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Interview of M. King Hubbert by Ronald Doel on 1989 January 27, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5031-7
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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.
I'd like to continue today on the topic of oil and natural gas resources in the United States, which we began in our last discussion. In 1956 you made a presentation to the API in San Antonio concerning predictions of oil and natural gas reserves. How did that presentation come about?
In the summer, I believe it was, spring and summer of 1955, I had began service and had a couple of preliminary meetings of the Advisory Committee of the National Resource Council to the Atomic Energy Commission on Waste Disposal. Land Nuclear Waste Disposal. In the course of those hearings, I had obtained information which I had not had before, on the magnitude of the energy that could be obtained from fission. And the basic figure that came out of some of these reports was that the fission of one atom of U 235 released a specified amount of thermal energy, 200 million electron volts, as I remember the figure. From this, I did some calculation on the amount of uranium that it would take to generate say all the electric power of the United States for a specified length of time. What it was was a general feeling that whereas previously I'd regarded nuclear energy as unpromising because of the scarcity of uranium and thorium —
Were you familiar with the Survey's mining of uranium at the time?
Not particularly. But I was unaware of the enormous magnitude of the energy contained in a small amount of uranium or thorium. So this awareness of the magnitude of the energy, as compared with the relative scarcity of uranium and thorium, changed the picture in my mind, as to the practicality of nuclear power. Well, this was in the earlier part of 1955, in the spring and summer, these meetings with this committee and the AEC people. So that in turn reflected on my previous analyses of energy based on the fossil fuels. Sometime in the fall of 1955, about November, as I remember, I was on a trip to Denver, on company business. At breakfast in the hotel I encountered one of the Shell production engineers whom I knew from Houston, and we had breakfast together. During the breakfast conversation, he remarked that he was I think chairman of the program committee of the forthcoming meeting of the Southwest Division or the Production Division of the Southwest Section of the American Institute, American Petroleum Institute, which was to meet in San Antonio in March. And they were looking for someone who could give them a broad brush picture of the overall world energy situation.
That's interesting. It was their initial idea to have a presentation?
He told me they were looking for someone who could give a broad brush review of the total energy picture. My reply was that I'm reasonably high on that subject at the moment, if they'd be interested I think I could do it. Well, he would have to take it up with his committee, and let me hear. He did, and a few weeks later I got word that I had been accepted to give an address on the world energy picture. This in turn I cleared with my superior, [unclear] Smith, who was vice president for Shell Development Company and in charge of the Exploration Production Research Laboratory.
Was there any concern on the part of Shell with your doings at the time?
No. Smith agreed entirely. The only stipulation that he suggested, that we be sure to keep the public relations people informed on what we were doing. So with that authorization, I went to work about January, 1956, on this paper. The work consisted first of plotting up various curves of oil and gas production, which I did for the state of Texas, the US and the world. And also a review of the literature for information that I needed, and there was an independent review made of coal, and then I did a preliminary review of the nuclear energy, and I entitled the paper, "Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels," the first time I'd included nuclear energy in my discussions.
It was one of the first times that estimates including nuclear processes had been used at all in calculating energy reserves, wasn't it? Or were there other precedents?
I can't say, but certainly it was perhaps new in this country, and certainly in my case. I'd never discussed nuclear energy before. I didn't know enough. Only recently had I obtained enough information that I could discuss it. So I worked on this report, and sometime during or perhaps a few weeks or a month before the date of the meeting, with the Shell managing director, Mr. Schapers, whom I'd met several years before in Mirakabu [unclear], where he was an operating engineer, also in Mirakabu, came by and briefly visited me. I showed him my diagrams of the oil situation. His only remark was that he hoped that I would not in fact go overboard like Weeks of Standard of New Jersey had been doing.
That's an interesting comment.
Well, Weeks at that time had been progressively increasing his estimates.
Right. He'd begun with an estimate of approximately 110 billion barrels for the US?
Yes, for the US, and then he added the offshore later, and he had a wild figure of 600 billion barrels for onshore. He had his 400 billion barrels but subsequently he kept from year to year he kept increasing his figures.
How influential were his figures when he first came out with them?
Oh, very. He was the leading research figure in that field with Standard of New Jersey which was the largest oil company in the world, and he was a very highly respected man professionally, so his original figures were in fact just about as good as could be done with the data that he had. Well, as time went on, he was justified in increasing them somewhat, but he overdid it, beginning about somewhere along in there.
Around the mid-1950s?
Yes, in the fifties he began to over-estimate.
Were you in close contact with him during any of this time?
Not very. I'd see him at meetings. I mentioned this meeting at the United Nations.
Where I'd challenged Leverson and he backed me up on it.
At that time, we were in complete agreement. And then for some reason unknown, he began to change his figures.
He was still at Standard Oil at the time he began to revise them?
Yes, but he resigned from Standard Oil not too long after that, either that or retired, and became independent. In fact, he discovered large oil fields in Australia and became a quite wealthy man from it. Well, anyhow, the managing director of Shell's only comment was, he hoped that I would counteract these essentially over-estimate of L.G. Weeks. Well, we had to get out, there was going to be the meeting in San Antonio, they wanted preprint copies, about 500 copies for distribution at the meeting. So I was working on abbreviated time, and I had a staff working overtime on the weekends to get out these 500 copies and have them printed up for distribution at the meeting.
When you were doing the research for this paper, did you do that while at Shell, or did you have to do that research on your own time?
No, I was full-time at Shell. It was all on Shell time. Anyhow, the meeting as I recall was starting on maybe Tuesday, but Tuesday was principally a day of committee meetings and business meetings, so the real technical program did not occur as I remember until Wednesday. But I arrived on Monday evening, with the 500 copies for distribution at the meeting, and I drove over from San Antonio. My wife was with me. And along about 6 o'clock, 5 or 6 o'clock, we pulled in to the Plaza Hotel where the meeting would be held, to deliver these 500 copies of the paper. To my surprise I found myself surrounded by the petroleum press, wanting to know, was this paper going to be given?
That was surprising, that they had found out.
I said, "Why, certainly." But it was perfectly obvious, there was something going on that I didn't know about, and I was furious.
These were representatives from the petroleum press?
The press, all the gas journals, various petroleum journals, the oil men from newspapers and so on. I mean the oil reporters. But anyhow, they had word of something that I hadn't heard of, and I was furious. In fact, I was so angry that I refused to go back to my hotel. I was checked in at the hotel, but instead of that my wife and I had dinner and went to a motion picture, and we didn't get back to the hotel room until around midnight. And then the next morning, when the meeting was opening, the program consisted of the Mayor of San Antonio giving an address of welcome. I was the next speaker, when I got a signal calling me off the platform.
This is while the Mayor was making his address?
Yes. It was a telephone call from a minor executive assistant in New York, and he was expressing considerable alarm about my paper, well, couldn't I tone it down a bit? Couldn't I take the sensational parts out? I said, "Nothing sensational about it, just straightforward analysis."
What did he consider to be the sensational parts?
Well, he said, "That part about reaching the peak of oil production in ten or fifteen years, it's just utterly ridiculous." I said, "Listen, the Mayor is giving a talk, I'm on next. Can we close this off?" And well, "Please tone it down some." So I went back. One big question he'd asked was, "Oh, by the way, how many copies of that paper have been distributed?" I said, "Yes, 500." "Oh."
They had been?
They already had been distributed to about 500 men; these papers had been distributed.
It wasn't surprising that he had known about the contents of the paper? Had other copies circulated?
This man didn't know the first thing about it. What happened was apparently that the vice president for so-called public relations, otherwise known as propaganda, had read this thing, or at least read a release on it, and had gone through the ceiling. The release had been written by the public relations department in Houston, and hit the New York office. They didn't even have a copy of the paper.
All they had was a synopsis written by the public relations man in Houston. But anyhow, they blew up in smoke, and there wasn't a responsible official in the New York office. They were all out at a meeting somewhere else. And so this guy was a second order assistant or something or other. So that was the situation. Anyhow, I went ahead, gave my paper, informally of course but with lantern slides and exactly as written. No modification whatever. And later when I got back to Houston, I found that the tension was very high around the office in Houston. Apparently all hell had been going on during my absence.
What changed the situation, made things different?
Oh, nothing except the damned public relations vice president went through the roof. As I say, there wasn't a a responsible official in sight.
OK, that's clear.
It was all on the lower level.
Did you expect any controversy from presenting the paper when you gave that?
Did it all come as a surprise?
There wasn't any controversy about the paper. It was all within Shell. The public relations man was the one who raised hell about it. Well, after about a week, when the responsible people did begin to come back, I think there were some pretty red faces in the New York office and maybe even in Houston. For one thing, they had a chance to look at their data and they found they couldn't disprove anything I'd said. So the whole thing had been a tempest in a teapot by people who didn't know what the hell they were talking about. Well, another. The publication of that organization was only issued annually, not monthly. It was called PRODUCTION PRACTICE, so the volume for 1956 didn't come out until about January '57 or so. And my paper was the lead paper in that issue. But another thing in Shell: Shell was just starting a new program of their highest level executive training, in-house training of hand-picked people who were obviously going up the executive ladder. They'd arranged with Columbia University, who was the manager if not the owner of the Harriman Estate on top of a mountain in New York State, about seven miles west of West Point. This was a mansion built by Harriman in 1900 or so, and it was a rich man's very elaborate and very expensive marble mansion on top of this mountain, and he owned a large tract of land, with his land. His son was later owner of the estate and found it much too grandiose for his needs. That's Averell Harriman. In fact, he was living in a smaller, what was supposed to be an attendant's house, and he'd given this thing on some kind of an arrangement to Columbia University. Well, they used it for isolated conferences, where people could hole up with a conference and pay rent for it, and they'd have their hotel-type kitchen and could accommodate sleeping and meals for about 50 people. 50 or 60. So Shell was instituting a new program of their highest level executive training, and the first meeting was to be in July, 1956.
Not long after your presentation.
Right. Well, the upshot of all this was that I was one of the lecturers in that course. They had 50 people holed up for a solid month, and most of the speakers were company officials—presidents, vice presidents, production exploration managers and so on. And a few outsiders brought in by Columbia Business School and so on as consultants from the outside. How to justified my being there? I wasn't a president or a vice president, high company official. So I was said to be there in the category of an outside consultant.
Is that so?
Well, I can tell you, the lecture was successful to this group and they're having about two or three a year.
Were you talking with them principally about the oil gas reserves?
Just the same thing, same kind of thing that I'd given at that API meeting in San Antonio, with lantern slides, and so, I was, you might say, an outside member of that group, one lecture, out of a month's work, month's time, and for, oh, for the next five years. And there were, from memory I would say, two or three of them a year. So I talked to most of the potential officialdom of Shell Oil Company in the ascendancy.
How did they respond to the paper?
Well, probably a certain amount of uneasiness. I mean, the recipients. I have a letter that I received, oh, five or six years ago, from a president I think of Shell Chemical Company who said he'd been in one of those sessions where I'd talked. He thought I was the most pessimistic geologist he'd ever heard.
And that I'd hit the nail right on the head, and could he have a paper, the one I'd been writing, because he had to give some talk to some group, could I send him stuff. That was about five years ago. Well, so that was the aftermath. There was no further trouble in Shell. And then — let's see, '57 — the next thing was the National Academy of Sciences.
Before we turn to the Academy, I'm curious about how others outside of the oil companies were responding to the paper. Do you recall reactions from the Geological Survey, for example? Any of its members at that time?
Well, I think you can get some idea from that letter of Bradley.
That's right, you mentioned the letter from Bradley.
I just handed it to you.
So I got a letter in the spring or early summer of 1956. I was attending a meeting in Denver, and as I recall, there was a US Geological Survey meeting I was invited to, and the vice president of that and I were staying at the same hotel. I gave him a copy, a preprint copy of this paper I'd just given at the API. The letter that I received in response to that was, "I'd like to have 50 copies." He took the train back and read this paper on the way back to Washington and wrote me a letter wanting 50 copies for distribution to his staff in the Geological Survey. It was the kind of thing that he wanted his own people to be doing.
And as you say, there was the letter we were looking at a minute ago.
Bradley was the chief geologist.
Did he ever talk to you about how other geologists in the Survey had responded to the paper, what their thoughts were?
I don't think so. He may have. I wrote back that I couldn't give him a paper because this was only a preliminary copy and we'd wait until the revised edition was issued. I did send him the 50 copies, and he wrote back appreciative of it, that he had distributed those and it was very much the kind of thing that he wanted to see his own people doing.
How much did the Survey actually begin to become involved in using predictions of that kind?
Oh, certainly. Diane Wald did oil and gas predictions in 1900.
Right, clearly, but not necessarily with these kinds of approaches.
Oh well, the approaches differed, but they had been involved. They had had successful estimates. All along on the low side, as they should have been, because they were based on evidence and the evidence was insufficient to come out with a realistic estimate. OK. So everything was quiescent following that. Then the one in '56 was the same one that I had outlined in the AAAS deal in 1948. And also had stated in discussion with the paper in the United Nations. I made it in 1949.
So all I did this time was merely expressly spell that out in more expressive detail and apply it to the oil and gas of Texas, US and the world, using the best figures available. What was required there was that I need to know or have an estimate of the ultimate amount that could be produced. I knew where we were up to now, knew the area under the curve was nailed down by that estimate, and so I have the curve to now and I know it's going to go back to zero. I know the ultimate and I know, I can only tailor that curve within a very narrow range of uncertainty. So that's what was done. Those curves were drawn. I simply, by cut and dry, I mean, you drew the curve, calculated the squares, and if it was a little too much you trimmed it down or too little, you upped it a little. But there was no mathematics involved, other than the integral area under the curve, the integral pd dq by at times et for accumulated production up to a given time. All right, if you knew the ultimate, you knew the future area under the curve, and the curve had to be drawn subject to that constraint. So with the best estimates I could get on the ultimate amount of oil in the United States, my own figure at the time was about 150 billion barrels. Wallace Pratt had published an estimate of his own and also a questionnaire he had sent to 25 members of the petroleum industry he regarded as especially well informed. Out of this he got 22 replies. Of all of them, the highest was Norton which was 200 billion barrels of crude oil.
That was the highest?
The highest of the 22. Wallace Pratt's own figure was 170 billion barrels of petroleum liquids of which about 15 percent would be natural gas liquids, you take that out, it cuts his figure down to about 145. Roughly about 150. But at the meeting, a lot of contingency, over 50 billion barrels, and the paper has been revised. In fact I hadn't seen Pratt's paper when this was written. It came out just the week before the meeting and I didn't see it until after the meeting.
That's interesting. This is the report of the Panel in the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy that had been included here?
Yes. So that report came out just about mid-February, or maybe late February, so I didn't know about the report until after this meeting.
You hadn't been in that close contact with them?
Oh no, not at all. I didn't even know anything about the committee or commission. So I got the report, read it, and thought, that's all right, it gives a range there of 150 or 200 billion barrels. That's why I re-drew that figure, for both ranges, the 150 and the 200, saying that the uncertainty, that is, my own best information, and this was the industry opinion, was that the uncertainty was about within that range.
I know we've talked about this informally before, but we don't have it on the tape and therefore it's not yet recorded. I'm curious about your impressions of Pratt as a man, and how widely known and well received his work was at the time.
He was justifiably one of the most respected men in the petroleum industry. He was a scientist. He was an honest man, a man of absolute integrity, and a marvelous person, personally.
How well did you know him?
Well, at that time, barely. But my acquaintance began to grow immediately follow that.
Following the '56 report?
Yes. Because — well, I'd cited in the AAAS paper of 1948, I'd cited some writing of Pratt. He'd given a series of lectures at the University of Kansas, you see, alma mater, and they'd published it in a small book, his estimates on oil and gas. I'd used those figures along with those of L G. Weeks, and then later Pratt had also used the Weeks figures in some later writing of his own. So I looked upon him as a source of first importance, a very well informed man in the oil business. He was a vice president of Standard of New Jersey, former vice president of Humble, and the original geologist of Humble.
Is that so?
Yes, he was the first geologist at Humble in Oregon.
Did he have geophysical training?
No. He was a geologist. A very good one. But in view of this mutual interest, I sent him a preprint copy of that paper, as I say, with a certain pride of authorship. The reply I got from him was about a three page single spaced typewritten letter giving me hell!
Is that so?
And the essence of his letter was that he had lived through all of this, that he remembered when the experts said there was only five billion barrels of oil in the United States and he believed every word of it. Then they got it up to ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five billion, and he believed that. And finally he himself had got it up to 40 billion and was criticized by his colleagues for over-estimating.
So he's recalling the same history.
He'd been through all of this thing, and he just didn't want to see me making the same mistake. Well, I wrote back to him and pointed out that my figures at that time — I didn't have the two figures, I only had the 150 — was practically identical with his figure of 145 or implied figure base from his 170 billion barrels, you correct that 15 percent, knocks it down to about 145 of crude oil. Essentially his figure and mine were identical. Then I added that I would not argue for a minute over whether 150 or 200 billion barrels was a better figure. I thought the uncertainty was within that range. But I would argue that the first unknown quantity falling within that range, we would reach the peak within ten or fifteen years.
Regardless of whether it was on the high or the low end of those two estimates.
Right. If it's anywhere in that range, well, the high range was about fifteen years, the low range would have been about ten years. Well, there was a slight coolness between us following this. And then in, oh, about September, I got a manuscript from him, a paper that he was going to give at a petroleum meeting in California shortly and again in the petroleum group in New York. Presumably it would be published in the AAPG Bulletin, and he sent it to me and invited comment on his manuscript. Well, I read it over, and he opened up very very politely, "Two of the best informed men in the petroleum industry," myself and somebody at Chase Manhattan Bank had recently come out with figures. Well, the Chase people had also come up with about 165 barrels or so.
February of 1956? The same year?
Mid-February of '56.
Annual meeting of the AIME. And two officers of the Chase Manhattan Bank had given a paper using a figure of, as I remember, 165 billion barrels.
Was it the new interest in nuclear energy that inspired so many different estimates to be made at that time?
No, I don't think nuclear energy had anything to do with it. It's merely a matter of different oil people coming up with different answers.
And it was then coincidence that three estimates had been made within such a short time?
Well, it probably wasn't exceptional. They'd probably had similar things in the preceding years, but this just happened to be recent.
So I pointed out to him that his and my figure were practically identical, the conclusion I just stated. Oh yes, we come on up to his paper. I went through it. I criticized it. Well, what he did there this time was to say, about three or four reasons, I think it was four, as to why these estimates of these two distinguished people he thought were perhaps overly pessimistic. And one of those was the old series of what all the previous estimates had been, on the low side. Another was the great improvement of exploration production techniques that had been going on. In Pratt's paper, as I recall, there were four reasons stated as to why he thought the picture looked rather more optimistic than we had indicated. And as I say, one of those was the old tradition of underestimates in the past. The other was the enormous increase of improvement in the technology of exporation production. And the last one — I don't recall at the moment what the third one was — but the last one was very significant, that in spite of the great rate of growth of oil production and consumption, we were still finding oil at a faster rate than we were consuming it, as evidence by the fact that productive areas were steadily increasing, meaning by that, that the oil found was going up faster than the consumption, and the difference was the proved reserves. Well, I replied to that letter in some detail, and I've forgotten what, but I commented upon his paper. Well, he did give the paper in Los Angeles and New York as stated, but he never published it.
So it was just that group who heard the paper there?
Yes. He knowingly — in fact, I think he expected to publish it. But he withdrew it.
He withdrew it?
Well, he never submitted it. OK. The direct consequence of this exchange on my part, and this was all I believe during 1956, was that it posed a very interesting question: What is the relationship between the rate of production and the rate of consumption and proved reserves? So I settled down and played with these things a bit, and determined that we have first cumulative production. That's a curve that has certain properties. Then we have the statistic that cumulative production is a reliable statistic, and then we have another one which is less reliable or less precise, which is the so-called proved reserves. And there was a committee of the API on proved reserves, and the American Gas Association had a corresponding committee on gas, and these committees operated on a very rigid set of rules as to what were the definitions. And so they come up at the end of every year, about March or April of each year, giving you the rundown of how much oil did we produce? In the first place, what was the situation at the beginning of last year? How much oil did we produce during the year? What were the proved reserves at the beginning of the year? What were the proved reserves at the end of the year? And so on.
How did people regard those figures?
They were the best figures extant.
But were there still doubts or concerns about, say, a trend within the figures?
Well, I don't think anybody over-estimated. I mean, it was known these figures had a range of uncertainty, the estimate of proved reserves, of perhaps the order of 10 percent or so. But nevertheless it was a standing committee, the individual members could come and go but it was central committee and then there were regional branches or subcommittees, and in all this they every year out of their first hand knowledge put together these figures locally, and then in the headquarters office or the central office, they were assembled into this annual report. And it was the best thing extant. You didn't attach significance to it beyond what it had or accuracy, but nonetheless it was the best there was. So what I said was, how much oil can we say we have discovered up to now? Well, the cumulative production plus the proved reserves. Now, there may be more oil than this, but this is the only oil we have a record of. That is, the proved reserves may not be all the oil in existing fields. But there's a built-in mechanism there that they were adjusted every year, plus or minus adjustments, so it's a self-correcting thing. Besides that, they didn't pretend to tell you all the oil in the field, they told you how much had been developed up to now.
Right, so you had a consistent measurement.
Yes. And then they had a talleying system of adjusting from year to year, last year's figures, if they'd over-estimated, you could cut it back, or under-estimated, and so on.
Generally that method of estimating the proved reserves wasn't controversial?
The companies accepted that. OK.
It was the sort of thing that had been very well done. So, well, the question that came to me was, what are the relations between these quantities? So I defined the, cumulative discoveries or proved discoveries, the sum of cumulative production plus proved reserves. That's all the oil we can say definitely we have found up to now. So then we have then the curve of cumulative production and we have the curve of cumulative discoveries, and we have the third curve, the curve of proved reserves. Now, each of those is a quantity of oil versus time, so it means that they all have the same dimensions. Well, if we take derivatives of those curves, time derivatives, and if you call discovery say Qd, production Qp, proved reserves Qr, then what you have as a first equation is, Qd is equal to Qp plus Qr. Qd is a computed quantity. Qr and Qp are statistics. So, then, taking the derivative of that equation, derivative dQB, dt, of oil discovery is equal to dQPdt, the rate of production, plus dQRdt, the rate of increase of proven reserves. Now, we know that reserves have to start at zero, we know that they'll reach a peak somewhere at mid-range, and we know there'll be low at the end. So therefore in this mid-range you're going to have, the first part of it, you're going to have dQR by dt positive, at the peak dQR by dt is zero and on the back slope, dQR by dt is negative. So at that peak, when dQR by dt is zero, then that first equation is a dQd by dt plus dQP by dt is equal to dQD by dt is equal to dQP by dt. What it amounts to, these two derivatives, is the first one is going like that, the second one like this, and that's the point where they cross. The first one going down, the second still going up. And the oil reserves peak is at that point. There is again the question, when you plot these up, of the accumulative discovery, accumulative production, on the same piece of paper. But it turns out in the case of the lower 48 states that these curves are very very similar, except the discovery curve precedes the production curve by a certain delta T. And that delta T has been nearly constant since 1925. So to get the delta T, I simply took a piece of tracing paper, traced the two curves, and then scaled it parallel to the time axis, until the discovery curve most nearly coincided with the production curve. That amount of skid gives you the delta T. The delta T had been running more or less between ten and twelve years since around 1925. Here you go.
I'm looking now at the 1974 publication. Page 81.
But these data are as of 1962.
Now, when I started working on this about '56 or '57, we were back along here. But even so, we were far enough along that I was estimating when that, I'm sorry, the derivative of that curve —
When the derivative would begin to turn over?
Yes. The derivative has already turned over. It's a question of where do you pass the zero mark. Over here is the theoretical, the integral curves, and here is the theoretical derivative curve, so all right, this peak had already occurred, you see, and I was estimating when that was going to hit the zero. Well, I was just doing this graphically, and the uncertainty was roughly around here. The uncertainty was maybe three or four years or so, but these relationships were worked out in 1957, '56 and '57. There's the derivatives of proven reserves, the actual year by year data and the mathematical curve. And here's where we were in 1960, about. '62. Well, anyhow, I worked those things out, what the theoretical relation was, and it gave me a more powerful tool than I'd had before, because it eliminates your guessing, about your Q discovery value. These data were statistical data, publicly available to the petroleum industry. So let the data tell us where we are. All right. About 1958 or so, I received an invitation to address the West Texas Geological Society headquartered in Midland, Texas, on the oil and gas estimates. And these relationships had never been written up or published, but I did have lantern slides of them. Also in that meeting, there were three groups in Midland of more or less parallel interest in the subject. One was geologists. Another was geophysicists, and the third was petroleum engineers.
How many people total would have been at that meeting?
Well, I don't know, maybe fifty or so. Or 75. I told them, I said, "Look, you've got three groups of people here, all equally interested in this subject. I want you to get them together and have a joint meeting." They did. They got the biggest auditorium in town, namely the high school. That's where we had the meeting, in the high school auditorium hall.
OK. This is your presentation in '58 of the mineral resources in Texas.
An invited lecture on oil and gas estimates in Midland, Texas, 1958. All right. Wallace Pratt, who's been retired for several years, from Standard of New Jersey, was there.
You referred to Wallace Pratt.
Yes. Wallace Pratt had bought a ranch and lived on it, out at the foot of the Guadalupe Peak, on the highest peak in Texas. With a postal address of Freehole, Texas, with a post office of insignificant magnitude, but that was his address. Not only that, but he also had learned to fly and piloted a little private Piper Cub or something, a plane. At this meeting, about the time I started speaking, Wallace Pratt came in and sat down in the front row. He'd flown over from his ranch a hundred miles or so away to let me in. I went on with my presentation, and when I got through, why, the chairman opened the meeting for discussion. I said, "Mr. Chairman, I noticed Mr. Wallace Pratt is here. I wonder if he would have any questions or remarks." He got up and made a few very polite remarks and sat down. We went on with the discussion which lasted an hour or more. It was a lively meeting but no controversy in this open discussion. When the meeting finally broke up, why, I of course went up to the great Wallace Pratt, and he warmly shook hands with me. With a merry twinkle in the eye, he said, "I'll bet you had that up your sleeve all the time." [laughter].
You love a man like that.
Yes. You became fairly close with him after that time, didn't you?
Yes. Shortly after that, a few years after that, he was getting old, and he of course gave up flying. He also found it was no longer practical to live out on this ranch. So he built himself a house in Tucson, Arizona, and moved there. And I used to visit him on my commuting back and forth between Texas and California.
That's when you were teaching at Stanford?
When I was teaching at Stanford, and also on other occasions. I kept in very close touch with him. In fact, we had a warm and vigorous correspondence that went on to within two weeks of the time he died. Well, that's one sequence. Let's back up now in parallel.
About a week after this meeting in San Antonio —
This is back in 1956, at the API meeting?
Yes. I think it was the following week. I wasn't present at the meeting, but somebody who was told me about it. Morgan Davis, I believe the executive vice president at that time of Humble, gave a talk to the local geophysical society in Houston. In it he refuted or dissented from the paper that I'd given the preceding week in San Antonio.
What were the principal arguments that he was using?
I wasn't there, so I don't know. But he did attack my paper the following week.
The general idea being that your estimates were too low?
Oh yes, much too low. Humble had hired an economist; incidentally Humble was heavily oriented with respect to the University of Texas. In fact most of their officials were from the University of Texas. They had a very strong affinity for the University of Texas, or with Texas in general.
And they were rather, well, chauvinistic Texans. Not all but some of them, including Morgan Davis. Davis had hired an economist from the University of Texas by the name of Richard J. Gonzales, Spanish name. His first job was primarily looking after the price of oil and gas and things of that sort. But he was in such close favor with Morgan Davis that he got promoted up the ladder. I believe he finally became vice president and a member of the board of directors of Humble.
What sort of training did both Davis and Gonzales have?
Well, Davis was a geologist, Gonzales was an economist. Neither one of them extraordinary, but that was their background. But Davis was executive vice president or president of this biggest operating oil company in the United States, and Gonzales was his stooge and Man Friday. And very much favored. Well, from that time on, any time I talked at any public gathering, I could count on a rejoinder from either Morgan Davis or Gonzales usually within a matter of a week or two. It was almost funny, in a sense, that here was the highest individual in the largest operating oil company in the United States, and I was simply a researcher. Yet I was commanding the attention of these people almost full time!
Of course you also had a very influential position.
During that time I was told on more than one occasion by some of my friends in Humble who were working on the same kinds of problems that I was that they didn't know what the boss was talking about because they gave him a great deal of my ideas. I was so told.
Did you ever get an idea of why Davis wanted to propose a figure that was considerably higher than yours?
I have trouble knowing why people do things. I only know they do. Anyhow, these two men were very persistent. Well, I wondered at the time, how much of this is put out as public relations fluff for ulterior motives, and how much of it did they believe themselves. The nearest I had to an answer to that came I think about January or February, 1960. And at that time, there was a group that called itself the Philosophical Society of Texas — it was organized in Dallas on the centennial of the state, that put out a big to-do. I got a letter from George McGee, the ambassador to Germany. George McGee was a son-in-law of deGoyer [unclear] who was a very prominent oil man, and a very wealthy one. McGee was the president of the Philosophical Society of Texas, located in Dallas. I got a letter from him that this society was going to meet at the original recently abandoned Fort Clark, in West Texas, which was the last of those old pre-Civil War forts that the government had strung across Texas in the 1840's and fifties. Fort Clark had been decommissioned not too long before, and was then being used as a place again for groups to hold their meetings, where they were completely isolated from everything except just among themselves. So this group was going to meet in Fort Clark, and I was invited to come along as a discussant on the oil and gas situation, not to give a paper but to discuss. As I recall. Well, I was pretty contemptuous of the whole thing, because when I was told the list of who these people were, it was mostly the rich Texans. There was Morgan Davis. There was Root, George Brown of Brown and Root, who was also king of the big Brown and Root construction company and also was chairman of the board of trustees of Rice Institute. You had Major Wright who had been a former justice of the Texas Supreme Court. He was one of the people on the program, and a whole group of others. They were all prominent in the sense of being corporate officials or prominent state officials.
Were there any others in the oil business besides Davis?
Oh, there probably were, of course, McGee himself. But they weren't petroleum people at this meeting, at least there weren't very many. In fact, I was flown out from Houston to the meeting in George Brown's private plane. So, at this meeting, where there was a kind of a big dining room with long benches, people sat on benches, I was sitting along with Morgan Davis and his wife. I'd never met his wife before, as I recall. We made conversation, just social chitchat, and we were having a pleasant meal. Somewhere down the line, my name was mentioned. And Mrs. Davis visibly froze.
She didn't know who you were?
No! "That so and so!" That was the nearest I could come… had been giving Morgan Davis a very rough time, even if —[laughter].
That's quite a discovery.
at that meeting maybe I gave a paper. I don't recall. We had a discussion. Davis was very clear that while I was a distinguished scientist, I apparently didn't know very much about oil, that type of thing. Then, in 1959, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists held its annual meeting in Dallas. The program committee for that meeting decided to devote a day to invited papers on subjects of major importance in the oil industry, giving each speaker about half an hour, and they invited enough speakers to occupy the entire day. Well, I was one of the people invited, and I was invited to do the predicting. It was so stated in the invitation. Well, the time was very short. I only had a weeks before the meeting. And so I decided to see what could be done with a big field. Most of the oil in the country was in big fields. So instead of estimating oil per se, what could I do about estimating a number of big fields? The OIL AND GAS JOURNAL had been running in January each year a summary of the oil found by big fields and little fields. A big field was 100 million barrels or more. That was a big field; less than that was a little field. And so they had tables of big fields by name and the estimate of all the oil, and then they had little fields, summarizing it added up to the oil discovered up to that time. About 60 percent were represented by big fields and about 40 percent by little fields. They'd been running about those figures for ten years or more in these annual reports. So I got those figures of the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL. In my estimation of the big fields, I estimated the remaining fields, then what I did was to plot up a curve of just big fields by number, count them, one, two, three and so on, in order of discovery. The question was, how far are we along on this curve? Because when you find them all, we ask, when do oil prices and values rise to the maximum? Well, I plotted this curve up, and it was very nearly asymptotic. I've got the figure here, maybe. I don't know whether I have this thing here or not. The figure in this report, we'll use that at the moment.
OK. We're looking at the 1962 Academy report.
Yes, the Academy report in 1962. It reproduced that curve. Page 68. This was the curve that I developed at that time. Here it is obviously getting nearly to the asymptote. Well, anyhow, that was the figure that I developed for that paper in St. Louis. Again, the committee had a preprint, subject to revision, and the paper was given at the meeting.
This is the '59 paper?
Yes. Prior to that meeting, Morgan Davis, who I believe at that time was president of the AAAS, saw that I was giving this paper, and I don't know how but he got himself on the program.
Is that so?
Giving the keynote address. He wasn't originally on the program at all, he just muscled his way in.
And he spoke about?
Well, the address that he gave was very similar to one that he'd given at the annual meeting of the API in Chicago the preceding November. And that — oh yes, in 1958 or so, I gave this invited paper at the University of Texas. Morgan Davis had a copy of that, and that paper used this relationship for the first time.
That's right. This is the mineral resources paper.
So at the API meeting, in November, 1958, in Chicago, Morgan Davis gave a major address in which he proposed — see, what I'd shown was that when the reserves reach their peak — or between these two peaks (the asymptote) — that you're getting pretty close to a turnaround. So Morgan Davis proposed getting around this difficulty. He didn't put it in this form but that was the reason. He proposed increasing crude reserves by definition, arbitrarily. That would get around this idea that the reserves were going to peak.
In other words, that because techniques for extracting oil had improved, one could get more?
No. See, I pointed out that when the reserves peaked, that was a clue of how close you were to the peak of production.
Which would follow the other curve.
Right. So he countered by proposing to redefine crude reserves in magnitude, by definition.
How did he seek to alter this definition?
He did pretty much the same thing at this AAPG address, practically the same thing he'd given at Chicago.
What did he have in mind, though, when he tried to change the definition of crude reserves?
Well, he was jimmying the basis of prediction. If you use this existing reserve for prediction, then you change it. Then you won't upset your applecart.
That type of thing. Well, he gave his paper. I gave mine. And I was unhappy about it, because this asymptote or near asymptote indicated that well, it was pretty close to 210 big fields, and we were already up to 200 or so by this time. We had about ten more to go. Well, I couldn't really believe it, but the evidence pointed to that so, here it is. Then we got into some difficulty in terms of the amount of oil I implied. The big fields were averaging about a quarter of a billion barrels each. If you add 210 for the big fields…I'm trying to remember my figures now. Well, anyhow, taking the big fields and the little fields implied by this, it only gave me about 135 billion barrels of oil. I was very unhappy about this.
Right. That was a lower estimate than even what you had had previously.
Yes. And yet that curve was dead on. Well, I started worrying about this. Incidentally, somebody, one of Morgan Davis's men, made a rejoinder to this about a week later or more. I was very unhappy about the whole thing, and I was very concerned about what was wrong here. I was sure something was. So I did this. I said, all right, suppose we do the same analysis as of ten years ago. And see what that looks like.
Right. I'm looking now at the Academy report, on page 67.
Yes. So here's figure 33. There's that same curve as of 1951, and — oh yes, this was the one for 1959, about here. This is it. But what you see is that this other curve is not just an extension of the lower one, but it's a skid.
It's uplifted considerably.
Yes. So the question is, what causes that? Well, it turned out that every big field has two dates. A date of discovery, and a date of recognition. It's a little field up until the time it's called a big field.
Certainly so. Yes.
So, all right. What I next did then was to go back historically and take every one of those big fields, and identify the date at which they were first called a big field. Now, when you do that, that's a curve that behaves properly. That figure doesn't change. But when you do this, you see, you've got this wide curve in 1951. Suppose you layered it, some fields in here, you introduce some little fields in here, they become big fields. When you do, every time you plot one in, you move them up one notch, and it gives you your side skid. If you do it by date of recognition, then they're chronological and there's nothing that can happen. When I did that, the asymptote came at a higher point. So here is, up to that point, you see, and you're not even at the inflection point. The rest of that curve then, looks like an asymptote around 460 barrels, rather than 210.
You reached that conclusion then?
Well, within a couple of weeks after that meeting. I was going to rewrite the paper. But before I got it done, this presentation came up at the Academy. So that paper was actually rewritten in this Academy report.
OK. The Academy report is one of the central things we want to talk about.
But I want to ask a few other questions. In 1958, you also wrote a review in SCIENCE of Bruce Netschert's The Future Supply of Oil and Gas.
Can you tell me a little bit about how that report had been written and what the background was for that?
Well, the whole thing goes into the history of Resources for the Future. Resources for the Future was established close to 1950. But they made a fundamental mistake. The entire staff were economists.
No geologists were included, or physicists?
No. No. Practically nobody on the staff except economists. And they didn't have any way of dealing with the problem because they didn't know enough. So one of the people that they hired was this younger man Bruce Netschert, and Bruce Netschert wrote a little book on oil and gas. The manuscript of that was sent to me by his chief, whose name I don't now recall, for review, while it was in manuscript. Well, I went over the manuscript and pointed out all kinds of things that were wrong with it. For one, he had a table of previous estimates. One of them was a thousand billion barrels of crude oil for the lower 48 states.
A thousand billion?
Yes. Where did he get that? From some big man in Chicago who said, "We've got a thousand billion barrels of oil in the United States," and he put that down as a respectable estimate. Wallace Pratt was put way down on the list in this thing. Well, the thing was so bad, I blue penciled it in detail and sent it back. And they went ahead and printed it with almost no modifications. Then SCIENCE sent it to me for review. I reviewed it very critically. Have you read that review? OK. I reread it yesterday. What I pointed out was that in practically every fact here of unknown range, he picked the higher range, the range that would maximize his final result.
Right. Was that generally what the economists were hoping to do with those figures, or had been?
I can't speak for economists generally. I can only speak for this one report.
Then again, there was irresponsible use of figures. Somebody comes out with a thousand billion barrels, and has no respectability, not somebody who knows something about it. And another matter, depth of drilling. Somebody said, "Oh, we can drill to 65,000 feet." So that was put down, as though you could find oil and gas if you drilled to 65,000 feet.
What was the maximum depth of wells that were being drilled then?
About 22,500 at that time. That bears on another question, and that is, if you don't find oil and gas [at shallower depths, you may not find it deeper down]. The bottom of many basins [are not far below] the edges. Most of these basins are either wedge shaped or round bottom or something of that sort. So I did a little study independently related to this, of volume related to depth. About 85 percent of the volume of most of these basins came within the first few thousand feet. As you go down deeper and deeper, why, the remaining volume begins to vanish, except in certain areas like the Gulf Coast where the greatest depth is very great over a large area. So, all this business of going to greater depth and so on had no geological validity whatever or any other kind. The whole report was overblown. I don't know that you could nail down a specific figure on it, but I think I stated that…where is that? It's in front of me here. There was on the order of 500 billion barrels or so that he'd already added up before he added the future. So you couldn't say a specific figure, but it was on the order of 500 billion barrels or more. He had it higher than that. Incidentally, following the publication of this report, Wallace Pratt in a paper referred to it as this very scholarly study by Bruce Netschert.
Did he have a sense of humor?
He didn't have a sense of humor at all. He was building this thing up in defense of his own figures.
Oh, I see.
He cited Bruce Netschert's as a very scholarly report because it had the figures that Morgan Davis wanted.
Now, throughout all this time, Morgan Davis would never give a figure of his own. He'd always come up with the great nebulous amounts of oil and gas but never anything you could hang him with. And here he comes out and cites with great approval big estimates like Bruce Netschert's, and doesn't give one himself. Well, somewhere along the line, I think about the time of this API lecture, Morgan Davis gave what you'd call a kind of a cautious statement, criticizing my estimates again for both US and Texas. Now, the Texas had come out a year before or so, about '58, I think. 1958, I believe.
And I made one mistake on the text on the Texas thing. I disregarded the fact that they'd cut the top off of it. Texas Oil Commission had frozen production and curtailed it. So I estimated it as if it were a continuous, uninterrupted curve, and I came out with approximately the right answers to the ultimate. I used a figure of about 60 billion barrels. My current figure is 66. All right. But I disregarded the fact that this period from the middle thirties or 1940 up to that time was largely curtailed by the Texas Oil Commission. Therefore the estimated date of the peak was more or less meaningless. The date of the decline was extended into the future for that same reason. Well, Davis correctly criticized my analysis on the Texas thing, but came out with a figure of his own for the US, that counting areas already under the lease, that we could expect another specified number, and I don't remember the number now, billion barrels of oil from areas now under lease. Well, at that time the area now under lease was probably mostly the lower 48 states. I doubt if they included much in Alaska. So what it amounted to was that Davis, taking those figures, gave an estimate of the amount of oil that would be produced in the US within the next 20 years, I believe he specified. Well, I reviewed those figures in my review for the API again in 1978, and they'd fallen way short of Morgan Davis's figures. Morgan Davis was dead by now, safely dead. OK.
One other thing I was curious about was the reaction of other oil company officials or other geophysicists to your research. One point that you made repeatedly in these papers is that growth curves can begin at exponential levels, but then will necessarily slow down.
Well, it depends on which curve you're talking about. Are you talking about cumulative rate of production or rate of cumulative production?
I mean total production.
For cumulative production, you have to go back and take the rate of production curve, which is the more fundamental of the two in terms of primary data. So that curve began when you make the initial discovery somewhere. In the United States this was the Dregg Well in 1859.
So they had a whole new bunch of wells in the area, and so they found more new oil. Now, the area began to enlarge and spread. Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, southeastern Ohio. And more and more wells, more and more fields were being discovered. So what happens, your production curve then goes up and it goes up rather rapidly.
Very steeply for a brief period of time.
But you can't possibly keep that up, because eventually your discoveries are going to curtail. Oil becomes harder and harder to find. And you slow down. You find the easy oil first. That being the case, then ultimately production falls. That's when you reach a peak. If it's a small area, you might have multiple peaks. If it's a large area, only a single cycle because the local irregularities iron out. You're over the peak and you're going into a long slow, not necessarily a negative exponential, but a long slow decline asymptotic to zero. Now, the integral of that curve, simply by adding the areas if you like, is an S shaped curve. It starts slow at the beginning, reaches a maximum slope, coincidentally with a peak in the rate of production, inflection point, and then it slows down and ultimately levels off asymptotic to a maximum. When you get there, you're through, that's it. Well, you can't avoid it. It's an inescapable consequence of the method of occurrence, in discovery and production of oil. Can't avoid it. You can change the shape of the curve slightly, but these constraints, these limits are common. In other words your production begins at zero, rises, goes to one or more principal maxima, ultimately goes into a decline, asymptotic to zero. The area underneath that curve at any given time is cumulative production. The cumulative production curve has a monotonic slope. It has no negative slope. It only increases or at best it's flat in case production is over. If production resumes in this cycle, then that cumulative curve has a zero slope, but never negative.
But as you say, you can attempt to change the shape of the curve by changing estimates of the time to maximum production and other factors. Was there already a strong disagreement among the people in the oil companies over the different theoretical methods that one could use? Weren't Zapp's measurements already coming in?
There weren't really theoretical methods in use. The method was simply oil accounting.
That was it?
Yes. There was very little theoretical work in this field at that time by anybody. You had the statistics of production and you had the crude reserves, and statistics of drilling. You had the estimates of the amounts of oil found in various fields, and you added it all up and so on. That was about as sophisticated as you got. So, well, at the time that I did this, in 1956, the figures I used just about straddled the opinions of well-informed oil people. I mean, they were within that bracket like a questionnaire that Pratt sent to 22 handpicked men. The highest one was 200, and Pratt's own figure was about 150.
So, there's plenty of room for uncertainty, and different people claiming different figures, but they were all pretty close together. Until I came out with this paper, and jolted hell out of them, because the average thinking on this thing, the intuitive judgment, you might say, were all done by the petroleum industry, corporate officials, corporate geologists, petroleum engineers and the like. It's as simple as this. Here we've been in the oil business for nearly a hundred years, and have only produced a little over 50 billion barrels of oil. All right. If the ultimate amount is as small as 150, you've got twice as much oil in the future as we have produced in the last hundred years. If it's 200, if there should be that much, you've got three times as much oil. Hence, how long will it be before we have an oil shortage in the United States? On the basis of intuitive judgment, why, certainly not in our lifetime. Our grandchildren, maybe, but not us. So the thing that jolted hell out of them was when I pointed out that if this unknown quantity falls in this bracket, you're going to get the peak within ten or fifteen years. Not your grandchildren's time. Now, at that same time, in the fifties, there was an cute public relations dictum, I think came out of the API. They had a very wide currency stock answer to inquiries, how much oil has the United States got and can we expect a shortage? The stock answer was, US has all the oil they will need for the foreseeable future. Beautiful case of prediction by ambiguous statement. But implied, not in our time, the next century, maybe.
Certainly nothing to take seriously.
Now, following this API thing, I am reasonably certain that most of the major oil companies took another look at their own estimates. I know Shell did. Shell set up a special staff in New York making a whole review of US and Canada, of printed estimates of the oil and gas. They didn't tell me what the results were. I knew that the stuff existed and I knew the man who was a production engineer who was in charge of it, and who was doing it.
You weren't involved in it?
I wasn't involved and I was never told what the answer was. But the answer couldn't have been very different from mine, or I wouldn't have been talking to these executive training groups for the next five years.
Right. That's interesting.
So, other companies were doing the same kind of thing, and I would say that they essentially broke into two camps. One camp took a look at their figures, and found that they couldn't change it, they were in roughly this bracket. There was another group who psychologically refused to accept this unpleasant conclusion, but if you don't accept it, how can you get out of it? Very simply, you postulate a large amount of oil. You don't prove it, you invent it. All right. Of this other camp, the principal offender was Humble. Morgan Davis and Richard Gonzales.
Were other companies making similarly high estimates?
I don't know of anybody. There was nobody comparably outspoken on this thing. Morgan Davis and Richard Gonzales were very militant, and they were coming out every few months with some kind of a pronouncement or rejoinder to what I'd said previously. But most of the people were considering the matter very soberly. It might be — in fact, one thing that happened was, immediately following this API thing, there began to be published revised estimates of oil. Somebody said, "I don't like this figure of 200, I prefer 300," and so you put it down. And I plotted up this whole series of about 15 or 20 of these estimates that had happened since that date —
Yes. And there's scatter diagrams in there, and a whole group of them, leading up to around—I forget whether it's 300 or 400.
The estimates are beginning to rise?
Yes, these are published estimates. One I did before that, I believe, and that's Weeks's earlier figure of 1948 or so. Now, here's Weeks's figure, 1948, which was good. That diagram — there's a whole series here of approaching 400, and you've got a group in here around. Well, this packet, this is Weeks's idea, figure back here, which is what it should have been. Then they are beginning to go up, you see. Then finally they were trumped by the USGS with its 590.
I sometimes have facetiously remarked that that innocent little figure of mine in that API report, of showing those two ranges, 150 and 200, was probably responsible for a larger enhancement of US oil and gas resources…on paper. [laughter]. The industry, and the petroleum geologists and engineers, had never been able to accomplish this before in the field, in a hundred years. This happened within five years. They created more gas and oil resources in response to that innocent little figure than the exploration and production people had been able to accomplish in the field in a hundred years. [laughter].
I'd say it illuminates the psychological aspect of the matter.
How early were you aware of the work that A.D. Zapp was doing on estimations?
The first time I ever heard of his work, I knew Zapp slightly because he'd been a ground water man originally in Denver.
Was he in the Survey in Denver?
He was in the Denver office. When I published my paper on the entrapment of oil under hydrodynamic conditions, we had a conference with the Survey people in Washington, and he pretty well agreed that they would put a team to work on the Big Horn Basin, because I told him that was a good place to look and I'd be interested. I'd done the work or we'd done the work, but it wasn't published, and I'd be very interested to have them do the work and just see if they could confirm what our results were. Then they set up a team of two or three men under a man by the name of John Bennett as I remember. I think Zapp was one of that team. They came up with a report several years later which was in substantial agreement with the previous work that we'd done. But that, as I say, is my earliest recollection of the name. Going back to this meeting of the AAPG in Dallas in 1959: at that meeting was my friend, Jim Gilluly, from the Geological Survey in Denver. Well, Jim had recently been made acting director of the oil and gas branch in Denver, which was a small staff of only about half a dozen people or so, professionals. Jim was in charge of it. I'd given my paper at the morning session, and Jim and I had lunch at a local nearby restaurant. Jim spent the entire lunch hour softening me up over what a great man this man Zapp was and what a wonderful job he had done and what a great discovery he'd made. Zapp had found out why all the old estimates had always been wrong on the low side. At long last he had gotten to the bottom of the thing, and now we were getting competent estimates. And I said, well, I'd be very interested in seeing his results.
Did Gilluly talk to you about the methods?
No. And neither did he give me any of the results. But it was a studied job of softening me up, trying to soften me up on what a marvelous guy this man Zapp was. And I said, "Well, I'd be most interested in seeing the results when you have them." And so we just tabled it there until a little later, until we could come face to face on this situation. [Pauses]. Let's see if there are any other loose ends here. The only really overt opposition that I had in the oil industry was from these two men Morgan Davis and his stooge R.J. Gonzales. I didn't have anything like that from anybody else.
Right. How would you characterize the reaction in general from the oil companies? Was it apprehension over the implications — or confusion?
Let's see if I can get my dates here. I was out on a distinguished lecture tour, following this 1953 meeting, where I gave a paper on hydrodynamic entrapment. Somewhere along the line, I think it was the early seventies. Nine weeks. They broke it up into 3 week intervals, with a week or two break in between. Well, what that indicates was a great deal of interest in this subject. At the same time, earlier than that, around '64, '65 —
Was this another lecture tour?
No. This was the Distinguished Lecture Tour of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. The program committee wanted me to be a Distinguished Lecturer, and I name the subject. So I suggested two possible subjects. One would be this oil and gas situation, the energy thing, and the other would be fluid mechanics, Darcy's Law and its significance in petroleum engineering, as it was today. So instead of taking one, they took both. I gave a lecture on Topic A and so on and so on, and next town, Topic B. What it added up to was that the small towns and the people who were operating oil fields wanted the lecture on the fluid mechanics, and the headquarters offices wanted the oil and gas lecture.
That worked out well.
Yes, it was perfectly all right. Well, that was in 1963, and '64, I believe. It was right over the bridge when I left Shell and came with Geological Survey. Part of the lecture was before Christmas, part after Christmas. But the other, the AAPG tour, nine weeks, I believe that didn't occur till the 1970's and that was a nine week tour. But again, I wasn't getting any opposition. The attitude was one of keen interest, yes, but not belligerence. I mean, occasionally you might run into an individual, but not in general. I mean, I was simply an honored citizen of the profession.
As you pointed out, you would hear occasionally from geologists, geophysicists in other companies who claimed to have reached the same results.
Yes. Well, that was specifically the case of Humble because the officers of Humble were sounding off all the time. One thing I forgot to mention, going back into the period around 1957 or so, the Society of Petroleum Engineers invited Gonzales or maybe he invited himself to give a paper. Gonzales had a paper published in one of the journals — I forget what they called the journal, one of the journals of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. It was run as a feature article in that issue. Well, I was very interested because it was almost identical to the argument that Wallace Pratt had used in that paper of 1956. And the Gonzales paper was shortly after that, maybe '57. But that argument about how wrong it had always been and the improved technology and the rate of increase of crude reserves still going up and so on. That was published within a year, I think after the paper, the API paper. Years later, in the 1960's or seventies, I was in correspondence with two good friends, both retired officials of Standard of New Jersey. One was Wallace Pratt and the other, his very close friend, who was retired and lived right near Stanford by the name of Ray Walters. They were very close personal friends and were in correspondence with one another and with me. I got a letter from Ray Walters somewhere around the late sixties or early seventies, in which he sent me a copy he had of a letter from Wallace Pratt, in which Wallace Pratt was recounting his visit to the Humble headquarters shortly after Morgan Davis became chief, which was very close to the time or shortly after my talk at the API. What Davis said in that — or what Pratt said in this letter — was that he had had a great deal of heat put on him by Morgan Davis about coming out in defense of these higher figures. So apparently they tried to brainwash Wallace Pratt with a certain amount of success in that period following the API meeting. Wallace Pratt wrote that little paper, apparently apologetically, and sent me a copy of the comments and then finally withdrew it from publication.
OK. What I'm leading up to is that when this Academy report came out, with some misgivings I sent Wallace Pratt a copy of this report, with a little note that I hoped he wouldn't find this too offensive, but it was the best I could do with the evidence. He wrote back and said, "If I once thought you were wrong, I've had time to reconsider."
That's interesting. That's good.
And his correspondence with Ray Walters was along the same general line, that he had had time to reconsider.
I wonder if this isn't a good time to begin talking about the NAS report.
Well, we led up to that. Everything we've been talking about is immediately prior to that.
Well, next in the sequence, then, was that in early 1961 there were negotiations between the president if the Academy, Detlev Bronk, and President Kennedy, with regard to the Academy's doing something about natural resources, a study.
Had that initiative come from Bronk? Or from the Administration?
I don't know. But anyhow, there were behind-the-scenes discussions going on about this. It culminated in a letter dated March 4, 1961, from Kennedy to Bronk, requesting the Academy to set up a committee or whatever, I don't know his exact words, it's a one page letter, to advise him on policy with regard to natural resources. And in that same letter, he simultaneously instructed all government bureaus having anything to do with natural resources to cooperate fully with this committee. That was the letter of authorization. First I knew about this was in April, I was in Washington at the annual meeting of the Academy and also the National Research Council. The chairman of the Earth Science Division of the Research Council was a geographer by the name of Edward Ames. He's a man I knew well, I knew him as a student.
We'll get the name.
I'm blanking out on names, names that I know well, right down the line. Well, at this meeting, Edward Ames rang me up and discussed this committee that was being appointed for natural resources.
Was he the one in charge of setting up the committee?
No. Well, Bronk was setting up the committee, but my friend, who was chairman of the Earth Sciences Division, was naturally concerned as to who they had representing that division on the committee, that field. And so he discussed this with me, on the grounds that they hadn't appointed anybody from mineral resources. And he thought it was a very serious oversight, and he especially raised the question whether I'd be willing to serve on the committee. I said I would be. About the same time, I talked to Tom Nolan, Director the Geological Survey. He expressed a comparable concern for the same reasons, that they didn't have anybody representing geological resources, mineral resources and so on. So apparently they began to put pressure on Bronk on this deficiency. A few weeks later, I got a telephone call in Houston from Bronk asking if I would serve on the committee, and I said I would. I also stated that I was going to be in Washington a couple of weeks hence or so, and I would like to discuss the committee with him. Well, I should see John Coleman, who would be the executive staff member of the committee, the staff member from the Academy who would be doing the staff work for the committee. I never heard of John Coleman before but I was to see John Coleman. When I was there, I called John Coleman and went to see him. John Coleman of this committee—mind you, we'd never met—but John Coleman began to tell me what the committee was going to do. And not only that but he had a whole bunch of placards about this big [hold hands apart about 3 feet] with beautiful expensive lettering.
Did Coleman have a very close relationship with Bronk?
Yes. But Coleman didn't make those placards or charts.
Was it Bronk?
No, nor anybody else in the Academy. But this is what the committee is going to do. Now, somebody made those charts. They were very professional expensive charts. And it was a whole general idea of, well, now, it's going to approach this thing from the consumer end, the end product of all these things, and so on. Well, I felt negative about the whole business. And wondered about it. Well, I also learned from Tom Nolan at about this same time or a little earlier that Roger Revelle, who had become the science adviser to the Secretary of the Interior recently arrived in Washington, had called Tom one day and said, "Look, I'm heading off to Pakistan on this irrigation project over in Pakistan, and we've got this bill before Congress for money for this committee. You go up there and defend this, it's coming in part out of the Survey." Tom was irritated as all hell about it, especially since the amount if I remember was around $250,000.
A considerable sum.
For the committee, a quarter of a million dollars. Tom told me that.
What had Nolan said to Revelle? Did he tell you his response to what Revelle had asked?
Well, I don't know that he did in detail, but I know he didn't like it, any part of it. But he rather peremptorily said, "You go up there and defend this thing before Congress, I'm leaving." That's Revelle. OK. But Tom was very very unhappy about the whole thing, that I know.
How well did you know Tom Nolan, and how long?
Oh, I've known him since the middle thirties, very well.
What sort of a scientist was he?
Well, he was a good geologist, good field geologist. When it comes to mapping an area in Nevada, why, he's tops. And write a good report on it. And also he is a good administrator. But what began to emerge from out of all this, from bits and pieces of evidence, was that negotiations had been well advanced between the Academy and Resources for the Future, Resources for the Future making up a big political contract to do the work for the committee. They'd be the board of directors, they'd do the work and get paid for it. They made those plaques.
It was never stated, but from indirect evidence, I'm positive that that was the situation. Well, anyhow, the first meeting of the committee was set for, I think, in June. That was the first sit-down meeting, the first time the committee had ever seen each other, as a committee.
How many people were in that committee at that time?
Well, at that time, there were about nine or ten. They added some more later. At that time, they had Bronk, a man from MIT, an engineer by the name of Gilliland [unclear], me, Phillip Morrison, a physicist from MIT, and I think Sumner Blake, Roger Revelle, Althelstan Spilhaus, and Paul Weiss of Rockefeller Institute. I'm not sure about Gebbert White but Abel Woolman of Johns Hopkins.
They were all part of the original group?
Yes. People who were not in the original group, whom I'm sure of, were Dean Fraget [unclear] of Union Carbide Company. They put on Leonard for metals and metallic or non-fuel metals, and Frank Milstein for demography.
Milstein from Princeton. These people were not on it, anyhow, when we had the first meeting. It was a peculiar kind of a committee, because Bronk never called himself chairman. But he was de facto chairman of the committee, and he wouldn't have dared let anybody else run it but himself. But he never called himself the chairman. Again, he had Roger Revelle in there as his right hand man. Roger Revelle was very much the favored man of Bronk. And very obviously so. Revelle was also at that time the science adviser to the Secretary of the Interior, and when he was originally appointed to the committee he was at University of California.
That's what I thought.
He'd come to Washington subsequently. With a conflict of interest. But that didn't bother either Revelle or Bronk. OK. So this committee met, and after some preliminary remarks, and generalities...oh, one thing that came out of this preliminary thing, and was implied in the preliminaries before this, was that Det Bronk didn't know what the hell natural resources were! He didn't even know mineral resources were natural resources.
His idea, as he stated at the meeting, was that he'd talked to Kennedy about how they could beautify the beaches up around Cape Cod!! It was that kind of fluff. Who had he appointed to the committee? Two or three people from the Rockefeller University of which he was president, some of his colleagues there, Weiss, one or two others, and Roger Revelle. And he frankly didn't know what the hell natural resources were. That's the reason he didn't have any geological fields, didn't have any minerals.
His concept of what the committee was going to do was radically different from those of your colleagues?
He didn't have any idea. I mean, his idea was just stupid. Well, after some preliminary remarks, he said, "Now, I'd like John Coleman to show you his charts, on the committee's work." So John got out his charts and began making his little spiel, about just what we were going to do. And I don't know whether you know Athelstan Spilhaus? Do you know him?
I know of him but I don't know him.
Well, he's a pretty outspoken guy. He was at the time I think at the University of Minnesota, I believe.
Well, John hadn't gotten beyond about three charts, and Athelstan Spilhaus exploded. I don't think he used such language, but in effect what he said was "Horseshit". If I can back up a minute, the name I was trying to remember was Edward Espinshade.
OK, thank you.
Well, this explosion from Spilhaus gave me the opening I wanted, and so I took over at that point and backed him up. I said, "Look, we're a committee that's supposed to advise the President on natural resources. Now, this committee is made up of very well-informed people. But not a one of us knows this whole field. So if we're going to advise the President, essentially our first job is self-education. So I propose that we hold a series of conferences between the committee and invited participants, on various subjects, for the purpose of self-information of the committee, as a prerequisite for writing any kind of report advising the President." Well, this so completely took Bronk by surprise that he had no defense, and he grudgingly consented. And we did hold a series of conferences. It was agreed that the first conference, which would be held about a month hence, would be on water, and that would be directed, I believe, by Woolman. Abel Woolman. And the principal involved in that was Leopold of the Geological Survey, who was one of the leading water men of the Survey. Wellman Leopold.
Where were these conferences held?
The first one was held here in Washington, I think, at the Academy. Then the second one and the third one were held at Rockefeller University in New York, and maybe others. I know those two were.
And on what topics?
Well, the first one was water. At that meeting, it was decided the next one should be energy. I was nominated or appointed to direct the conference on energy. So I had a month's notice to do it. I went to work on it, because I had to invite a number of outside people, and outline in my own mind and on paper the whole gamut of the energy picture as I wanted to show it. Essentially this involves the energy processes on the earth and the storage and what not, and so it involved solar energy, it involved biological energy in the biological cycle, and it involved the storage energy, oil, gas, coal, the fossil fuels, and nuclear materials, water power, as well as solar, and also the energy technology. Magneto-hydrodynamics for example was a possibility, photocells.
You published a diagram similar to that in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN in 1971.
That's right, that was that same diagram. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN was just this diagram blown up.
Same diagram, built up with, I mean, the diagram has to be revised, when you get new and better data, but the basics of it, it's still the same circuit, so to speak. Yes, here it is.
OK, right at the beginning. Page 2.
So that was essentially, the elements of this diagram, that the conference was built around. And so whom did I have on it? Well, for the biological part, I had Evelyn Hutchinson of Yale for Energy in the biological systems. For water power, I had a man from the Federal Power Commission who was recommended as a water power man. And he gave a rundown on the world picture on all the water power estimates. Solar energy per se, I don't know that I had anybody on that. I had water power and the photosynthesis cycle and so on. And for the fossil fuels, in fact, I had another meeting of the Geological Society of America executive committee that I was on, as the upcoming president of that, and Horace Hedberg and Tom Nolan were the other two people on it. Horace Hedberg was vice president of Gulf, and principally in charge of Kuwait and Middle Eastern and so on. And I remember asking him, I said, "Look, for the fossil fuels I could use the USGS stuff on coal, but who can I get for oil?" And Horace said, "Well, why don't you do it yourself? You know as much as anybody." Tom didn't object, so I said, "OK, I'll handle oil and gas, and I'll use Survey data on coal of Paul Everett." So for nuclear, uranium and so on, I asked Tom whom I should get for that, somebody from the Survey, and he said, "Get Vincent McKelvey."
Had you known McKelvey before?
Slightly. I'd met him before but I didn't know him well. I just knew him to speak to and so on. So, all right, and for the technological things I got this man from MIT, Gilliland. Maybe he wasn't on the committee prior to that time, I don't remember. But anyhow I got him and I got another man, I got a man with great name, I don't remember it, for magneto hydrodynamics. I got Gilliland for some other thing associated with energy engineering. See if there's anybody else. All right, that pretty well covers it. And so, we had this meeting. This was on rather short notice, only a month before when the meeting was to be. I had to call the people on the telephone, and it's very interesting, to mention the President's name has a magic effect. They said "Yes."
It made things a lot easier?
Yes. And so I had no trouble at all in getting collaboration or cooperation of the people I invited, except McKelvey.
I called McKelvey who was in California at the time, I think, but I believe he was coming to Washington in the next week or two, transferring to Washington. He was assistant chief geologist. So I called McKelvey, and told him that I would like him to handle the uranium, thorium and other nuclear materials. He said, "No."
Did he give a reason?
I said, "Well, the reason that I called you is because you were suggested by Tom Nolan." "Well, yes." Well, all this was perfectly innocent at the time. We got to the meeting, and McKelvey came to this meeting like a bull in a china shop. He was plainly mad as hell about something, and he was kind of throwing his weight around. I'd given the report on the fossil fuels, and came time for McKelvey on the nuclear thing, I had a slide of this map showing the location of the deposits of uranium in the United States. Maybe I have it here somewhere, I don't know. Anyhow I had such a slide that I used in that API paper.
This was based on Survey data on the uranium?
Yes, at that time. Well, anyhow, I told McKelvey, if you want this slide data, if it will help you, it shows where these things are located. And he almost insultingly turned it down. He wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole, was his attitude. Well, I didn't understand this situation. It was a peculiar performance. Until later on, immediately following that meeting, he was put in charge of pulling together the input from the Geological Survey to this committee in response to the Presidential directive of cooperation from the Geological Survey with the committee. He'd been put in charge of pulling this stuff together from the Survey. Well, it turned out that his ill behavior in connection with this meeting was that he was mad because I hadn't given him the whole works. Fossil fuels, oil, coal.
The whole gamut?
Yes. He was mad because I had limited him to nuclear.
Had McKelvey to that point had any real experience in oil research?
What had been his research field?
Well, doing a fair amount of mapping in the West and especially with regard to phosphate deposits. Phosphorial formation in the West. He was interested in phosphates, and he'd done a lot of mapping out in that area. In fact, most of his field work and Geological Survey work had been associated with not only US phosphates but also secondarily world phosphates. But that didn't faze McKelvey. McKelvey didn't need to have had experience, he knew all the answers anyway. Anyhow, he was mad because I hadn't given him the whole works here on the oil and gas and coal and so on. Well, as I say, immediately following this meeting or maybe before, he was put in charge within the Survey of pulling together all the Survey input, ultimately, to this committee. The real goal of all this was to feed input into a kind of a coordinating body called Departmental Council of Science and Technology or some similar title. All the input of the government was to be fed through this channel and finally to us. That's the way Roger Revelle got also chairman of that at the same time.
And this was within the Academy, the Academy Council?
Yes. So maybe I should interrupt this enough to say that the other meetings of the other committees, other groups, were held at monthly intervals. I remember, all they did…oh yes, in that very first meeting, I pointed out that we didn't have a demographer on it and everything we were dealing with involved population problems. That's what led to Frank Milstein.
And we didn't have anybody for metals, and that's what led to this man, the mining engineer from Union Carbide, Yves Fraget. There was a pretty good meeting on mining later on. One of the meetings was on metals. That was the Dean Fraget meeting I guess. And Spilhaus had one on waste management, garbage and that kind of business. And I don't know — Gilbert White may have had one but I don't recall what it was. Roger Revelle was supposed to have one, but he never came through with it. He never produced. And so we wound up the year, 1961, having held all these conferences. Now, at one of those conferences, maybe it was the metals one, a contingent of something like four or five people from Resources for the Future were there. Well, outside people only come to these things by invitation, but these guys had been hovering around all the time, around the edges. That's one of the things that makes me fairly sure that there were advance negotiations for the job of doing the work of this committee, before it got torpedoed. Anyhow, they didn't get in, but they were hanging around the periphery and actually attending some of these meetings.
Was that considered unethical by other members of the committee?
Well, they could invite anybody that the committee wishes to invite, may be invited. These people were probably invited by Bronk or Revelle or somebody. I don't think they horned in. They were there by invitation. But in my opinion, they had no business there.
What sort of group was Resources for the Future by then?
Well, they're still in existence. They're still made up mostly of economists, and they publish volumes on various things and never have accomplished anything of great significance.
They kept an economic orientation?
Yes. They've still got it. I mean, that would be a different subject, to go into the history of Resources for the Future. But anyhow, I have volumes of their publications. I've never been able to get any use out of any of them. So we wound up the year, 1961, then, with these various conferences, and in January, 1962 we had a meeting. Maybe I should back up and say that in our very first meeting, the Science Adviser of the President, Jerome Wiesner of MIT, was involved. He was the only man we had actual dealings with in person. Also Harrison Brown was playing an important role, apparently associated with Wiesner. They were both in the early stages of this first meeting.
That's interesting. Brown didn't attend that first meeting, did he?
I don't remember. He was certainly present in the early stages, he and Wiesner both, and I think it must have been that first meeting.
His interest had turned towards human resources by that time.
In January 1962 then the committee had its meeting: what do we do now? I believe Wiesner was present at that meeting also. It was agreed, and the minutes so indicated, subsequently, that the people who organized the separate conferences should write the reports on those separate conferences. And so that meant that Abel Woolman, or Leopold — I forget which was which — would write the hydrology report. I would write the energy report, and Dean Fraget the metals and so on. So then from that time on, the problem was to get settled down and get going on these reports.
The idea was that these separate reports would simply be integrated together?
We'd file those together then in mid-year for the whole committee. We'd have our review committee meeting, with a review by the committee to go over the whole works and review the preliminary draft. Well, the question came about, didn't I need some help? I was going out to Stanford immediately after this and it was a very busy year. I was president of the Geological Society of America. I was teaching at Stanford.
That was the first year you'd started teaching.
That was 1962, my first year at Stanford. I was going out in the winter quarter from Houston. So didn't I need some help? I said, "Well, look, I've got to go to Stanford. I'm giving this new course I'm breaking in and I've had no time to do anything until I get through, but I will be back in my office in April" — let's see, January, February, March, early April — "and then I will then write the report." Well, didn't I need help now? I can't do anything, I've got to get this Stanford thing out of the way before I can write it and then I'll do it. While I was at Stanford, John Coleman showed up. Well, now, couldn't they hire the former dean of the school of engineering at Stanford, who was retired now, what the hell was his name? I believe it's O'Brien.
OK, we can check on that.
OK. He's retired as dean of the school of engineering at Berkeley. He said, "Couldn't we hire him to come in and analyze and help you with this report?" I said, "Well, what does he know about it? He's got no experience in the field, and as far as I'm concerned, he'd just be a nuisance."
This is Coleman who's asking these questions?
Yes, questioning me, couldn't they hire this man? Well, something was going on there, and I didn't like the smell of it. They were intruding into my affairs. Anyhow, I turned it down. Somebody else was on the line. Edward Teller tried to get into it.
How was that?
Well, he'd been in on some of these conferences.
Which ones had he taken an interest in? Was it energy?
Well, he wanted to shoot firecrackers on the moon or something.
Right. He had proposed that [exploding thermonuclear devices on the lunar surface] to NASA about that time.
And he wanted to get in on this committee. After all, this was advisory to the President. And I said, "Over my dead body. No Edward Teller." So all right, I staved them off.
That wasn't the first time you'd had direct dealings with Teller?
No. I'd had before.
We'll talk about that later.
That's a different story and we'd better keep out of it. Anyhow, I got back to Houston on schedule in April, and I went to work on the report. We were going to meet in about mid-June for this two week session of review of the drafts of all the reports. Well, my report was about the size of this. [Holds finger about two inches apart].
About 150 pages perhaps?
I don't know, but something like it. Well, I didn't quite get finished: I didn't write the part on nuclear wastes. There was a little part in that that I hadn't quite finished in time for the meeting, but I had all the rest of it. I had about 20 copies of this run off by a shop in Houston, and I sent copies for all the members of the committee and the staff, and maybe had a few left over but everybody concerned had a copy, everybody in the staff. There were about, besides Coleman, there was a retired Army colonel who was a staff man, a Colonel — I don't recall his name now either.
OK, we can put that in later.
Now, I went to work on the report, and was in touch with the staff by telephone, if I needed information that I didn't, couldn't really get at hand, to help me with some of it, and I had this draft, not quite complete but nearly. The committee was coming up, so I sent copies to everybody concerned. Oh yes, in January of 1962, McKelvey had handed in a typewritten thing about so thick [holds finger apart an inch] which was Geological Survey input under the chairmanship of McKelvey, which was fed to this federal council and then from that on to us. It was handed to me personally.
That included all areas?
That covered the whole spectrum of energy resources, oil and gas, I think everything. I don't remember that it had water power. It had oil and gas, it had geothermal, it had nuclear. It was the whole cross-section. Now, the way this thing was organized, it had a printed cover, and inside of this were preliminary estimates by members of the Geological Survey and so on. Then there was, as I remember it, about ten pages of introduction by McKelvey. And in that he remarked about the work of Zapp, and that we in the Geological Survey who were acquainted with Zapp's work were very much impressed with his results, or something to that effect. I may have quoted it in here.
OK. We're looking at ENERGY RESOURCES.
Yes. Pages 48 and 49. Here I'm quoting, [begins reading] "the 1958 and '59 estimates of Weeks were used by Paul Avery, 1961, pages 99 to 100 of the United States Geological Survey, as a base for his figure of 470 billion barrels of liquid petroleum and 400 billion barrels of crude oil for the United States exclusive of Alaska. However, what appears to be the official estimate of the USGS is that prepared by A. D. Zapp, 1961, Table 1, for the presentation by V. E. McKelvey for the Natural Resources Subcommittee of the Federal Science Council, November 28, 1961. Zapp's estimate of the ultimate US resources of crude oil including past production was 590 billion barrels. Concerning this estimate, V. E. McKelvey, 1961, page 12 "— that's in the introduction, same report —" remarked, 'Those who are studying Zapp's method are much impressed,' and we in the Geological Survey have much confidence in his results.' The published exposition of Zapp's method Zapp, 1962 has subsequently appeared in the US Geological Survey BULLETIN, 11 42-H, entitled "Future petroleum production capacity of the United States." In this no estimate is given explicitly of the ultimate amount of crude oil the United States may be expected to produce, but such an estimate is implied in two statements on page 824. These statements are (1) that this much is certain, it cannot be safely assumed that even the 20 percent mark has been reached in exploration for petroleum in the United States excluding Alaska and excluding rocks deeper than 20,000 feet. "Statement 2" — these are both on the same page but they're separated, appear on different parts of the page — "With a crude yardstick of at least 100 billion barrels of oil found so far, and a rough appraisal of the extent of exploration so far, an objective estimate of the approximate minimum 'ultimate reserves' appears to be in sight."
Was this the first time that you'd gotten a clear indication of the magnitude of the figures that Zapp was talking about?
The magnitude of 590 billion barrels was entirely — was just jolting. When McKelvey handed me this report in January, I flipped the pages. What it amounted to, I had this introduction by McKelvey of how many pages I don't know, ten or more. Then there were little one or two page, or two or three page text by individuals, on different subjects. And one of those was oil and gas by A.D. Zapp. And in that, Zapp limited himself when he stated essentially that he estimated that by this time, which would have been by the end of 1961, that we had already found 130 billion barrels of oil in the US, with just a shade over a million feet of exploratory drilling. With two million more feet of drilling they would probably find another 200 billion barrels, I believe. What it amounted to was, he came up with two figures that added up to roundly 300 billion barrels and three billion feet of drilling. And then Zapp signed off. That's all he had in his text.
And Zapp's method of estimating was to look at it as a function of cumulative drilling?
Yes. There's something I haven't mentioned, to go back a minute. In parallel with McKelvey's handing me this report, he also gave me a preprint proof of this Zapp report which was then in press. It was a combination of these quotes here, and they're taken from that report which wasn't published until later in the year, and then this report from McKelvey and so on. So the two things are interrelated. Anyhow, I flipped the pages, actually toward the tables, and there was a composite table on coal and oil and gas. I don't remember; maybe it was just the fossil fuels. It was obviously by McKelvey, because Zapp was only dealing with oil and gas and somebody else was dealing with coal. I took a look at the figure for oil and gas, and I saw this figure of 300 billion barrels of oil. So I told Tom Nolan, "Look, that 300 billion barrels of oil is too much, I can't accept that figure."
How did Tom Nolan respond to that?
Well, he said he was after all just the Director. This had come up from the staff, and I should talk to McKelvey.
How did Nolan feel about Zapp's figures?
Well, Tom Nolan got involved in this thing, and committed, to his later embarrassment. But at that time, in the whole darned Survey and hierarchy, Zapp was the authoritative word, and Tom was hooked on it. He said, "Now, look, this came up from staff, so you go and talk to McKelvey." I did. I went to see McKelvey, in his office somewhere near the director's. He said, "Hell, no, it wasn't 300, it was 590." And he'd prove it to me. Well, in that table, if you added the last item to the table which was 290 or so, it came out 590, but then that last item was called utter speculative or some comparable term, and I felt that was trash. I looked at the 300, and that was too high. Well, he called in a guy by the name of Duncan next door to bring in a bunch of charts like this, on statistics. The point was, he would prove to me that there'd been no decline in the oil found per foot or per well, and therefore all we had to do to find more oil was drill more wells. And that would prove it. Well, I didn't have any disproof, but I knew enough about this to be reasonably sure that it was seriously in error. I went back home and did some work on it, and I found there'd been a 50 percent drop in the oil found per foot in the last eleven years, published in the statistics. OK. I reported back to Tom, and said, "Look, I can't talk with this guy McKelvey because he's absolutely irrational."
Do you remember anything more from that discussion that you had with McKelvey? Apparently you told him that the figures as you understood them would not support McKelvey's conclusion?
Well, I'd published my opinion by that time, and my basic figures were reported and my reasons for them were publicly available.
Did McKelvey understand that figure?
He didn't want to understand it. His mind was made up. He knew the answers. So we just got nowhere at all. I mean, it was just a waste of time. I reported back to Tom, I said, "Look, I can't even talk to this guy McKelvey. He's utterly irrational." Tom said, "Well, now, that work came from Denver," and he was saying go out and talk to the boys in Denver.
Was Zapp still in Denver at the time?
Yes, and Gilluly and Tom Hendricks had just come back. Tom had been off with Amoco for several years and had come back to the Survey.
Right. You knew Tom Hendricks from the time that you were working with him in 1949 on the GSA research?
Tom Hendricks I'd known since he was a student. Gilluly I'd known since 1933. So I finished this thing here. I guess I had a copy with me, and I went to Denver to talk with these people. We had an afternoon conference with Gilluly and Zapp, Tom Hendricks. Maybe somebody else was there, I don't remember. Well, here was a meeting among friends, and I pointed out things. In somebody's report, I don't remember now what, one of their Survey things, somebody had drawn a figure pointing out the area under the curve was equal to the cumulative production. They'd done the same thing except they'd used semilogarithmic plotting and it wasn't so at all. I pointed that out to them, somewhat to their embarrassment. But we went through the afternoon. Toward the end of it I said, "Well, gentlemen, "These are my results," and I opened up these figures, and—these figures right here. I may have showed them these.
Those on page 58?
I showed them definitely that.
OK, page 60.
I said, "Here's how good the figures are on the mathematical equation I'm using."
Of the cumulative proved discoveries.
Yes. Here's the curve I used here which led to all three of these things, to a nicety. So Jim started accusing me of, "That's all doctored up with a lot of computer stuff," and I said, "Nothing of the sort, it's all data, nothing is doctored."
Gilluly felt that they weren't wrong?
Well, he was defensive. I mean, it was an argument, you couldn't trust this, it had a lot of computer stuff in it, all that kind of thing.
But he didn't doubt the data that it was based on?
Well, anyhow, that's about when the afternoon meeting ended, and we wound up gathering over at his house. Some of the other Survey people all got drunk and had a wonderful evening back at the hotel. What I told him was, "I have to use this information: it's the only information I've got, and I'm going to use it." So then I went directly from there, I think, I flew directly from there to the main committee at Cape Cod, Woods Hole, the meeting in Woods Hole.
This is all the principal people from the committee?
The whole committee was meeting in Woods Hole, and the staff. So I flew from Denver directly to that meeting, and this report, my report had arrived and been distributed among members of the committee. Well, when I got there, when I arrived, maybe that evening, but at least by the next day, I found a kind of tension in there all over the place.
Between you and your fellow members?
The other members of the committee. For instance Paul Weiss from Rockefeller University was there, who was a physiologist. He didn't know one damned thing about oil and gas. He kind of sidled up to me and said, "Well, you know, that report of yours, I'm not sure that I could sign that." I said, "For God's sake, you're not supposed to sign it. It's my report." We had agreed that everybody would write their own report. "I wrote this. You don't sign it." But that was an indication that something funny was going on before I got there. The report had arrived, and the dirty work behind the scenes was going on. Well, I was again, getting angry. I didn't like any part of it. When it came time for me to give my report, I had a couple of the AEC commissioners present. One was Robert Wilson, the retired chairman of the board of Standard of Indiana, and Hayworth, one of the scientific members of the AEC.
Leland Hayworth. Well, I had had a conference with these two men the year before, in 1961. I didn't know at the time what was back of it, but they'd been instructed by the President to cooperate with our committee, and so they held their cards to their chest and had dinner with me, but they didn't tell me that they had this order or instructions. They were being very very cagy. Well, anyhow, at this meeting, Wilson was more or less heckling. For example, with regard to it, he said there'd been no decline in oil found per well or per foot ever; the only reason for the slowdown was the slowdown in drilling. I knew by this time this was definitely not so. And later on the atomic energy thing, why, he kept heckling on that. And interestingly Hayworth was correcting Wilson. Wilson was criticizing me and Hayworth was correcting Wilson.
That's interesting. What was Wilson criticizing?
I don't remember now. One thing was legitimate, because I'd talked about 235 or something or other and he'd pointed out that it was natural uranium in the original fission reactor in Chicago. Which was a mistake on my part. But with regard to the waste problem, I'd visited all these sites. I knew a good deal about it and they didn't.
And you were on the committee.
Yes. And so after I got back, and endured this heckling of Wilson, why, I wrote some very specific things, data into this nuclear problem. Oh yes, also including this letter that we'd written to the AEC commissioners. I put it into this report, and also the data from Floyd Culler on the chemistry of the various waste components. With regard to waste disposal, I said they'd been treating waste disposal as kind of an orphan child, in effect sweeping it under the rug. So in my final recommendations, I recommended, here's the letter to McCohn, pages 118 to 119, and Table 12. Somewhere I've got that waste disposal recommendation — well, I don't see it, but it's somewhere in here.
In this report?
Somewhere in there I put in, from the report by Floyd Culler who was the chief chemist at Oak Ridge, a whole graph of the isotopes and whatnot in these wastes were involved in. I recommended that the budget for the disposal of nuclear wastes be increased several fold over what it had been. That the people who were doing the job couldn't do it any better because they didn't have enough money. And they didn't have enough money because the AEC was pinching pennies to try to promote nuclear power, and they were cutting all the other costs in sight in the process. OK. When the committee, these reviews were completed, the committee then had its final session. When it came my time, knowing the issue that was afoot, I said, "Gentlemen, what do you propose to do with this report, burn it?"
What was the reaction to that?
I said, "This is my report. I wrote it. Any errors in this report will be gladly corrected. Aside from that, the report stands. If you don't accept the report, other than that, I resign from the committee and publish it on the outside." I backed them down.
They were clearly unwilling to have you produce that on the outside, then?
Yes. Of course. Very much so. So I glanced back at these things like, this visit of Coleman to me, and so on, they kept trying to hire somebody to help me and I turned them down, told them I didn't want that. In retrospect, it looks very much like they were trying to get control of this report. I refused to let them have it. Because the people after all knew what I was going to say. I had all the material. I'd been working on it for years, and knew exactly what I was going to do. I didn't want anybody else messing with it, or didn't want anybody who didn't know anything about it to be in a position to foul up the works. I wouldn't let them touch it. So, that settled that for the time being.
What was the end result of that last joint meeting? Was your report included as it stood in with the reports of all the other participants?
Well, we'd already agreed in January that the various reports would be written by the people who organized the various conferences.
Right. Was there going to be a group report, a final volume?
There'd be a combined report — yes. There'd be a committee report of the committee as a whole which would be a summary report. Well, the next development in this sequence came I think on July 20th, I got this, about three page single spaced official letter from V.E. McKelvey, Assistant Chief Geologist, US Geological Survey. Roger Revelle had called him, and had given him a copy of my draft at the committee and asked him to review it. He had reviewed it and this letter would be a summary of what he had told Revelle.
Yet another attempt to persuade you?
Well, now, those were the letters that I told you I would try to find for you. I did find them. I thought I left them on that corner of that table last night, and they're not there now. Let me pull this out here and see if I can find an interesting little sequel to this. That copy that I have here was made by — we didn't have xerography at the time — so this was a reproduction system that was then in vogue. I had several copies of this correspondence — as a unit — made and had them in my personal files. When I came to the Survey in 1964, many of my office files were in my office with the Survey, in unlocked cabinets, and in company unlocked doors. Several years later, in '66 or so, when I was [away] in Stanford, I had this suit of offices in the Interior Building. I had an office here and there was an office there, and a secretarial office in between, my office, secretary, and Bernardo Grossling. He had joined the Survey a year or two before, and so we had this suite, that particular unit where you could lock the door. He had a painting he was very proud of, and he liked to keep the door locked. A few more doors down the hall was Vince McKelvey. And during this year or so there, McKelvey and Grossling got to be pretty much buddy buddies. Later, when Vince got to be appointed director, he brought Grossling up as a scientific adviser. But back at this time when I was in California, and I had a secretary, a very nice lady, who was holding the fort while I was gone. She reported when I got back that McKelvey and Grossling had come into the office one day and started going through my files, over her protests.
This is back when?
In 1966, about. She protested and they ignored her and went through my files. What they did or what they took or what they were looking for was not disclosed. I've never seen the original of this letter since. I think it was in that file.
It's good you had the copies.
But I had the reserve copies. Now, I can't say that it isn't in some obscure file but I've never seen those papers since. And I think that's what they were after.
Were there any other papers you couldn't find afterwards?
Well, nothing else that had the same significance. I can't think of anything else. I think they were after this letter, these letters, and I think they got them. Now, I had them at home.
These letters that we're talking about are the ones that passed between you and Vince McKelvey concerning the committee report?
Yes. Yes, and very damaging statements in here by McKelvey. And I think that he was interested in expunging those statements.
What was your response when you received that letter from McKelvey?
Well, his letter I think was dated July 20th, and I did a lot of work on this thing before replying. I looked into the statistics, the drilling records, and exploratory drilling. Then I put together a very effective rejoinder to the various claims that he'd made in his letter. You'll have to read these things, because it's far more explicit than I can be otherwise.
Anyhow, you'll see my reply. What he did was some of those same things that he'd pulled on me in the office that day, of pulling out a bunch of cracks like this of jelly and so on.
This is your response of August 17, 1961?
Yes. Shall I read part of this? "Dear Vince: I must apologize for my long delay in replying to your letter of July 20, with your valuable critical comments on the preliminary draft of my report on energy resources, prepared for the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Natural Resources. Corrections for the errors to which you call attention have been made, some in fact had already been made. However, your principal comments, those dealing with the discrepancy between my estimate of 175 billion barrels for the ultimate US production of crude oil and Zapp's more than threefold higher estimate of 590 billion pertains to a subject which is too serious to dismiss casually. I have accordingly tabled your letter until I could find time to give it the attention which the importance of the question deserves. I first became aware this high estimate of Zapp from the contents of the report for government use only." He probably had written that on the report. "[domestic and mineral resources, fossil fuels, radioactive minerals and geothermal energy, compiled by members of the US Geological Survey and the National Resources Subcommittee of the Federal Science Council, November 28, 1961], which you handed me in January. I was also impressed by your statement in your synopsis, page 12, [that] those who have studied Zapp's method are much impressed with it, and we in the Geological Survey have much confidence in his results."
Right. That we already discussed.
"Since I find Zapp's estimate, the highest on record, to be rather startling, I naturally became very interested in how he arrived at it. Consequently I have studied rather carefully Zapp's own account of his method, as given in his now published report, FUTURE PETROLEUM PRODUCING CAPACITY OF THE UNITED STATES, US Geological Bulletin 1141-H, 32 pages, 1962. In my copy of this report, numerous passages have been marked as being either questionable or in my opinion erroneous. I think the conclusions of the paper is seriously in error, and Zapp, Hendricks, and Gilluly were so informed with some of my reasons for thinking so during my recent visit to Denver."
Right. If you would like, we can make a copy of this letter and attach it as a document that can accompany the oral history interview transcript. We might be able to save time doing that.
Well, anyhow, there is more compressed information in this correspondence than anything that I can say casually off hand.
Right. What response did you get from him?
Well, you have to read that letter again, his response to the letter. I can't answer your question.
OK. So there was an exchange of letters that you had with him at that point?
Yes. So I got another letter from him, in reply to this one. Oh, here's what I showed him. This was the contrast between my estimate and the Zapp estimate. Here, under these two curves, is what's involved and my estimate. The peak's going to occur about the end of the decade. By Zapp's estimate, about the end of the century. So my point was, it makes one hell of a lot of difference right now, whether the peak's going to occur within ten years or whether you've got thirty years of grace before you start worrying about it. And I pointed to these figures here to demonstrate the point.
McKelvey was very confident that Zapp was correct about this?
Oh yes. No question whatever. Well, then, in the case of reasoning McKelvey's point, here are his figures here.
I think it would be very interesting to have copies of this exchange made as part of the transcript.
He argues here that there really isn't very much difference between their figures and Zapp's figures in terms of their implications of policy things. Then what he does there is plot up a curve assuming that you have complete exponential growth until the last barrel of oil is finished, and when would that be? My figure is that the last barrel of oil would be reached with exponential growth in about twenty, twenty-one years. Zapp thing would be twenty-four. There was really very little difference between the two of them. They don't produce oil like that. Oil is produced this way. And the peak date is the most important date in that sequence. And I showed, I applied these two graphs to show the difference between a peak about 1970 and a peak about the year 2000.
What happened then with the Academy report? Clearly you and McKelvey had different results.
This correspondence, I sent to members of the Academy committee.
Aha, so the entire Academy committee also saw this exchange between you?
I mailed these reports.
Or at least [that which begins] "August 23, Dear — You may recall that during the meeting of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Natural Resources at Woods Hole on June 29, Robert E. Wilson, retired chairman of the board of standards of Standard Oil Company of Indiana, made the statement that during the review of the report of the committee on resources, that the only reason for the US slowdown in the discovery of petroleum was reduction during the last five or six years in the rate of drilling. According to Wilson, there had been no corresponding reduction in the amount of oil found per well." And then I bring in Roger Revelle and so on.
Right. Again, we can attach this letter to our transcript. That would be a good idea.
Then there's a final letter from McKelvey, September the 4th, and then we sign off.
Did you hear from other members of the committee then, after their reading of this exchange between you?
Well, there wasn't very much communication between members of the committee. I sent them copies of this letter. Then, the next meeting was when these reports had been reproduced in a print form as an offset typewritten copy. Subsequently there was a meeting with the President's Science Advisory Committee which existed at that time but was fired by subsequent Presidents and has been non-existent.
At that time Wiesner was chairman?
Wiesner was chairman of it at the time, and so we had a meeting of our committee with the members of what they called PSAC committee, President's Science Advisory Committee. The day of that meeting, I don't know, but I think it was November.
After the other reports were done?
Well, by this time of course editorial work was going on. I think that in time for that committee they'd just brought out a print of all the separate reports, the original reports, and then the composite report, and copies of those had been sent to the members of the PSAC committee. Well, at that meeting, I felt very happy that we'd finally got around to the stage where at least the thing was in print. At that meeting, the members of the PSAC committee gave Bronk a pretty rough time, saying, "Look, you're recommending so and so here in this summary report. Where is that in these supporting documents?" Well, it wasn't there, they had made it up in some of these cases, and the PSAC committee was on the whole pretty critical. At the same time, they were very favorable to what I had done.
Were there particular people in PSAC who were favorable to you?
One man named in particular from Harvard by the name of Purcell.
He spoke to me in private conversations, and said that my report had just opened his eyes as to that whole picture, the interrelations between the things, the approximate magnitude and so on. That kind of thing.
Well, as I say, we met morning and noon and perhaps half the afternoon. They recommended definitely changes, significant changes in various reports, particularly the summary report by the whole committee.
Who had written the summary report? Was it Coleman?
Oh, it was written by members of the staff, with consultation with the members of the committee.
It was put together principally by the staff in Washington, but with exchange, telephone conversations with the committee members. All right. After this meeting of PSAC broke up, and they had gone, why, there were Bronk and Coleman and me still at the Academy, and Bronk was looking pretty badly beat up and feeling sorry for himself. I, in the meantime, was feeling rather good because at least I'd gotten the thing as far as in print, and had favorable comments by members of the committee. After a little bit of exchange between us, I said I thought that on the whole the PSAC committee's criticisms were justified, all we had to do was pay attention to them and straightening up. Well, I went back to Houston, and brought my report. I don't know whether I brought the rest of them with me. At least I brought my report home, and I showed it to Graham, told her what we'd been through. She flipped the pages. I don't know whether it was this precise version or one slightly different, but she said that what it says here was that these reports were not sent to the President but only the summary of the reports. It says that the general conclusions and recommendations of the committee as a whole are presented in the summary report, which has been forwarded to President Kennedy — what does it say together with supporting studies? Well, in this statement, in that preliminary version it didn't say that. Then it said that the summary report had been transmitted.
Now, about the words "had been." Was this prior to the time that the corrections had been made those suggested by PSAC?
It was prior to the time it would be sent. Maybe it hadn't been sent yet.
It was written in the past tense by the time I saw it.
Just wanted to be sure.
What it says here, they're only sending the little summary report. It doesn't say a word about the supporting documents. I read it over and sure enough, that was what they had said. They didn't say that the rest of the reports had been sent or were going to be sent. So, I nearly hit the roof. So I went back and re-read the minutes of that January meeting, where it was explicitly stated that we agreed, when Jerome Wiesner was there, that the various people who organized the various conferences would write the separate reports on those and that the committee as a whole would be the author of the summary report, which would be based on the background reports. Well, I sat down and wrote a letter to Det Bronk and copies to members of the committee and the members of PSAC, in which I summarized this whole situation, what we'd agreed to in January, and then what it said here in this preliminary, on the front page. I also said that my assistants had gone through this preliminary printing, and they'd come up with I think several pages of errors. So my report was going to have to be retyped and redone, and as far as this statement on the cover, I thought the simplest possible thing would be to remove the cover and redraft that statement. Well, I got an irate telephone call back from John Coleman, that they hadn't sent in any report. I said, "John, it says here in plain English, and here's what it says in so many words." And also the new president of the Academy the successor of Bronk, or Fred Seitz.
Fred Seitz had just taken over in that transition the 1st of July. And then I got an irate either letter I think or telephone call from him over this thing. But anyhow, the fat was in the fire and they couldn't take it out. So they did re-do the cover, they did re-do my report and correct all these errors, and they finally did get it sent to the President.
So your report did make it, as well as those of the other members.
Yes, right. And the President in response wrote a letter of release recommending that the reports be given the widest possible distribution.
That's interesting. That was direct, coming back from Kennedy's office?
Kennedy's letter to the president of the Academy. I think it was in December.
This is now December of '62?
What happened at that point?
Well, things were reasonably quiet. But about mid or late January, I believe, or possibly early February, there was a very good staff summary of my report published in the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL. And I received a commendatory letter from the editor of the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL with regard to this report. I think I read you parts of that the last time, but I'll see if I can find that letter.
You certainly mentioned that last time.
I'll see if I can lay my hands on it. The Academy report was released by President Kennedy with the recommendations that it be given the widest possible distribution, and by letter released in December. The reports were released and distributed in January. Then I received a letter of January the 18th from George H. Weber, editor of the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL. His words: "Dear Mr. Hubbert, Congratulations on the objective report you prepared on US crude reserves. Studies of this caliber are all too rare, and we were happy to draw attention to this latest work of yours. I feel that it will be not only well read in next week's Journal, but will probably serve as a reference point for many years to come."
It was almost two pages that were in fact published.
So the summary of my report was in the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL of January 21st, 1963, on pages 48 and 49, headed, "We Have Found Half of Our Oil, Says Hubbert." "Original US reserves 175 to 225 billion barrels of crude and a thousand trillion cubic feet of gas in the report prepared for Presidential study of natural resources. Crude production should peak in the late sixties, Hubbert says."
What was the mechanism for the distribution of these reports the Academy was charged with the responsibility of making these copies?
Well, they were distributed throughout the government, the principal government departments. But actually the total number of the edition was very small. I think it was a thousand copies. My report soon went out of print, and they had to run it off again, I think, brought it up another 500. That went off and they had to run another 500. They finally got it to 2500 and then they signed off. But that was the only report in the works that was reprinted that I know of.
But the demand was still there after 2500 copies?
Yes. So the report went out of print. But it is now available through the Technical Information Service over here in Virginia.
Was there any attempt made by any members of the Academy to block the distribution or to impede its distribution?
Yes. Yes. About this same time, I was subsequently informed by Stewart Udall who was at that time Secretary of the Interior. Stu Udall told me in about 1976 or '77, when we had lunch together, that Roger Revelle came in to his office with a copy of this Academy report in his hand saying, "We've got to block this with Wiesner," or words to that effect. That was the basis for his then calling in McKelvey to — well, shortly after that, McKelvey was engaged to write a report essentially for Wiesner's office. I didn't know any of this was going on, and the first inkling I had of it was in September.
What was the reason for this report? Why was the separate McKelvey report being prepared?
All right, they said they've got to block this report, this Hubbert report. How to go about it? Well, apparently he colluded with Wiesner and they got McKelvey to write a report for the Wiesner organization.
What was Wiesner's reaction to your work And the other members of PSAC?
I don't know. I'm not even sure Wiesner was present at that review. I don't know. Anyhow, everything was quiet, as far as I was concerned. I thought I had those things here, but maybe I didn't bring them. I'll have to go back and try again, I didn't bring the whole set.
We can come back to it at a later point.
Anyhow, about the first of September, or sometime in September 1963, I received a letter from Tom Nolan, director of the Geological Survey, apologizing to me for an article that had just appeared in the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL which was attributed to the US Geological Survey. At the time that I received this letter, I hadn't even read the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL and hadn't seen the article referred to. What the article was headlined, "USGS Argues US Oil Placed at 600 Billion Barrels or So." That article was couched essentially in terms of USGS versus Hubbert. No authorship was cited to the article. Nolan was incensed by it and said it was written by Vince McKelvey who was on some kind of assignment over to Wiesner's office, and that it was not an official Geological Survey report.
So this report coming out of Wiesner's office was the one that appeared in OIL AND GAS JOURNAL?
Correct. I tried to get a copy of this report. I called John Coleman and he in turn called Wiesner's office. He said all hell had broken loose and that they couldn't release any more of them. But Tom Nolan told me that he had talked with somebody who'd seen a copy in [unclear] office in Dallas, and two years later, I was told by an official of Phillips Petroleum Company that they had a copy and they'd give me a copy, which they did. Here it is. It's my only copy of this report.
This is the one that was prepared by McKelvey?
That was the report by McKelvey and was the one that was summarized in the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL. That article is in two parts, first for US, second was international, the world.
Right. It begins with a covering page dated May 31st, 1963 a contribution by the US Geological Survey to Part 1. And goes on from there. Again, perhaps we can include a copy of a few pages as part of the record.
The main thing is that this is attributed to the Geological Survey and there's no authorship. Tom Nolan said it was written by Vince McKelvey, who was on loan over to Wiesner's office. In 1976, we were having lunch together, and I asked him, "Tom, do you remember the circumstances of Vince McKelvey's doing this thing at that time. Whose initiative was it, was it the Survey's or was it McKelvey's or was it somebody else?" Tom said to the best of his memory it was Roger Revelle and Wiesner. And that tied in with the story I got from Udall, that Roger Revelle came to Udall and said we've got to block this with Wiesner. So apparently they got McKelvey in for the job of blocking it. That was why this article came to be written. All hell broke loose when Tom Nolan read it in the OIL AND GAS JOURNAL, and when I tried to get a copy, I couldn't get one. But I did get one two years later from the Phillips Petroleum Company in Oklahoma.
From what you know of the events that occurred, what do you feel were some of the reasons why Wiesner and Revelle felt so concerned by the results that you included in the report?
Well, Revelle in particular knew a little bit about oil but not much, Bronk knew nothing. But they were all of the psychology of the bigger the better, and anybody that throws water on this beautiful situation is immediately suspect. So their reaction is to "see if we can block it." I think I told you, in 1973 or 4, I believe it was, I was on that nine weeks lecture tour for AAPG. One part of that involved…no, maybe…I was talking to the monthly forum of the Academy, on this oil and gas situation. A little before this, I was on that AAPG lecture tour, but this was just the interim of two or three weeks between, three weeks now and three weeks later. I had a letter from the then president of the Academy, Handler, inviting me as a discussant at a conference that the Academy had worked up on energy resources. I looked at the list of speakers they had. In my opinion they were all second class. There wasn't a first class one on the roster, and didn't want to have anything to do with it, least of all as a second degree person. Also I thought it coincided with this speaking date I had at the Academy. I was off by a day but I thought at the time it was a direct conflict. So I wrote back to Handler that I couldn't come because I was speaking on this same subject at the Cosmos Club on that date, at the luncheon. (off tape) A few months after that, I was in the Cosmos Club one evening. I met a friend, and he said, "Have you seen Handler's talk that he gave out in Virginia last week or the week before?" No, I hadn't heard of it. So I called Handler's office to see if I could get a copy, and they sent me one. Well, it was some kind of foundation that he talked to. I can't remember the name of it now. And I read it over, and he quoted me at great length and in detail and accurately, on various aspects of the oil and gas situation, and also some financial problems, the growth in the interest rate and so on. Well, I couldn't conceive of where he got this information, because the information on the economic problems was contained in the report that I'd prepared for the Udall Committee, Mo Udall's committee in Congress in 1974 or so. I couldn't imagine when these things come out by the ream, as they do, his having found that particular article to read. So I saw him not long after that, maybe at time of the annual meeting of the Academy, which would have been the end of April, about. I asked where and how he had gotten all that information. He said he was present at the lecture I gave at the Cosmos Club. I didn't know he was there.
Not only that, but he added that this so changed the picture that he had been given of this thing, he had heard scuttlebutt all around the Academy no doubt over this situation, which was misleading and misinformative, that he had called up the files of that committee and read them.
The private files of the committee?
The committee files, in dead storage. The Academy files of this Academy committee. He had learned that Det Bronk had tried to suppress this report.
That's an interesting revelation.
Yes. To him, it was dishonorable.
Did he mention any other details of what he had learned?
No, but that's what he had learned and it had completely changed his outlook on the whole situation. Because he had heard the in-house scuttlebutt, which was largely negative. What time is it?
We've been talking over three hours.
OK. Let's quit.
OK. May I ask one more question?
Did you have a feeling that many other members of the Academy shared Bronk's vision of wanting things to grow larger, to expand? Was that a general feeling that you picked up in the Academy?
Well, probably it might be, but doesn't follow that it warped people's judgment too much. For example, this Forum first started in the late sixties, probably, and I was propositioned about talking in this Forum. It was new at the time and they wanted to have two or three people on every program. Well, hell, it doesn't give anybody any time to do anything, and I objected. I said I would be interested, but I wouldn't be interested in talking 15 or 20 minutes.
And we argued it back and forth for a while, and they finally compromised on this. I proposed that the head scientists of the AEC handle nuclear energy and I'd handle fossil fuels and we would cooperate in putting on this show, which we did.
When was this?
About 1969 or so. I can look in the file here and tell you in just a minute.
Well, we can check.
All right. It was a great success. And about two years later, they came back wanting me to give a repeat or an update. I told them again, I said, "Look, this is a big subject, and I'll only do it provided that I'm given the whole program." Well, they agreed to that, and then they reneged on it by trying to get somebody else in as a discusser. Well, I pretty much ignored him and went ahead and made my speech. Anyhow, they had a definite deadline, a cutoff, I mean a time they began hearing you, quit at 1:30 or something of the sort. Then they adjourned unless people wanted to stay over for the discussion. That was a full house, and when they called time, I got permission to continue. I continued another half hour, and the man in charge of this said it was the biggest and finest meeting he'd ever had, it was a record.
And that was about 1973.
We might get back to some of those events in the next interview session that we have. We'll certainly continue on with the energy work that you did. Let me thank you very much for today.
Well, all right.