were gravity minimums for obvious reasons and that inside the shaped outline would be a gravity maximum (anticline), which he recommended to be drilled. The result was the discovery of a very large oil field, and we've been blessed with the phrase ever since. It was noted above that "elephants" are often not easy to recognize because the database we are dealing with is too small to image the entire trap. We are also getting so technically sophisticated that, if we can't define the trap, there can't be one. "Elephants" are also hard to find where there is practically no technical information to work with. I remember that, while exploring the east flank of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming in the early sixties, there was an area of several townships at the north end of the basin without any wells. The Muddy and Dakota (Cretaceous) sandstone stratigraphic play was proceeding from south to north, and there were several “tite” Muddy wells with shows east and updip of this undrilled area. A wildcatter leased the land, drilled a well, and discovered the 200 million-barrel Bell Creek Field. Imagine going to your manager saying, "Here's a blank area on the map with updip shows; I recommend leasing the land and drilling a well in the middle of it." Further imagine your manager saying, “Hey, that's a great idea; let’s do it. " There is no way a manager will respond in that manner. I'm sure there are plenty of experiences in everybody's memory to make the point that "elephants" are not obvious. There are better exploration game plans than concentrating on "elephants."

Further on the exploration game plan of "elephant hunting" or, as others have put it, searching for a field the size of which will have a significant economic impact on the company: This goal is impractical because as a company becomes larger, the field size needed becomes larger, and eventually the risk is overwhelming. There is a feasible alternative that I shall discuss after noting the two main reasons why I am addressing this subject again. First, I've seen a significant waste of staff and database over the years because of the evaluation phrase "too small." There is nothing more discouraging to an exploration staff than to hear this when they know it isn't too small, or they see an upside to the prospect that no one else sees. Statistics show that fields being discovered even now are twice the sizes originally forecast. Second, after having experienced exploration game plans and prospect hunting in most of the U.S. sedimentary basins, it is fun to sit back and brainstorm. Perhaps this will initiate some additional brainstorming by others. The industry needs, and is looking for, something new and different. A more feasible exploration game plan is to concentrate on the small- and medium-sized fields that our technology can find at a reasonable risk (i.e., take what the defense gives you, in football); apply the technology in a defined geologic trend that has the potential for a multiplicity of prospects, and conduct the play as efficiently as possible. In this way one can get the economic volumes needed from a large number of small- and medium-sized fields. Examples of this kind of play are the Michigan reef play, Texas and Louisiana Smackover play, and Gulf of Mexico "Bright Spot" shelf play. Once the technical problem of getting quality reflection data through the glacial drift was solved in Michigan, Shell and the other companies “clobbered” the Silurian reef trend with adequately spaced seismic lines and found hundreds of fields. The Shell effort was described in AAPG Explorer, March, 2000, p. 20-21 (Reefs hid ‘between the Lines,’ by Marlan Downey). The Smackover play continues after 40 years because the seismic migration technology continues to improve imaging smaller short wavelength, complexly faulted and folded structures. Now 3-D seismic is beginning to mop-up this play structurally, but there is still a statigraphic play to be made. Quality seismic data can see porosity in the Smackover carbonates. The "Bright Spot" play on the Gulf of Mexico shelf is beginning to wind down. There 3-D seismc has almost completely covered the shelf, and recent statistics at a NOGS luncheon meeting indicate that an average field site in the last ten years has decreased an order of magnitude to an average field size of 4 million barrels equivalent. An 80% success rate is currently sustaining the play. The shelf play will gradually move deeper and be more structurally complicated, but the hydrocarbon volumes should be there.

Regional 3-D seismic coverage should enable one to project reservoir trends on strike and downdip into new fault blocks. More attention should be paid to reservoir reflectivity coefficients because few sand/shale interfaces are the same. Who knows? One may find an important exception to the general rule of no contrast in the deeper units. Wall Street is not unfamiliar with the fact that a large number of small profit items equals large profits. Merrill Lynch built a large company by specifically concentrating on servicing small investors and signing up a large volume of them, and the 3M Company almost didn't launch its "Post-it" Notes because of their inability to project a large enough market. So a word to those that judge prospects: Examine your company goals in respect to economic cut-offs so that you don't have to use the phrase "too small" very often. Concentrate on what technology can do for you because it's not just a matter of size; it's a matter of risk, size, and the numbers of opportunities. Globalization

Following are my perceptions of the points Daniel Yergin made in his speech at 2000 AAPG Convention: Globalization is moving around the world--privatization is increasing; regulation barriers are coming down between governments, and there is increased competition between international companies. These are big changes, but do not be fearful; it is also an opportunity. The technology of our industry is second to none, and we have the ability to compete in all regions of the world. International oil production and its price are one of three main factors that effect the economy of nations and their stock markets. The other two factors are interest rates and the cost of labor. There is no end in site for the demand for oil- and gas-related energy. Fortunately for all of us, there is a gradual shift taking place from government control of the price of oil to the market place.

Complimenting this globalization theme, the following comments are my perception of the various speakers’ remarks in a session of the Division of Professional Affairs of AAPG on the role of independent companies and individual geologists in this global arena. The independent companies continue to expand operations on the Gulf of Mexico shelf as the majors withdraw. Because this portion of the gulf is exploration-mature, average target sizes are smaller, requiring companies to change and adapt by increasing operational efficiency and concentrating on high technology to continue to reduce risk. Larger independents are beginning to join the majors in the more expensive deep water and subsalt portions of the Gulf. A few independents have already made this transition. Here one needs to be very careful not to end up betting the company on one prospect. The international arena is wide open for the independent, but contacts are the name of the game. This networking on a global scale will take some time. Geologists' career goals will also need to adapt and change as companies change. Gone are the days when one will spend his or her entire career with one company. Consequently, the geologist will need to be more independent than before, establishing independence even while working hard for a company and being respected by not being caught-up completely in the organization's central mass. Each geologist should join all appropriate professional societies and network like mad. Try not to specialize overly but rather position yourself in the central core of the profession. Continue your "high-tech" education in any manner, shape, or form. If you happen to be "right-sized," don't feel sorry for yourself. Many famous scientists and musicians were also “let go” or passed over for jobs during their careers. Read the play "Death of a Salesman." Evidently the central figure in this play did everything wrong. Remember it's not what "they" do to you; it's what you do about it.

Doodle Buggers

A brief news comment about an accident on an exploration crew triggered my memory bank about seismic-data acquisition. First of all, we should all be thankful for the seismic data that were and are still being acquired by the men and women on our seismic field crews. Although they get decent pay for a day's work, there is something more than that. From their dedicated effort, innovation, and teamwork they have developed an "esprit de corps"--taking pride in their crew and the production of the crew. In spite of the hard physical work, the morale is excellent. They are the exploration marine corps, so to speak, and over the years they have met and solved every hostile working environment in the world ranging from the land-mined Sahara Desert to the jungles of South America, continually increasing the quality and at the same time lowering the cost of the data bits acquired. Some of the working environments are life-threatening, and most subject one to the risk of serious injury. The stability of their home life is better than it used to be, but it is still not equivalent to what most of us have enjoyed. The man that hired me many years ago moved 50 times in his first 25 years with Shell. While Party Chief on my first crew, we were moved from Madera, California, to Miles City, Montana, on a five-day notice because Amerada made a significant discovery on the Nesson Anticline in the Williston Basin in North Dakota. Crewman drove the shot-hole rigs, instrument truck, cable truck, shooting truck, etc., and wives and girlfriends drove family cars and pick-ups. That was equivalent to a gypsy caravan on the highway. Prior to leaving California, we were working near the north end of San Francisco Bay where there are layers of peat 20 feet thick or more. We had to bury the geophones below the peat to receive quality reflection data, but the biggest problem was gnats. The little black demons were so thick that we often had to shut down the crew before noon. Eastern Montana was a welcome change until one of the "jug hustlers" stepped off of a moving cable truck and his momentum carried him over a 30-foot cliff. He suffered compound fractures of both legs. We carefully loaded him into the back seat of a sedan and raced to the nearest doctor 90 miles away. The doctor there took one look at him and said, "That's too much for me" and sent him by ambulance to Billings 150 miles to the west. He survived, but it was a long recovery period. That winter we recorded -46°F at the trailer camp we used as field headquarters, parked just south of the Missouri River. We were told that propane stops vaporizing at that temperature; so both our heat and food were threatened. My boots froze to the floor of the sleeping trailer that night. Have you ever wondered what a five-pound stick of dynamite would do to a snowdrift? We regularly had a caterpillar tractor and a road patrol working with the field crew. When the snowdrifts slowed them down, we decided to try dynamite. It turns out that it has no effect at all other than a small melted area, about the same diameter as the dynamite. For dynamite to be effective, the material needs to offer resistance, such as a bridge or a brick wall. Snow offers no resistance; consequently this is not an easy way to clear snowdrifts. One more incident: in southeastern Colorado, because shot-hole drilling costs were getting out of hand, we experimented with loading two shots in the same hole at the same time. The first shot would be fired and recorded. The second shot had a 30-second-time delay built into it so that the instruments could be calibrated and reset to record it. The first shot was the upper charge in the shot hole--at least that's the way it was supposed to be. When the shot was fired, it was obvious that it was the lower charge that went off because the upper fifty pounds of dynamite came spewing out of the shot hole looking like a thick string of spaghetti piling up around the hole. Obviously it did not explode, or there would not have been any memory bank to access for recording this event.

This microcosmic look at seismic field crew operations is intended to serve as a prompt for those of us sitting in comfortable chairs in front of 3-D work-stations to be grateful and think about the people that acquired those data for us. Personally thank a "doodle bugger" the next time you get a chance.

Favorite Quotes

Some quotes and clichés that I have found helpful in this game called "The Business of Life" are presented here with the hope that they may also serve you well. Some are sports quotes, presenting a common theme known as competition that interrelates sports and the oil and gas business. First, a Satchel Paige quote, "Don't look back; someone may be gaining on you". This obviously came from a man who had to compete intensely and play many years longer than most to be recognized as a star baseball pitcher. In the work place as professional geoscientists we are working in a competitive environment, not only competing with other skilled people but also competing with other companies to find remaining oil and gas reserves. If we don't keep broadening and improving our technical skills, someone surely will be gaining on us and probably will overtake us. In baseball, the quote is applicable to a runner trying to go from first to third on a base hit to right field. When he rounds second base, he is supposed to look at the third-base coach for a signal to try for third or stop at second base. If he instead looks back over his shoulder to locate the ball, he will unknowingly slow down and lose two or three steps and will most likely be thrown out at third base. Looking back or studying the past may be a key to the present in geology, but in exploration, looking ahead and initiating new techniques and ideas ahead of the competition are more rewarding. The next quote is attributed to "Red" Blake, former head football coach at Army. He said to a young cadet limping off the practice field one day, "Son, if you're going to limp, don't play--if you're going to play, don't limp." One really can't have it both ways. For the good of the team in sports or in exploration for oil and gas, one is either at full strength and speed, or one shouldn't be in the lineup. To be competitive, one needs to be mentally tough--no limping. This brings us directly to the next quote, "Excuses don't count." In basketball one either did or did not make the last shot to win the game. It does not matter whether the shooter was nudged when taking the shot, or off balance, or whatever. No credit is given on the scoreboard for a nice try. "Close only counts in horseshoes". I tried using the excuse with a client that predicting and drilling a stratigraphic sandstone was a scientific success even though it was not a hydrocarbon trap. Needless to say he did not buy that excuse at all, and I haven't tried it since. The former New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora, now at Indianapolis, said it best, "woulda, coulda, shoulda--won't cut it." Excuses really don't count. Although the following quotes are not sports-related, they are nevertheless applicable to our profession: "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush." Even though there are plenty of jobs out there at the present time, having a job is a valuable and satisfying commodity. It is an opportunity to build-on over the years. Use it as a base to upgrade yours skills and circumstances year by year. By all means, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." You don't have to love the company you are working for, but complaining all the time is not acceptable. "Society is like a mirror; whatever image you sent out is reflected back to you." The oil and gas business is competitive; so be comfortable with competition. "You only go around once in life; make the most of it." Treat life like a full-court press in the last two minutes of a basketball game.

Once you establish the momentum, the breaks will come your way. If you do get down in the dumps and feel like you are behind in the score and need a morale boost, think about Debbie Reynolds’ line in the movie Molly Brown, "I ain't down yet" and Yogi Berra's quote, "It ain't over till it’s over."


  1. Memorials. The family of Eugene (Gene) Brumbaugh. The Leading Edge 34, 3(2015); pp. 338-340
  2. Creativity, Elephant Hunt, Globalization, Doodle Buggers, and Useful Quotes—Commentaries, by E.R. Brumbaugh. Retrieved 24 March 2016 at

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