Dr. Paul Weimer, 2015 Doris M. Curtis Medal
Paul Weimer, this year’s recipient of the Doris M. Curtis Medal, was born a mile above sea level and grew up at 8000 feet of elevation. As fate would have it, though, Paul’s life moved in the opposite direction: studying the geology of areas more than one mile under water.
It’s unusual to give the Curtis Medal to someone who doesn’t live in the Gulf Coast Region, but then, Paul’s career has had some unusual twists and turns. His professional life started with a B.A. in 1978 from Pomona College (Claremont, CA) and an M.S. from the University of Colorado–Boulder (1980). He worked with Sohio Petroleum for four years as an exploration geologist on North Alaskan projects such as the Mukluk lease sale and exploration well, field work in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and initial evaluations of the KIC well north of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). These formative years in frontier exploration taught Paul how to think strategically and get ahead of the curve. So naturally, when Paul arrived at UT–Austin to start his Ph.D. in August 1984, he vowed to not write a “typical UT dissertation.” After attending the GCSSEPM Research Conference (RC) in Austin that December, he intuited that the geology of deepwater settings was going to be a hot area for research and exploration, specifically in the northern deepwater Gulf of Mexico. I think this award indicates that Paul guessed correctly.
With the support of his advisor Dick Buffler, Paul was able to procure an industry-collected, regional 2D seismic dataset across the Mississippi Fan. These data became his dissertation research, whose results are now standard reference points. Paul’s thesis defined the evolution of the channel-levee systems and related sediments within a sequence stratigraphic framework, while introducing the informal term “mass-transport complex” (MTC).
Arnold Bouma did Paul an enormous favor by inviting him to publish these Ph.D. results in an entire issue of the GeoMarineLettersjournal in late 1989. Subsequently, Paul’s related 1990 paper in the AAPG Bulletin was named the AAPG J. C. Cam Sproule “Best Paper” Award in 1992.
While a UT student, Paul co-organized two major geology symposia. First, in May 1985, Irv Tailleur and Paul convened a 3-day symposium on North Slope geology. This symposium resulted in a two-volume treatise published by the SEPM Pacific Section in 1987. Then, in August 1987, Paul and Marty Link organized a 2-day symposium on deepwater settings at the SEPM Mid-Year meeting in Austin. The results later appeared in an influential book on deepwater systems published by Springer-Verlag in 1991.
After working for two years at Mobil Oil (research, international exploration), Paul joined the faculty at CU–Boulder in 1990. Early in his career, he created two significant, long-term research programs on the petroleum systems of the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. First, Bob Graebner, CU alumnus and SEG Ewing Medalist, generously donated a 2D and 3D seismic dataset from Green Canyon and Ewing Bank to Paul and to then-professor Roy Kligfield. The purpose of the donation was for them to develop an industry-supported research consortium. What evolved were three research consortia from 1992 to 2005 that served as the training ground for many students: a total of 30 Master’s and 2 Ph.D. degrees were awarded, and 15 post-docs/visiting scientists were employed. Many now-standard publications also resulted from these consortia, including the entire issue of the May 1998 AAPG Bulletin, a full-day session at the 2004 GCAGS Convention with 17 papers, and one theme issue of the AAPG Bulletin that is in press.
A second program began with his description and interpretation of the evolution of the Mississippi Fan Foldbelt, a side project from his dissertation. Several significant discoveries have been made in the western portion of the foldbelt. Then, working with David Lawrence at Shell, they established a four-company private research consortium studying the Perdido Foldbelt from 1994–1996. The consortium’s results defined the many prospects in the foldbelt (Trudgill et al., 1999), three of which later became fields. The location of the first exploration well—Baha drilled in 1996—was selected based on this consortium. A private research consortium with Pemex and seven visiting scientists in 2003–2004 resulted in the definition of the many plays in their expansive deepwater provinces.
In 2007, Paul pivoted his career to work in unconventional resources in the Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado. He felt that this change in direction was necessary for him to evolve as a geologist, so he supervised a 3-year consortium that established the regional subsurface stratigraphic framework, structure, and petroleum systems of the basin. Several major papers from this work are in the process of being published.
Speaking of papers, Paul’s research output has been prolific, global in topics, while integrating several disciplines. All total, Paul has co-authored two books on the petroleum geology of deepwater settings, and a third book on the subsurface stratigraphy of the Piceance Basin is in progress. He has co-edited 11 volumes, including six GCSEPM Special Publications; two Special Publications with AAPG; and one Special Publication with SEPM. Paul has also co-authored more than 120 papers in peer-reviewed publications.
Paul’s service with professional societies has been extensive: AAPG (President, Treasurer, and Advisory Council), SEG, SEPM, AGI, and RMAG. He has been recognized for his work by awards from several societies including Distinguished Educator and Distinguished Service from AAPG, Distinguished Service and Honorary Membership from the GCSSEPM, and Honorary Membership with NOGS. He is currently chairing the AAPG 100th Anniversary committee, and helping to organize special events for the 2017 Convention in Houston.
For the GCSSEPM, Paul served as President in 1997 and as a Foundation Trustee from 2002 to 2010. Paul was the primary organizer for the 1994, 2000, and 2012 RCs, and a co-convener for the 2001 and 2014 RCs. The 1994 RC was particularly significant because Paul specifically chose to internationalize the conference’s technical content of the conference; thus began the transformation of a local society into an international society.
Paul’s most lasting contribution is perhaps his role as an international educator. As part of lectures, he has continued to promote the research results of the GCSSEPM RCs. In 2001, he gave the Esso Australia Distinguished Short Course in six cities. That December, Norm Rosen remarked that he was puzzled at the many orders for the RC proceedings that he had received from Australia, the reason which he did understand… In 2004, Paul gave the SEG Distinguished Instructor Short course in 24 cities globally; the accompanying book liberally used figures from past GCSSEPM RCs. While AAPG President in 2011–2012, he gave a half-day short course globally. Paul has now taught short courses in 35 countries, which has spread the good word about GCSSEPM.
Most recently, Paul is pursuing a different path by working with a group of animators. Using the same software that Hollywood movies use for special effects, Paul’s team aims to illustrate Colorado’s geologic history for the general public. Paul’s inspiration came from teaching historical geology to nonscientists, and realizing that communicating basic geologic concepts takes more than just words on paper. The animations were highlighted at the recent AAPG Convention in Denver, and will be showcased at other public venues as well.
Paul told me that the best part of his career has been working with several of the previous Curtis Medalists: Frank Brown, John Armentrout, Arnold Bouma, Harry Roberts, Bob Mitchum, John Sangree, Pete Vail, and Bill Galloway. Their influence is clearly evident in much of Paul’s work. Paul also said that the support of Bob Perkins and Norm Rosen was absolutely crucial to his career.
Finally, on a personal note, I first met Paul while taking second semester intro geology in spring 1994 at CU–Boulder. My regular questions about the geology around my home in northwest Colorado must have indicated how intense my interest in the subject was because Paul offered me a job in his research lab. I’m forever indebted to him for creating the public-private partnership that helped me and many other students learn the theory, technology, and skills necessary to participate in the global search for oil and gas in deepwater settings. I’m even more grateful that his influence steered me away from a likely encounter with law school by introducing me to the energy industry! Paul’s career embodies the ideal blend of academic research, industrial application and dedication to professional societies, just like the pioneer whom this award is named after. Thanks, and congratulations Paul.