Oral History Transcript — Dr. M. King Hubbert
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M. King Hubbert; January 20, 1989
ABSTRACT: Born in Texas in 1903; influence of remote, rural environment on his upbringing and early education. Attended Weatherford Junior College until 1923; studies at University of Chicago, B.A. in 1926, M.A. in 1928, and Ph.D. (formally awarded) in 1937. Comments on courses, teachers and fellow students at Chicago, including J. Harlan Bretz and Rollin T. Chamberlin. Summer research at Amerada Petroleum Corporation (Oklahoma), Illinois State Geological Survey, and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), late 1920s to early 1930s. First teaching position at Columbia University; research on ground-water motion; involvement in Technocracy Movement, 1930s. Marriage to Miriam Graddy Berry, 1938. Senior analyst on staff of Board of Economic Warfare, 1942-1943; deepening commitment to issue of natural resources. Thoughts on limited interactions between geologists and geophysicists; work in advisory committees on geophysics education, 1930s to 1940s. Theory of scale models, 1937; related research involving strength of solids. Career at Shell Oil Company and Shell Development Company, 1943-1964; directs research laboratory at Shell, perspectives on industry environment for scientific research. Lecture tours to geological, industrial, and policy groups, 1940s to 1960s; involvement in Atomic Energy Commission, National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, advisory committees. Research with W. W. Rubey on overthrust faulting. Deepening interest in oil and natural gas reserves; responses from officials in petroleum corporations and federal government to his predictions of local, national, and worldwide reserves, 1950s to 1960s. Research geophysicist at USGS, 1964-1976, after retirement from Shell; studies of natural resources and conflicts over his conclusions involving other scientists at USGS. Visiting professorships at Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, University of California, Berkeley, 1962-1977. Continued involvement in issue of geophysical education at American universities and in studies of natural resources, 1950s to 1970s.
Doel:You mentioned you had something to add?
Hubbert:I'd forgotten some details when you were here the last time.
Doel:Let's cover those.
Hubbert:I couldn't remember the key words I mentioned in an earlier discussion when David Griggs of Harvard gave a paper on his scale model work of convection currents associated with mountain making at the meeting of the Geological Society of America. I think it was in Iowa along about 1946, '47. Maybe it was earlier than that. Anyhow, a very critical comment was made by the renowned and distinguished geologist Andrew C. Lawson of the University of California. Lawson was in the front row, and when Griggs had completed his presentation, Lawson got up. Whether he asked a question I don't recall, but anyhow, his summary remark was, "Thank God I'm not that gullible yet!"
Doel:And this was said loud enough that everyone in the audience would have heard?
Hubbert:Oh yes. There's another, more important item in this chronology that I completely overlooked, when we were talking about my work in Columbia University.
Hubbert:My assignment was to teach two different courses, one course in geophysics and the other was structural geology. I had been working on problems of rock mechanics and rock deformation and so on in Chicago, before I came to Columbia, and I was deeply concerned with problems of finite strain and behavior of rocks under stress. But I was operating largely in a vacuum, because there was no engineering department at Chicago, and none of my coursework involved this kind of thing.
Doel:Right, you mentioned that Armin Lobeck was not deeply interested in these kinds of problems.
Hubbert:Well, Lobeck didn't know anything about what I'm talking about now. Lobeck was just a cartographer, description man. But anyhow, I was initiating this course at Columbia. I think it must have been around 1932. I'd probably been there about a year. There was a knock on my door one day in my office, and there came in a modest little gentleman, aged fifty or so, who introduced himself as Dr. Arpad Nadai, professor at University of Gottingen in Germany, and recently in charge of experimental work and theoretical work on plasticity, for the Westinghouse Research Laboratory in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Professor Nadai gave a summary of his background and his lifelong interest in rock deformation. He grew up in the Carpathian region of Hungary, I guess, and he also was familiar with the Alpine geology and he'd heard a lecture by the great Alpine geologist Albrecht Heim. He was fascinated with the geological phenomena on a grand scale of the kinds of things that he'd been working on in engineering, plastic deformation of solids. And he was looking to see if he could find if there were any geologist interested in this kind of thing.
Doel:Did he have contacts of that kind in Germany?
Hubbert:I do not know.
Doel:OK. Do you know how he came to come to the United States?
Hubbert:Well, he was offered this job by Westinghouse, and he simply took it. I don't know the details.
Hubbert:As it turns out, he brought with him a book just originally off the press, which was the first volume of the Engineering Monograph Series. It was put out under the auspices of the Engineering Monographs Committee of US Engineering Societies. Some of the background of this is the following. In the twenties, originally under the auspices of John R. Freeman, whose name I mentioned a few days ago. It began to be realized that the scientific literature or engineering literature of this country, especially in civil and mechanical engineering, was pretty bad. It was archaic in its style and its reasoning and so on. Largely empirical, with very little competent theoretical work. So under the leadership of John R. Freeman, there was a coalition among the engineering societies of the need to set up this series of monographs on engineering, various aspects, written to a high level of both style and content. It went beyond what had been customary before with the possible exception, probable exception of articles. And to a certain extent, this was modeled after writings that were going on in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, which were just head and shoulders above the level of comparable writing in the US. So this was committee was set up and arrangements were made with McGraw Hill to publish the series. And this book of Nadai's was translated with some additions, some slight changes or additions in the text, from a book that he had really published in Germany. It was called Plastisches Zustand der Werkstoffe. The plastic state of working materials. So Nadai had brought the copy of this engineering monograph with the title PLASTICITY and showed it to me. He also gave me a copy of a lecture he had recently given, an invited lecture before the Society of Testing Materials, I believe. It was part of an endowed lecture series called the Marburg Lectures. He gave me a copy of that lecture which he had recently given to an American engineering audience. My reaction was that this was just as exciting as it was to meet a man like this who was interested in the problems I was interested in, and with his enormous background, which was head and shoulders above me.
Doel:Now, did he have a community of people who were interested in applying that work to geology, when he was at Gottingen?
Doel:Not at Gottingen? That's interesting.
Hubbert:I was the first one he had contact with.
Hubbert:At least with a positive reaction. Whether he'd talked to others, I don't know. Probably he had. But I was tremendously excited over this. We had a nice visit. I went out and bought his book on plasticity, and I read the lecture, the Marburg Lecture. One of the first things that caught my attention is described in both the book and also in the Marburg Lecture. Some kind of a box of loose ground down material, either fine sand or pulverized hard rock ground to a uniform size, and fairly small grains. And in this he described the following experiment. You have this box of fine-ground material and he put something like a broad blade putty knife or something similar vertically down at the end of this. Then if you hold the blade horizontally but perpendicular to the blade surface, there would occur two slip surfaces in this granular material, one in front of the blade — say from the bottom edge of the blade to the top of the sand — and the other one from the bottom of the edge to the top of the sand behind the blade. What you could see with just this simple experiment was where this set surface emerged on the surface, with a little ridge there. On the back side there was a little bit of a drop. What he stated was that the angle of depth of this surface in the front of the blade would be approximately 30 degrees, and that the angle of depth of the surface in back of the blade would be approximately 60 degrees. This theory, I believe was in the Marburg Lecture. But he did not go into detail in the book on any of this. Well, I had spent a good deal of time playing around in the sand dunes of southern Lake Michigan.
Doel:This was during the summer months?
Hubbert:When I was a student and so on.
Hubbert:So I was thoroughly familiar with all this, from picnicking in these sand dunes in the public park. What I knew very well was — because I'd measured it many times — that the angle of repose of the sands was only about 30 degrees.
Doel:So this made you suspicious of the 60 degree slope Nadai mentioned?
Hubbert:Yes. Right. I knew that sand wouldn't stand at 60 degrees. So I began to wonder if maybe he'd made a mistake. Maybe he'd got these two surfaces reversed. In fact, I think I suggested that to him when I saw him the next time. He assured me that there was no mistake, and to demonstrate this, had a big box like this in his laboratory when I visited him at Westinghouse.
Doel:You went out to Pittsburgh?
Hubbert:I went out on my way to Chicago, following the end of the spring quarter. He demonstrated this thing in his sand box, and then I went back and did a more serious study of this. The theory was consistent with the experiment, and the 60 degrees was indeed correct and the 30 degrees was correct, both experimentally and theoretically. The reason that the 30 degrees didn't hold for this steeper one was you didn't have a free surface. You're on a solid surface, and not sand. So the observation of the angle of repose had no significance whatsoever with regard to what went on internally. Anyhow, as I say, I was fascinated by this, and particularly struck with the fact that the statistical measurement of the angles of simple faults — thrust faults and normal faults — which had been published was consistent with this result. The angle of dip on the thrust faults was about 30 degrees, or consistently less than 45. On the normal faults it was approximately 60 degrees, these were faults in rock. And here was this little sand doing it the same way. And in the case of the loose sand, we had the 30 degrees worked out, which predicted exactly what would happen and what did happen. Well, following this I promptly built myself a sand box or push box, placed like that, so you could see the inner workings of the sand, and where you could put markers on it for strata. I then used this as a demonstration of the theory in my course in structural geology for the rest of the decade. With a very slight modification, you could apply the same thing to solid rock. The only difference was, the sand had no tensile strength, and solid rock did. But if you allowed for the tensile strength, you had the same thing for solid rock as you had for the loose sand.
Doel:Did you continue your discussions with Nadai directly in the 1930s?
Hubbert:Yes, I kept in touch with him. Every time I was in Pittsburgh I'd have a chance to visit with him, and in fact a couple of us took him out on a field trip in the Appalachian Mountains for a weekend.
Doel:So that he could be better acquainted with the field?
Doel:Can you tell me a little bit more about the kind of work that Nadai did at Westinghouse?
Hubbert:Well, he was studying all kinds of plastic deformation things, metals, ceramic materials, things, insulators. A whole flock of things. Up on that top shelf [Hubbert points] I have not only his original volume but one of the—at the end of his life, he published two additional volumes as one work but in two volumes which embodied his structural studies.
Doel:[Retrieves book from shelf] We have the books now before us.
Hubbert:Here is his book PLASTICITY. You might just flip the pages of it. Von Karman was also at Gottingen.
Doel:That's right, at the same time.
Hubbert:Before he came to Caltech. They were personal friends.
Doel:Were they? Did they maintain contact after both of them were in the United States?
Hubbert:Well, they were working on related things. In fact, some of von Karman's work is illustrated in here somewhere.
Hubbert:He had all kinds of experimental things.
Doel:Did Nadai give you the impression that he was satisfied with the equipment and material support he got from Westinghouse?
Hubbert:Oh yes. I think they gave him anything he wanted. You see, a great range of things, like this type of thing, you press down and — this kind of business. There's an enormous range. Then he had an appendix in here, which wasn't in the original German book, which was definitely related to geology. Mountain building, he's got here, plastic layer between brittle layers, the origin of rock salt domes. The appendix and this mountain building section I think were all added. Let me try and find this sand box experiment here that he describes somewhere. Well, I'm wasting time. Anyway, this book contained just exactly the kind of thing that I needed in geology. As a matter of fact, this weighed heavily in my paper on the theory of scale models published later.
Doel:That's right. Did Nadai also have much contact with other geophysicists, those who were studying geophysics?
Hubbert:At that time not much. Later on, when we set up at my instigation the experimental work — the whole program on rock mechanics, rock deformation, in our laboratory at Shell — why, I sent the Shell man to Pittsburgh to see Nadai. I also sent him to Harvard to see the physicist, Bridgman. In fact, the high pressure work was actually the man in charge of the experimental work on fractural stress was from Dave Griggs's laboratory in California. Dave Griggs was a student of Bridgman at Harvard. Nadai then was very influential in our program of research. And in volume 2 of this work here, I think it's published —
Doel:This is The Theory of Flow in Fractures of Solids that we're referring to.
Hubbert:Yes. It's also an Engineering Society monograph. Volume I of this was in 1950, "Nadai, consulting mechanical engineer, Westinghouse Research Laboratories, East Pittsburgh." This covers again the same type of thing as in here, but rewritten, and then embodying subsequent experimental work and theoretical work.
Doel:Did you discuss with him in detail the scale modeling work?
Hubbert:No. At the time I was doing that I wasn't in touch with him. But as published, I had an error in one part of it which he called to my attention. So a later re-issuance in a paper by the Geological Survey I corrected these equations. They weren't very wrong, but they would have ruined it. Here's a little note written here shortly before he died.
Doel:OK. We're looking now at Volume II, Theory of Flow in Fractures in Solids. The note was written July 18, 1963, and it's to "Dear Highly Esteemed Geologist-Friend M. King Hubbert." It goes on to note, "Please accept this book as a modest sign of my deeply felt sincerest thanks and grateful remembrance of many of our past pleasant conversations on the borderline between geology and mechanics, in which you so unselfishly helped me to grasp perhaps a few elements in geology. In that respect I must direct to you for your own published fundamental investigations to which I could briefly refer, and that have so greatly clarified the geological phenomena in which coarse fluids are involved." Pittsburgh, April 20, 1963.
Hubbert:That was shortly before he died.
Doel:And you maintained contact with him throughout the time you were in Shell?
Hubbert:Yes. I visited him many times in Pittsburgh and as I say, we took him out on a field trip one weekend. And I sent my boys up to confer with him on our laboratory program of rock mechanics.
Doel:We'll get to in a little while, when we talk about the first work that you did when you went to Shell.
Hubbert:Well, anyhow, this is a continuing thing. I met this gentleman right after I went to Columbia. He just came in out of the blue and was looking for a scholar with interest in this direction.
Doel:Was he looking specifically for you? Did you know of you at that point?
Hubbert:I don't think so. I think he just — maybe somebody suggested me, vaguely. Anyhow, he was essentially working in the dark to find somebody. Maybe he'd inquired at Columbia and maybe they'd suggested me or something. But that was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until he died in the 1960s. That would be over 30 years.
Doel:Yes. How much contact did he have later with geologists and geophysicists?
Hubbert:I think, very little. I invited him, and arranged that he was invited to give a special lecture at the Geological Society of America in 1940, I think it was. They almost insulted him. It was a reaction, a negative reaction. Here's an outsider trying to tell us something, and it was embarrassing.
Doel:Was that primarily because he had not had geologic training, do you think?
Hubbert:He was an outsider. And these guys were self-appointed experts. People like A. C. Lawson and a whole bunch of the others, old-timers. They simply resented having this man lecture to them.
Doel:Do you think that played a role in his not pursuing other work in geophysics?
Hubbert:Well, it wasn't his main concern. But it certainly had a negative influence. In fact, he never submitted the paper for publication, and I was embarrassed as hell about it because it had been at my instigation.
Doel:When was this meeting?
Hubbert:It was the Geological Society of American meeting in Minneapolis. I believe it was the winter of 1940.
Doel:OK. Were there others on that program who were discussing geophysics?
Hubbert:Wait a minute, it may have been 1939.
Doel:We can check on the date, if you're certain it's Minneapolis.
Hubbert:I was being very critical of the geological profession because of the fact that they were doing things they didn't understand and half of what they wrote wasn't true. Any time they touched upon physical problems, it was usually naive and erroneous. I was trying to break out of that stalemate, and so there was resentment by the old-timers for the kinds of things that I was doing. That of course was going right in parallel with this activity on geological, geophysical education.
Hubbert:And so, when we had these series of conferences that were sponsored by the Geological Society of American and published in the INTERIM PROCEEDINGS, with a pamphlet on the side, when we started into that series, these conferences, where you had every kind of cross-currents. This was in the middle nineteen forties. By the time we'd had about three of these conferences, the agreement became so unanimous over the proposition that whether we like it or not, from here on out, geology has to be based and geology education has to be based heavily on the basic sciences, mathematics, physics and chemistry. Well, once you'd achieved that state, further discussion was pointless. The next step after that was the university administration.
Doel:To convince the administration?
Hubbert:To convince the old guard into hand-picking your new ones. But this incident, in 1939, was right at the height of that negative attitude on the part of the geologists.
Doel:And just at the time when those meetings were first starting to occur. I remember reading in one of the reports that the discussion had run overtime. Do you have recollections of any particular discussions in any of those meetings at the APG or the GSA over how to introduce geophysics and chemistry?
Hubbert:You've got the written record, published records of those meetings?
Hubbert:My memory now doesn't go back to those details.
Doel:That's fine. I was just curious.
Hubbert:There were some very able criticisms of the ideas among the conventional geologists, and they were very well taken. The main idea in this thing was that this idea was not applicable to geology, because in engineering, chemistry and so on, it was bringing the low grade departments up to the better ones, whereas in our case that wasn't the problem. The problem was bringing the better ones up to a higher level than then existed. Therefore, accrediting would tend to inhibit this progression rather than promote it, because it would tend to freeze the status quo. And that was a point we wrote into our report.
Doel:Right. We've discussed that already on the previous tape.
Hubbert:But this is very important because it carries right through. Everything I've done since has been heavily influenced by Nadai.
Doel:You were teaching the principles that Nadai was presenting here to your students at Columbia.
Hubbert:And when I got to Shell I ran into the same thing. Our Shell geologists were still talking about normal faults in the Gulf Coast being due to tensile stresses, and rocks that have essentially zero tensile strength. And so I had a little problem at Shell, of getting the idea across that they didn't understand the first thing about normal faults.
Doel:This is probably a good time to begin talking about your career at Shell. You mentioned on a previous tape that you'd been visited by a physicist who had come from Shell.
Hubbert:Yes, I was brought to Shell. In fact, there was a bit of confusion apparently about that. Different people had different ideas of what I would do.
Doel:Did you have a sense of the conflicts over what you would do, when you accepted?
Hubbert:No. Hughes was the geophysicist who came with this offer to me.
Doel:And what part of the company did Hughes represent?
Hubbert:He was head of the Geophysical Laboratory at the time, I believe.
Doel:OK. That laboratory had already been established?
Hubbert:Hughes's background was that he was a graduate student in physics at Chicago when I was there in the late twenties and early thirties.
Doel:Oh, that's interesting. Did you know him at Chicago?
Hubbert:That's Hughes. Oh yes, we were close friends. In fact we occupied a laboratory together for a while.
Hubbert:There was a graduate fraternity made up largely of the senior graduate students in various departments, called Gamma Alpha. We were both members of that.
Doel:What research was he doing at Chicago?
Hubbert:It was largely in optics. I don't remember what he did his thesis on, but it was optics originally. He may have switched over to statistical mechanics. I don't know. He got his doctor's degree after I left and got a National Research Fellowship: he went to Caltech on a National Research Fellowship. He was out there for I think a couple of years. Then I was in Washington in the spring of 1940. The USGS was taking over work that I'd been doing for the Illinois Geological Survey; it had been transferred to the USGS. I was down in Washington looking over the applications for assistants, and one of the political requirements was that I should have assistants from the states where we were working. Now, this was all based on an earlier tradition where field assistants were geology students from the university, things of that sort. But this was in the deep dark days of the Depression, and these people desperately applying for work were sometimes senior engineers and others who were just unemployed. Men 40, 50 years old, some of them. It was kind of heartbreaking to read these lists of applicants. Well, I had bumped into Hughes, and he was temporarily teaching physics at George Washington University while the professor was away on leave for a semester.
Doel:I see. That was during the time you were in Washington?
Hubbert:Well, I was in my headquarters. I mean I was at Columbia University. But I was down in Washington with regard to getting money for this field assistant.
Hubbert:I was going through these papers of applicants for assistantships. We were going to be working in two states, Illinois and Kentucky, so I had to review the applicants from both Illinois and Kentucky. As I say, none of them were appropriate to my purposes. I wanted primarily a physicist, somebody who could do calculations on electromagnetic phenomena, and these people just didn't have any such qualifications. Again, the pay was ridiculous. It was about what we used to hire student assistants. It was not quite a dollar a day but not a hell of a lot more either. But I ran into Hughes earlier in this trip. Looking over these applications, it suddenly occurred to me, my God, Hughes is from Kentucky! So I went immediately to my superior in the Geological Survey and I said, "I just had a very bright idea. I looked over this list of these people, and nobody here really has the qualifications I'm looking for. And I ran into this physicist Hughes who is temporarily employed just this spring at George Washington University. Here's his background: PhD from Chicago, two years postgraduate fellowship in physics at Caltech. I would like to sign him on if I can get it."
Doel:That was extremely fortunate.
Hubbert:However, I invited him to the Cardinal Club for lunch and I said, "Would you be interested in this job for the summer?" He said, "Sure." I said, "Well, all I can offer you is an insult but it's all I've got, as a field assistant on this work that I'm in charge of. If you're interested, I think I can sign you on." He was interested. I did sign him on. And during the summer, he got a letter from Millikan at Caltech saying that there's some kind of a consortium in the North [unintelligible] Dome in California field, in both ownerships. This was kind of a mutual consortium: They ran the field, and they were looking for a —
Doel:Consortium of different companies?
Hubbert:The owners of several companies that owned parts of the field. It was a unit operation, and this group was in charge of the operation in the field. They wanted a man for engineering. Millikan had sent this notice on to Hughes. I wrote a very strong letter on USGS letterhead recommending him, and he got back a letter, your application has been filed for later consideration, and we brushed it off, forgot about it. When we got through the field work I took Hughes back to New York with me, and where he could stay in my apartment, room with me, my little apartment. He could be working on some of our projects since he didn't have anything else to do, and I'd have possibilities of finding him a job which he wouldn't have back in his own town in Kentucky. He called me on the telephone one day out at Columbia University. He was at the apartment, and he was so excited he could hardly talk. He'd got an offer of a job from these big wigs in California, come and work. Only the night before he and I and one of our friends who was with Bell Labs, who'd also been one of the students at Chicago, had had dinner together. Hughes was jestingly saying that if he didn't get a job pretty soon, he's going to be an old man without ever having had a job in his life. All right. That was in '35 or so. Or the fall of '34.
Doel:It was the summer of '34 then that you were working with him.
Hubbert:He got this job, and then about three years later Shell, which had been almost shut down during the Depression, was at a very low level of operation in the US, was opening up again, and hiring people. Hughes got onto this, and got a job with Shell, running a gravity party, field party, gravity measurements. That was 1937. And then after a year or two of this, he was in the office doing largely theoretical work on gravity, and writing reports on individual interpretations of individual areas and so on. Then finally I believe he came up as the director of a small geophysical laboratory, which is principally seismology but also some glacial and gravity work.
Doel:I'm curious about that laboratory. When had it been established, do you know?
Hubbert:That particular laboratory was new in 1937.
Doel:That was the first time?
Hubbert:It was small.
Doel:How many people, roughly, were involved in it?
Hubbert:Oh, professional staff, eight or ten. But they had a shop where they manufactured electrical scientific equipment. The professional staff was, I don't know, eight or ten people.
Doel:Did those people also have training similar to Hughes? Did they include geologists?
Hubbert:Yes, some of them were quite well trained. In fact, most of them left or at least several of them left and went into war work during the war and never came back. But generally, these were all Depression people and they had high levels of education and had trouble finding a job afterwards. This Shell job was one of the few jobs that they could get into at the time.
Doel:Yes. Just to interrupt for one moment on that story, how badly did the great Depression affect the department of geology at Columbia? Did it have much of an impact that you recall?
Hubbert:Well, in fact, to this extent, that they weren't hiring anybody. I got this job in 1931 or actually '30, and my salary was $2400 a year, $200 a month. I was still at that salary ten years later.
Doel:That puts it in perspective.
Hubbert:During the summers I worked for the Illinois Geological Survey, for on the order of twice that.
Doel:Really? Approximately $400 a month?
Hubbert:Something like that. In fact, I was offered a job with the Illinois Survey, a permanent job, while I was still hoping to make something of the Columbia thing. So I turned it down at the time. But they were pinched for money, and everybody just got promoted. Salaries were minimum, and there weren't any increases.
Doel:Right. But people weren't let go on the staff then?
Hubbert:I don't remember them letting anybody go for financial reasons.
Doel:OK. That's interesting to know. I didn't want to interrupt. We were talking about Hughes.
Hubbert:Well, about my going to Shell. Here was his notion of what I would do. It was the kind of thing that one of the senior staff men in Bell Labs did. I don't recall his name at the moment, he was a well known physicist at the time. What he principally did was follow the scientific literature, kept the staff informed on what was going on, and what all was going on in the Bell Labs, what the interests of various people were and what their problems were. He was a kind of a technical coordinator between the staff and scientific literature. That was the job that was described to me by Hughes as what they wanted me to do.
Doel:How did you feel about that at the time?
Hubbert:Well, I was interested in the job. I mean, the main thing was just getting something started. But that would also be of interest because my interests are very broad and there's an opportunity to keep in touch with a very broad range of things, rather than have my nose stuck in some little two bit problem or other.
Doel:And you'd have contact with other people.
Hubbert:Yes. I mean, you had the range of other people and their problems, and a panorama. Yes, I was very interested. When I got there, however, the laboratory was seven miles out of town, a little building especially built for that purpose.
Doel:This is in Houston?
Hubbert:In Houston, yes. So instead of being out at the laboratory, where I thought I was going, I discovered that I was on the 21st floor. I was one floor beneath the executive suite, where the vice president and the chief were managers of exploration and production were. I was given the job of broad scale study of the interpretation of seismic and magnetic data, because the chief exploration manager was very much interested in the problem of the coordination between magnetic and gravity studies on the grounds that the combination could be more discriminatory than either one by itself.
Doel:And was this man clearly aware of the research work that you had done at Columbia?
Hubbert:Yes, Hughes was.
Doel:But wasn't it Hughes that got you this other position?
Hubbert:Well, he was the one who took the initiative in getting me into Shell.
Hubbert:But when I got to Shell, the management people had a job in mind.
Doel:This is what I mean. Did the people in management have a clear idea of the research you'd already done?
Hubbert:I don't know what they knew. I just know that that was my assignment. It was actually a very tight situation, because Shell had a corporate rule of not hiring anybody over the age of 40. I got in by about three weeks before the critical date. And in view of the late emergence of my coming in and me being largely an unknown entity. Why, I was very much on probation. Fortunately, I had an office and they had sense enough to leave me alone. I simply holed up and did an intensive study of the theoretical potential theory of gravity, magnetics. I did my readings, reading notes, and also my own notes of when I worked out a problem or theoretical development. This was all entered in my notebook chronologically. I amassed notebooks like this on 8 1/2 x 11 notepaper, and it was a very interesting experience. As I say, fortunately they left me alone enough, so I could work like hell and did.
Doel:Was this one of the first chances you'd really had just to devote to your work, without the pressures of teaching and other responsibilities?
Hubbert:Yes. They left me alone. And I did, I worked intensively for several months. Then, let's see, I came on in October. Oh yes, there was an unexpected development. It came about in February. I think I mentioned this to you before.
Doel:We probably don't have it on tape, though. It would be good to hear.
Hubbert:All right. One of the Shell men was a petroleum engineer and was familiar with this paper of mine on scale models, and he was an engineer from Stanford originally.
Doel:OK. What was his name, this person?
Hubbert:Jim Bugbee. It seems that the local section of the American Institute of Mining and Petroleum Engineers had a monthly meeting, a dinner meeting, and somebody who was supposed be there to read a paper couldn't be there. On very short notice they had to get a new speaker. And Bugbee proposed me, to give a talk on this theory of scale models paper. Well, I had to get this cleared of course with the Shell management. So I had this invitation. Of course, it had to be cleared with the management. And Shell had a reputation of being very tight on publication.
Doel:I was going to ask you about that.
Hubbert:They hadn't got over this yet. What I was asked to do was to talk about the theory of scale models and so on. Well, that paper was already published some years before, and it had no smell of oil, and no commercial implications. Besides that, for purposes of this talk, why, I chose a related but what I thought would be a more condensed subject, the strength of the earth. That subject had no oil implications to it. I couldn't be letting out any secrets, and besides that, the basics had already been published several years before. They were in a weak position to say No, and so they said Yes. Well, I took about two weeks and prepared for this talk, because it was my debut, both in Shell and in the Technical Society of Houston. I gave very, very serious thought to this talk, and how I would organize it. And well, the other thing was, they were so stingy they wouldn't even allow me money for the lantern slides.
Doel:Is that so?
Hubbert:I had some great big brown paper rolls like this, and I wrote the various things on this paper that would have been on the slides and hung them up. In parallel with this, I'd been through the winter having all kinds of allergies. This was in the middle of the war, and the only place that we could find to live was a little auxiliary building that I think had been a chicken house. One room with a kitchenette, and the Houston winters are pretty bad anyway, and very, very humid. You heat it with gas heaters, and all the vapors, all the condensation is all over the place. It was a hell of an environment. So I'd gone through the winter with repeated nose and throat infections, and a case of flu, mild flu at one point. Fortunately I had one of the best nose and throat men, or the best nose and throat man I've ever known. I was going to him on the day of this meeting. Oh, incidentally, this man had set up his office opening at 4 o'clock in the morning so that he could treat a large number of people who worked in local war plants and industries and so on and not interfere with their jobs.
Hubbert:He set up his office, opened his office at 4 o'clock in the morning and treated a large number of these patients so that they'd get to work on time.
Doel:Do you recall his name by chance?
Hubbert:Yes. Dr. Archer Palmer. Marvelous person. Well, I was going to him and so I remember going to him that morning with one of these chronic throat infections. I said, "Look, I've got this very important meeting this evening. Can you prop me up so I can get through the day and the evening?" And Miriam was so uneasy, knowing the state I was in, that she came down to my office at 4 or 5 that afternoon at the end of the office hours, and brought a bottle of whiskey. I had myself a pretty good slug of bourbon, as I remember, and was feeling no pain. And I remember going, walking over. The meeting was in a hotel only a block away across the street and half a block down. I was on my way over there and the vice president — I guess the manager of exploration or some kind of a manager — was heading over too. He and I walked together, and he kind of tried to turn the conversation: what was I going to say? All they had was the title. Was I going to advocate the hard rock theory of the earth or the soft theory? I said, well, that was a very interesting speculation.
Doel:That wasn't what he wanted to hear.
Well, we went to the dinner and it came my time. I got the audience immediately involved by firing the question at them: that suppose that they could, if they were young and athletic at least, do a standing broad jump. Suppose they were six feet tall and could do a standing broad jump approximately equal to their height. Suppose they were twice that, enlarged by two diameters, then how far could they jump? Could they jump 12 feet? And then I proceeded to show them that they would weigh not twice as much but eight times as much, and their strength would be not twice as much but about four times as much, and so the ratio of weight to strength would be double. That would be equivalent to staying the same size and multiplying gravity by two. And you would weigh twice as much but you would have the same strength so then how far could you jump? If you made it three diameters? You would just barely be able to stand up. Well, when I got that across, I had the audience right eating out of my hand. Then we went from that to I think the state of Texas. And I had drawn a figure for that purpose. I think I had made a sign. I did have a sign, or maybe I just had it drawn out on paper, but I had this lifting of a block of the state of Texas, and I took up that problem.
In that case, you'd have about a million-fold reduction, starting with a large size and working backwards. And so what we want is, we want the small size to behave on its own weight like the large size does, if you could do the experiment. That turned out to be, for the same density, that you have a straight reduction a million-fold to get a comparable behavior. What would that be like? And I drew a very thin line of toothpaste or something of the sort. Then I took up the viscosity problem and postglacial uplift. From that, working the same way, I had a bottle of honey just to illustrate viscosity of approximately. I believe 10 poids maybe, just honey, you turn over. Then you'd have a viscosity of about 10,000 times that or something, yet it would behave on a reduced scale as if it was so and so. So I went through this whole thing. When I got through, there was a very highly respected man in the geological and related oil company business in Houston by the name of Paul Weaver. Paul Weaver was one of these kinds if universal mentalities who knew everybody, had read everything, was conversant with all kinds of subjects. Paul Weaver got up and made a very commendatory comment of some length, and referred back to the fact that I had done this work seven years before and they'd made a great use of it in Gulf and so on.
Doel:That's interesting. He was clearly acquainted with it?
Hubbert:Yes. In fact Gulf put a man on it right immediately, sent him to see me in New York.
Doel:Had Shell done the same, to your knowledge?
Hubbert:No. This was seven years before. Gulf was the only company who did this. Well, I made a rejoinder about the originality of this, my reading a passage that had to do with animals, big animals, little animals, large boats, small boats and so on, statement which I read to them. I said, "Gentleman, that was by Galileo." My boss, the exploration manager in the audience, heard this. Well, this was the most successful talk I think I ever gave to a technical audience. They were all excited about it. The next day, they were calling me on the telephone and citing things that had been puzzling to them. One of them was a lowering of the p strength of a drill pipe up in the air flopping around like telephone wire. And various other things. Geological Society called up and wanted me to give the same talk at their meeting next week. Then, following that, the local Geological Society got very busy and tried pressuring the Distinguished Lecture committee of the AAPG. They got me on the distinguished lecture circuit.
Doel:That's how that came about?
Doel:That came very soon after the lecture?
Hubbert:Well, it was February, and I was on that circuit about September, October or so. In a way, I had Shell on the spot. It was the first time they ever had any — you look at this curious thing that they'd gotten involved in. We had the vice president who was the head man of the operating area, the chief officer in our section in charge of all East of the Rockies. He was telephoning back from New York, how did Hubbert do? They had this problem of what to do about this invitation for the distinguished lectures. They agreed that, well, I was all right from that time on. There was no doubt.
Doel:Your probation was over?
Hubbert:No further any doubt. Then the only question was, what did they want me to do? One idea they had then was have me on a kind of a major advisory basis with regard to the ongoing programs of the operating companies. Let's see, that was 1944.
Doel:Right, 1944 was when you gave the presentation.
Hubbert:In April I came to Washington. I was the secretary of the new division of tectonal physics for the American Geophysical Union. I came to the American Geophysical Union meeting, and then got back to Houston. We were riding DC-3s and practically hedge hopping from one port to another, and being bumped off. The military or other important people could bump us at any place, and we'd been bumped in New Orleans, as I remember.
Doel:This is just trying to get back to Houston?
Hubbert:Yes. On the way back to Houston. I'm not sure, I may have spent the night in New Orleans. Anyhow, if not, I was delayed there. I think it was overnight. I got back to Houston, and got word that my boss wanted to see me, that is, the manager of the exploration manager for the company. He was about two levels up higher.
Doel:What was his name?
Hubbert:Leroy Morse. And he was a man who had been teaching at Berkeley before he joined Shell. Well, I got up and found myself confronted with the proposition…Wait a minute, I was wrong here. This is 1945. I skipped a year there. In 1944 I was on that lecture tour in the fall. The next year, 1945, what was happening there in the winter and spring was that word came through that the powers that be in Shell had authorized the construction of a large research laboratory to be devoted jointly to exploration and production.
Doel:This is to build onto the small one.
Hubbert:They had the small one now. This was many times, quite a few times larger.
Doel:The small one was the only laboratory that Shell had at the time?
Hubbert:Well, in this field. They had large laboratories in chemistry. The big ones, the really big one was in California, which was on the Bay there right near Berkeley. A couple of miles from the University of California at Berkeley. But that was a large chemical laboratory. But in geophysics, they just had this small lab and small staff. Well, the word was that this research laboratory had been authorized and a director had been appointed, man by the name of Harold Gerschinowitz, who was a chemist and who had been with the company since the mid-thirties. He had formerly been a student in Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and then had worked with Shell in the chemistry section, largely reviewing chemical work and what-not.
Doel:Did he have much background in geophysics?
Hubbert:No. None at all. But the fact was that he was an able manager. They looked around as to who to have, and this man had been in charge of research for the Houston refinery also, manufacturing research. So he was picked as the director of this new lab. They would have two associate directors, one for exploration and one for production. In fact, Dr. Gerschinowitz himself had already been interviewing people, including me, early in the spring of 45. Also there was a Shell Vice President from California. Shell at the time was kind of divided in two parts, the Western Pacific part and the Eastern part. West of the Rockies, east of the Rockies. Each one had a separate vice president. Then there was a president in New York who was over both. So this vice president came in from California. California was the older group. See, they'd become established way back in oh, Ventura when Ventura was founded and so on. Way back around World War I or already earlier. Shell California had been on the ground floor for a long time before this development east of the Rockies. So this man was from California, he was the vice president in California, and was very highly regarded by people in Shell. He also had worked as a professor before joining Shell.
Hubbert:His name was Davis, nicknamed Fritz Davis. I don't remember his initials. But I know he was very highly regarded. He came to see me. I was working on the gravity thing at the time, and we spent quite some time in my office, with me going over various things that I was doing, how you report from the raw data down to where you get usable material. And somewhere along the line he raised some question, that bordered on this problem of scale. I pulled out this GSA paper on theory of scale models and I said, "Well, read this." He took it and was tremendously impressed with this. So as far as I was concerned, I was over the hump with him. About the same time, we were having an annual conference called the Geophysical Conference, which was an in-house technical thing.
Doel:How many people would come to those?
Oh, the Geophysical Conference, there'd be two or three dozen people. That was the field people, you see, both the research people and the field people. So in the spring meeting of this annual Geophysical Conference, I gave a paper on magnetic interpretation. I'd been doing a rather intensive study on magnetostatics, and I took a different tack from the usual textbook tack. That was that if you take a magnet, a bar magnet for example, and cut it in two, you've got two magnets. If you cut each one of those in two, you've got four, and so on. And you work down and so that no matter how small you get, at least until you get to molecular size, you're still dealing with magnets. What I was getting away from was the whole idea of magnetic poles, which was modeled after potential charge electricity. Well, the magnetic thing is totally different. What I was working down to is that the elementary particle in magnetism was not poles but a magnet. When I got my elementary magnet, then what is the field of this magnet? Well, it's a vectorial quantity. It's got a direction and a magnitude, magnetic moment, which is definable. Then there is a point in space, and an angle theta and a radial distance from it. Then you've got a magnetic field out here which can be defined as its force on another elementary magnet placed at that point. So out of this thing, I developed a consistent theory. The other part of it was that, having got your basic theory, you come back and you take say a thing like a bar magnet or a bar that's uniformly and magnetized. And you have the divergence of this thing, and the divergence of this magnetization over volume — that divergence is zero in a uniformly magnetized space. There's no change in it, this magnetization. But if you come to a boundary like an interface here, then the divergence becomes a discontinuity across that surface. And that surface divergence then, you have a mathematical theorem, sometimes called Gauss's theorem and so on, is that the equality between the integral of surface divergence and the volumetric divergence.
So, applying this theorem to this thing, I come out finally with a magnetization on each end of this thing and zero everywhere else, and this discontinuity or surface divergence. It behaves with an adverse type of attraction with distance. Well, I worked out this theory, and then turned around and applied it. If you're dealing with a rock, say, and you've got a magnetic rock like a volcanic type or something or other that's magnetic, induced magnetization due to the reverse field, and a plus and a minus surface polarity between this body and the surrounding rocks. Then you can work this as an inverse square to attraction over these surfaces. Especially at the end. So I had a practical problem. I had a magnetic anomaly. It had been mapped as a well-defined, rather sharply defined anomaly, which they knew geologically all up and down the East Coast, from New Haven south. These magnetic, these volcanic dikes and lava flows, you've got them clear down to Alabama. Well, this was several thousand feet below the surface of the ground, but almost certainly there were these dikes coming up and perhaps terminating at the bottom of the sedimentary column. Can you compute from this magnetic anomaly the depth of this thing? Well, I could, with reasonable accuracy, approximate, and then we had magnetic [unintelligible] working in the area, which we knew what the depth of it was. We had pretty good agreement with my magnetic calculation, substantial agreement with the seismic.
Doel:Which gave you confidence that that method was valid?
Hubbert:Yes. Well, I gave this paper at that program, and again, this vice president, Fritz Davis, was very very impressed with it, with my analysis and methods, the way I'd done it. This was background. I say, these things were kind of going on and I didn't know quite what was cooking. So then I came back from this trip in April, to Washington, and found that I was called in by my boss to see him. I got up and he told me that I'd been nominated to be the associate director for exploration of this new enterprise, and number two man to the director.
Doel:Who was Gerschinowitz? Was he the director?
Hubbert:Yes, Gerschinowitz was the director and I was his deputy. So here we were then, with a piece of paper saying that we were authorized to go to the scientific laboratory.
Doel:Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted the laboratory to have, the kind of experiments you wanted to do?
Hubbert:Well, our assignment was that we were to do research in exploration and production. The whole gamut, with no strings attached. It was up to us to work out the program. This is the laboratory that we built. [Points to photograph in photo album.]
Doel:That's quite a large building and property. It's seven miles away from the Houston headquarters? That's the old laboratory?
Hubbert:The one right there — that's the corner of that old laboratory. And this was the machine shop. That's the [inaudible] building. And originally it had the old staff in it. The staff was moved over here. That's the building we built. It's a two story building, and it's of a sizeable magnitude.
Doel:How large is it?
Hubbert:I was trying to think. I don't think there's any measurement. Here are the pictures. But this is probably a hundred feet or so from here to here, I'd say. About three hundred feet. And this place, maybe 150, to these wings.
Doel:The ceiling was to be about 10 feet?
Hubbert:Well, these windows of the ceiling, with the floor above, that was a window that went roughly from your waist to the top of your head, bending down. Now, later on they got a big building on the back here that was built, was being built when they went out of business, and there's quite a lot of (??) but that was in the original building that we designed and built.
Doel:What role did you play in designing it?
Hubbert:We had an architect. The builder was the Austin Company. It was a big company for building this kind of thing. They did a lot of the detail, but the basics — we provided the basic floor plan, that kind of thing.
Doel:What did you want to have in it?
Hubbert:Well, we already, the geophysics was already a going concern. We had very able people there, and we manufactured our own equipment.
Doel:You had a machine shop?
Hubbert:Oh yes, we had a machine shop.
Hubbert:Well, we had a geology part, a [unintelligible] and we had a rock mechanics group, and then we had the production people. They were working on interpretations of [unclear] … that sort of thing. Here incidentally was an exhibit put on for a year by the National Academy of Sciences.
Doel:This is another photograph we're looking at.
Hubbert:I believe, mechanics of rock deformation.
Doel:How long ago was this?
Hubbert:Oh, somewhere around the 1960s. Some of these pictures here show what I did on hydraulic fractures. Here are your vertical fractures, here's your horizontal ones. And here's another horizontal cup shaped formation. Here's later picture of the same nature — maybe it's a close-up of the same thing. Types of deformations, fractures. Now, this one is pushing into a block of dyed [unclear] plastic.
Doel:What is it?
Hubbert:That's the partial mold done in a cylinder, and that would correspond to [unintelligible] fracture in this, cup shaped, because the stress here is curvilinear at that point. This is part of the same exhibit. Now, this is one of those geophysical conferences of 1950, involving scientific advisors to the company bureaucrat. It was originally an English company. It was called the Shell Trading Company. And they operated a series of tramp ships in the Pacific. And one of the things they traded in was shells, sea shells. So there was a trading between the Dutch and this English company. The Dutch was producing while the English company would market it. That's where the word "Shell" gets into the picture. And that certain amount of duality still exists. The main headquarters, the Royal headquarters is in The Hague. And it used to be called, when I was there, still called the BPM for short. They've changed that, and gradually they began to pull their local names, some of them were Shell, some were Arabic, all kinds of names. They were gradually being pulled together with Shell as the common name of the whole works. And so, again, after the war, Shell Oil Company was pretty much autonomous, but still with a hookup. The headquarters, the Royal Dutch, owned more than 50 percent of Shell. But the Management was autonomous. And that had a strong liaison, like these people here attending this meeting, Van Dyke was the head scientist of the whole works. [unintelligible] was in The Hague, was one of the leading people in charge of geophysics. And then we have—this man was English. Rainbow.
Doel:That's H. Rainbow, right.
Hubbert:He was a physicist. And this is a great range of technical people, some engineers, some physicists.
Doel:Right. What kind of background did Van Dyke have? You mentioned that he was at Delft University.
Hubbert:He was very broad, I think both physics and chemistry. He had grown up in the research laboratory there, I guess, in Amsterdam. Eventually had become the scientific advisor to the board of managing directors. A very nice guy. Now, some of these Dutchmen here, this might have been in Dutch East Indies. Some were in Japanese prisons during the war, and then with us.
Doel:Is this Holcomb or G.W. Postman?
Hubbert:Postman. Holacamp [unclear] was a Texas German. Hagemann, I believe he was a Dutchman. Hafner was a Swiss.
Doel:This is W. Hafner?
Hubbert:Yes, he joined the company in the early thirties. He was a torsion balance operator. LeBlanc was a Cajun from South Louisiana. Rufus J. LeBlanc. Murphy was the associate director, my opposite number, for production. This is obviously a Dutchman from Venezuela, but I don't know, probably just up for that meeting. [pointing to photograph] Gerschinowitz. 26.
Doel:He's over on the far side, if it's 26, over here.
Doel:And one up. Yes. He was a young man yet.
Hubbert:Yes, he was at that time 40 years old. Here I am in the front row. Well, it gives you an idea. This is the staff—well, the others are visitors, so it's both the research staff and the visitors. Here's another one.
Doel:There seem to be quite a few Dutch names, of the people who have signed the photograph.
Hubbert:Yes. That was a very nice mixture. The Dutch were highly educated people.
Doel:There was a strong emphasis on geochemical research in the Dutch universities, as I recall. Were there also people who came out trained in areas of geophysics? Was that more common in the 1930s and 1940s there?
Hubbert:Well, the Dutch universities are very good. So that goes back to, oh, people like Van t'Hoff and so on, turn of the century. They're comparable to the great universities anywhere, and for a small country they've got several of them.
Hubbert:One at Amsterdam, and Groningen, the technical university, they call it Delft. And lesser ones, smaller than the other places. They must have half a dozen very good universities in Holland.
Hubbert:And again, the Dutch people are very varied in types. This is a group I used to give courses in the higher dynamic entrapment of petroleum.
Doel:This is 1950s research?
Hubbert:And this is one of those groups that I had, in training.
Doel:Right. You're featured in the front of that photograph, along with the students that are in your class.
Hubbert:Yes. Here's the classroom with the blackboard.
Doel:OK. This is in the laboratory that was constructed?
Hubbert:Yes. We did a lot of education work. We had conferences going on in, oh, a wide variety, geophysical, seismic, production.
Doel:How many classrooms did you include in the building?
Hubbert:Well, this room was in an auxiliary building. It wasn't in the lab. That's where these were. It doesn't show in that picture, but it was built later, I think.
Doel:I see. OK.
Hubbert:In the lab proper. What we had mostly was conference rooms. It's that same classroom that we had in the last picture. That's the professor up there.
Hubbert:This was an exhibit we that we put on at a GSA meeting in 1962, showing this fracture fluid pressure in overthrust faulting. This is made up largely of a slab of quartzite. It's about six inches thick, and 30 inches long or so and about 20 inches across. It's resting stressing here on this wooden base, and there's a hollow chamber underneath. I think the contact there is maybe a layer of solid plaster of Paris. The pressure is applied by a little hand vacuum cleaner that I stole from [unclear]. This is the handle. To move that block you've really got to lean on it with no pressure. If there was pressure, it goes like this.
Doel:That was work you had done a short time before, in 1959.
Hubbert:On the mechanics of overthrust faulting. With Bill Rubey. Bill Rubey and I. This was an exhibit of it. Here's the stress picture. And here's the basic theory written out here. Here's a monometer showing what the pressure is. Some of these pictures, one of them, this is my technical assistant, this girl. Harry Hess is somewhere—did you know Harry Hess?
Doel:I never had the chance to meet him.
Hubbert:Here's another view of this.
Doel:Right. How well did you come to know Hess?
Hubbert:Oh, I knew him since early times, after I went to New York.
Doel:Right. Now, he had gotten his PhD requirements finished in the early 1930s and began at Princeton.
Doel:You had met him then in Columbia?
Hubbert:I knew him at that time. I don't remember when I first met him in New York. This is a broader view.
Doel:This is still the exhibit at the NAS?
Hubbert:Hmm? GSA. This is 1960. This is the time of the GSA meeting in Houston. This is my research assistant. These are various shots of colleagues, just when I was leaving my office.
Doel:OK. These photographs are in your office now.
Hubbert:Yes. We were just kind of informally sitting around, snap a picture once in a while. This boy here I hired when he was a student at Chicago. He later became vice president of the company.
Doel:That's interesting. Who is that?
Hubbert:His name's Bob Nance, Robert Nance. He retired recently. Noy Smith [unclear] was director of the lab later on.
Doel:OK. This is another photograph.
Hubbert:And van Mariot [unclear] was a Dutch geophysicist or seismologist. This was a boy from originally MIT who was in charge of some laboratory work. Here's the mathematician Rainbow, from Cambridge.
Doel:This is Cambridge University?
Hubbert:Cambridge University in England. An Englishman.
Doel:This is all interesting. It's good to see this.
Hubbert:This boy is now in charge of structural geology and related matters at University of Oklahoma.
Doel:Who is this?
Hubbert:David Sterns. This one is at Texas A and M. I think he's the dean of the geophysical institute or whatever they call it at Texas A and M. The level of people that we hired—they were entirely interchangeable with university professors.
Doel:How much exchange was there between the universities and the petroleum corporations like Shell?
Hubbert:Well, in my day a considerable amount. We invited routinely outstanding people from the universities to come visit the laboratory, spend a couple of days, give a lecture, for a small honorarium. Just a combination of things, knowing what we were doing, and also for acquainting our staff with the type of things that were going on outside. One of these pictures I have here, I see it just now. That was my boy David Willis. His first born child was born in Houston, about the time of this picture. He is now, the child, is a researcher in Houston. I guess you'd say very broadly in…what do they call it? The new thing in biology that's going on now.
Hubbert:Molecular biology work. He's already a nationally famous person in that field. Miriam and I were godparents of that baby.
Doel:I see. There are some very interesting photographs that you've got in this retirement album.
Hubbert:What we were primarily interested in showing was that this was the lab we built. The whole establishment is about twice that big now, or maybe larger.
Doel:We're looking at the photographs of the laboratory at this time. What do you recall discussions when you were planning to build the laboratory? Were there discussions about what instruments you wanted, how to divide the floor space, how to conduct the research?
Hubbert:Well, basically, the laboratory was simply built in a modular type design. Each unit, research or laboratory unit, was a main room and two small offices, as I remember. And connecting. Then there were mounted on the walls channels where you could hang equipment any place. These metal channels are built right into the wall, and that was kind of a standard laboratory unit.
Doel:Did you have any other laboratories in mind when you began designing this?
Hubbert:That's the big chemical laboratory in California.
Doel:When the man from Emoryville came in?
Hubbert:Came in and spent some times with us. But basically, the design was our own, and it's flexible. Of course there was a library also, and conference room, about the size of this room, [about 40' x 50'] big conference room.
Doel:OK, we're talking about maybe 50 feet, squared.
Hubbert:This gives you a kind of a view of what we did.
Doel:Right. It's very interesting to see that. If you have any extra copies of these photographs, we would like to add them to this record.
Hubbert:I have some. It would take a little digging to assemble them.
Hubbert:Some have been cannibalized out of here, and not put back yet. I took a bunch of pictures out to send to Houston on this 50th anniversary, when they wanted materials. Some of them are probably still in their envelopes and haven't been re-assembled. This hieroglyphics in here was interesting, because these are all my various equations in fluid mechanics. They used it as kind of a decoration.
Doel:Frontispiece decoration, right. You mentioned before about the questions of the problems with publishing. Do you remember any specific discussions with any company officials over what you could publish, what you were to do about that?
Hubbert:Yes. The whole thing was undergoing rather [considerable change]. We actually introduced a whole field of innovations when this laboratory was set up, including publication policy.
Doel:I'd like to hear about that.
Hubbert:The attitude which had been in the company before World War II, was one of being very leery about publication. We adopted a liberal policy of publishing everything that we could after it had had its initial use by the company. If you did a piece of work, it was then expressed for company use. Its period of time there might be a year or two, and then you were free to publish following that. This was fairly common.
Doel:Was it difficult to implement that policy?
Hubbert:Well, this man Gerschinowitz was very influential. He was well established in the company, and was directly under the principal official or vice president of the U.S. So it was between the two of them that the policy was laid down. But on the whole, it was a liberal policy, which is contrary to what they'd ever had before. Following my own case, after we got this thing going, one of the things that I'd set up was this laboratory on rock mechanics. In fact, it was a threefold thing there was a whole thing, the whole field of rock mechanics consisting of laboratory work, theoretical work, comparable to this work here with Nadai, and field work. We had all three classes of work running in parallel and in cooperation. That became one of the most influential research things of its kind in the world. And then what follows is more or less predictable. When the oil situation began to get tight some 20 years later, the company officials began to squeeze the budget. Anything that didn't have a direct smell of oil to it they began to eliminate, including the rock mechanics. That's when that whole group in rock mechanics was about to be disbanded. The universities were bidding for this, that and the other portion individually, but they wanted to stay together because they were part of a team. So I got from the dean or associate dean of this Geoscience Department or unit at Texas A and M University. Shell was about to disband this group; secondly A and M was able to get some money and make a bid for them as a group. He called me on the telephone about it, asked my advice, and I said, "Grab." And they did. They moved it lock, stock, and barrel over to A and M.
Doel:That's interesting. When did that happen?
Hubbert:Let me think. About 1960 or so. About 1966 or so.
Doel:The entire rock mechanics staff was transferred?
Hubbert:They may have lost one or two. Maybe one or two of the best boys stayed back in the lab, and somebody may have gone somewhere else. But for the most part, the unit stayed together and moved over to A and M.
Hubbert:And one of this group is now the dean of the school at A and M. Before Cook became dean, he was associate dean when he took his job. I recommended him for the job from here. He worked for me in research. Then, when the dean was promoted up to vice president or something in the university, Cook took over as dean. Then Cook had a heart attack. He died of a heart attack here about five years ago. So this man here succeeded him, not immediately, but later. I think is now dean of that school, of geoscience.
Doel:You mentioned that you became one of the two associate directors under Gerschinowitz. I'm curious to hear what changes occurred within Shell after you reached that position. Did you attend more meetings within Shell itself as a result of your position?
Hubbert:Yes. Yes, I traveled around. One of my first travels after — see, we came officially into existence on the 1st of July, 1945. Our existence consisted of this small laboratory and the plans to build a new one, this big one.
Hubbert:And in '46 I made my first trip abroad, which was a kind of a get-acquainted trip, both in Holland and in England. That's when I had this opportunity to visit the British universities. And also I attended an international meeting on applied mechanics in Paris. Later on, I had a rather extensive trip in Trinidad, Venezuela, and Colombia. And later other times in Canada.
Doel:Were these primarily to attend meetings?
Hubbert:— well, sometimes it was out and out company business. Visiting company offices and talking with the staff and so on. Sometimes it was attending company conferences. Sometimes it was attending a scientific meeting, and incidentally visiting locally, if they happened to be company territory.
Doel:Once you became associate director of the laboratory, did you also begin to attend higher level meetings within Shell headquarters in Houston?
Hubbert:Yes. One of the first ones was the annual meeting of the exploration meeting of the entire organization. It was run by exploration managers and vice presidents. I was invited in on these meetings after that. Then we had this Geophysical Meeting which I was in charge of at the laboratory. Then my opposite number, Murphy, was in charge of correspondingly introducing similar thing in production, at the production laboratory annual meeting. And I frequently participated in the production one because it was a time when he was more or less organizing the whole outlook on the fundamentals of fluid mechanics. I gave you an outline, a synopsis of this work before. But remember, I came in with this background of groundwater motion and then I found that the Shell engineers were still talking about fluid flowing from high to lower pressure.
Hubbert:The Muskat book.
Hubbert:The Muskat book was referred to as the Bible. It was a thing, by some means or other, I had to break it up. I did.
Doel:That was through the meetings and seminars that you attended?
Hubbert:Yes. When I was going to make this first trip to Europe, it was suggested that due to my interest in applied mechanics and so on that I might attend this conference in Paris. I said, yes, I'd very much like to, but I also want to give a paper there. And that startled them a little bit, and so, I wrote up a short paper on the field equations of fluid flow through sand, which I gave at that meeting. Then when I came back, the following spring I was to be at a production meeting. My opposite number, Murphy, invited me to give the same paper to the production meeting. Then I was involved in these production conferences from that time until I left.
Doel:What was the relationship between the exploration and the production sides of Shell?
Hubbert:Well, as I told you [off tape], I didn't know when I went there. After we had been authorized with this piece of paper to build the laboratory, I was still in my old office in the Shell Building downtown. I had the production people having a weekly conference, with one of their staff people giving a paper on some problem or other that he was working on. I asked permission to attend these meetings, and instead of just saying offhand, "By all means, yes," they asked to consider it. It took a week or two before I got word that I could attend these luncheons. Well, what I didn't know but began to become aware of was that there was an old feud that had been going on in Shell for 25 or 30 years, since the early days in the US. It was a fight between two Dutchmen. One was in charge of exploration, the other production, and they hated each other. They apparently fought like cats and dogs and had their own staffs engaged in this Hatfield-McCoy type of feud. And the feud hadn't completely died out in the time we're talking about. It still existed in a subdued manner. And so I was in the awkward position of trying to educate these people. It took some cautious doing. We went through that sequence, which I've outlined to you once before. I don't know whether you really want to go over it again.
Doel:We don't have that on tape. That's why I was asking.
Hubbert:Well, all right, I'll summarize it.
Hubbert:We'd just been authorized to establish this laboratory. I was associate director for exploration. The production manager hadn't been appointed yet. I asked this production group if I could attend their little weekly conference just for my own education. I've outlined that already on your tape. Well, what became clear to me was that these people simply didn't understand some of the fundamentals of fluid mechanics. They didn't know they didn't understand it.
Hubbert:And it was inhibiting what they were doing, because the theory that they were using was not applicable to their problems. Somehow or other, that had to be if possible broken up, or gotten through to them that that wasn't proper physical fluid mechanics. On the basis of this, when I was going to Europe then, I said I wanted to give this paper at that meeting, and so I wrote this little paper and gave it at the meeting. Later on, in Holland—which was again my maiden voyage — I was taken out to Amsterdam, which is 30 or so miles away from The Hague or more, maybe, to visit this large research laboratory at Amsterdam. My associates on this trip were Ben Van Dyke, the one I showed you before, and an older man, Dr. Hyde who shortly after that retired, a capable and well regarded man. These two men were my lookers-after on this trip to Amsterdam. There was a conference in which one of their researchers in the flow of fluids was brought in to give a synopsis of the kind of work that he and his colleagues were doing in this field. Well, he was brought in as in a sense a demonstration. To my amazement, this man was using a fiction I'd never seen before, of an imaginary sand that had a definite finite permeability in the direction of the flow, and zero permeability tranverse to that. So in fact he was flowing the fluids through pipes. It could not go transversely but could only go longitudinally. I remember challenging him on this thing in the conference. I was simply amazed that they were using this crazy substitute because they didn't have any proper theory. They had to do this to get this thing perpendicularly to the pressure surfaces, which it wasn't, but nevertheless they thought it was. And they were using a pressure equation. The whole thing was crazy. Sometime after that meeting, I flashed a copy of this little paper I'd given over in Paris. They took it away from me, grabbed it, and I never saw it again.
Hubbert:It wasn't a perfect paper. I think it had some technical flaws in it, but basically I wrote it with more elaboration later on. Then I got back, and that's when it was decided that I should give the same paper at the next Petroleum Production conference, and I did. And this was where the reaction that I got from the audience was all the way from approval — again, we had some pretty high level people from Holland at the meeting, some higher technical men — and I got no fight out of them. But we had a man in the audience who was in the group who was in Houston. I'd first met him several years before, at Humble, and I'd given a talk to Humble before I ever joined Shell back in 1940 or so. This man took rather violent exception to what I had done. He took it personally, that if I were true, everything he'd been doing was wrong. And so he pulled the same thing emotionally at this meeting.
Doel:Who was this person? We can come back to it if it isn't right at hand.
He was a former MIT man, a student at MIT, and he'd worked for Humble, later for Shell, and later was an independent on the outside. The reaction across the board was all the way from approval all the way over to strong disapproval. One man, one of the men from Holland who had been in the Amsterdam Laboratory, was reminded of an experiment one of his colleagues had performed in the Amsterdam Laboratory. The basis for this was that I had pointed out that in this relation between the driving force and the rate of flow, the upper limit to it was not defined by turbulence, as again the standard literature indicated or stated, but was due to another principle in the relation entirely. These individual flow lines were sinuous, so that the particles going around curves continuously were also accelerating alternately, slowing down, speeding up. What happened was that if you took a particle of fluid and wrote the equation of forces acting on that particle, a small element of volume, you had a driving force and you had a force of resistance due to viscosity and another force of inertial reaction. You had three forces which together were in equilibrium. But the driving force was independent. I mean, that's your independent variable. The other two were reactive forces.
So the sum of the viscous force and the inertial force were the negative over the driving force. Now, the viscous force was related to your scale and the rate of flow and so on in a linear manner, if the flow lines were similar at different rates of flow. But that could only be true provided that the inertial force was negligible. So you had only the two forces, the driving force and the resistive force. In that case, then you had kinematic similarity, of your flow at different rates of flow, so long as that held. But the viscous force was linear with the flow relation, but the inertial force was square, related to the square of the velocity, so that if you start a very slow rate of flow, the inertial force would be negligible. You keep speeding up and then it increases as the square and it becomes finally a major force, or enough to distort the flow. It's then that it reaches its threshold of enough to distort the flow pattern — anything less than that is linear; from there on up, then your resistance is no longer linear, with respect to the flow velocity, and therefore with respect to the driving force. So the upper limit of this was when the inertial force becomes perceptible, not when turbulence sets in. Now, the reason for the error goes back to the classical experiments with a flow through straight tubes. The Englishman, in the 1880s. I'm blank at the moment on his name.
Doel:OK. Again, we can put that in later.
Hubbert:All right. But he did these classical experiments on the flow through straight tubes, and its laminar up to a certain point and then breaks into turbulence, complete sharp discontinuity. Reynolds.
Hubbert:This factor was the ratio of the inertial force to the viscous force — is a Reynolds number. For the velocity less than this critical amount, why, the inertial force was zero, because you had a steady state flow. Or it was similar, simply a parabolic flow in a straight tube. But at a certain critical value, this was no longer stable and broke into turbulence. And that occurred at a certain value of this Reynold's number. Or, you work it the other way around — if you started at the high level and worked down — then the turbulence damped out at this critical point. That was a better defined point than going from below up. If you did it carefully, you could go beyond that point. It was unstable but still laminar until the slightest disturbance. Then it would go to pieces. That was the basis for this notion that the flow through the pipe all failed when turbulence set in. And I pointed out from theoretical relations that it couldn't be so.
Doel:And this was an error that was also carried in Muskat's book?
Hubbert:Yes. The same thing. I pointed this out in that meeting. This chemist from The Hague or from Amsterdam cited this case of a colleague of his who wanted to do a very precise determination of the viscosity of a certain fluid. An ordinary straight tube in the laboratory wasn't long enough to get the precision that he wanted, so to get a longer tube, he coiled the tube into a helix and he got a much longer tube. He found then that the [indistinct] How all failed at a Reynolds number relative to the curving. When I was working on this originally, I found a paper by I think a Danen who had studying this thing, around the curvelinear pipe. What he had done was to take a long bored pipe about an inch in diameter and bent it around in the arc of a circle. He'd first run paint through it, and then with the paint still wet, he ran water through it, and mapped the flow lines on the walls of the pipe, in the paint. He then drained it, let the paint harden or set, and then he sectioned this thing with a hand saw, or with a hacksaw.
Doel:That's a very clever experiment.
Hubbert:Then the flow lines were mapped on the lines of the tube. So what you had was a double spiral, with the flow lines going around, going this way, so the rates of curvature were down here. So what happens is, your high velocity filament which would normally be in the center of the pipe is now being activated by the centrifugal force, and moving in a straight line out towards the outside. Then it has to come around, so as seen in cross-section, you've got two spirals or convection currents, in going down. Then what you've got is two sets of spiral flow lines, down the axis of the tube. Well, this man in Amsterdam had found this same thing by measuring the forces versus the flow rate, and he found that the linearity at about 1, a long ways from turbulence. OK. Anyhow, we ran into the problem of these hydrodynamic effects in the oilfields. In one of these summer conferences, where the vice presidents and presidents and managers were present, somebody cited a case where he had a good structure. It should have had oil in it — it was somewhere near a mountain uplift — but there was the structure but no oil in it. Several cases of this sort. So the idea had been that the oil had been flushed out by flowing water. I showed him that indeed was a possibility. Not only that, I was familiar with the theory of it, or had developed a theory of it. So I then went to work getting this into a coherent form — with special emphasis on the entrapment and effects of flowing water on the migration and entrapment of petroleum. I then gave succeeding conferences after that on various aspects of this hydrodynamic situation.
Doel:Is this now the late 1940s, very early 1950s?
Hubbert:I'd say it started about 1946 or so.
Hubbert:See if I'm in the right century — yes. And then it went on for the succeeding two or three congresses. Well, what became apparent was that with the exception of a few individuals, pure theory simply wasn't impressing anybody. They had to have a demonstration. Or, put it this way, if rational argument is ineffective, what is or would be effective is a demonstration.
Doel:Which audience do you have in mind? The company officials or the other geologists?
Hubbert:I was dealing with a cross-section of people. Curiously, in our own laboratory, there was a great deal of skepticism of what I was doing, including from the director down.
Doel:Really, from Gerschinowitz?
Hubbert:Yes. And it was partly because of that obeisance, you might say, that they paid to this man Muskat. And there was also a little bit of a Jewish connection there.
Hubbert:Well, Muskat was a Jew. Gerschinowitz was a Jew. And there was a little bit of…I ran into this thing quite a few times, and that is, the Jews tend to defend each other. It's a fairly common phenomenon. And that was true in this case. So we were in a situation where rational analysis wasn't being very effective, among people who ought to know better. You see, we were getting, we instituted then about this same time, about 1946, various training programs, educational programs. One of them was a cross-training for engineers who had never had any geology, and geologists who didn't know anything about petroleum production and so on. They deliberately set up a policy. This was aimed down from the top level of the company, this need for cross-training, so that these people had a broader view of the whole field.
Doel:Did you play a role in making that come about?
Hubbert:All right, I organized the course in geology. I didn't teach it but I had a man, a senior geologist who did teach the course. I organized it and organized the field trips and went with them, and would occasionally come in and give lectures on particular subjects in the course. Well, originally the group was largely mechanical engineers. They drilled wells and did the mechanical things like build rigs and all that kind of thing, but they weren't concerned directly with reservoir problems. But being engineers in the production department and all these things were more or less common knowledge within the family. So, the first group that we had in this cross-training were men who—oh, they were ten or fifteen year men in the company, senior engineers. And there were about a dozen or so in this class. One of the things that I came in on, with a special lecture, was ground water. It was a very deliberate situation, because if I had purported to talk to them about petroleum production, then I was on somebody else's turf, and that would be intolerable. But ground water is geology. So I talked to them about ground water. I built this apparatus, consisting of a glass tube about so long, couple of manometers, hooked up so that you could turn it around in various orientations, and clamps where you could adjust the rate of flow. I first talked to them a little bit about what makes a fluid flow through sand. I got all these energizers and pressure and I said, "Well, that's very reasonable. Now, let's check, let's verify it." So I had this flow operators here and I showed them. So we rigged the class into doing a laboratory session. We had this apparatus here, and we measured from the table top to the terminometers [unclear], and so forth, the distance from here to here. We had a stop watch and a measuring container, and we put on the board a table, 1, 1, 1, 2 and so on, manometer no. 1, no. 2. So somebody recorded this on the board, somebody ran the stop watch, and we got all the data on the board. They also computed P1, P2, on the terminometers. Well, the boys were perfectly happy. Except we had a blank column at the end of there. Then I pointed out to them, in this first run, where this was vibrational with these two manometers to a point, that at the upstream manometer, the pressure was lower than the downstream manometer.
Doel:That must have been something.
Hubbert:It was going from low to higher pressure. [laughter].
Doel:Was that very startling to them?
Hubbert:Very. Then we upped it to a little higher rate of flow, a little higher distance between manometers. It was still flowing from lower to higher pressure. Then about the third rate of flow, the two manometers got to where their tops had the same elevation as their bottoms, so the two columns in each manometer were the same. Therefore the pressure was the same, and therefore at this stage it was flowing with the same pressure. Then the next round, with more than that, the pressures were reversed; you were flowing from higher to lower pressure. We got all that down, P 1 minus P 2, and that's where they went into a tailspin. They used to know damn well it flowed from higher pressure, and I'd done something to pressure that wasn't pressure, I'd cheated. I said, "All right, here's your apparatus, just look at it. Here's this pressure forced through this column, and this pressure forced through this column. Is this column shorter than this one? Therefore this pressure is less than this one." Well, about the time they first got hit with this thing, we'd break for coffee. They'd be going at each other all around the table. Finally, I had all this in my notebook, apparatus, all the measurements. After we got back, I'd say, "All right, gentlemen, what we discovered here is that in every case, the fluid is flowing from the manometer that stands highest above the table to the one that stands lower. I think we also find it varies by tipping the two, flowing in different directions. Now, what this says is that the rate of flow is proportional to this H between the heights of the two manometers, measured from the standard datum, elevation. "And that, gentlemen, is Darcy's Law." But this pressure thing is not Darcy's Law. It is not physically correct. Well, a few weeks later, six weeks or so later, another group came by. We go through exactly the same routine and get exactly the same type of reaction. The reaction ran all the way from some of them who would get almost hysterically amused to those who would almost get fighting mad. I cheated or there was something wrong. A third group coming along, I go through exactly the same routine, it falls flat. They know the answer before they come. The grapevine's working.
Hubbert:As I say, I sabotaged the whole Shell Oil Company with that simple experiment. I later got another part of this story from the production man. This same man had part of his training course in the electrical engineering department, and this particular person whom I knew fairly well, Johnny Walker, was giving this course. With the first one of these groups, he started out, "it's all very simple. You simply put height over pressure and it's Darcy's Law" and so on. The guys whom I'd had taught previously challenged him, not on the basis of the experiment, but on the basis of that I'd said it wasn't so. That made him furious. What the hell did I know about engineering? He told me this, two or three years later. He said that after it was all over with, he started thinking about it and became more and more unsure of himself. His first reaction was, he was quite angry. Why was I messing around with something I didn't know anything about? Yet the more he got involved in this, the less secure he became. That was working on the other end of the line. The first time I was aware that I'd certainly gone over the line was when a group came out. I was having another one of these groups, trainees in geology, geophysics and so on, coming along in parallel. I was giving the same lecture to them. I had a group that came out one day from downtown, and I wasn't quite sure who they were. Were they mechanical engineers or were they exploration people? It turned out they were neither. They were reservoir engineers who came out specially for that lecture.
Hubbert:Yes. I was the only one that was getting through.
Doel:It's very clear that those kinds of demonstrations have always been very important in your own teaching style.
Hubbert:Yes. I learned this from Galileo.
Doel:Do you recall how early it was that you read Galileo on similitude?
Hubbert:Oh, when I was a graduate student. I had the book called SCIENCES over here that I bought at that time. That was a trick that Galileo used over and over again, you know.
Hubbert:His life was spent battling Scholastics over authoritarianism — Aristotelian, Aristotle, and so on. The last word of authority was the writing of the authoritative source, either the sacred or the Greek philosophers. The only way that Galileo could cope with these guys was to devise an experiment which contradicted the thing that they were saying. One of the instances I remember — I believe it was in Galileo's papers — has to do with floating bodies. For sure, Archimedes had worked that thing out a long time ago, but this battle was still going on with the Scholastics. Galileo was by this time in the court of the Duke of Florence, one of the Medicis. The Duke apparently would on occasion put on disputations between Galileo and the Scholastics in the ducal palace. One of those disputations had to do with this question of floating bodies. Aristotle had said that bodies floated or sank depending on their shape. A round body was a more perfect shape than an angular body, and therefore a round body would float and an angular body would sink. Galileo countered that argument by producing a basin of water. The round body sank and the angular body was floating. It's classic. It's very difficult to answer that argument. [laughs]. If it's words, the sky's the limit. But an experiment is more difficult to cope with.
Doel:Right. And I imagine you saw clear parallels between this situation and the geological training that you were getting at Chicago when you read Galileo.
Hubbert:Yes. If I had simply limited myself to verbal arguments, why, you could spend the rest of your life and get nowhere. I think you should shelve verbal argument entirely. You get around that problem with an experiment which contradicts one line of argument, and demonstrates another encounter. It's a diagnostic experiment. Well, in parallel with that, at these annual conferences, I was developing this theory of flow under more general conditions. The entrapment of petroleum.
Doel:Right. You published that in 1953.
Hubbert:Yes. But again, you had the same kind of thing. You had all the way from negative reactions to positive to negative, the whole spectrum. It became obvious, if you had to use the Galileo technique, it required a demonstration. That's when I hired a graduate student in physics from Rice for the summer. I assigned him the job of systematically going through physical measurements, starting out with flow through a tube. I then had him go through that with a two dimensional apparatus, a box like this [outlines rectangular box with hands] with a plexiglass front, to be filled with sand. You could see what was going on, and you had manometer tubes that could be plugged in in various places. You could have inputs and outlets in different positions, and you could map the flow line with dye streams. So we did the Darcy's Law experiment, clarified it in the most general way, gave the correct physical formulation. Then we went on to the two dimensional flow. We demonstrated the fraction phenomenon where you went from coarse to fine to coarse or vice versa. A whole range of things. You mapped the potential surfaces, and also the pressure. You could map equal pressure surfaces, showing that they were all different. Finally we went to a case of fluids of different densities. We had a higher density, colored with a dye, say, for contrast, and then, say, distilled water, for the main density. We also had an alcohol solution with a dye for the lighter one. Then you have the outer static and the various degrees of tilt, migration and so on. And then we went from that, after two summers of, I believe, laboratory work, and we went to the field. I had asked these engineers, at the preceding conference. I said it was mandatory that there must be hydrodynamically filter [unclear] "You're men from all over everywhere. You must know some of these things."
Doel:That's a good question.
Hubbert:Well, one man would admit that they did. There were some instances but you could account for them by capillarity, from coarse to fine grain rocks. It would appear to be tilted because of the difference of capillarity.
Doel:Influenced by the surface underlying it.
Hubbert:Yes. So that was where we simply had to go to the field and take a look. We did, and we found these things. The Rocky Mountains are the best situation for water flow at large elevations, and we found them all over the place. Some of them were reported since 1917 and so on.
Doel:Oh, were they?
Doel:So the record was already there.
Hubbert:Back at that time, they had what was then called the hydraulic theory. That was that oil was dragged along by flowing water.
Doel:Was this promoted primarily by Geological Survey people or by oil companies?
Hubbert:No. Well, it was a cross-section of petroleum geology at the time. Historically it goes back to around 1900, when the search was being made by the Geological Survey of southeastern Ohio, when oil had been discovered in southeastern Ohio. There was a man working in there: I think his name was Griswold. He published a number of bulletins in areas where he'd made these studies. At that time, all the wells were cable-tube wells, where you put water down, then you bailed the cuttings out with a bucket. Thus they had only three classes of fluid problems, and that was that water flowed into the well if it was a water sand, if gas flowed in it was a gas sand, and if oil flowed in it was an oil sand. But if nothing flowed in, it was a dry sand. So they had these categories of sand, oil, gas, water or dry. Dry meant just that: there was no fluid. No liquid or gas. Air maybe. That was a standard classification of oil wells at that time. Well, this man Griswold was studying one of the quadrangles of southeastern Ohio that had a number oil wells in it. That's when they first began to draw these contour maps, structured contour maps on the surface coal beds for mapping any kind of structure at depth. They tried to correlate the appearance of oil with the geological structures.
Hubbert:He found oil accumulations in his area. Some of them were well defined. There was a trough high up here, and the oil was here. In another case, he would have the oil up on the high spot. Other cases, down in the bottom, base. Well, he developed a theory accounting for all of these things, by the level of the water in these sands, between the dry sand. Then the water fell. So, if your sand was completely full of water, your oil and gas would be at the highest structural position. If the sand was completely dry, it all would be down in the trough. If it was only halfway up between the lowest and the highest points, then the oil was accumulating on top of the water in a flank position.
Hubbert:One of his field assistants was a man by the name of Malcolm J. Munn. His first paper was in the early 1900s, 1903 or thereabouts. Along about 1909 or 1910, Munn wrote a paper, possibly in two parts, expressly on the hydraulic theory. In the first place, oil wouldn't migrate of itself, because it would get stuck in the sand grains by capillaries, and in order to move it, you had to have flowing water. But the flowing water was envisaged, it was largely the flow between this wet saturated area and the dry area, where the water moving along in a bulldozing way with the oil in front of it. So where would the oil accumulate? Well, then he tried to reason this out. The resistance to motion became greater than the propelling force.
Doel:Then you'd have an accumulation.
Hubbert:Then it stopped. Well, that might be on a flank, but more likely it would be an anticline. Because you're going up; you have the assistance of gravity. If you were going down the other side, you're being opposed and so you might have an anticlinal accumulation, but with the oil down the flank from which the water is coming. Now, that hydraulic theory had a great prevalence in oil circles up until the early 1920s, and it finally took the form of the water—and the old dry sands were pretty well abandoned by this time — of the water simply dragging the oil along as it flowed. And then your accumulations were anywhere that the drag was greater or the resistance was greater than the dragging force. The most likely place to accumulate it was on the anticline. It may be asymmetrical, with the down part of it in the direction from which it's coming, as a dip diminished where the resistance increased. There are some very penetrating papers written at that time, in the early twenties, on this hydraulic theory. In the meantime, in 1917 and later, work was going on in the Bighorn Basin in the Rocky Mountains and also over in the [unclear] River Basin. The big Salt Creek oil field was reported to be lower in oil water contacts, lower on the north end than on the south end. Two USGS men were working on the Bighorn Basin, one of them on the east part of the basin, one of them on the west part. The one on the west part described the Grey Bull Field, which was on the flank of the Big Horn Mountains on the east side of the basin. Well, they also pointed out that the sands in which this field occurred, accumulation, cropped out on the surface only two or three miles up mountainward from this field. So water could be entering the sand at this higher level and flowing down. All right, this field was asymmetrical. The oil went in this case down a dip, toward the basin. It was asymmetrical in this domed structure. So that was interpreted as the drag, viscous drag of the water flowing by, dragging this oil down the dip. Other authors about the same time on the same area pointed out that structures that ought to contain the oil, that were the most updip and nearest the outcrop, were frequently dry. You didn't get oil until you got to the second or third layer of these structures basinward. Then again it was said that the oil is flushed out by the more vigorous flow nearer the outcrop. As the flow diminished, then you got the oil accumulated in these about third range structures.
Doel:Then you'd have a hydrostatic situation.
Doel:With an added accumulation.
Hubbert:That was all in the literature of that period around 1917, 1918, early twenties. But it was all the old hydraulic theory, which itself evolved from the form that Munn had put it in. Well, we skip along up until the thirties, and there's a paper published by a geologist with Gulf, prominent geologist of the time, oil geologist. I don't recall what his name is at the moment, but he kind of signed off the hydraulic theory with a kind of an epitaph, that earlier, there was a period in the twenties when the AAPG promoted a whole series of about three volumes on structures of typical American oil fields. A part of the inquiry involved here was settling this question of whether oil occurred in anticlines or here, there and the other place.
Doel:This was considered a major problem among petroleum geologists then?
Hubbert:Yes. The attitude here was not an a priori assumption, but, let's find out. So in that series, there were all kinds of situations. Oil was described on terraces, going down like this, and the oil was here. There were cases of the tilted oil-water interface, or gas-oil, horizontal, tilted, and so on. These showed up in accounts by different authors, on particular oil fields. So it was a very useful lot of information, in these volumes. This paper that I referred to was about 1934, '35 or so. He mentioned that in the older literature oil had been described in all kinds of locations and structural positions. At long last, this notion that oil could occur just anywhere, or under these various conditions, had at long last passed into innocuous disrepute. Oil actually only occurred in structures which had some kind of a geologic barrier, whether it was an incline or a fault or stratigraphic. Oil only occurred in the situations of the highest that it could have migrated to, so here we're right back to absolute hydrostatics. And prior to that, another geologist from West Texas described a field in the Delaware Basin where the rocks are dipping in an anticline in the eastward, and this field is on a little terrace structure, with the oil water contacts tilting down dip, and no closure. There was perfectly good permeability up dip with the sand containing water, wells dip up dip with water, and he cited that as an example of oil that had occurred or did occur in an unclosed structure. In refutation to this sweeping statement by this man a year or so earlier.
Doel:Right. How was that paper received?
Hubbert:I really don't know. I wasn't there.
Hubbert:Anyhow it was published. The only way the author of that paper could account for it was that these rocks now dip. They must have been horizontal and the oil accumulated in this little anticlinal structure. Then they tilted over, and the oil hadn't had time to migrate up the dip yet. This was an untenable hypothesis, but nonetheless the only thing he could think of. So when my work came along, why, the old hydraulic theory had no validity, because everything was wrong in actual occurrence. Oh, another thing that happened to me. A man at the Imperial College in London was the principal advocate of the hydraulic theory in the 1930s.
Doel:Who was this?
Hubbert:I've got it in this theory of ground water, no, in the entrapment paper that I gave you the other day. This historical review.
Doel:That's fine, we'll put it in after.
Hubbert:With a little bit of, oh, cosmetic trim, he was essentially stating the hydraulic theory as it existed in the early 1920s. Namely, at the water flowing up dig was migrating the oil up dip. He had a little bit of a focusing effect through the configuration, where the flow lines tend to converge in certain ways. But still, the oil tilted down dip in the direction the water was coming, whereas actually hydrodynamically it would be the other way around. It would be tilted in the direction the water was flowing, but not for viscous drag but for entirely different reasons. That paper gave the fundamental theory of what the forces were acting on and what the relations of the oil-water interfaces were. This laboratory work showed the whole thing. The theory was developed. In fact, the theory had been developed in the original ground water paper. But the confirmation was the work that my assistant Terry Connor carried out experimentally in the laboratory. Then we went to the field, and sure enough, there it was in the field. You could verify it also with the hydraulics where measurements were available. OK. The next thing then was that I introduced a series of training courses. I told you about this group.
Hubbert:I had one or two of these groups a year there for several years, for a month. We worked all day long. Most of the colleges have one hour a day. We worked all day, for a month, about. Then these guys went back and undertook a hydrodynamic study of their area, where they had evidence of flowing water in particular sand, in some cases porous limestones. We got out a whole series of original reports in these various regions by these men going home to their respective jurisdictions and carrying out studies in their home territory.
Doel:Was that work first done at Shell? Had any other oil companies begun to take on the question of oil entrapment in the sand the way that you and your workers had done?
Hubbert:No. The closest thing to it was a man who worked for Standard California in their research laboratory. He got on to my paper on theory of ground water motion and started toward this notion of hydrodynamics. He got let out of Standard of California — I don't know what happened, but talking with the staff of people there that I know, there was probably some trouble between him and the company. So he got to a Shell man by the name of Leo Newfarmer [unclear] who was an exploration manager in California. He propositioned him on his hydrodynamic notion. He got all excited about it, not knowing anything about what we were doing or had done. He began to bombard us that we ought to hire this man. Well, we did invite him out for an interview. I found out that he had read my theory of ground water motion paper, which was the origin of his interest in this thing. Well, we couldn't hire him. We had just an enormous amount of work of our own and we couldn't hire a man to re-do the same thing all over again. So we didn't offer him a job. Then Leo Newfarmer got very incensed over the fact that we hadn't done right by his protege, so he promoted him for a fellowship at Stanford. They gave him the fellowship, and that's when the oil geologist Leverson — he was the dean of the School of Mineral Sciences, I think they called it —
Hubbert:At Stanford. But he was an oil man, and he got all excited over this thing. So he teamed up with this man. The man's name was Gilman Hill. I've come into focus on his name. And so they were going to go out and make a grab, grab off an oil field or two before anybody else caught onto it. And they did. They set up a little company with Hill as the principal operator and Leverson as chairman of the board or something or other. They were going to make this grab. Well, in the meantime — oh, yes, the guy was at Stanford. He's writing up a little paper. He got a Shell Fellowship to Stanford.
Hubbert:It was Leo Newfarmer who was promoting him, you see, got him this Shell Fellowship. So he wrote up a little paper on his work. He didn't have a damn thing in it that wasn't contained in my papers. He wrote it in different ways, but there was nothing original, and then no mention, no bibliography, no citation or anything of work by anybody else.
Doel:You found it very troubling that he hadn't given you credit?
Hubbert:Of course. Here he'd written up this thing, and the theory was valid, but it didn't contain anything that wasn't contained in my previously published papers, which he admitted he'd used and studied when he came to see us. So I wrote a very hot letter to the management, pointing out this memorandum the guy had written on his work at Stanford. I wanted permission to publish this paper of mine on the entrapment of petroleum under hydrodynamic conditions, which had existed so far only as a company report.
Doel:People in the company had already seen the report?
Hubbert:Oh yes, they had to, a big report like that. After all, I'd been working on it for several years and they all knew it. I'd had these various training groups and they were back home doing work in their own home home bases. I mean, it was a major thing in Shell. So here they get roped in on this outsider through the machinations of this guy Newfarmer who was exploration manager in California. So I simply demanded the privilege of writing a paper on my work on this thing. It's fundamental to what I had done and went back to 1940. This accompanying report was an elaboration but still was basically the same theory. Well, I got such permission, and I gave the paper orally at the meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in Los Angeles. It was the late 1950s, I remember. I don't remember what year it was. Well, that had an electrical effect in the petroleum industry. In one case, again, there was this Standard Oil of California. There was a background history there. My friend Hewitt Dix, Professor Hewitt Dix of Caltech was one of the few people who'd been in New York when I was writing this paper and one of the few people who had read the paper in manuscript before it was published.
Hubbert:Then he went to Caltech as an associate professor at Caltech, but he was also doing a little consulting on the side, to the research laboratory of the Standard of California, which was a few miles away. And when Muskat's second book came out, the one I've got on the shelf over here, in the mid-1940s, '45, '46 or something, I reviewed it for the JOURNAL OF GEOLOGY. I wrote a devastating review, pointing out some of the background history on this thing. They'd made this mistake in their first volume, and they'd had the opportunity to correct it.
Doel:Right. When it was re-issued, those corrections hadn't been made.
Hubbert:Yes, and they hadn't done it. Well, Hewitt Dix, when that review came out, went over on one of his weekly or so or periodic visits to the Research Lab of Standard of California. Some of the staff over there were incensed over this review. What did this guy mean by attacking Muskat? And Dix quite coolly said, "Well, have you read Hubbert's paper carefully?" Apparently they hadn't. "Have you compared it with what Muskat says?" And they hadn't. He said, "Well, you'd better do that, and we'll talk about it the next time I come." Well, they did this and they kicked themselves. Pretty soon they had a man out. I don't know when it was announced, I guess that I was going to give this paper. I think the abstract maybe was published in the program of the meeting. They had one of their men out making the rounds of their offices, promoting this thing before I ever gave the paper, educating their own people on it. So when I gave the paper it was a big audience in a downtown hotel in Los Angeles, the biggest ballroom in the place and it was jammed full of people — Hewitt Dix said there was a stampede for the telephone booths to call their home offices. [laughter].
Hubbert:Well, immediately there was a request for me to go on a distinguished lecture tour on this thing within the next few months. That meeting was in April. I think I was on this distinguished lecture tour in the fall.
Doel:How did Shell handle that when you were on the distinguished lecture tour? Were you simply away from Houston for a period of months?
Hubbert:Yes. Well, this tour actually lasted I think six weeks. I was simply gone. I think that particular time, that six weeks was continuous, unbroken, so I was on one night stands from one place to the other. It was a man-killing job, operation.
Doel:Did it stimulate any ideas for research when you had a chance to talk with others?
Hubbert:Not very much. I had this thing so well in hand that there weren't many loopholes. In Canada, I'd picked from the literature and Norman Wells Field was one example. There were some of my friends in the Imperial, which is the Exxon branch in Canada. They questioned the validity of this interpretation. Later on, the man who discovered the fields in the first place wrote a letter. In the paper I'd cited this Norman Wells Field: here were the mountains over here in the background, this thing was tilted in this direction. He said it wasn't, that it was strictly hydrostatic, I mean, stratographic, hydrostatic. But that was the only exception that I ran into of any examples that I had in hand. That apparently was a misinterpretation of a purely stratographic situation. One of the more interesting things was here in Washington, at the Geological Survey. They got the auditorium of the Interior Department as a place where I gave the lecture. Then I also had a private conference with the director and the officials of the Geological Survey with regard to a program that they should undertake, again in the Rocky Mountains, on hydrodynamic entrapment.
Doel:This would have been 1953 or '54? You published the paper in 1953, and you made the presentation to the AAPG in 1952.
Hubbert:I was in Washington on this tour in 1953, I guess. Maybe 1952, I'm not sure.
Doel:Was Tom Nolan director already at the Survey, or was this still Wrather?
Hubbert:No, Wrather was the director. Well, the situation in the Survey was that the head of the ground water division—in fact, the whole ground water division was pretty heavily, not all but heavily dominated by Meinzer. Meinzer had trained all these guys and he was pretty autocratic.
Doel:What background did Meinzer have?
Hubbert:Meinzer was a geologist, PhD from the University of [unintelligible]. His PhD was a delayed one. His education was from the University of Chicago, but he'd become head of the ground water division and he built this up into a kind of self-contained enclave. It contained men that he'd hired and trained, and it was a very close-knit group. Practically all they knew was what Meinzer had taught them. There were few exceptions. So it turned out that the head of this thing was one of those who had no technical knowledge worth a damn except what he'd learned from Meinzer and his experience as a field geologist in ground water. Apparently he was bitterly opposed to this thing of mine, and so they assigned two men to do a job on the Big Horn Basin. I said, "Well, I'd like to see what you people do. Yes, we've done work on this, but I'd like to see you do it independently and see whether you confirm what we've done." And they did. A man by the name of John Bennett, senior ground water man—one of the better ones — and somebody else, they did this job jointly. They came up with the exactly same results that I had. It was published in some form or other, after I was with the Survey in the 1960s.
Doel:Before we move on, I'm curious how quickly you had the full laboratory completed after you had authorization in 1945?
Hubbert:I think we had a dedication ceremony in the Spring of '47. It wasn't all finished, but it was close enough to completion that we were beginning to move into it.
Doel:How many geophysicists did you have on board, working there?
Hubbert:I really don't know. We had a technical staff. We had a professional staff of about a hundred. But that was the whole works. Again, we hired people not on the basis of their oil nomenclature but on the basis of their academic experience. They were chemists, mathematicians, physicists or geologists or engineers. Whatever they worked for in Shell was something different. I mean, they were hired for their academic background. In Shell they might become expert geophysicists or they might become petroleum engineers or something else. The classifications were largely that. We had a geological department. Well, it was partly the applied thing, like the geophysics. And there was — well, like drill-logging [unclear] thing, they had a name they called it, I forget what it was now. But as far as hiring a man goes, we hired them on the basis of their academic classifications.
Doel:How did the lab compare to other facilities that oil companies operated either in terms of size or kinds of equipment?
Hubbert:I think, to a great extent, we broke new ground. We broke new ground in scope, and also in management philosophy. We were far more liberal. I don't have company comparisons here, but our research budget, our research had a much higher fraction of fundamental research. It wasn't tied to doing anything. That's where this fluid mechanics thing came in. My work on fluid mechanics originally wasn't oriented at all to any oil results. The oil results came out kind of as an unanticipated bonus. But the original work was fundamental inquiry into the flow of fluids.
Doel:Right. How many others in Shell were able to work on fundamental problems of that kind?
Hubbert:Well, I can't say. But our budget broke down to about as I remember, about 10 percent or so. I know it was higher than any company comparisons on the research budget. Ours was the highest by a considerable margin, in terms of fundamental research.
Doel:That's interesting. How long did Shell maintain its leadership in this?
Hubbert:Well, that particular philosophy lasted about as long as the people who were in charge. And when they left, they began to get different notions.
Doel:We probably ought to bring this session to a close fairly soon. There are just a few more questions I wanted to ask you about work in Shell and concurrent research. It was 1953 that you became on the NRC Advisory Committee on Land Disposal of Nuclear Wastes.
Hubbert:In 1955, I think it was.
Doel:We can check. Around that time. The Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission.
Hubbert:I think it was '55.
Doel:We'll check on that.
Hubbert:They just broke up that summer, this Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. That was in Vienna. That was the point when they began to open up. Everything was under tight wraps prior to that time. That was the first time they began to take it out of Top Secret.
Doel:Had you been aware of many of those issues before they became declassified?
Hubbert:Well, I was an outsider, and not only that, but I'd studied very little nuclear physics. I had studied radioactivity and related things in the physics department at Chicago. There was an elementary course in this. I was familiar with that, but I just had very little knowledge, other than that I knew the geological occurrences roughly of uranium and thorium, and something about the radioactive disintegration theories and the amount of heat energy that were released. But I knew that for example, in granitic rocks that uranium was only so many parts per million, 12 or so, as I recall, and thorium was a little different. I forget now what, just what it was. But these things were very rare elements. For that reason I was very skeptical that uranium could ever amount to anything as a source of power. Atom bombs, yes, they had enough atom bombs to blow us off the earth. But it was not very promising for power. It wasn't until I was on this committee that I began to get information that enabled me to determine that that scarcity or rarity of uranium was offset by the enormous amount of energy you could gain. A little bit of uranium still had a hell of a lot of energy.
Doel:What was your role on the committee?
Hubbert:Just a member.
Doel:Do you remember any particular discussions of issues?
Hubbert:Well, the committee was set up — I don't remember quite the details. There was a tie-up with Johns Hopkins Department of Sanitary Engineering. They had an extending contractual relation with the AEC. That was under Abel Wolman who was the chairman of the department. I don't remember the date of our first meeting but I think it was the spring, or maybe early summer, of I think 1955. I do know that we met in one of those little temporary buildings that were over on the Mall. And we were just about everything but fingerprinted to get in the place. I had a badge on me — we all wore badges — that said that we had to be accompanied by somebody. I got arrested for trying to go to the gents room without an escort.
Doel:Is that so?
Hubbert:The whole thing was silly. So here we were, gathered in this room, and there were about a dozen of us outsiders. All the rest were the AEC people and Abel Wolman's people, kind of giving us an orientation as to the nature of the problems. Well, they were reeling off facts and figures — they had their chemist from Oak Ridge and various other technical people from here, there and the other place. They were reeling off these things that were familiar to them but totally unfamiliar to people like me. So you just got this was this isotope, that isotope and the other one, and so on, and these wastes. They had a tape machine running taping everything that everybody said, in case they inadvertently let out a secret you could erase. This thing went on from morning, 9 o'clock or so in the morning, a break for lunch, and into the afternoon. It finally came to a slowdown. He said, "All right now, what we want you to do is tell us what to do with this stuff."
Doel:You had no preparations before that?
Hubbert:No. I don't think we had. I think that was the first meeting. I said to the chairman, "I've sat here all morning and up until now and I've been trying to get an answer to a couple of questions that it seems to me we need to know. Maybe you've told us but if so I missed it. Approximately how much of this stuff per year are you producing? And approximately what are its physical properties?" He kind of looked around. Oh, that was classified and they couldn't tell us. The whole thing was ridiculous. Here was the very information we had to have, and that was secret. Well, I was sufficiently annoyed by that — I don't remember whether it was just after or before, but we had had a meeting with the Hopkins people. Out of this we had got the information that on the average one fission produced so and so much heat on the average, and that was one of the very few basic facts that we had. Well, as I say, I was just especially annoyed over that performance. The next big meeting we had was a two day conference at Princeton. I now don't remember the dates of these things, but this was either the same year or the next year. We'd invited in quite a spectrum of outsiders, mining engineers, ground water people, and so on, that hadn't been present in these earlier meetings. Well, I determined, OK, this can't be all that mysterious. I did a little work with a handbook of physics and chemistry. All right, how many atoms of uranium would there be in a kilogram, say, of uranium? And whether the ratio of U-235 to U-238, etc. And then if we held so much energy released per fission, and that was put in oh, some unorthodox units. I forget what they were, but anyhow, you can convert from one physical unit to another. We had things like electron volts. I guess that was it, so many electron volts. And you could convert that.
Doel:From volts back into calories?
Hubbert:To heat, say, and so, I did a little work with this. I put a handbook of physics and chemistry and a slide rule in my bag on the way over to that meeting. I did a little bit theoretical work and a little bit of computation, and one of the questions that I was asking was, suppose we produced all the electric power in the United States as of that date from uranium? From then to the year 2000, how much uranium would that take, or how much U-235 would that take? Actual tonnage of it. I made the calculation, and came out with a certain figure. I wasn't sure of myself, I was just feeling my way along, an outsider. I wasn't at all sure what I was doing was correct. But I came up with a certain answer. It was a very useful figure. I don't remember what it was now. But I was determined, when we got to the meeting and they pulled this secrecy on us, I was going to put it on the blackboard.
Doel:At this Princeton meeting?
Hubbert:Yes, this forthcoming meeting. I was just loaded for bear, so to speak. Well, when we got there, and after some preliminaries, we finally broke meeting into two sections. One dealt with surface disposal of waste, on the near-surface. The other was deep disposals and deep wells. And so on. Well, I wound up as chairman of the second meeting. I had in my group Floyd Cutter, who was the chief chemist of Oak Ridge. We worked our way around to where this question was needed. We were putting this thing down, say, a well. Well, how much volume of sand would be occupied? And so on. I posed this question and sent Floyd Cutter to the board to work it out. He got the same answer I did. Then I got a letter from him a week or two after that meeting, very much relieved. They'd just made a terrific bugaboo out of this thing. They were relieved to discover that the magnitudes they were looking at were not as awful as they thought they were.
Doel:Really? This is one of the first times that they had begun to seriously look at waste volumes?
Hubbert:His letter was expressing a relief to discover that this bugaboo was not as bad as they had thought it was. Well, one of the things that came out of these meetings and this earlier review was what they were doing in various of these locations. One of them was at Hanford. They had dug a well down this loose sand, clay things where the plant is located right up on the border of the Columbia River. This stuff was all worked over by the Columbia River, and so they had dug what amounted to a mine shaft. They'd lined it with wood and cribbing like a mine shaft, to hold the loose material back. They were running this stuff down that hole, it was disappearing and they didn't have the remotest idea where it was going. It just disappeared. They expressed considerable misgivings about that practice.
Doel:I can imagine.
Hubbert:Supposing that they'd just got rid of it. They hadn't got rid of it, it would be coming out somewhere, including the Columbia River, which it was right close to. Then in Oak Ridge, why, they'd bored out a dirt tank in the local clay area, shale outcrop, and were running all waste into these big tanks.
Doel:Just plain dirt floor tanks?
Hubbert:Hoping that they wouldn't leak. We said to them, they damn well would leak. Then, following that, later on we went out and spent time at Oak Ridge, Savannah River, and these various places, Idaho, and Hanford. We made stops of a day or two in each one with the staff at each one of these places. We saw on the ground what they were doing, and got a notion of what the situation was in each of these places. Savannah River not immediately; that came about later. But we had Oak Ridge, we had Idaho, and we had Hanford, among the places we visited the first summer, I think it was. Gradually, well, we wrote up a report about so thick on this conference at Princeton, the summer results. One thing that came out there was this. They always wanted, for every one of these things right from the beginning, to dispose of these things at the site where they were produced. And we said, "Gentlemen, these sites weren't selected with regard to waste disposal, they were selected for totally different purposes. It doesn't follow that because you're producing wastes here, it's a suitable location for their disposal."
Doel:Right. They were worried about transport of materials?
Hubbert:Yes. Of course. Well, what about putting it in hard rock mines? There were mines up and down the piedmont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and so on. We said, "Well, have you ever been down in one of those mines? If it's an operating mine, you'll find water coming in through all the chinks and cracks and crevices, and the pumps are running. If they don't, the mine will fill up with water. If it's an abandoned mine, it's full of water. And if you don't keep the pumps running, the working mines would flood. So we suggest that you go out and go down one of these mines and take a look at it, and then consider whether you want to put wastes down there or not. We don't regard that as a practical solution right now." And as in this dirt tank thing at Oak Ridge, over and over again they wanted disposal sites where they were producing the wastes. All we could come up with at that conference was really two possibilities. One was deep wells in a basin like the Illinois Salt Basin, in deep sand, which is now full of, say, salt water brine. There you would pump the brine, dilute the wastes very considerably, and pump them down into this sand and displace the existing brines down there. Put them at a density high enough that they would stay down on the basis that they were of a higher density than any displaced water. The other thing was you had to account for the heat problem. You had to have enough dilution so that your heat wasn't too concentrated. That was one possibility. But the practical problems of drilling the wells and handling these wastes down the hole and so on, presented enough practical difficulty that alternatives were to be considered. One of them was a proposal of a member of the committee, that would be Heroy [unclear], of rock salt, and I was very skeptical about that.
Doel:What made you skeptical at first?
Hubbert:Well, bedded salt in particular. Salt domes. I'd been in salt domes, I knew they were tight. Bedded salts would be salts of a few feet or a few meters thick, and overlaid by water filled sediments. To me, I anticipated that they would be pretty leaky. Well, Heroy insisted that the salt mines even under Detroit were bone dry. He also did a considerable amount of looking into the various salt mine areas of the country, including out in central Kansas. So we finally made a trip out to Kansas, to see these abandoned salt mines out there. It turned out that at a depth of around eight hundred feet or so, there was an old abandoned mine that had been mined out about 1920 or so. There was not a drop of water in the place. At least, maybe a little suture occasionally and a little bit of moisture along the lines or so.
Doel:Right, but very different from a hard rock mine.
Hubbert:Yes. And this was quite impressive. So we recommended they clean up part of this old mine where the roof had caved in and so on, and use it as a place to do experimental work on properties of salt including using simulated wastes which had the same chemicals, but with the heat supplied laterally. Putting things in salt cavities and observing the effects on the mechanical properties of the salt. Well, what we didn't know was that right next door almost, there was a solution salt mine in operation. Nobody knows the outer boundaries of a solution mine. So we wound up after the preliminaries recommending this salt disposal, but not in a slurry or liquid form but in solid chroamics tubs so big around, maybe ten feet around, put into a honeycomb series of rows in the salt, widely enough spaced so you could keep the temperature controlled. We made such a recommendation. As far as locality is concerned, I don't know if we expressly said so, but we had the understanding that this whole abandoned mine was only for experimental observations, if they'd buy up the property out there and completely own, completely control, do their own mining and have the thing under control. Instead of that, pinching pennies, they wanted to work it to buy up this old mined out mine that we'd looked at, and that's where they had trouble with the state of Kansas. Kansas Geological Survey started raising hell about it, because there was a solution mine around there next door. Not only that, but they were running into some abandoned oil wells for which there were no records. Maybe it was in this solution mine or somewhere. So the Kansas Geological Survey got into the act to objecting to what they were doing, and got the whole state government involved. The result was that the AEC got thrown out of the state of Kansas.
Doel:So that was the end of that?
Hubbert:That was the end of that particular project. Then they went to New Mexico. They're still arguing with southeastern New Mexico right now.
Doel:Were there any other matters related to the work that you did on disposal of atomic wastes that you recall during that time?
Hubbert:Well, I was involved in this from 1955 right on through 1965. But I was the chairman of the Research Council of the National Research Council of the Geology Science Division from 1963 to 1965. Well, what happened was that we'd been so critical of the things the AEC were doing with these various establishments that here we still existed as a committee, but they weren't doing anything with us. So when I came on, I called in the AEC representatives and said, "Look, I will not have a committee standing around holding its hands. Either there's something for the committee to do, or discharge the committee." Well, the point was that they didn't like the criticism that we'd given them consistently right down the line, when they were doing something wrong. All right, they somewhat grudgingly said, "Well, let's make one last round of these sites, and you write a report on this. After that we'll decide what to do." We did. We made the rounds. By this time I was ex officio member of the committee, but I had been a member of the committee straight up to that time, including these two years. So we made the rounds, and they wrote their report, and the AEC suppressed it.
Doel:Is that so?
Hubbert:They looked it over themselves and wrote a rejoinder of it internally, but they wouldn't agree to allowing it to be published.
Doel:Was there a specific ground, or was it again because of the past criticism and sensitivity to the issue?
Hubbert:Well, the whole thing, see, the AEC was accustomed to being almighty, doing any damned thing they pleased, as they did with this. So in the late 1960s, they ran into something they'd never encountered before. That's about the time they were having this bout with Kansas. They had a public meeting up in Vermont, and the whole countryside of Vermont rose up against the proposed electric power plant up there. That was the first time they'd ever really been talked back to by a public meeting. It kind of jolted them. The next thing was, an uprising was building up in St. Paul-Minneapolis, because they were trying to build a plant up river from St. Paul-Minneapolis. There was an uprising, a public uprising there. Well, I didn't know much about this thing until I got a phone call from a man at the University of Minnesota. It was all very mysterious and very cryptic, but would I come to this meeting and would I prepare a paper, give a paper that was ready for publication? I had very little information on what the meeting was about. So I agreed to do it, and took a train to Minneapolis. I got there in the late afternoon, and instead of taking a taxi to my hotel, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of AEC people and a private limousine for my hotel.
Doel:That must have been a surprise.
Hubbert:So I called up the man I knew in the university there and said, "What the hell is going on here? There's something mysterious about this whole business." And then the next morning, the same thing.
Doel:At your hotel?
Hubbert:They picked me up at the hotel, and got me back but when I got over to the meeting place, around the university buildings, there were people all around the outside carrying placards. What they were doing was isolating us from anybody talking to us or us talking to anybody.
Doel:How did you feel about that?
Hubbert:Well, I didn't like any part of it. So this meeting went on, and there were people there from as far away as the state of Washington, Colorado and so on at this meeting. The first talk was by the governor who was bitterly opposed to the whole business. The point was that they were being very scared. It was the first time they'd ever been talked back to, seriously. This Vermont thing had happened just before, and here they were.
Doel:What was your own testimony at that meeting?
Hubbert:Well, it wasn't testimony. I was invited to give a general paper over the energy situation, which I did. But what got me was the tricky behavior of the AEC people over this whole business. So it came time for the general sign-off, the second afternoon, I guess. And I had this suppressed report with me, of 1965. This was, I don't know, 1968 or something. And I was just waiting for an opportunity in the discussion to mention this suppressed report. But no opportunity occurred, and so I couldn't get it into the record. But later on they wanted to publish a book on this, the papers at this meeting, and I was reviewing the galleys. At an appropriate place, I wrote a footnote about this suppressed report, and I got it back blue-penciled by this same guy who'd made the mysterious call in the first place, who had, he was with the University of Minnesota but he also had inside connections with the AEC. He was really an AEC representative.
Doel:Do you recall his name?
Hubbert:No, I don't at the moment. But there was another man, I mean, the committee, the university committee for this meeting had the same distortion. There was a man by the name of Gene Abrahamson who was a medical doctor, an MD. He saw the blue pencil, he made a note in the blue-penciling, by this AEC guy, and he raised hell about it. He sent this thing to Senator Muskie.
Hubbert:And Muskie demanded from the AEC a copy of this suppressed report, and he published it in the records of his Committee on the Environment or whatever it was called.
Doel:That's interesting. This would have been 1968, 1969?
Hubbert:Yes, somewhere about then. So that's how it got in print.
Doel:Right. Well, what I'd like to do in your next session is devote it entirely to your work on oil and gas reserves. We've been speaking for about four hours today and this is probably a good time to bring it to a close.