Growing oil demand challenged petroleum geologists, who organized a professional association.

 

As 20th century worldwide demand for oil grew, the petroleum science for finding it remained obscure when 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. Meanwhile, deadly mechanized technologies of the First War I brought desperation to finding and producing vast supplies of oil.

American Association of Petroleum Geologists 1917 logo

AAPG members maintain a professional business code.

On February 10, 1917, the group of earth scientists formed an association “to which only reputable and recognized petroleum geologists are admitted.”

In early January 1918, AAPG held a convention in Oklahoma City with a membership of 167 active and 17 associate members. The association issued its first technical bulletin from the papers delivered at the 1917 meeting. 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 founded in this Tulsa college

AAPG was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at Henry Kendall College — today’s Tulsa University.

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.”

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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.

AAPG magazine cover of Bulletin

AAPG’s peer-reviewed journal.

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.

According to AAPG, the association’s 2021 membership included about 40,000 members in 129 countries in the upstream energy industry, “who collaborate – and compete – to provide the means for humankind to thrive.” The world’s largest professional geological society promotes a membership code that assures “integrity, business ethics, personal honor, and professional conduct.”

As part if the AAPG’s centennial in 2017, Robbie Rice Gries published a 405-page history of pioneering women in petroleum geology, Anomalies: Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology 1917-2017. Researched with help from AAPG volunteers, her book includes contributors’ personal stories, written correspondence, and photographs dating to the first decade of the 20th century. 

“The book should be read by every petroleum geologist, geophysicist, and petroleum engineer,” proclaimed Marlan W. Downey, founder of Roxanna Oil Company, who added, “partly for the pleasure of the sprightly told adventures, partly for a sense of history, and, significantly, because it engenders a proper respect towards all women professionals, forging their unique way in a ‘man’s world.’”  

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Recommended Reading:  Anomalies: Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology 1917-2017 (2017); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “AAPG – Geology Pros since 1917.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL:https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/aapg-geology-pros-since-1917. Last Updated: February 5, 2022. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.

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