Geoscience Trends and Challenges

Marcus Milling


On behalf of AGI and the other Conference sponsors, I would like to welcome each and every one of you for attending the conference today.  I think with our attendance today we are destined to be very successful and come out with recommendations and vision that we need to take action on.  It was actually over two years ago when we first contemplated hosting a conference of this type.  It was after learning that our friends in the physics community at AIP celebrated their 60th associate’s conference at Texas Instruments (TI) in Dallas.  At that time the geoscientists, as far as I knew, had never held such a conference.  And so this is really our response to a need that I think we recognize that we need to address.  Through the next two days we do want your input.  We need your input!  Do we want to do this again next year?  If we do, how can we change it?  How can we improve the conference?  We have to have your input in order to do that.
 One comment following up to David Stephenson’s on geoscience outreach – I want to point out that in your packets, there is a one-page flyer promoting Earth Science Week.  I'd encourage you today, tomorrow, or the next day to find that flyer, fill it out, send it back to AGI, and get engaged because the second full week in October 1999 will be our second earth science week.  That’s the time we want to celebrate the earth sciences.  It's a time to go out and do things in your community and your schools related to earth science and spread the word about the earth sciences and the contribution our profession makes to society.

 My comments this morning will really focus on future trends and challenges and opportunities, and yes, I do think we do have near-term opportunities in the geosciences.  In the 1990's a series of changes have strongly impacted the geosciences and a number of those are outlined on the slide.  I think most of us agree and recognize these and there will probably some others thinking that you would like to have here.  With the termination of the cold war, we have certainly seen emerging new global opportunities, for example the former Soviet Union has opened up.  Many companies rushed to Russia and now Russia is not looking as rosy as it did back five or six years ago.   But hopefully with improvement in the government and developmental laws, Russian opportunities will continue to be present, also in Central Asia, Kazakhistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, from both a minerals and petroleum perspective we see tremendous expanding business opportunities in these areas.

 In line with the new 105th congress in 1994, and with the emphasis on balancing the budget, we've seen a major restructuring of the federal R&D enterprise.  Chip Groat will have some comments to make about this later this morning.  We think the geosciences were targeted to take an inappropriate hit with the restructuring process.  We did lose the U.S. Bureau of Mines.  The U.S. Geological Survey was significantly downsized and reorganized, but I think we can come out of that experience stronger than we did going in.  The past ten years we've seen a significant number of company mergers and downsizing.  And certainly what's happened with this last downturn of commodity crude oil prices, over the last year and a half we have seen.  You know 20 years ago I don't think we'd ever expect to see mergers of companies like BP and Amoco, Arco, Mobil, Exxon, and so on.  So we're going to have to work through this and see how we shake out.  We will see thousands of jobs eliminated, many which will never come back.

 I think in the future, we'll still clearly see a demand for natural resources.  This past year, 1998, the world consumed something on the order of 73 million barrels of crude oil per day.  That's going to increase.  Some predictions are in another 10 or 15 years we'll be producing and consuming on the order of 120 million barrels a day, and that's going to require geoscientists to do that.  Don Paul will have some additional comments later. Changes in our K-12 science curriculum, primarily based on the new Science Education Standards, I think will offer significant opportunities for earth science teachers.  Bob Ridky will be talking to us about this later today, and I think Bob will be telling us that over the next four or five years there's going to be a demand, a need for something on the order of 30,000 to 35,000 new Earth Science Teachers.  I think we need to work with the universities and geoscience departments to see how we can provide improved new Earth Science teachers to fill those positions.

 From the standpoint of the environmental ethic, it's here to stay.  And as David Stephenson mentioned earlier this morning, geoscientists initially were not really on the train when it pulled out of the station.  We have a lot of catching up to do and I think we must take a larger and a more active leadership role in environmental issues and resolutions in the future.  And last, but not least, professional career mobilization.  Back when I graduated from the university, and many of you, I think we thought we'd go to work for one company and you'd spend your entire career with one company.  That's proving not to be the case. In the future we really expect that most geoscience graduates will be looking at working for anywhere from three to four companies.  In the future, it's up to the geoscientist to plan and develop their career.

 What I'd like to do now is give you some snapshots of where we've been, where we've come from, and where we may be going.  Here's a snapshot of the employment demographics of the geoscience community based on a 1985-86 survey that AGI conducted.  You can see at this point some 60% of the geoscientists were employed in the natural resource area. Some 70,000 geoscientists were employed in the research sector. Looking at retirement and unemployment, the red pie slice up at the top, something like 10% of individuals were in this category.  When you skip forward some seven years to 1993, as shown in this survey conducted by NSF, you can see what happened.  We lost some 20,000 jobs alone in the petroleum area.  The retired, unemployment area is up 23%. Overall, the total population has remained about the same. These numbers do include petroleum engineers.

 Now looking at geoscience enrollment over the past 50 years, we see a pattern of three cycles. In the late 50's and early 60's, employment was down in the geosciences.  It was hard to get a job.  Many of the students that I graduated with at the undergraduate level did not have many choices.  If you didn't go to graduate school, you didn't have a job in the geosciences.  But then starting in the mid-60's, over the next 20 years to the early 80's, we saw unprecedented growth and most of us were here for that.  Things were growing and we saw an eight-fold increase in enrollment.  Enrollment actually peaked in 1983 where we had some 47,000 students enrolled in the earth sciences, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  But then look how fast the bubble broke and things declined.  From ‘83 to '86, we dropped some 60% to a total of 18,000 students enrolled in the geosciences.  And now we're seeing a comeback in the early 1990s peaking again in 1996 at the 32,000 level.  This past year, our survey does show a tick downward and I would suspect that we might see a few more ticks downward before we start leveling out and coming back.  It may be over a period of four or five years that we're going to see that.

 The next overhead shows a very similar pattern related to degrees granted in the geosciences.  The degree wagon peaked in 1982.  Ten thousand degrees were granted; some 2,000 masters, 500 in the Ph.D.'s, and the remainder at the bachelor level.  Now what has been one of the causes for the roller coasters that we've seen?

This is one example, and is from a slide that Dr. Bill Fisher put together.  It shows the relationship between enrollment in the Geological Sciences department at the University of Texas at Austin and oil and gas wells drilled from 1950 to the present.  I think you can't deny the relationship that back in the 50's, as you saw enrollments peaked at Texas at the 700 figure, we were drilling 60,000 wells a year.  As wells declined, as we built up reserves and we found the reserves we needed to supply the demand for the country, drilling dropped off and you can see what happened with the enrollment.  And then again in the late 60's, remember we had an embargo in '73, well drilling picked up, exploration and development activities picked up, and you see a corresponding increase in enrollment.  I think the interesting point is in the early to mid 1990s we see the number of wells drilled per year going down abut enrollments continuing to increase.  This past year we were somewhere around, I think, 20,000 wells.  But we've seen enrollments at the university continue to increase.  So we've had a demarcation and part of that may be related to improved technology in the petroleum area.

 Looking at the next slide now, considering diversity in our profession, from the standpoint of female geoscientists enrolled in our profession, I think we've made significant improvements over the last 20 years.  We've seen a 90% increase in female enrollment and degrees in the geosciences since 1974.  The area that we are still lacking in is in minorities.  We're still seeing university enrollment at only the 4% to 5% range.  AGI has had a program providing minority scholarships for over the last 25 years and we still have a major need and a major opportunity there to improve in this area.

Taking a look at individual geoscience departments, we see this kind of pattern, that shows the number of masters and Ph.D. thesis and dissertations awarded by the universities outlined there.  As you can see, Stanford had the largest number of MS and Ph.D. graduates. The University of Texas was the second largetst number of advanced graduate degrees.  According to the AGI statistics, these are the highest ranking departments from the number of, I'll say, master degrees awarded over the last 75 years in our profession.

 Taking a look at the change of trends in focus and topics for the thesis and dissertations, we have a plot of the 1950's versus the 1980's.  We had some 6,600 thesis, dissertations completed in the 1950's.  We had some 30,000 in the 1980's.  But look at the very, very significant increases in the environmental area in the 1980s.  Some 30-fold increase in a period 30 years.  In the environmental area, we're including water resource type activities and surface mapping.

Now looking at the same kind of changes in the faculty, we see this kind of relationship.  We have four years plotted here from 1970, 1980, 1990, and 1997.  In the 1970 survey, we had some 698 departments.  In the 1997 survey we had 915 departments.  Going from 1970 with 7,500 faculty members and in 1997 we have some 10,500 faculty members.  But look in the last ten years at how many declared their specialty was in the environmental area.  A kind of side remark, one thing that's very interesting about this slide, look at the yellow 1970s level of numbers of faculty in the various specialties and then you see a drop going to 1980 in each of those categories for the most part.  When Chris Keane and Nick Claudy were pulling these numbers together, my first reaction was hey, we have something wrong with the numbers. But when you start thinking about it, this is what was happening in the late 70's and early 80's.  We had a large transfer of university faculty into the petroleum industry.  And you can see the impact that that had on numbers of faculty at the universities.

 Now taking a look at where do we see the geo-society's role in this whole process.  This shows the growth in membership of four major geoscience societies over the past 40 years.  You see the huge ramp up of AAPG in the late 70's and into the early 80's.  And then with the downsizing, mergers, and so on taking place in the petroleum industry in the mid-80's, the sharp decrease in membership in AAPG.  That decrease, I think has flattened out and this past year there has actually been an increase.  Now with the current situation that we are working at over the past 12 months, we'll probably see some continued erosion in membership here.  The SEG, Society of Exploration Geophysicists and GSA, Geological Society of America, had a blip there similar to AAPG's, not nearly as much, but they had more moderate growth.  The thing that I want to point out, look at AGU, the American Geophysical Union, that starting here in the late 70's to early 80's look at the growth that AGU has undergone.  Their membership is up somewhere right now close to something like 40,000 members.  They are the largest geoscience society in the world today.  I think AGU's growth has been there largely for a number of reasons.  One, they have a relatively inexpensive membership, $20 a member.  For $20 you can be a member and receive EOS on a weekly basis. They've seen a large influx of students joining AGU and I think AGU has had a very effective membership drive internationally in bringing in a large number of international members.  It's been very effective.

 The next slide outlines what I think are some of the important aspects of the role of professional soceities in the geosciences.  I appreciate that probably some of the representatives from the major corporations here probably won't agree with me, but I really think in the past geoscientists looked to their companies as, I'll say, a home base.  That's where the home base was.  In the future the societies will become the home base.  The societies provide lifelong learning, continuing education experiences for the profession, and a number of the other attributes that I have listed there I think societies will play a major, major role in our profession in the future.

 The next slide, and using this with some intrepidation because Chris and I put this slide together some six or nine months ago and it was a very different employment environment at the time.  The blue demand curve was going up, and look at what happened and now we don't know where to put it now.  The reason I really want to show this slide though is look at the red curve, current work force.  This is constituted using the combined membership, 65 years and younger, of SPE, Society of Petroleum Engineers, AAPG, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and SEG, Society of Exploration Geophysicists, we are showing the decline in current work force based on the following assumption: 1) a quarter of the current geoscientists employed in the profession will retire at 55, 2) another quarter would retire at 60, and 3) the remaining 50% will retire at the age of 65.  So the red curve is what we are going to see because in the petroleum profession, we have a median age somewhere in the mid to late 40's and we're going to see a rapid downturn through normal retirements in the petroleum profession.  The yellow curve shows a maybe unreasonable growth in new hires coming in; a 3% compounded growth of new hires coming into the profession.  You add the yellow curve and the red curve together and you come out with the green curve, which we say is the combined work force.  Where's the blue curve going to be?  I don't think we're going to know for another year or so or for several more years perhaps, but hopefully that will provide some thought for discussion in our workshop sessions.

 So looking back in and wrapping up, we see the challenge of change facing us in the future.  Currently right now we're in the process of a major downturn in the petroleum area like no other we've ever seen.  You know through the mergers forced by the depressed prices, we're seeing a major, major decline in employment opportunities.  We have a mature and declining environmental sector, I think, from the geoscience perspective.  In the last downturn, in the mid-80's, the environmental sector was able to take up some of the slack in providing jobs to new graduates.  I don't think we are going to see that happen this time.  We have a reinvented, scaled down federal sector.  There are going to be jobs available, but the availability of geoscience jobs in the federal sector are going to be limited.  Chip Groat will comment on that later this morning.

 One area that we might see relief from is the faculty shortage that I said never came in the 1970-80s.  We need to stress the importance of the geosciences in providing support to society so the university geoscience departments can replace the geoscience faculty as they retire.  Because I appreciate many of you are in the position when you have a retirement in your department the university might hold that slot open and they may want to put it in another department.  Somehow we need to better address that, I'll say that’s an opportunity.

 In my final slide, making our own opportunities, we need to somehow rebuild the investments in geoscience research.  On the federal sector, that means federal R&D in the geosciences needs to have a relevance and address societal needs, and must have a practical application.  We're going to see, I truly believe, and everyone here I think would agree, we are going to see a continual and increasing demand for natural resources.  I think that increased demand for natural resources over the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years is going to require additional new geoscientists coming into that sector.  The K-12 teaching is a viable alternative for well-trained geoscientists coming out at a bachelor, master's level, Ph.D. level even to go into the K-12 area, particularly middle school and high school areas to improve the level of earth science teaching.  I think land use planning, geo-technical needs is an opportunity.  Hopefully we can see a return and increase in environmental employment in the future.  How do we effectively handle our future waste disposal issues.  Even though we are in an environmental downturn now, perhaps in the future we can see some additional opportunity there.  Walt Barber, I think, will address that issue.

 And then last, but not least, I think that we have a real opportunity at this conference.  Through improved communication between the geoscience industries and academia and federal agencies we can better plot and understand our future courses.  I think I'll just hold off on any questions, and if you have questions, we can address those during the session with Don Paul.  What I would like to do, is invite Dick Bishop, President of AAPG who is here with us today to say a few words.  I think it's very appropriate that we ask Dick to provide certain comments to us about the AAPG's course and some of the things that they are thinking about.  Dick has spent his career with Exxon.  He is currently a Geological Associate at Exxon Exploration, and I'd like to ask Dick to come up and give us some of his thoughts.