Kenneth Burg

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Kenneth Burg
Kenneth E. Burg headshot.png
Membership Honorary Member


Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

Contributed by Cecil H. Green

The late renowned petroleum geologist, Everette L. DeGolyer, liked to state, "The role of the exploration geophysicist is to provide eyesight for the geologist."

Kenneth E. Burg has been supremely capable in fulfilling this uniquely important mission from the earliest, or pioneer days, of geophysical exploration for petroleum and so now easily merits the distinction of Honorary Membership in our Society.

Ken has long been widely recognized as the ideal applied geophysicist and as such has been a key figure in the evolution of exploration seismology and its conversion through the years from an art to a science.

After graduating in electrical engineering at The University of Texas, Austin, and while continuing his studies there toward a master's degree in physics, Ken decided early in 1927 to join Geophysical Research Corp. as a result of being "romanced" by J. C. Karcher and H. B. Peacock on an experimental crew for evaluation of reflection seismology, a new exploration method in significant areas of Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. In recognition of this early work, SEG presented Ken its Reflection Seismograph Method 50th Anniversary Pioneer Award at its 1971 Midwest Meeting in Oklahoma City.

In early 1930, J. C. Karcher and Eugene McDermott launched Geophysical Service Inc. as an independent service company with Ken Burg as one of its first party chiefs. During the next several years, his work helped to strengthen further the basic importance of the seismic reflection method by being directly related to the discovery of such new fields as English Bayou, Bay Baptiste, Bayou de Large in south Louisiana, Old Ocean in the Texas Gulf Coast, plus several discoveries in Kansas and the Seminole area of Oklahoma.

After supervising field operations in Mississippi and southern Louisiana, Ken became director of research in Dallas until 1942, when he elected to spend the next five years with Stanoline Oil and Gas Co. as manager of its Geophysical Department.

He returned to GSI in 1947 as a director of the company and in the roles of vice-president technical and director of research. This position further broadened his exploration vista as he became responsible for generating suitable instrumentation and techniques on a worldwide basis.

It then became quite natural for Ken to develop an interest in the training of younger people, so that the exploration industry could not only expand, but also become increasingly effective in locating future and more-difficult-to-find petroleum reservoirs. So he became co-author of the widely used GSI Correspondence Course as an effective means of sharing knowledge from problem-solving experiences around the world.

The procurement of well-oriented and properly educated new young earth scientists also became a matter of real interest and great concern, and so we also have Ken collaborating with Cecil Green and Prof. Robert R. Shrock of MIT in a student orientation program which was launched in 1951. This unique summertime program, which brought together carefully selected geophysics majors at the junior undergraduate level from a large number of universities, plus related members of faculty with key representatives from practically all major petroleum companies, as well as from GSI, turned out to be a unique and effective means of identifying and recruiting new geophysical "naturals."

As director of GSI research, Ken very soon recognized the future potential of the emerging computer revolution. Also during the 1950s, we see him very wisely adapting the newly recognized statistical communication theory to reflection seismology with the direct help of then current Ph.D. graduates in geophysics from MIT: Mark Smith, Milo Backus, Lawrence Strickland, Freeman Gilbert, and Robert Bowman. This special group was truly instrumental in converting exploration seismology of digital technology in the early 1960s. During his SEG Distinguished Lecture tour in 1964, Ken further aided industry-wide knowledge.

Ken's many valuable contributions to the science of exploration geophysics can be summarized by two important facts: first, he is the inventor of twenty-six issued patents, and second, he was the recipient of a Distinguished Engineering Graduate Award from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1971. But, most important of all, his highly productive career is a fine example of what can be accomplished by teamwork, that is, by being able to enlist the talents of others as a necessary supplement to one's own ability and experiences.