The Boy Scouts of America geology merit badge began in 1911 as a mining badge – one of less than 30 scouting merit badges. The mining merit badge evolved into the rocks and minerals badge and in 1953 became the geology merit badge.
The story behind the geology merit badge is best told by a member of the Houston Geological Society, which offers potential badge earners many resources. Geologist Jeff Spencer, himself an Eagle Scout, provided details for this article.
Spencer has published more than 20 oilfield history papers and is a frequent contributor to Oil-Industry History, the annual journal of the Petroleum History Institute, Oil City, Pennsylvania.
According to Spencer, the original mining merit badge had four basic requirements, including naming at least 50 minerals; describing the 14 great divisions of the earth’s crust; and defining terms like watershed, delta, drift, fault, glacier, terrace and stratum.
Scouts seeking the mining merit badge also were required to identify 10 different kinds of rock and describe methods for mine ventilation and safety devices.
Spencer notes that the first mention of oil and natural gas appeared in 1927 – the mining merit badge requirement asked Scouts to “explain how we locate petroleum and natural gas pools, and how we obtain oil and gas.”
In 1945, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) formed a “Committee on Boy Scout Literature” at the urging of industry leaders, including A.C. Bace, a geologist with Stanolind, and George W. Pirtlem, an independent geologist from Tyler, Texas.
Oklahoma geologist Frank Gouin chaired the AAPG committee’s effort to revise the badge and its requirements, Spencer says. In 1953, the geology merit badge officially replaced the rocks and minerals badge.
Spencer notes that the 1953 merit badge’s description of what a geologist does said that four out of five geologists become “oil geologists” with an expected starting salary of $300 per month.
“You may have to be a nomad instead of settling down for life in one spot,” it continued. “You may have to ‘sit on’ a well all night and then drive a hundred miles to report on it. You may have to burn in India, freeze in Alaska, or do both in the Texas Panhandle.”
Although minor revisions of the geology merit badge occurred in 1957, the next major change came in 1982, adding anticlines, synclines, and faults with a requirement to draw simple diagrams showing unconformity, strikes and dips.
The last major revision of the geology merit badge occurred in 1985, Spencer says, again with the cooperation of AAPG leadership. The merit badge now has 13 requirements, organized under five categories: earth materials, earth processes, earth history, geology and people, and careers in geology.
The earth materials section includes the collection and identification of rocks and minerals.
The earth processes section covers geomorphology, the hydrologic cycle, volcanoes, mountain building, and the ocean floor.
The earth history section includes the geologic time chart, fossils, and continental drift. The geology and people section covers environmental geology and energy sources with a field trip option in this category.
In addition to its involvement in geology merit badges, AAPG and its chapters serve the scouting program in many ways, Spencer concludes. The Houston Geological Society has sponsored Explorer Posts and worked with the Houston Museum of Natural Science to teach elements of the merit badge.
There now are more than 120 merit badges. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 – and the need for energy conservation – led to creation of an “energy” merit badge in 1977.
Editor’s Note – In 2013, Jeff published a selection of his oil patch post cards via Arcadia Publishing’s postcard history series. His Texas Oil and Gas, which includes more than 200 vintage black-and-white images through decades of oil booms throughout the state.
Chapters reflect the Lone Star State’s petroleum heritage by region, including “Spindletop and the Golden Triangle,” the prolific area in southeast Texas between Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange.
Read a review of his book in Postcards from the Texas Oil Patch.
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