Geotourism: The Sedgwick Museum of Geology

Article by Stephen Pickering

As a Geology undergraduate in the early 1970’s I used to visit the architecturally magnificent Victorian Natural History Museum in London, it’s vast cabinets organised with comprehensive fossil and mineral collections in phyllogenic and taxonomic order. Organisms and rocks of every description which both amazed and inspired me by their enormous range and content. Today the Natural History Museum is to me but a sorry shadow of its former self, the beautiful fossil collections swept away, and replaced by animatronic gimmicks and inter-active experiences, even Dippy the Diplodocus has been consigned to the archives – et tu Dippy

Adam Sedgwick, Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1818 to 1873 (, and who first recognised the rocks to define both the Cambrian and Devonian Periods, wrote to his students in 1835 “I cannot promise to teach you all geology, I can only fire your imagination”. His legacy to his successors was a collection of over half a million specimens, including ichthyosaurs specimens purchased from Mary Anning.

In 1904 Thomas Hughes persuaded Cambridge University to open the present Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences consisting of more than 2 million specimens including the collection made by Charles Darwin on his voyage on the Beagle, and “Bertie” Brighton the first curator catalogued 375, 000 specimens of the Sedgwick collection. This museum is a time capsule of the history of Geological Science which together with its patrons Sedgwick, Hughes and Brighton, is truly inspirational and certainly fires my imagination.

If you have cause to visit Cambridge University on either business or pleasure the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science is well worth visiting.

OIL! An Explorer’s Tale – An eBook by PESGB Member, Robert Johnson

Lovers of oil, rocks and all things geological may be interested in Robert Johnson’s historical exploration, OIL! An Explorer’s Tale, an e-book available for purchase now! The book is both political and historical, yet deals with these issues within a broader geological scope, offering an emotional and informative look into the British and global oil industries.


The 1970’s are frequently portrayed against the backdrop of the declining coal industry – a time of strikes, power cuts and ballooning inflation. But it was also the time when multi-billion barrel oilfields were being discovered in the North Sea. ‘Oil!’ Is the personal story of twenty years of professional exploration in Canada, the North Sea and Indonesia.

‘OIL An Explorer’s Tale’ is about a career. It offers a unique account of the North Sea and the political backdrop against which a state company was formed, operated as Britain’s national oil company and was then privatised. It also describes the excitement of the first big oil finds in UK waters, of the discovery of the Ninian field, of onshore and offshore rigs, of tool-pushers, of roughnecks, roustabouts and of Billy Pughs. At a higher but no less rumbustious level, it describes interaction at professional and executive level with some of the well-known players of the time (Lord Kearton, Ian Clarke, Sir Alastair Morton, Sir Philip Shelbourne). It is a working life at the receiving end of political influences (Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Tony Benn and Margaret Thatcher). It was a time when the general public saw only rocketing inflation, civil unrest and IRA bombs. But it was also a time when, out of view in the North Sea, ‘the major project of the 1970’s and 1980’s’ was quietly transforming the economic fortunes of the United Kingdom

‘OIL! An Explorer’s Tale’ is also about the joys and sadness of family life over two exciting decades that began in Western Canada, moved to London, experienced a demanding job, a large house, a small boat and nine years in Scotland, embraced China, the United States and the Soviet Union, lived the expatriate life in Indonesia and ended (as far as this book is concerned) in Beijing and the South of France. It is dedicated to my wife Elaine, to daughters Sally and Nina and, in absentia, to Marcella. And to all those who helped her, and us, along the way.

Mr Johnson’s e-book can be purchased at his website,; there you can also find more information about Robert’s other books, as well the wider philosophy and aims of his book series.


Secondary Pupils Embark On Energy Industry Challenge

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Youngsters to work with mentors on STEM in the Pipeline

Secondary school pupils throughout Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire are to delve into the world of oil and gas as they embark on a project which will see them use their skills in physics, maths, chemistry and geology to solve an industry challenge.

TechFest’s STEM In The Pipeline will be launched at the University of Aberdeen today with an introductory day for the pupils and energy industry professionals, who will act as mentors.

Sponsored by BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, and supported by the University of Aberdeen, the Energy Institute, The Oil and Gas Authority and the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain, the programme will see 15 teams of senior pupils being set an oil field challenge to work on over the next few months, culminating in a final event in December.

They will work with their mentors and gain a valuable insight into careers in engineering and the oil and gas industry as well as undergoing significant development in their interpersonal and team skills.

Wednesday’s introduction will see the pupils attending five hands-on workshops in geology, drilling and reservoir, finance, processing and project management and start working together in their newly formed teams.

TechFest is a charity which aims to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities to young people and the wider community.

Molly Imrie, TechFest’s Education Manager, said: “The STEM in the Pipeline project is a great way for secondary school pupils to put all of their knowledge and skills into practice to solve a problem which is relevant to the oil and gas industry…Along with the support of mentors and academics, the students will come together in small teams and each spend more than 40 extracurricular hours working on their project, which they will then present to the judges in December…Year on year the students excel in this project and always demonstrate very high levels of passion, intelligence and ingenuity.”

Teams will be expected to work together and take part in a challenging series of tasks to produce a Field Development Plan for the fictional STEM oil field.

The tasks cover subsurface work, production profiling, separator design, safety and the calculation of CO2 emissions.

After submitting a report to TechFest, each team will give a presentation to a panel of assessors. They will then be awarded prizes and given certificates.

Pupils who take part in STEM in the Pipeline will also be eligible for the Silver CREST Award, Britain’s national award scheme for work in the STEM subjects.

The schools taking part this year are Banchory Academy, Portlethen Academy, St Margaret’s School for Girls, Robert Gordon’s College, Meldrum Academy, Northfield Academy, Kemnay Academy, Westhill Academy, Banff Academy, Aboyne Academy, Fraserburgh Academy, Harlaw Academy, Aberdeen Grammar School, Inverurie Academy and Oldmachar Academy.

Each year, TechFest runs Aberdeen and North-east Scotland’s annual festival of STEM which attracts tens of thousands of children and adults to a series of presentations, workshops and events in and around Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire

This year the festival is set to run from Friday, August 26, until September 18.
For more information, please visit


INDUSTRY NEWS: OGA exploration licence competition makes final awards


The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has awarded more than £200,000 in the final stage of its exploration licence competition which was launched earlier this year to stimulate further interest in offshore oil and gas exploration activity in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS).

Australian privately owned geoscience company FROGTECH, not-for-profit earth sciences consultancy Geoscience Wales and private company Geop4ysics Ltd. will now complete their innovative interpretations and products using data acquired during last year’s UK Government funded £20m seismic survey of the Rockall Trough and Mid-North Sea High (MNSH) areas.

FROGTECH, based in Canberra, Australia, has approached the project utilising their SEEBASE™ product (Structurally Enhanced view of Economic BASEment). They will produce a unique, hand-contoured depth-to-basement model of the Rockall and MNSH areas which will provide greater insight into the foundation of the geological basement, rather than relying on more traditional gravity inversion methods. Additional deliverables include the interpretation of basement terranes, major structures and basement-derived heat flow.

Geoscience Wales’ project is being completed by six of their associates, industry professionals from across the UK, many of whom have worked on the MNSH area throughout their careers. Their primary aim is to document the potential effective petroleum systems present within the area with a strong focus on source rock geochemistry and basin modelling.

Kinga Wroblewska, owner of Geop4ysics Ltd., set up her company in March this year after spending more than 17 years’ working for various oil and gas service companies in the geoscience sector. Her project will integrate rock physics into the overall interpretation of the MNSH data set. The aim of this is to identify lithological variations and use these to help define the extent of both potential and known reservoir units.

Gunther Newcombe, OGA Exploration, Production and Decommissioning Director, said: “Despite the global downturn in the oil and gas industry, the overwhelmingly positive response to this competition highlights the tenacity and talent of the global geoscience community…All the projects submitted will provide greater insight into our understanding of the Rockall Trough and Mid-North Sea High areas, while adding value to our evaluation of 29th Offshore Licensing Round applications…Given the high quality of the technical work delivered by all applicants, there is also the option for products to be integrated into other OGA exploration initiatives, such as the production of regional geological maps, to proactively influence and incentivise exploration on the UKCS.”

The OGA’s exploration licence competition launched in March 2016 and attracted more than 60 applications from the UK, Canada, USA, Australia and Europe. It was designed to encourage geoscientists to develop innovative interpretations and products using the data acquired from the Rockall Trough and MNSH areas and to increase the understanding of these frontier areas ahead of the 29th Seaward Licensing Round which opened last month.

REVIEW: Structural Geology Field Trip to Bude, North Cornwall

Group Photo

Review by Alastair Burke

Geologically this region is characterised by the presence of Late Carboniferous turbidites that have been heavily folded and faulted by the Late Palaeozoic Variscan collisional orogeny.
The overall theme of this field trip was to examine and demonstrate the relationship and interplay between structure geometry and stratigraphy (in this case variations in the ratio of Sandstone to Mudstone), something that is collectively termed ‘Mechanical Stratigraphy’.
Our first location was Hartland Quay, North of Bude. The weather, rather unusually for a UK based field trip, was fantastic. Our course tutor, Jonathan Turner (a Structural Geologist with BG-Group) gave us an overview of the area (a series of heavily folded turbidites) which at points we struggled to hear due to a rather noisy pair of nesting Peregrine falcons! This area was where John Ramsey, the ‘Father’ of modern structural geology, worked on and devised his theory on the mechanics of chevron folding back in 1974. The quality of the exposure is second to none. The locality demonstrates everything from the small scale deformational features (at individual fold level) through to large scale where a change in the thickness of the sand bodies alters the style of folding from tight chevron to broad low amplitude anticlines.
The second location of the day was Millook Haven, to the South of Bude. This area further demonstrates how changes in the stratigraphy (in this case a series of tabular and evenly bedded turbidites) influenced the style of deformation, expressed as a series of sharp crested and recumbent chevron folds.
Additionally, we saw evidence of how, during the early stages of diagenesis, mudstones and sandstones can respond differently to strain. What we saw was the apparent flow from the mudstone interval into tension cracks developing within the sandstones intervals.
At the end of the day we returned to Bude and reassembled that evening on the beach for a civilised dinner of fish and chips, pizza and wine!
On Day 2 the weather had returned to familiar conditions for a UK based field trip – wind and near horizontal rain! Not to be deterred from our mission, however, and remaining as enthusiastic as ever, Jonathan lead us on a short walk down to Bude beach to the first stop; an exhumed plunging anticline known as the ‘Whaleback’.
The ‘Whaleback’ allowed us to examine in three dimensions the complexity, variation and seemingly conflicting coexistence and expression of both compressional forces (in the form of pressure solution) and tensional forces (expressed as filled fractures) during the generation of the structure. We also saw wonderfully preserved examples of centimetre scale syn-depositional faulting within the mudstone units.
At Upton, South of Bude, we again observed the influence that changes in the ratio of Sand to Mudstone have on the deformation style. In this example, relatively thick channel sands limit the deformational style to a low amplitude anticline with further additional compression accommodated by the formation of thrust related duplexes.
Our final location, Crackington Haven, demonstrated the opposite of what we had seen previously at Upton where thin bedding led to the development of near isoclinal folding.
Thanks must go to Jonathan Turner, the course tutor, for his guidance and expertise during the trip. Jonathan managed to blend and deliver perfectly his academic and industry experience providing what was a very interesting and relevant field trip.
For me personally as an Interpreter/Geophysicist the two key messages that I took away from the field trip were; firstly, how complex and three dimensional these deformational processes actually are and secondly, a firm reminder that when I am at my workstation looking at data it is equally important to have an appreciation not only of what you do see, but also what you don’t see!

Hartland Quay

PESGB Member, Mike Shepherd to present at Edinburgh Book Festival next week!

mukeMy book on the history of North Sea oil, Oil Strike North Sea was published by Luath Press last September, and will be presented at the Edinburgh International Book festival in August. In view of this, the PESGB have asked me to give an account of how I came to write it.

My recent literary efforts started when Aberdeen local historian Diane Morgan asked me to contribute a chapter to her book, Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens.  I had been recently involved in a campaign to save the city centre gardens from being built over and she asked me to explain the background to what proved to be a major controversy in Aberdeen.  This inspired me to write my own history book. The North Sea oil business was an obvious topic, given that I’ve worked as a petroleum geologist for over thirty years and indeed saw big oil coming to my home town of Aberdeen as a teenager.

The history of North Sea oil is not a subject over-endowed with books. The large Scottish section at Blackwell’s bookshop in Edinburgh displays books on all aspects of Scottish history, including whaling and the coal industry, even the history of Scottish oil shale, yet North Sea oil barely registers amongst the titles.

The topic is complex and multi-disciplinary and this may have possibly scared off the non-insider from tackling it. As it is, my version of the story spends a large part of the narrative explaining the context to the non-specialist – this is unavoidable.  An early decision was also made to write the book in thematic chapters loosely organised as a historical timeline.  This allowed me to throw in numerous anecdotes from my own experience and adds a human element to the story.

One of the selling points to my publisher on submitting the book was that North Sea oil is one of the most dramatic stories to have happened in the UK outside the general sphere of war. It wouldn’t be difficult to write a lively account and that proved to be the case. As I mentioned in the introduction, it’s:

‘a story of big money, big engineering, a few spectacular failures and many great achievements….’

But, more than this, the development of North Sea oil was one of the biggest engineering challenges in recent history anywhere:

‘The North Sea proved to be a new frontier for the oil companies when they first arrived. They had been offshore before elsewhere in the world, but never in waters quite so stormy or deep. They would try their existing technologies at first, but these were put to severe test and often failed. New ways of doing things were needed if the oil was ever going to be recovered and given the specific problems they faced, the engineering required was colossal. With an effort on this scale, the North Sea oil industry has proved to be a major and tremendously exciting episode of both UK and Scottish history.’

This is undeniably true and I will add that every one of us should be proud of our contribution in making North Sea oil happen. In particular, the key roles of geology and geophysics occupy centre stage in the book, and if I have made what we do accessible to the general public then this has been a worthwhile exercise in itself.

Oil Strike North Sea will be presented at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 15 August at 7.15pm

Mike Shepherd has also written a textbook – Oil Field Production Geology, published by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists

Going for Gold in Geophysics

Article by Stephen Pickering

As I write this article I am listening on the radio to the Rio 2016 Olympics commentary, specifically how technology has been instrumental in improving performance in cycling. The British Cycling Team realised that in addition to carbon fibre technology, the paint on a bicycle weighs 100g, the clothes worn by the cyclists can affect aerodynamics and muscular performance (literally hot pants!), and that the riders experience G-forces which require specific saddle design. All these and many more innovations can all potentially improve performance no matter how small. However, they also realised that the key to winning Olympic Gold lies in the integration of these many marginal innovations and that to remain an Olympic winner, innovation has to become a continuous process.

In June 1999 William Aylor Jr. presented a paper Measuring the Impact of 3D Seismic on Business Performance in the Journal of Petroleum Technology (JPT). In his paper Aylor demonstrated that 3D seismic had a major impact on the performance of Amoco’s E&P operation’s during the 1990’s. Aylor showed that 3D seismic improved reserves replacement, improved exploration finding rates and volumes, and had a positive effect on field-reserves revisions, all of which resulted in a step change in performance for Amoco. In the paper Aylor suggests ways in which to measure the impact of emerging technologies. These measures gauge the benefits (efficiency and effectiveness) as well as the easily measured costs (economy) when managing technology investments.
Twenty years on the investors in our industry; the bankers, investment trusts and venture capitalists, have in recent years become very risk averse with regards Exploration new ventures. Based upon recent drilling results there is a common misbelief that the time for exploration is over. Fortunately, geophysics has a superb track record of game changing innovations combining science and engineering; CDP stack and common midpoint gathers, 3D and 4D seismic, multi-cable and multi-source acquisition, broadband, Reverse Time Migration, are just a few. Each one of these innovations has changed the exploration game through lowering costs, speeding up the process of data collection and analysis, and/or providing more accurate and informed measurements – Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness. These innovations individually and collectively have contributed to the impressive record of geophysics to make step changes in Exploration drilling performance and in identifying subsurface hydrocarbon resources as demonstrated by William Aylor.
The challenge for Geophysics today is to make yet another step change in performance; integration, cost reduction, improved productivity but most importantly increased accuracy of our measurements and risk reduction.

The Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB) will host a seminar at the Geological Society, Piccadilly on 27th/28th September on the theme of Getting Value from Geophysics: Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness for Low Oil Prices. The aim of this seminar is to stimulate ideas and discussion around just how we can make such a step change in the 21st Century, to challenge those who believe the time for exploration is over, and in due course win that elusive Liquid Gold.
Come and join us

Earth Observation for Oil and Gas (EO4OG)

Article by Andrew Cutts,

iImage from the EO4OG webpage (accessed July 2016)

This project was initiated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) in 2014. The aim was to “to undertake a comprehensive study of the geo-information needs of the O&G sector and what EO services / products could help meet those needs”. The starting point to access this information and the project itself is here:

Hidden Gems

There are quite a few hidden gems in this project; I will highlight two key ones. Firstly, there are 19 case studies. well worth having a look at.

They are split into Onshore and Offshore case studies, but each one contains a tab either called ‘Outcomes’ or ‘Results & Perspectives’. Why is this a hidden gem? Because the value of EO products is being highlighted in real world Oil and Gas related activities.

Secondly, the challenges faced by the Oil and Gas sector have been presented in the form of challenge trees. Here for example is a snap shot of Surface Geology Mapping.

2Image from the EO4OG webpage (accessed July 2016)

These challenge trees allow quick navigation to subsections (in grey), with the actual challenges within those sections. Click on a challenge and it will take you to the product sheet. There is a significant amount of rich content in these pages; I wonder if enough people have come across them.

225 challenges

Between them the four consortiums found 225 challenges. These challenges originated from interviews with Oil and Gas companies. There is some overlap in the challenges and it would be great if the two onshore and two offshore projects could be merged. The challenges found by each consortium are coloured by the bounding box (in the example above OTM is blue/black and Hatfield is Orange/Brown). There is no repetition within each consortium’s challenges.

I have done a 6-minute guide to navigating through the web site on YouTube, although the site is pretty intuitive.

A stunning return on public investment

Earth Observation (EO) data should be a more attractive proposition today than ever before. The USGS suggests the Landsat program is “a stunning return on public investment” Since the free and open data policy start in 2008 the number of downloaded scenes has increased exponentially.


The rate of downloads of Landsat data is increasing rapidly. Image credit: USGS.


EO data has in the past been oversold to the Oil and Gas Sector. The rapid improvement in spatial and spectral resolution, added to the increasing temporal coverage plus a move towards machine learning and ‘Earth Observation 2.0’ is making EO data more attractive today. The work produced by the EO4OG sets a framework to solve common industry problems. Time to look at EO again.

To promote, for the public benefit, education in the scientific and technical aspects of petroleum exploration


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