William French

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William French
William S. French headshot.gif
President year 1991

William S. French pioneered 3D seismic imaging, and served as the 1991-1992 SEG President.

Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

According to our bylaws, honorary membership is "conferred upon persons who have made a (italics mine) distinguished contribution, which warrants exceptional recognition, to exploration geophysics..." A literal interpretation would obligate our Society to bestow a multiple honorary membership on Bill French; his contributions have been many and are now legendary. Here is a man who has distinguished himself as a creative scientist, as a dedicated teacher, as an inspiring manager, and as a skillful businessman with the vision to champion the right technology at the right time. It was my good fortune to get to know Bill while he was "merely" doing technical work during our common Amoco days, and then to observe in fascination how he slowly but surely metamorphosed from a productive scientist into a successful and innovative technical entrepreneur.

Before me as write lies my much worn copy of the June 1974 issue of Geophysics. Pages 265-277 contain Bill's classic paper, "Two-dimensional and three-dimensional migration of model-experiment reflection profiles," much better known to several generations of exploration geophysicists as the paper with the "French double dome."[1] Its earliest incarnation was as a physical model supported in a water tank by fine wires; not much later it was "ported" by others to the digital computer, where it served as the standard against which the performance of countless 2-D and 3-D migration algorithms was tested. Bill was one of the first to recognize the pitfalls of migrating in a plane rather than in a volume of data; his 1974 paper was a wake-up call for those of us who saw little reason to abandon the comforts of a 2-D geophysical world. In truth, Bill is one of the founding fathers of the modern 3-D survey. He foresaw its enormous potential long before acquisition and processing technologies had matured enough to make 3-D exploration an economic reality.

Bill was jolted into the study of geophysics after experiencing an earthquake while a graduate student at Oregon State University. Who can tell how 3-D seismology might have fared had it not been for this key seismic event? In 1968 he joined the Gulf R&D Labs in Pittsburgh where his renowned "double dome" first saw the light of day. Following a two-year stint as an academic at Oregon State from 1974 to 1976, Bill joined the Amoco Research Center in Tulsa; he later transferred to Amoco's New Orleans office and eventually became the head of its geophysical department. His Gulf Coast exploration experiences, combined with his much earlier pioneering laboratory work at Gulf R&D, now convinced him that the time for 3-D had indeed arrived. He formed Tensor Geophysical in 1981 with the explicit goal to design 3-D processing software. After some ups and downs (more ups than downs!) his company ended up in 1993 as part of the PGS group, and today the processing company is known by the name PGS Tensor. In 1994 Bill moved from PGS Tensor to the corporate office of Petroleum Geo-Services, where he was subsequently president of PGS Asia Pacific and most recently, senior-executive vice president of Petroleum-Geoservices ASA. A career as unique as it is exemplary has now come to an end: Bill retired on July 31.

Bill was married to his wife Marilyn in 1968; they have five children, all now married and with families of their own. Bill's and Marilyn's travels around the globe have resulted in close friendships wherever they have gone. To keep up with children and friends is itself a daunting task, but Bill and his wife are up to the challenge.

It surely comes as no surprise that Bill has given selflessly of his time and energies to SEG. He was the General Chairman for the 57th Annual Meeting in New Orleans in 1987, First Vice-President (1987-1988), and President (1991-1992). Since then he has continued to serve the Society in many capacities: on the Committee on Nominations and SEG Foundation's Board of Directors to name just two. He has presented technical papers worldwide, and his name has become a household word in exploration geophysics everywhere.

Just about a year ago Bill was interviewed by PESA News, the newsletter of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia. The article based on this interview provides curious and revealing vignettes about the career of the outstanding geophysicist that Bill has become.

Toward the end of the piece Bill was asked to comment on the downsizing efforts within the oil industry, and how such policies might affect the industry's R&D capabilities. Bill pointed out that oil companies have ceased to support enough of their own in-house research. He also implied that since practical developments in our industry tend to lag some 10 years behind the innovative work that gave them their impetus, we have yet to experience the consequences of these policies. I, for one, particularly appreciated his comments about our industry's current infatuation with teams. "You drop a new person into the team," he suggested, "and they don't become an expert geophysicist...after one generation you don't have any experts, you only have generalists." What a refreshing perspective on what has become yet another tired fad in the corporate world. We need more people with Bill French's sense of proportion to set things straight, and to get R&D in our industry back on track.

In bestowing Honorary Membership on Bill French, the SEG recognizes an outstanding scientist, a gifted teacher, an impressive businessman, a valued friend and colleague--but, above all else, a great human being.

Best Paper in Geophysics Award 1989

M. H. Miller and William S. French received the 1989 SEG Best Paper in Geophysics Award for their paper Time slices from two-dimensional surveys.[2]


  2. Miller, M. H. and W. S. French (1989), Time slices from two-dimensional surveys, Geophysics 54(1):13.

External links

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