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Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...


r6weuThis page has been created to facilitate rapid and timely interchange of opinion. Each month (space permitting) a selection of these letters will be published in Geoscientist Online , the colour monthly magazine of the Society Fellowship.

Correspondence strings are listed in the order that they are begun, the most recent string at the top. Within each string, letters are listed with the first letter of the string at the top, and subsequent letters below.

This page contains letters from the current year.  The archive of letters from previous years are accessible by clicking the links to the left.

If you wish to express an opinion, please email the Editor, Amy Whitchurch.  Letters should be as short as possible, preferably c.300 words long or fewer. You may also write to:

Dr Amy Whitchurch, Editor, Geoscientist, c/o The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG.
  • Please note that letters will be edited for publication. This particularly applies to versions  printed in the magazine.  The Editor reserves the right not to publish letters, at her discretion. Writers should submit their letters electronically to ensure rapid publication. All views expressed below are the responsibility of their authors alone. AW


EDITOR NOTE: Further correspondence on the matter of anthropogenic global warming and the Society’s climate change statement will be held until Council has deliberated on the results of an ongoing review of the statement.

Microbial mats—always ‘waiting in the wings’? 22 March 2019

Received 20 MARCH 2019
Published 22 MARCH 2019
From Robin Bailey
Dear Editor, Catherine Mascord’s account of the late Cambrian-early Ordovician Bell Island succession (Geoscientist 29 (2), 12-17, 2019) provides a glimpse of the later phases in the Cambrian Substrate Revolution (CSR). In this, the benthic microbial biomes that flourished in shallow marine environments during the Proterozoic—in the form of microbial mats, which left characteristically ‘wrinkled’ bedding surfaces—became increasingly rare. The associated increase in the traces of deep-burrowing and grazing metazoans suggests active mat predation and disruption caused by these newly-evolved forms—a ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario. But, was there also a global trend in benthic marine conditions, inimical to the microbial biofilms?

During the Phanerozoic, as Mascord notes, the benthic marine microbial biomes occasionally regained the upper hand, suggesting an environmental reversion to ‘Proterozoic’ conditions, for which these biomes had been ‘waiting in the wings’. These reversions coincided with major global metazoan extinction events and their aftermath (Pruss, 2004; Mata and Bottjer, 2009, 2011), but are also associated with more localised collapse of benthic marine faunas due to environmental stress.

Ludfordian (late Silurian) sedimentation in Wales illustrates a restricted marine basin evolving in the latter fashion. The formerly hemipelagic basin underwent progressive shallowing, first signalled by pervasively bioturbated massive shelly siltstones—a sub-littoral, ‘deep burrower’ facies that eventually developed basin-wide (Bailey, 1969; Bailey and Bailey, in press). These sediments give way transitionally to a c. 70m thick terminal Ludfordian shallow marine facies typified by an impoverished, washed-in, shelly fauna and a general lack of bioturbation. The transition also features the increasing importance of laterally-extensive, decimetre-thick, laminated ‘tempestite’ siltstone beds: event deposits that lack bioturbation and show either grading, or pronounced hummocky cross stratification (HCS); and ‘minutely rippled’, that is microbially wrinkled, grey-green, micaceous, shaly siltstones (first described by Straw, 1937 and Earp, 1938).

A close association with siltstones or fine sandstones showing HCS is a feature of the rare Phanerozoic occurrences of wrinkled horizons (Mata and Bottjer, 2009). This led to the suggestion that storm-induced sediment gravity flows transported the microbial biomes from shallower waters and provided a quartzose sediment substrate suitable for colonisation (Noffke and Awramik, 2013).  The occurrence of the wrinkle traces on the upper bedding surfaces of the Ludfordian tempestites supports this idea, while the HCS suggests that the microbial biomes colonised a basinal environment between fair-weather and storm-wave base. The lack of bioturbation and the persistence of the wrinkle traces in the inter-bedded, centimetres-thick shaly siltstones suggests that in the tranquil intervals between storm events, burrowing and grazing metazoans were excluded from the basin. The microbial mats blanketed the seabed; and each wrinkled, or non-wrinkled, micaceous shale lamina represents a microbial accretion, recording suspended sediment captured by the filamentous elements of a single benthic biofilm (Noffke and Awramik, 2013).

But, why were the marine metazoans that evidently still survived in contemporary shallower-water environments (as shown by the washed-in shelly faunas) largely excluded from the storm-wave-stirred basin? The progressive failure of the deep-burrowing faunas during the later Ludfordian suggests that, as it silted-up, the basin became increasingly hostile to benthic metazoans.  This trend could have involved general factors such as water salinities, temperatures, degrees of oxygenation and primary productivities. However, the associated stresses were later reinforced by increased storm frequencies, a climatic effect indicated by the increasing numbers of decimetres-thick, rapidly deposited, tempestites. This repeated blanketing of the seabed could have been a further restriction on metazoan colonisation. And the microbial mats, themselves, though generally seen as a response to ‘Proterozoic’ environmental conditions, when once established, may have reinforced these conditions and promoted their persistence.

Mascord’s account of the Bell Island fossils and the above outline of the late Silurian evolution of the Welsh basin underline the importance of searching for later Phanerozoic signs of the resurgence of benthic microbial biomes. ‘Proterozoic’ microbial mats are still with us; so why are their traces rarely reported from the post-Jurassic record? Have Fellows perhaps found such ‘counter-revolutions’ in later Phanerozoic outcrops and cores?

Robin Bailey


Bailey, R. J. (1969) Ludlovian sedimentation in south Central Wales. In : Wood, A. (ed.) Pre-Cambrian and Lower Palaeozoic rocks of Wales. University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 283-304.
Bailey, R. J. and Bailey, W. J. (2019) A late Silurian crisis in the Welsh Basin. Mercian Geologist, in press.
Earp, J. R. (1938) The higher Silurian rocks of the Kerry district, Montgomeryshire. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, London 94, 125-160.
Mascord, C. (2019) The fossils of Bell Island. Geoscientist, 29, 2 (March) 12-17.
Mata, S. A. & Bottjer, D. J.  (2009) Paleoenvironmental distribution of Phanerozoic wrinkle structures. Earth Science Reviews 96, 181-195
Mata, S. A. & Bottjer, D. J.  (2011) The origin of Lower Triassic microbialites in mixed carbonate-siliciclastic successions: Ichnology, applied stratigraphy, and the end-Permian mass extinction. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 300, 158-178
Noffke, N. & Awramick, S. M. (2013) Stromatolites and MISS – Differences between relatives. GSA Today 23, 4-9.
Pruss, S., Fraiser, M & Bottjer, D. (1994) Proliferation of Early Triassic wrinkle structures: implications for environmental stress following the end-Permian mass extinction. Geology 32, 461-464.
Straw, S. H. (1937) The higher Ludlovian rocks of the Builth district. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 93, 406-456.

Priorities for Australia 21 March 2019

Received 10 MARCH 2019
Published 21 MARCH 2019
From Viv Forbes
Dear Editor, Poor policies are taking Australia into tough times. There are four priorities for the coming election:

Firstly: Decimate the Feral Green Snakes in the Grass
The climate/emissions obsession started with unelected foreigners in the UN and the IPCC who drafted deep green agendas to be imposed via elected Federal, State and Local governments. Australia must immediately withdraw from the Lima/Paris/Kyoto agreements, reject the 2030 Agenda, and repeal all the green tape they spawned. This costly mess creates no measurable climate or environmental benefits.

Secondly: Build more Reliable Base-Load Power Stations
Green extremists want to destroy the carbon energy that powers our industries, supports our life style, funds our welfare and provides our jobs. They want to take us back to primitive green energy that can never support modern civilised life.

We have played with weather-dependent wind-solar toys for too long. They will never power an advanced economy, nor will they lift poor nations from poverty. And they provide no demonstrated benefits for the climate, the landscape or consumers. All taxes, subsidies and energy targets that prop up unreliable intermittent energy must be abolished.

Thirdly: Build More Dams and Weirs
Much of our continent cycles between droughts and floods. Both problems have the same solution—catch and store flood waters. The oceans are never short of water, but our land often is.

Finally: Fight Fire with Fire
Every dry season we lose homes, properties, livestock, parks and wildlife to massive bushfires. There is only one solution—copy yesterday’s aboriginals and graziers and use small, managed, early-season fires to remove flammable ground litter. This will require landowners and local fire-fighters (not urban greenies) to manage these fuel-reduction burns.

We must fix these four issues. Stop draining Australian money to support foreign agendas and the bloated UN bureaucracy. Let’s help Australians instead.

Viv Forbes

Further Reading:
More wind and solar capacity likely to make Germany’s energy supply less reliable:

A stalking horse in the election? - Reply 11 March 2019

Received 11 MARCH 2019
Published 11 MARCH 2019
From Nick Rogers
Dear Editor, In response to David James’ letter of 2nd March, I have a degree of sympathy with his view. The regulation he cites (R/G/11) states that Council ‘shall consider all nominations of the President-designate and will vote to reduce the list to two candidates of equal standing.’ (my own italics). Accordingly in this case, Council had no option but to act as they did and as they have done so at other times in the past.

Council could, under different circumstances, act as David suggests and nominate their own stalking horse to undermine and indeed corrupt the whole process. However, we are not a political party and as I repeatedly remind Council, they are the conscience of the Society and are charged as trustees to act ethically in its best interests. That said, that regulation does leave the door open for mischief and, as with other aspects of our bye-laws and regulations is probably overdue for a comprehensive review.

I shall raise the matter at the next meeting of Council.

Kind regards,
Nick Rogers, President of the Geological Society of London

A stalking horse in the election? 04 March 2019

Received 02 MARCH 2019
Published 04 MARCH 2019
From David James
Dear Editor, The Elections to Council notification (Geoscientist, March 2019) reminds us that under Regulation R/G/11 Council may reduce the number of President-designate candidates for the eventual vote to two. I find this alarming as it allows Council to debar any properly-proposed Fellow from the election without informing Fellows of his/her name or sponsors. In effect it says “we do not trust the Fellows to make an informed choice”.

Even in the case of only two valid nominations, all that Council has to do is propose one further candidate (a stalking horse?) and can then debar the unfortunate third nominee whom they deem unacceptable. This is almost carte-blanche for Council to select their own nomination.

This approach is at best anachronistic and at worst potentially corrupting; those Fellows sufficiently interested to read the supporting statements from two candidates must surely be capable of reading a third and of putting a tick in one of three boxes rather than two.

David James

Whose geology is it anyway? - Reply 25 February 2019

Received 25 FEBRUARY 2019
Published 25 FEBRUARY 2019
From Robert C Jones
Dear Editor, Peter Styles’s article on 'Whose geology is it anyway?' (Geoscientist 28 (9), 9, 2018) reminded me of a paper published more than 25 years ago, which I believe is the nearest we have to an explanation of the extraordinary nature of the ownership of English mineral rights.  This paper is to be found in Trans. Instn. Min. Metall. (Sect A: Min. Industry) 100 May-August 1991. pp A73-A83. Honey R.M.  Outline of mining law of England, Scotland and Wales. 

Having worked on the nature of mineral rights abroad, I did not encounter any country with such a Byzantine legal structure for ownership of mineral and mining rights, particularly with regard to the status quo prevailing in Cornwall, Devon, The Forest of Dean and the Hundreds of the High Peak, plus the Wapentake of Wirksworth.  Perhaps this reflects the antiquity of some of the legal provisions, which must predate most if not all existing legal codes concerning mineral rights.

Robert C Jones BSc CGeol FGS

Too much fracking carbon 20 February 2019

Received 20 FEBRUARY 2019
Published 20 FEBRUARY 2019
From Martin Lack
Dear Editor, Although I am disappointed to learn that many of the 49 geoscientists who recently signed a letter to The Times asking to raise the 0.5M tremor limit on fracking are academics with ties to the oil industry, I cannot find fault with their argument.
I agree that the 0.5M limit—that currently forces a 24-hour cessation in fracking operations—is bogus; as is the false equivalence posited by NGOs such as Greenpeace that highlight the damage caused by fracking in the Netherlands. The latter is not a fair comparison because, whereas huge amounts of structural damage was caused where buildings were erected on unconsolidated deposits in the Netherlands, this will not happen in the UK where fracking is being undertaken at depth in well-consolidated strata.
However, those same NGOs should be opposing fracking because: (a) investing in new carbon-based infrastructure is incompatible with achieving the UK's legally-binding decarbonisation targets; and (b) allowing fracking is incompatible with the latest Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 that require local planning authorities to reach a reasoned conclusion based on the balance of risks that include the long-term, cumulative and/or trans-boundary effects (see Regulation 26 and Schedule 4).
Now that we know we are in a (climate change) hole, we should stop digging!

Martin Lack FGS, CGeol MSc (Hydrogeology) MA (Environmental Politics)

Volcanism and climate 14 February 2019

Received 29 DECEMBER 2018
Published 14 FEBRUARY 2019
From Wyss Yim
Dear Editor, Further investigations into the Anthropocene period are needed in geoscience. Our planet has never before been populated by 7.5 billion people, yet the regional and global contributions to a warming and cooling climate by natural processes—such as volcanism—compared to anthropogenic greenhouse gases are poorly constrained.

Variations in Earth’s orbit and solar radiation are first-order drivers of climate, influencing interglacial and glacial cycles, monsoons and seasonal changes. However, volcanism also influences climate and can contribute significantly to natural variations, having both a warming and cooling effect.

NASA satellites first became available for tracking volcanic eruption clouds in the early 1980s. This led, for example, to recognition that the El Chichón stratospheric cloud from the April 1982 eruption circled the globe in 21 days. Submarine volcanism is more difficult to track. In the early 2000s, the ARGO global array of almost 4,000 ocean profiling floats to a depth of 2,000 m was established, primarily to observe ocean temperature, salinity and currents. However, this array has also provided a much-improved means of identifying possible submarine volcanic eruption, such as the October 2011 to March 2012 El Hierro eruption in the Canary Archipelago.

In 2019, the Past Global Changes (PAGES) project is launching stage 2 of its Volcanic Impacts on Climate and Society (VICS) program, with one aim of providing information on volcanic forcing for climate modelling studies. The project will provide vital information on the role of volcanism in the climate system.

Wyss Yim

Problems posed by derived fossils - reply 14 February 2019

Received 11 FEBRUARY 2019
Published 14 FEBRUARY 2019
From Graham West
Dear Editor, The letter from Jack Wilkin in February's Geoscientist highlighted the problems posed by derived fossils to palaeontologists and biostratigraphers, but derived fossils can also perplex engineering geologists. In 1957 I was a member of the team from the Road Research Laboratory involved in constructing an experimental section of road on the Great North Road (A1) at Alconbury Hill in Huntingdonshire (West, 2000). The geology of the site was Oxford Clay overlain in places by up to 1.5m of glacial boulder clay that was largely reworked and weathered Oxford Clay. Along the section of the site in cutting, abundant specimens of the Jurassic fossil Gryphaea dilatata could be found scattered on the surface. The derived nature of the fossils was not immediately apparent, but their long survival is no doubt due to their robust and tough composition.

Graham West

West, G. (2000) The Technical Development of Roads in Britain. Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot. ISBN: 978-0754614067 161 pp. hbk.

Plastic and sustainability on site 14 February 2019

Received 08 FEBRUARY 2019
Published 14 FEBRUARY 2019
From Geoff Faro

In the war on plastic, Geoff Faro argues for geoscientists to take a more strategic approach to on-site sampling

Unless you have been living under a rock (excuse the geology pun) for the past 5 years, the war on plastic is forefront in the media with people finding alternatives to single-use plastics and other disposable items. In our household (lead dutifully by Mrs Faro), we now proudly use bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo scorers, bamboo pot brushes, solid shampoo (looks like a bar of soap), metal reusable straws, reusable coffee cups, we choose food not wrapped in plastic and our daughter is the pride of the nursey sporting her finest re-useable nappies. All in all, we’re left with a warm (and yes, probably self-righteous) fuzzy feeling that we do all, or at least a lot that we can.

Ethics on site
Although many of us promote our green ethics, undertake brownfield remediation and brand ourselves as ‘Environmental’ companies, applying an eco-friendly approach at work, especially when undertaking environmental investigations is tricky. Recently, Geosphere Environmental undertook a small, client-scoped investigation using the Institution of Civil Engineers specification with site-specific amendments. The number of sample containers used was considerable. Overall, for four trial pits and two windowless sample holes, we used 90 plastic tubs, 104 glass jars (all with plastic lids), 20 bulk bags, 39 small bags for head space testing, a dozen plastic liners and a plastic bailer (plus a plastic Skoda bumper thanks to sheet ice and a local driving an Audi).

So, on site, as I smugly drink my coffee from my bamboo compostable mug, I can’t help but think all good work that the Faro family and many others are undertaking at home to reduce single-use plastic, pails into insignificance when a few people on site for one day fills up a medium-sized van—and likely only a fraction of these samples will ever be tested.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

During a recent laboratory visit, we asked what happens to the samples and containers. It all goes to landfill as hazardous waste.

If this is the problem, what is the solution? We can’t eliminate sampling.

Reusable containers? They don’t exist as far as I’m aware and emptying and cleaning the containers isn’t going to happen.

Recycling the containers? Maybe possible, but this is labour intensive, so incurs extra cost. With all the laboratories vying for business at competitive rates, recycling is unlikely to happen unless forced.

This leaves reducing. Can we reduce the number of samples we take instead of the ‘shotgun’ approach often taken? Reduction could be achieved with a good desk-study or by having someone on site that is able to make an informed decision as to what will be tested, rather than a recent graduate instructed to blindly sample every half meter. One less tub is the same as one less shampoo bottle and will assist with (but not solve) our reliance on plastic. In the end, every little helps. Of course, this approach isn’t infallible—the environmental impact of returning to site if more samples were needed is significantly larger than a couple of pots—but we must at least try to reduce our industrial impacts wherever possible.

Anyway, rant over, I’m off to look down on the drillers with their single-use coffee cups.

Geoff Faro is a Principal Engineering Geologist at Geosphere Environmental; e-mail:

The broader picture 07 February 2019

Received 01 JANUARY 2019
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2019
From Larry Thomas

The Society should support geologists in every sector, argues Larry Thomas

The article by Mike Simmons (Speaking up for geoscience. Geoscientist 28(11), 9, 2018) highlighted the relationship between academic and commercial viewpoints in relation to energy requirements. The petroleum industry has a high profile and still has an active group within the Society. The coal industry has not. The Coal Geology Group alas is no more, in part due to the reduction, and in some cases the abandonment, of coal exploration and mining in western Europe, so that the Society has no voice in this sector of industry.

Embedded coal

The general perception is that the use of fossil fuels is one of pollution and a contributor to environmental damage. Whilst this is historically true in many areas, the undeniable fact is that coal currently provides 39% of global electricity generation. Many countries do not have the finance and/or technology, and in some cases the inclination, to reduce or halt the use of coal. Many lack the knowhow and, more significantly, the funding to undertake renewable energy projects.

The role of the geologist is a double-edged sword. On the one hand their identification and determination of the geological character of coal deposits is appreciated by Governments and shareholders of mining companies, but they can be vilified by protest groups and environmentalists for simply doing their job.

Notable strides

It is important to realise that in the last 30 years, vast improvements have been made in coal mining and coal cleaning technologies. Additionally, conditions are placed on the geologist, for example, to consider whether coal seams with a sulphur content >1% should be mined or left in the ground. Geological reporting now is accompanied by hydrogeological analysis and geotechnical appraisal of any prospect, and all asset determinations are made according to international standards. Such improvements have been accompanied by the design and construction of modern power plants that control SOx, NOx and particulate emissions.

The industry and their geologists must communicate with others, whilst respecting confidentiality agreements, both within the geological sphere and the public at large, to explain the balance between fossil fuel extraction and the impact on the environment, as well as the financial ramifications.

I note that 2019 is the ‘Year of Carbon’. It is essential that the Society responds to the needs and viewpoints of academia and industry, producing an even-handed approach to presentations and discussions on the use of fossil fuels. There will be geologists in all the industries producing fossil fuels—let the Society recognise them and their contribution to global energy needs.

The Society is our voice in geosciences not only in the UK, but worldwide, so let’s hear it for all sectors of the profession.

Dr Larry Thomas, C.Geol, C.Eng, FIMMM, FGS; Director, Dargo Associates Ltd.; e-mail:

The ‘impact’ factor: Can we be more useful? 07 February 2019

Received 19 DECEMBER 2018
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2019
From Phil Heron

Phil Heron reaches out on outreach                                                 

Impact. The section on the grant application that is becomingly increasingly important to funding bodies. How is your project going to benefit people? And by ‘people’ I mean real people. Not those twelve souls in your precise area of expertise that are genuinely interested (some may even say keen) to hear about your new research.  Or the scattering of other geologists in different fields that might find your work useful. Actual people.


For a number of years, I have been going into high schools and primary schools armed with a bag of rocks, spaghetti and marshmallows, and some chat about plate tectonics. I love it. I don’t even do it because I said I would in a grant—I just like presenting things I find interesting to people. And it is impactful. I find a good percentage of students I meet love the exposure to geology. Some would rather I was Brian Cox or Tim Peake, but you can’t please everyone. 

The Geological Society has a comprehensive school outreach programme—the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Ambassador Programme is phenomenal in getting positive role models into classrooms to enthuse students about science. There are a number of national initiatives, like Earth Science Week, to focus student’s attention on our dear subject, as well as a wealth of online material for teachers to peruse for lessons. With that in mind, is it time to start exploring other avenues outside the traditional classroom setting for our required outreach programs?

Other avenues

I live and work in Durham, a city that has, broadly speaking, a university, a cathedral and a few prisons. As part of my outreach activity, I thought I could try and combine one of the non-university institutes. Going in and talking to prison leaders (sidestepping the cathedral), it became clear that there is a real lack of science education on the inside due to a lack of funding and personnel. To try to bridge this gap, I’ve set up what appears to be England’s first science course to be taught inside the prison system.

The work within a young offenders institution will enable the students to gain access to information on STEM apprenticeships, and mentor them in ‘thinking like a scientist’. As the course continues to gather pace, it could be genuinely useful and impactful to the prison system and to the students. I’m encouraging Geoscientist readers to reach out if they have guidance of any sort to young offenders who are keen for rehabilitation through science education. This may be anything from ideas for routes into science employment, to qualities that employers would need to see from non-graduate employees.

Grants demand academics to be impactful with our science and our outreach programs—is it time to expand our portfolio of classrooms and science fairs?

Philip J. Heron is a Marie Skłodowska Curie Research Fellow at Durham University; e-mail: (Phil’s science course is called ‘Think Like A Scientist’;

Petroleum Geoscientists Wanted! 07 February 2019

Received 08 JANUARY 2019
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2019
From John Warburton

John Warburton asserts that a new generation is needed to steward the transition to a clean energy future

I read with great pleasure the article Speaking up for Geoscience (Geoscientist 28(11), 9, 2018), by my respected friend and colleague Mike Simmons. Mike recounts how the resource industries have done their brand quality little service though poor communications with the societies that they serve. This he argues has led to a perception that these industries are directly or indirectly exacerbating environmental damage.

Given such negative branding it is unsurprising that school and university graduates may have limited aspiration to pursue careers in resources or in the geological sciences. This is indeed a bleak backdrop against which Mike calls on society and industry to work together to encourage new young professionals to take-up careers in industrial geosciences.

Thirst for petroleum

I have been involved in the petroleum industry since bidding farewell to university in the early 1980s. I have experienced first-hand how petroleum companies take extraordinary measures to reduce environmental harm while winning precious resources.  Such measures are often openly demanded by vocal shareholders and activists.

Technological and ideological advances continue to enable petroleum resources to be exploited from increasingly challenging settings. For example, petroleum exploitation has progressed from onshore to offshore; shallow to deep and ultra-deepwater; conventional to unconventional reservoirs; sedimentary basins to crystalline basement. Furthermore, new sources of petroleum are under consideration (such as hydrates, Arctic basins, deep-basin centres) as the World’s insatiable thirst for a petroleum-based economy and lifestyle grows despite some projections proclaiming imminent production decline.

Addiction transition

Anathema to our addiction to petroleum is the desire instantaneously to recover from it.

Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani was Saudi Minister of Petroleum & Mineral Resources from 1962 to 86 and an OPEC minister for 25 years. In 1973, he predicted that alternative sources of energy would eventually compete commercially with petroleum products famously remarking that "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones”.

It is in the context of a measured (rather than an unrealistic, immediate) transition away from a lifestyle addicted to petroleum where I see the next generation of prospective young petroleum professionals finding their voice.

There is a current and projected global emphasis on the role of natural gas, compared with oil and coal. Combustion of petroleum in the gaseous phase bears substantially lower carbon footprint than oil or coal. Advances in production technology increased daily shale gas production in the USA from about 2 billion cubic feet (‘Bcf’) in 2007 to 50 Bcf in 2015 with an attendant 10% decrease in annual CO2 emissions*.  Furthermore, petroleum companies are tentatively but increasingly experimenting with renewable energy sources (such as solar and wind) in an attempt to curtail their carbon emissions. For example, solar panels can generate electricity for powering oil field pump jacks that formerly relied on burning of diesel.

Young professionals

Society needs a next generation of petroleum geoscientists to steward the transition from our fossil-fuel-addicted lifestyle to one predominantly reliant on renewables. Only with a profound understanding of petroleum geology can those elements to be replaced entirely by renewable energy sources be identified and the technological breakthroughs implemented in a sensible timeframe.

Perhaps petroleum geoscience is not so ‘dirty’ after all.

Professor John Warburton is Non-Executive Director of Senex Energy Ltd and of Empire Energy Group Ltd and a visiting Professor at the School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds, UK; e-mail:

*Energy in Depth Oct, 27 2015, EIA May 2016, Monthly Energy Review

Join the decarbonisation bandwagon 07 February 2019

Received 29 JANUARY 2019
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2019
From Martin Lack

The Society should set an example by supporting the campaign for a 2050 decarbonisation target, argues Martin Lack

I was very disappointed when the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) banned an ExxonMobil advert for investment in algal biofuels some years ago. Where land is cheap and sunshine abundant (such as deserts), researchers have already shown that algae can be genetically modified to produce twice as much lipid as is produced normally—lipid that can be made into fuel. However, the ASA apparently objected to ExxonMobil’s assertion that algal biofuels could reduce carbon emissions (i.e. rather than climate change). Sadly, the ASA’s decision betrays a total failure to appreciate that, unlike fossil fuels, burning algal biofuels will not contribute to global warming; thanks to the short-term carbon cycle and the fact that this will not involve adding lithospheric carbon to the atmosphere.

Significant alterations

One of the most persistent fallacies repeated by climate science deniers is that “CO2 is plant food”. Certainly, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were much higher in the Carboniferous era (the clue is in the name) in which plants got very big! However, given that human civilisation is primarily the result of the stable climate and sea levels since the last ice age, there should be very little doubt that it will be bad news for humanity if Earth’s climate is now altered significantly; especially since that change is happening faster than at any time in Earth’s history.

Thankfully, the Geological Society does not dispute any of the above. Indeed, in its position statement on climate change, the Society has cautioned that the Earth may take 100,000 years to reverse the changes that will be caused if humans burn all Earth’s fossil fuels three million times faster than it can recycle them.

As we have now been warned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—a panel of experts assembled in the 1980s before the fossil fuel industry decided to copy the tactics of the tobacco industry and spend huge amounts of money confusing the public, so as to delay the sensible regulation of their products—if humanity wants to prevent climate change from leading to the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history, we have less than 12 years to radically change the way we generate power.

Given that the rate of glacier melting has increased six-fold in the last 40 years, if we do nothing, they could be melting 36 times faster than they are today by the end of the century. We are already witnessing changes in our climate. This is strong empirical evidence that, unless we take action to prevent them, the changes that occur will—as Sir David Attenborough has warned—lead to the extinction of the majority of species of life on Earth.


That being the case, I suggest that it is now time for the Society to go one step further and—as have esteemed bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, the Institute of Civil Engineers, and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment—support the campaign by The Climate Coalition (formerly the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition) to persuade our politicians to legislate for a 2050 Decarbonisation Target. In other words, the aim would be for the UK to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 (that is, allowing for the possibility of carbon sequestration to be greater than fossiliferous emissions)

Martin Lack FGS CGeol MCIWEM