As early 20th century worldwide demand for oil grew – but the science for finding it remained obscure – a small group of geologists organized the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).
Beginning as the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about 90 geologists gathered at Henry Kendall College, now Tulsa University, and on February 10, 1917, formed an association “to which only reputable and recognized petroleum geologists are admitted.”
The new association’s mission included promoting the science of geology, especially as it related to oil and natural gas, and encourage “technology improvements in the methods of exploring for and exploiting these substances.”
AAPG would also “foster the spirit of scientific research among its members; to disseminate facts relating to the geology and technology of petroleum and natural gas.”
Adopted its present name a year after the meeting at Henry Kendall College, AAPG began publishing a bimonthly journal that remains among the most respected in the industry.
The peer-reviewed Bulletin included papers written by leading geologists of the day. With a subscription price of five dollars, the journal was distributed to members, university libraries, and other industry professionals.
By 1920, one petroleum trade magazine – after complaining of the industry’s lack of skilled geologists – noted the “Association Grows in Membership and Influence; Combats the Fakers.”
The article praised AAPG professionalism and warned of “the large number of unscrupulous and inadequately prepared men who are attempting to do geological work.”
Similarly, the Oil Trade Journal praised AAPG for its commitment “to censor the great mass of inadequately prepared and sometimes unscrupulous reports on geological problems, which are wholly misleading to the industry.”
Perhaps the best known such fabrication is related to the men behind the 1930 East Texas oilfield discovery – a report entitled “Geological, Topographical And Petroliferous Survey, Portion of Rusk County, Texas, Made for C.M. Joiner by A.D. Lloyd, Geologist And Petroleum Engineer.”
Using very scientific terminology, A.D. Lloyd’s document described Rusk County geology – its anticlines, faults, and a salt dome – all features associated with substantial oil deposits…and all completely fictitious.
The fabrications nevertheless attracted investors, allowing Joiner and “Doc” Lloyd to drill a well that uncovered a massive oil field – still the largest conventional oil reservoir in the lower-48 states.
Equally imaginative science came from Lloyd’s earlier descriptions of the “Yegua and Cook Mountain” formations and the thousands of seismographic registrations he ostensibly recorded. Lloyd, a former patent medicine salesman, and other self-proclaimed geologists, were the antithesis of the AAPG professional ethic.
In 1945, AAPG formed a “Committee on Boy Scout Literature” to assist the Boy Scouts of America in updating requirements for the “mining” badge, which had been awarded since 1911 (learn more in Merit Badge for Geology). By 1953, AAPG membership had grown to more than 10,000 and a permanent headquarters building opened Tulsa.
Today, the association is the world’s largest professional geological society with more than 31,000 members in 116 countries. AAPG still embraces a membership code that assures “integrity, business ethics, personal honor, and professional conduct.”
AAPG’s Robbie Rice Gries – with help from many dedicated volunteers – in March 2017 published a 405-page history of pioneering women in petroleum geology: Anomalies – Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 1917 to 2017, The First 100 Years.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.