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Interview of M. King Hubbert by Ronald Doel on 1989 February 6, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5031-9
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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.
We're continuing discussion of your work involving oil and gas reserves. You mentioned that there was additional material that you wanted to discuss in connection with E. L. Moore.
The particular thing that we have not discussed heretofore is actually the work of the National Petroleum Council, a primary consideration. The National Petroleum Council was set up shortly after World War II. It came about when there was a discussion between the petroleum industry and the Department of Interior over the fact that during the war very good cooperative work was done with the petroleum administration and the war between the industry and the government, working with the Department of Interior.
Right. You hadn't been involved in any of that work, had you?
No. So the question was raised as to whether that type of cooperation should not be continued under a new name and new management, so to speak, essentially a continuation of the very useful work that had been done during the war.
The upshot of this was that it was agreed that the petroleum industry would establish an advisory body called the National Petroleum Council which was made up principally of officials of the major oil companies. Working in liaison with the Interior Department. I don't know whether this was established at this time, but the Interior Department set up an Office of Oil and Gas which operated right under the Assistant Secretary's direction and administration. Now, that group in the Interior Department, with the Interior Department's offices and numbers so to speak, was the National Petroleum Council. The National Petroleum Council had been reasonably — oh yes, administratively it was agreed that the National Petroleum Council would only carry out studies at the request of the Secretary of the Interior.
That's interesting. So it was not an annual report or anything of that kind?
No. The Secretary of the Interior would ask them to make a study, and if they agreed after a certain amount of discussion, they would carry out the study. Now, this sounds very innocuous, but of course the National Petroleum Council could suggest to the Secretary of the Interior something they would like to do.
Now, I first came in contact with this group in person when the Interior Department's representative, who was this man by the name of Charles L. Moore. He was in the Office of Oil and Gas, Department of the Interior, when I was working on the Academy report.
OK, this is now 1962?
1961. I called on Charles L. Moore to get useful information that I might be able to use in this energy report. It was the first time I met him. He was a courteous gentleman, about 60 years old or so or maybe a little older. In his sixties, I would say.
What kind of training did he have?
I don't know. I had never heard of the man before. But anyhow, he was the representative of the Interior Department to the National Petroleum Council, and they worked jointly together on projects. Moore at that time had just written and had reproduced a report. I think this is correct title: Method for Evaluating US Crude Oil Resources and Projecting Domestic Crude Oil Availability, dated May, 1962.
Right. This was an internally distributed report?
Yes. I was given a copy, and it had printed on the title "Not for Attribution" or something of this sort. You could use it for information, but you couldn't distribute it to anybody.
Well, I studied that report at the time, and it was somewhat confusingly written. But the central mathematical scheme seemed to be the Gompertz equation, of which Moore seemed to be particularly enamored. I don't remember the text; I do have a copy of this somewhere but I'm not sure — it may be in this book. [Reaches for book]. It might be. Here it is, I do have it.
OK, this is titled, METHOD FOR EVALUATING US CRUDE OIL RESERVES AND PROJECTING DOMESTIC CRUDE OIL AVAILABILITY.
By the United States Department of Interior, Office of Oil and Gas. The date is May, 1962, and the author is C.L. Moore. Well, I studied this. And I concluded that there was very little correlation between the factual data and the theoretical structures.
What methodology was he attempting to use? Was it historical methods in part?
Yes, but the theoretical thing that he had tied into was this thing called Gompertz equation. Now, he didn't have that in his first report. He had it in all succeeding reports and I believe it's in this one too.
Anyhow, in his own figures, there was very very little reliable correlation between the data and his theoretical curves.
What kinds of estimates was he reaching by his curves?
He was trying to project the future of US crude oil production.
What kind of curve did he get then using this?
Well, I can't answer that. The report is confidential, things in it. But anyhow, I studied the report. I concluded that there was very little correlation between the data and his theoretical structure and analysis, his attempt to analyze it. As I say, I think he used a Gompertz curve as a theoretical base in this, but in all subsequent reports, he had a fixation on this Gompertz equation. Well, the Gompertz equation is an equation of the cumulative, say, oil production versus time. Now it has a mathematical property. We can forget the secondary details. That mathematical property is the inflection point. The cumulative production at the time of inflection is E times the cumulative production at the point of inflection. And he has the numerical value of 2.718 etc. Almost 3. Well, all one has to do if you're using that equation is look at your data and find out where the point of inflection and cumulative curve is for the peak of production, in the production per unit of time. So then if you have the peak of production, then all you do is multiply that by 2.7, say, to get the estimated of the ultimate. Well, at that time the peak of production had not occurred. And neither had the inflection point. But in subsequent reports, he went particularly into detail mathematically and so on, on this method of analysis, in the report of 1966; in fact in two reports. Well, one is 1965, "Analysis and Projection of the Historical Pattern of Supply of Exhaustible Natural Resources." April 15, 1965.
Another is a year later, "Analysis and Projection of the Historical Patterns of US Domestic Supply of Crude Oil, Natural Gas and Natural Gas Liquids," May, 1966. Now, let me just scan in to refresh myself on these papers. I haven't had time to do more than scan them. But one figure that was conspicuous was the estimate of the ultimate production of crude oil, and that was 552 billion barrels. It's a little bit less than McKelvey's 590 billion barrel figure.
So it was a method of analysis that had consistently given wrong results, on the higher side. And part of that was a fixation that the data had to follow this Gompertz curve. Well, they don't have to do anything of the sort. This is what the Gompertz curve looks like. Here it is. Here is the rising curve and here's the inflection point and here's the derivative curve which is asymmetrical. Production. It drags off three times as long, slowly, on the post-peak, on the declining side, as on the rising side. This is what I mean. If you can estimate this date and magnitude and year, and then, to get the ultimate, you have to multiply by E, for your cumulative. The equation is simply geared to give you this nearly three times multiplication. In that manner he gets this figure of 500 and something billion barrels for the crude oil, whereas if you hadn't used the multiplication factor, you would have been back at a more reasonable figure.
So the problem was primarily one of attempting to fit the data curve?
Yes, on this Gompertz equation. And everything he did thereafter, and I think in this first report too, was all based on the assumption that the oil and gas production had to follow this curve.
When did Gompertz develop that formulation?
Oh, way back in the early 1800s. He mentions the date in here.
We can check on that. I was curious roughly when it was.
I'll find out in just a minute. I see here he got for natural gas a figure of production is 2405 trillion cubic feet, just a shade less than the USGS figure 2730. Or 2630 I believe was their figure. And oil was 553. Just a shade less than 590, the USGS. He's got a section here on the mathematical analysis for the Gompertz equation, and statement of the background history.
Were any others using the Gompertz equation as well?
No, not that I know of. It's one of these things that shows up in economics textbooks and so on.
Gompertz. 1779 to 1865, was an English mathematician, Fellow of the Royal Society and President of the Mathematical Society of London, author of several mathematical and philosophical tracts, known primarily for his Law of Human Mortality and his derivation of the Gompertz equation. And apparently published in the TRANSACTIONS of the Royal Society of London, 1820-25. That's page 59 of the 1966 paper.
So, he doggedly persisted in this kind of thing during the 1960's. He retired from this job for the Interior Department a little bit after this, sometime in the second half of the 1960 decade. Then after retirement, some seven or eight years after retirement, he wrote another paper updating his previous work, using the Gompertz equation and its application to US oil and gas. Who he sent that to, I don't know. He sent a copy of the manuscript to the Geological Survey for comment. Several people looked it over and they all condemned it as being utterly invalid as far as US oil and gas was concerned.
Even those in the Survey who had reached their own similar conclusions?
Well, they read the manuscript and so reported, and there were more than one. Several people who reviewed this manuscript simply responses — I think his question was, should he publish it? And their reply was, No. So that was the last of C. L. Moore that I know of. But let's come back now to the last Petroleum Council. He was the representative of the Interior Department, the Office of Oil and Gas, to this National Petroleum Council. The National Petroleum Council had been reasonably moribund. They had a kind of a generalized report in 1953 that among other things, gave this anonymous figure that was later used by Zapp on the amount of exploratory drilling that had been done up to that time. But they also gave some rather wild comments. I don't remember the details but I know that my reaction was pretty strongly negative when I read this report in 1953, on oil and gas. But they were pretty inactive.
They weren't producing more than a report every few years?
Oh no, nothing like. The last report I can remember at that time was the 1953 one. But anyhow, things were beginning to close in in the late 1960's, approaching the 1970 period, when it began to be evident to the petroleum industry and the Department of Interior that something was wrong with the oil and gas situation. And so the committee was spurred into a period of rather almost frenzied activity. In response to a request from the Secretary of the Interior, they undertook a series of reports. I don't remember the title. I have the reports somewhere but I haven't seen them. I am quoting from memory, but what it really amounted to was that there were several separate reports and they had task forces doing these separate reports. But what I mostly remember was that whole series was special pleading for the government to bail out the petroleum industry. The argument was essentially this: give us the incentive (spelled with a dollar sign) and we'll find you all the oil you want. That was the thesis underrunning this whole series of reports. What were the specific recommendations? Well, there were several. And one of them was to keep out foreign imports. At the time we were importing about a third as much oil as we were producing or something of the sort, I forget the exact figures. If we had cut out foreign imports, we could have shut the country down. Mind you, this is just a little bit before the Arab embargo.
Right. Of course that had been steadily increasing since the end of the Second World War.
But there it was "give us tax breaks, give us depletion allowance". Or restore it. I think it had been withdrawn by Congress. "Please give it back." But the whole thing was special pleading, that if the government will only discontinue its stupidity and turn it over to us, and give us financial incentives, we'll find you the oil.
This was generally the position of all the oil companies involved?
It was the position, the propaganda position, of the National Petroleum Council.
Not very long after that, this cartoonist from the Denver paper, POST, I believe, I'm not sure, or ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, I guess, tied onto that propaganda campaign with this cartoon on my mantel piece. You might go and take a look at it right now.
Let me bring that down. This is the original?
Yes, that's the original, autographed by the cartoonist.
This is by Ed Stine in the ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS.
Right. This is a picture, and one can say that it represented a date of about 1880 or so. On the horizon in the background is a range of the Rocky Mountains. In the drawing, there's an old-time buffalo hunter with his gun and his buckskin. Standing beside him is a hungry Indian, and he's telling the Indian, he says, "Buffalo shortage? What buffalo shortage? Just give me more money for guns, scouts and guns, and I'll get you all the buffalo you need."
That's a very good parallel.
That's a perfect paraphrase of what the oil industry was trying to put over at that time, and this man nailed them with it. [Laughter].
Somebody in the Geological Survey in Denver sent a copy of this cartoon to us in Washington. The next time I was in Denver, I called Stine and said, "I want the original of that cartoon." I was ready to buy it from him. He gave it to me, autographed.
I've been using it ever since. Some years ago, I got a copy of a news account—some address given to somebody by Cecil Andrus, present governor of Idaho but former Secretary of the Interior, and he cited this cartoon.
Is that so?
As illustrative of the situation. OK. So, that little flurry — and that was, let's see, I think I have some specific…in my Senate report of 1974. Yes, I have a section called "Estimates of the National Petroleum Council." It's my Senate report of 1964, page 156. To 170. And I summarize historically this activity.
The work of the National Petroleum Council?
Yes, the National Petroleum Council.
Had the main arguments of their earlier reports also been to restrict imports of oil?
— yes, these are the ones that I'm talking about. On page 166-67, I discuss the implications of policy recommendations of the National Petroleum Council.
I don't want to interrupt you in reviewing that, but I'm curious what the general reaction was among your own colleagues to this report?
As far as the Geological Survey was concerned, I presume they approved of it.
They had this series I mentioned, under the general heading of US Energy Outlook: An Internal Appraisal for 1971-75, and the task group reports, interim report, and December, 1972. [Reads aloud] The US energy outlook summary report of the National Petroleum Council, finds a guide in the National Petroleum Council report on the United States energy outlook. The energy outlook reports were prepared in response to the President's request of January 21st, 1970, and the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Mineral Resources, to the National Petroleum Council. It asked the latter to broaden the scope of its studies to include all energy resources, particularly to appraise the impact of various impending policy changes on the future availability of petroleum supplies in the United States. The first of these reports, issued July 15, 1971, consisted principally of a scenario of the dire consequences which would be likely to follow during the next 15 years if the US government were to continue the course it was following in 1971. In the summary, some of the main points of this report are the following: 1) This would lead to increased US dependence on foreign energy sources, mostly in the form of oil from the Middle East and also an acute shortage of gas. 2) The potential energy resources of the United States would support higher growth rates for domestic supplies than are [now present] — if given adequate economic incentives and careful coordination between the government and industry. 3) Capital requirements to meet US energy needs through 1985 are extremely large and will be difficult to obtain unless general economic climate in energy resource industries is improved.
Well, that's a fairly good summary of that report. There followed immediately after that, a request from the Secretary of the Interior for them to update earlier studies that had been made by the AAPG on future petroleum provinces of the United States. The last one was possible future petroleum provinces of North America, date, 1951. This is where the American Association of Petroleum Geologists had a working committee that made a review of the whole North America, as to areas that hadn't yet been exploited but would be future petroleum producing provinces in the future. All right. The Interior Department, Secretary of the Interior, asked the National Petroleum Council to update this not North America but just the United States. They in turn set up a working committee, a group, and the chairman of that or editor of this report was Ira H. Kram who had recently retired as I think a vice president of Pure Oil Company. He'd been in charge of their exploration for 20 or more years.
Had you been well acquainted with Kram?
I knew him, but not well. OK. This is a two volume work, total cumulative pages — volume 1 is over 800 pages, and volume 2 — the paging is continuous through both volumes, to an ultimate paging 1496. Now, Kram wrote an introduction to this whole series. He was the editor of the works. What they did was, they approached the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and with an outline of what they wanted done. They divided the country into regional provinces which was geologically more or less a unit like the Gulf Coast region and all up and down the Gulf Coast, Louisiana and Texas and so on. They also got into the mountain basins and so on.
Here are the regions. Regions 1) of Alaska and Hawaii, Region 2) Pacific coastal states, 3) western Rocky Mountains, 4) northern Rocky Mountains, 5) West Texas and Mexico, 6) Western Gulf Basin, 7) mid-continent, 8) Michigan basin, 9) Eastern interior, 10) Appalachians, 11) Eastern Gulf and Atlantic Coast. Now, Kram wrote an introduction to this. Then there was also an appendix of an analysis by Charles L. Moore. OK. Altogether Kram's report was 35 pages and Moore continued on to page 50. Kram described and gave an outline — what he was saying was set up at each one of these units, he went on to three or so authors, well informed experienced oil geologists in those areas. There was one man in charge and one or two additional members of the regional committee.
These people who were writing the report were primarily being drawn from the oil companies?
Oh yes. Oil industry. Not entirely. Here's Alaska, George Ritz was in the Geological Survey. But they were mostly oil geologists associated with the oil industry. Here's another USGS man from Alaska. In fact, all these are in Alaska, that particular section, Region 1. Region 2 which is the Pacific Coast and western continental shelf, the authors here of separate papers, I don't know, there's something like a dozen separate papers here and some of them have as many as three or four authors.
So that illustrates the manner in which this was carried out, with the outline of what they wanted done. Here's a map showing the various areas, more or less prescribed an outline of how each study would be organized and reported. Here's a summary of each of these areas, and who the authors were.
Say for the Gulf Coast region, were your former colleagues in Shell particularly involved in it?
I don't know. I'd have to look through this, and pick them out.
By that point, you really didn't have much contact with the former colleagues that you had in Shell, did you? In the late nineteen sixties, early seventies.
I'd retired from Shell and was with the US Geological Survey.
Right. But you didn't keep up contact very much with them?
No, once I retired I cut communications, outside of purely personal exchanges. Kramm gives an outline that the authors were to follow. Here, in their various regions, so that they all followed more or less the same prescribed outline. I don't see it, but from memory essentially it was that first they reviewed the entire history of the area, the petroleum, from the initial discovery up to the present. They reviewed the geology of the area, and they would distinguish or estimate the fraction of the area that had been pretty thoroughly explored and drilled, and the fraction that had not. Then they'd estimate the amount of oil that ultimately would be produced in the area. Well, as George Gritz, the man from Alaska, commented to me, when I was talking to him about this, said, "Well, what we're really asked to do is to follow the Zapp hypothesis. Put it in terms of here's this area, now we've developed say 20 percent of it, you've got 80 percent here that's relatively undrilled. Now, tell us how much oil you're going to find in this undrilled part."
Right. The equivalent of discovery per drill feet.
Well, one author I remember, with regard to the Atlantic Coast, Florida and north, he was a geologist from oh, one of the major oil companies. I forget which one now. He worked in the Gulf Coast for his company, but he was in charge of this study of the Eastern Seaboard. When he got all through he said, "Well, now, essentially the theoretical figures on this would be so and so, but my own best estimate is a much smaller figure." They got the same thing out of one of the Rocky Mountain basins in Wyoming, and had the same kind of thing, where the principal author of this study, the man in charge of the study, said substantially the same thing…[Telephone interruption]. He was a very prominent person in the petroleum industry at that time.
Right, we're talking about Morgan Davis.
Especially with regard to questions of this sort. OK. I was remarking that there's a set of instructions, where to carry out each one of these studies in this prescribed manner. The critical part of it, when they get all through, on the basis of comparison between the part that had been drilled out fairly well and the fraction that hadn't been, was to estimate the ultimate and the implied estimation…the thing I was looking for a while ago and didn't find is in Appendix E of the Kram report, page 49. Here's the outline of the instructions. The last part of this, "quantitative aspects of present study only where feasible or deemed possible by contributors, takings of sediments, percentage of reservoir rocks, percentage of favorable samples in rocks, volume of sediments, explored and/or productive, and, b. unexplored, and calculation of hydrocarbons in place, estimate of ranges of such items in the place where feasible." That was what I was looking for and didn't find. What I am now looking for is authors on the side of the U.S. — Here is John Raus Mobile, and he had three authors under him.
I think that's going to be in Volume 2.
I suspect that is the case. Yes, Volume 2, the last, Volume 2.
OK. Looking through Illinois, Maryland, Kentucky, Lincoln Page of New England, and here it is, John T. Raus.
He's got his conclusions here. [Reads]: "From this brief geological resume, it is apparent that it is hard to find a seaboard or offshore producing area comparable to the Atlantic province. Part of this lack of resemblance to producing seaboard and offshore areas may be due to lack of information, especially offshore. Nevertheless we cannot recognize many of the features that are common to onshore and offshore oil and gas production in areas such as the Gulf Coast or California. There's a general absence of evidence of rapid deposition or rapid buildup of great quantities of sediments, as well as an absence of growth in contemporaneous faults of type 1 structural stratographic types that are prolific in the Gulf Coast where oil and gas production comes. There is little evidence of Mesozoic or tectonic activity that would form structures of the type that produce in California. Among the favorable evidence is the fact that sedimentary rocks of the Atlantic Coast are deposited mainly in transition or shallow marine environment that offer a favorable mix of petroleum reservoir source beds." Let's see if I can get down there. "The lower Cretaceous sedimentary beds are thought to offer the best possibility for future production. However, in attempting to estimate possible future recovery of hydrocarbons in this province, the authors considered all possible producing units in a province that has produced only 15 million barrels of oil and has only a limited number of wells, onshore and offshore, in the Atlantic. Estimates of future reserves must be highly speculative."
That is in italics in the original. Right.
That's interesting. Raus then, was particularly critical. You knew him fairly well from Shell?
I knew him from the time he was a student at Columbia.
OK. Had he talked to you about the report when it was being written?
Oh no. No. Nobody talked about it. Now, the estimates of potentially recoverable hydrocarbons in the coastal plains, continental shelf and continental slope from Canada to Georgia are 13.3 billion barrels of oil and natural gas liquids and 74.0 trillion feet of gas. It should be emphasized that these figures for a province for new production in offshore oil wells are highly speculative. When they got all through — summarized by Kram in his introduction — I think they come up with around 390 billion barrels.
Which isn't too far from what Zapp had originally estimated.
It's 432. "This study of the conterminous United States including 397, Alaska 35, total US 432." So they came down to about two-thirds of the USGS figure, and that's based on 50 percent recovery. Some 50 percent recovery.
The USGS was assuming up to 75 percent recovery?
Well, McKelvey just flat out, out of the blue sky, gave his opinion that it would be 75 to 85. Where did he get that? Out of his intestines, I think. Now, OK, these two volumes were of mixed merit. In terms of their review of the data of the areas, the history, and the petroleum development up to that date, they were one of the finest sources. I mean, it's complete for the whole area and one of the finest sources of all oil wells. Nothing like that was in existence in print otherwise. But when it gets to the estimating, they amount to the instructions of the committee and are utterly unreliable. So that's what that all added up to. Now, the date of these volumes was early 1971.
So they're being compiled after a request made in the late 1960's. Was that a request, by the way, that had come from the Interior Department, or was it one that had been funneled to Interior from the oil producers? Do you have any sense of that?
Yes, on the board, this committee, the Federal council only carries out at the request of the Secretary of the Interior. All I'm saying is that in the negotiations at the beginning of that, that they could very well perhaps suggest to the Secretary what they would like to do. He agrees and then requests that they do it. That kind of thing is misleading in its appearance, as to what it appears to be and what it actually is. Now, these are very important developments, right up to the time of 1971, and it's a parallel development to what was going on in the Geological Survey. In 1971, McKelvey became the director. He was immediately in hot water because it was 1970 when the production peaked, and natural gas had this setback in 1967 or '68, 1967 I believe. There was about 5 trillion cubic feet in crude reserves, next year 10 or 12, the next year 10 or 12, and so on. This alerted the government that something was wrong in the USGS estimate.
There weren't any serious doubts about what the reduction in those reserves meant? That data wasn't contested?
Well, it just suggested that things were not going according to plan, according to what they had been led to expect. In the meantime, I was working on this report here. This was at the request of the Senate committee. I was doing it on a very careful guard as far as its contents until the report would be released by the Senate. So in typing it, at first I had no secretary. But even when I got one, my wife still typed this report at home. I didn't want any copies in the office. On the other hand, I had this technical assistant, a graduate student from American University in mathematics, Jerome Keravanich. He was doing a great deal of the work on the statistical data, in parallel with my writing. Then the Survey drafting department drafted the figures. So this was submitted then as Part 1. Part 2 was going to be other sources of energy other than oil and gas. I ran out of time and Part 2 never did get done.
You were also going to author the second part?
Oh yes. I was authoring the whole works, but I never got Part 2 finished. The time was running out as far as the committee was concerned, because they requested this study in 1971 and it was getting on up to 1973 or so, and there had been a delay where we went through several months of foot-dragging on the part of the Geological Survey trying to sabotage my study. It had to be broken up forcefully by the staff of the committee, the chief of staff. And several letters I understand were exchanged between the chairman of the committee and the Geological Survey before this thing was broken up. McKelvey knew this report was coming out, but he didn't know what was going to be in it and he was very apprehensive.
Did he try to find out from you?
No. No, if he did, he didn't succeed. Anyhow, in 1974, I think it was, in the spring or February of that year, he was called on by the chairman of the committee to testify before the committee on the Geological Survey work. For the first time, instead of just giving a bald string of figures, he hedged his figures on a two-fold basis, a high and a low, with the low being 50 percent of the high. He had his high about where he had been before, and the low somewhere less than that. The low was there because he was frankly scared. There was another thing that was developing. It was around 1972 when they had this internal reorganization in the Survey. I do not now remember what they called these things, but there was a unit that dealt with energy and another unit that dealt with the non-energy minerals and another that dealt with something else. In the petroleum they had brought in Fay McCullough from the West Coast to kind of supervise this reorganization and outline their plans of procedure. Admittedly, he was here only temporarily and after a couple or three years he left and went to the West Coast again. But –- now — here was a report of 1975, given by Peter Rose who was in charge of the oil and gas work of this new organization, at the first IIASA Conference on Energy Resources in this Luxembourg center that I mentioned previously. This was called International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Luxembourg, Austria. They abbreviated it as IIASA, pronounced it Yasa. So they had this conference in 1975. Well, wait a minute. That's running ahead. I just wanted to look up here because there's some history that I've forgotten. This was a report given by Peter Rose at the time…see if I can find it. The Resource Appraisal Group, which is the group that made this update on the oil and gas.
Within the Survey?
In the US Geological Survey. It was created in 1974 as a permanent organization having three responsibilities: a) research in resource appraisal, methodology; b) application of appropriate methods to a continuing assessment of petroleum resources of the United States and the world; and c) publication of results for government and public use. Its first major assignment, completed in May, 1975, was to produce a documented assessment of remaining onshore and offshore oil and gas resources in the United States. That was the first report. This study was jointly carried out by Harry Thompson, who was recently retired from Shell. He'd had 15 years or so experience in Shell headquarters in New York. Before that had been a seismic operator, in the field and also Betty Miller, who had been in this kind of study for Sun Oil Company before she joined the Geological Survey.
Tom Hendricks also became a member, didn't he?
No. Well, Tom Hendricks was associated with this, but he already was with the Survey and was kind of a viceroy in the Denver area, to the director. He was kind of the sub-director in the Denver area.
OK. Did you know these people fairly well?
Well, I never knew Betty Miller before, but I'd known Harry Thompson for years. He called it RAG. RAG is First US Petroleum Resources Appraisal, based primarily on the geologic method. But the Survey also employed volumetric procedures, both in frontier basins and as comparative guidelines in some developed basins. In addition, the study utilized the statistic method for expressing resource productions through probability curves rather than single numbers, using Monte Carlo and modified Delphi techniques for combining data. Here's another bit of history. For a period of about 15 years programs in petroleum geology received little emphasis within the US Geological Survey. A staff of petroleum specialists who formed the branch of Oil and Gas Resources was established in August, 1972. Activities in the field of oil and gas resources assessments by members and affiliates of the new branch began immediately.
A resource appraisal by W.W. Mallory and others issued as a US Department of Interior press release in March, 1974, revised previous estimates of oil and gas resources downward, and expressed them as ranges to convey the uncertainties involved. Just prior to the press release in March, 1974, the Resource Appraisal Group, RAG, was organized under the direction of Harry L. Thompson — Betty Miller is not mentioned at this stage—as one of the major petroleums within the oil and gas branch, with the scientific responsibilities for the research and development of programs, research to develop appropriate methodology for resource assessment, the application of these methods to continue assessment of US and international petroleum resources, and oversee publication of results for government and public use. The Resource and Appraisal Group consisted of approximately twelve experienced petroleum geologists and a support staff of about six. It was asked in September, 1974, by the Federal Energy Administration, FEA, to conduct an appraisal of remaining recoverable oil and gas resources in the United States, both onshore and offshore, to be completed in May, 1975. Now, that was a contractual arrangement. The US Geological Survey contracted to do this job for the Federal Energy Administration. That's an important point. So this work then was instituted almost immediately, after September, 1974, under Harry Thompson. The Resource Appraisal Group utilized about 70 US Geological Survey geologists and geophysicists, each expert in pursuing offshore and onshore provinces to collect critical data bearing on oil and gas resources potential of all petroleum provinces in the United States. These geologists were provided with standardized data format sheet developed by Betty M. Miller which relates to data for critical oil and gas. All right. That gives us a little bit of the background of this study.
How much contact did you have with the group when it was forming? You were in the Survey at the time.
None whatever. None whatever at the time it was formed. My first contact with them was later on when I made a trip to Denver, and when they were wanting me to undertake a study of the effects of these nuclear explosions in the so-called tight gas bodies out in Colorado. And at that conference, which was about two days, was the first time I met Betty Miller. But in that, I presented this oil found per foot study, and pointed out that on the basis of this information, we just simply couldn't have these high figures that we'd been dealing with. With regard to the nuclear thing, Frank Stead whom I mentioned the last time, I think —
He had been on assignment with the AEC with regard to these underground tests, and he gave a very good summary of what goes on in one of those things. Rocks are essentially liquefied momentarily from this explosion, and then they practically fuse when it goes down again, and that carries some distance away from the shot. His main point was that it was almost hopeless to expect any improvement in getting the gas out of the ground following this kind of treatment. The statistical evidence indicated that was so. They didn't get any of these tremendous amounts of gas that they had been predicting.
As a result of the atomic tests?
That pretty much. There wasn't anything that I could possibly add to what Frank Stead said, after years of direct personal experience of this thing. He gave an excellent summary, so if they wanted that information, they had it right now. So that got me off that hook. So, first, I'd been transferred over to this oil and gas unit. And then they began to put heat on me. Well, the first thing was this atomic energy thing. They were trying to get me out of oil and gas. And at the same time — it was when I'd just hired David Root, and we were both there at the Denver meeting. The head of this group was Peter Rose, whom they'd hired from Shell, a young geologist about, oh, 35 or 40 years old, and he'd got into this thing with great enthusiasm. He's the author of this paper I have in front of me right now. And they'd gone into this thing with, oh, spirits high; they were going to do a very marvelous study, and were apparently, kind of up in the stratosphere as to what the results were going to be. Well, I extricated myself from that situation. Then they were going to take David Root away from me. I'd just hired him, as my assistant for this.
What reason you were given?
Well, they were trying to sabotage anything that had to do with my report on oil and gas. In fact it was Peter Rose who told me this later on.
Is that so?
That he had his instructions. He had instructions to get me out of oil and gas.
That's very interesting.
Yes. And he tried to do it. But when I refused to go along, and when the higher authority backed down, then that cleared the air and I went on with my own business. And David Root stayed with me where he belonged. Anyhow, just prior to this meeting, they had finished a study, and they'd written their report which was a USGS information circular.
Circular 725, the geological estimates, or is it prior to this one? The rather well-known one by Betty Miller.
Yes, Betty Miller.
"Geological Estimates of Undiscovered and Recoverable Oil and Gas Resources in the United States." That was Circular 725. Was this also the one that had brought the estimates down from previous estimates?
No, that was slightly later. That was 1974.
Another thing that happened about that time. When McKelvey gave this presentation to the committee in the spring or winter of '74 — I seem to recall it was something like February — a news release was put out by the Survey in which these summary figures were contained in that table. In response to that, the vice president for exploration of Mobil in New York wrote a very hot letter to the Geological Survey challenging those figures.
Feeling they were excessively high?
Yes, and pointing out that his staff had made a comparable review only shortly before, and some of the figures in the McKelvey statement for future discoveries were ten times higher than any figures that Mobil could justify. He sent copies of that letter to practically everybody in town of any consequence in the government. So there was no burying it under a rug. So about the same time, maybe partly in consequence of this Mobil letter, the National Academy of Sciences set up another committee to review energy resources. This committee unfortunately did not do any original work of consequence. They mostly did a subjective evaluation of other people's work.
Who was on this committee?
Oh God, I don't remember them all.
Were you one of the members?
No, I was not a member. This was a committee set up in 1974 or so. Anyhow, they came up with a figure that was higher than my figures but lower than the USGS's. But the Mobil letter stirred up such a ruckus that this committee called a special meeting, whether it was one day or two days, in which they invited in representatives of the petroleum industry, the various oil companies. I was invited, and McKelvey was invited, and he in turn brought in some of his supporters, including this guy Mallory. So it was a pretty hot one day session. And McKelvey was very much on the defensive, but he did say over again that their estimates had been based on the premise or the assumption that the amount of oil to be found in future exploration would be between one and one-half and one of the unit of area as to what had been found in the preceding century. Well, that's one hypothesis. Hendricks had cut down somewhat. So he's stated that that had been the nature of their premises. Well, the petroleum people thought that the figure was closer to one-tenth. Following that meeting, I gave a brief summary of my work. Later I took the oil found per foot and made an analysis of it, and showed that it would be close to one-tenth. And I submitted that to the committee. They published it as an appendix, but it didn't show up in the main report. It was printed separately from the main report. Maybe the main report was already in the mill or something, I don't know why, but they did issue my analysis of oil found per foot in terms of its implications on the future, as compared with the past, as a supplement to that report. And I presented this same kind of analysis to the group, to Betty Miller and so on, in Denver. It had a considerable influence on the thinking of both the Academy and the Betty Miller people.
That's interesting. Do you remember any discussions that occurred at that time? At either of the meetings?
Well, when we started off, I remember Betty Miller was being very critical. But she calmed down after a bit. All right. Later they do their study in 1974, and their report is out in 1975. I was leaving about the 1st of June 1975 for this conference in IIASA, and two or three other things in Europe. So I was just about to catch a plane late that afternoon, or head for Dulles Airport, and I got word from Pete Rose wanting me to attend a conference about 4 o'clock, on reviewing the Betty Miller-Thompson report. Well, I couldn't do it. I was just about to take off by plane. So I missed the boat on that, but it was very significant that I was specifically invited to attend this conference. Ordinarily I would not have been involved.
Right. That was a surprise.
So over at this IIASA conference, Pete Rose gave a summary, which I've been reading pieces of here, called the "Miller-Thompson Report." One thing that I remember, they outlined their method and their main results, and their probability techniques. One thing that he showed was a figure that was sort of a knockout. And those were estimates, preceding estimates. These are the USGS.
There's quite a wide range.
This was a Humble estimate. This was a Standard Oil figure. This was the NPC range. And here, you see, here's where some of it is coming down. Circular 725 is way down here, and there's Hubbert.
And there's Mobil.
Consistent line all the way across. There's clearly a convergence now at '75.
And they're headed down on their own. I understand that McKelvey didn't like that figure worth a damn when he saw it.
That's quite a remarkable graphic.
I didn't even remember seeing it at the meeting. It only came to my attention later. OK. Now, after I got back from Europe, some time that fall, about October, I had to go to Denver, and I was going to attend some kind of a conference there that nothing to do with the Geological Survey. But routinely I spent a couple of days with the Survey people on the side, although my primary purpose was to attend an unrelated conference. So when I arrived that afternoon or so at the Denver airport, I hadn't thought about making a reservation for a rental car, because it was 15 miles out to the Survey. There was practically no public transportation out there, without any convenience. So I tried to rent a car, and I couldn't get a car at the Denver Airport. So I telephoned out to Miller at the Survey. I think I may have talked to Betty Miller or to Harry Thompson, one or the other, saying here I was at the Denver Airport and I needed to get out to the Survey. Could they arrange to get me transportation? Well, they could and they did, and about 30 minutes later the transportation showed up, Harry Thompson and Betty Miller.
Quite a committee! That's good.
I was just spending the night at the hotel and would not see them the next day. But I remarked somewhat cautiously that I wondered if they had run into administrative opposition. I complimented them on this report, and I wondered if they may have encountered administration opposition in their doing this job. Harry Thompson said, "That's the understatement of the year."
They'd been for the last year besieged by McKelvey and his stooge, the chief geologist and they said that if it hadn't been this contract to the oil and gas people they were doing this job for, the Federal Energy Administration or something —
— that's right — the FEA —
FEA, they said, if it hadn't been for that contract, in fact, the FEA was demanding to get the report, and the report was being held up.
If that hadn't been the case?
The report would probably never have seen the light of day. But even so, after it was in print, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, who was an economist, as I remember, and McKelvey had gone over this thing and had rewritten considerable parts of it, in some cases a deletion, in some cases additions. Betty Miller took my copy of this into her office and sat down and page by page made marginal notations of what had been changed.
Is that so?
And I have that copy somewhere. I thought I could reach in my desk and get it but I didn't see it. It's in some other file.
It would be interesting to see.
But anyhow, not long after that there was a conference out here at the Brookings Institution. They had invited in various people who were dealing with oil and gas estimates, and I was invited to attend this meeting. It was a two days meeting. I only attended the first day and gave a summary of my own studies. Bernardo Grosling who was McKelvey's right hand man, his science advisor, was there. It wasn't until the second day that Betty Miller was giving the report of their work. Vince McKelvey came out — and oh yes, there was a social gathering and drinks and whatnot, cocktail party type thing in the evening. Vince McKelvey hovered within three feet of Betty Miller that entire session, to make sure that she didn't talk to anybody without his surveillance. When she gave her report the following afternoon, I think it was, somebody in the audience — so I was told, I wasn't there the second day. I believe my colleague Earle Cook of the Research Council told me this; he was there. When Betty Miller gave her report, she was complimented by the people present on the work. But somebody said, "Well, now, look, what you've just told us here doesn't seem to agree. It says so and so in the report." She said, "Yes, but I didn't write that." McKelvey was there, and according to Cook, he turned livid, almost.
Because it was one of the things that he'd written into the report. Well, all right, I think the reason Harry Thompson wasn't there…he'd resigned. He had told Dick Sheldon that if they changed that report without the authors' consent, he was quitting. They did change it and he did quit, so Betty Miller was left holding the flag.
I imagine morale within that group must have been extremely low at that point.
It apparently was. Betty Miller was relieved of any major responsibility.
Within a year. I don't even know what she's doing, she's down in the Survey but she's inconspicuous. But before that she was a very conspicuous person. They just practically shelved her. She's working on something but I don't know what. But she's still in the Survey. She told me that during all of her number of years, this kind of work went on, that nobody ever suggested what her conclusions were to be on any subject, and she was just appalled at this performance on the part of the Geological Survey. All right. Pete Rose, in parallel with this, was also getting in hot water with the Survey. As I told you, McKelvey didn't like that figure. And Rose was presenting this report and backing it up, and McKelvey was very unhappy with the report. So that's about the time, 1964, when McKelvey was getting more and more jumpy, on this thing that I gave you the a copy on — this ruckus over my talk at Denver, Colorado, the University of Colorado.
In parallel with this, almost the same time, Pete Rose gave a talk about it in Houston. There was a newspaper clipping on that, and all hell was raised over that in parallel with mine. The thing that I didn't find in the pile — I've got it here — was Pete Rose's comment. He was dealing entirely with Masters who was the head of the oil and gas, maybe the energy division. Pete was the oil and gas person, but Masters was a very strong supporter of Rose, and so their give and take was on the basis of friendship and camaraderie. Masters apparently got hell for the Pete Rose thing and he had to pass it on to Pete Rose, and Pete Rose wrote some comments again on those statements and passed it back. Also with a note that Vince seemed to be getting very jumpy or something of the sort. Well, Pete also quit sometime in the next year or so and went back to the oil industry. So that was all of that.
You mentioned that you have the Pete Rose material?
I have it in my files but I don't find it. I found a clipping. But without the comments. And I have two or three other files here. It's apparently in a different one.
That's fine, I misunderstood that.
Well, I was going to show it to you the last time, and I didn't quite make it.
At the time that Pete Rose and Betty Miller ran into difficulties, what were you hearing from oil company executives or fellow geologists, those who weren't intimately connected with the Survey? What was their perception of the events going on within the Survey at the time?
Why, I think it was one of, what the hell happened to the Geological Survey?
By 1974 or 1975, Bill Pecora was already over in the Department of Interior, wasn't he?
Thomas B. Nolan was director of the Survey after '56 to '65.
To 1965, and then Bill Pecora?
Bill Pecora, USGS, '65 to '71.
And then he became Undersecretary of the Interior on May 6, 1971. He died July 19, '72. Vince McKelvey, assistant chief geologist, 1960-65, chief geologist, 1971, director, 1971-77. I wrote those figures down, because I didn't have them myself and I had to run them down.
You mentioned that Harry Thompson and Betty Miller had told you they had experienced difficulties at the USGS, particularly from McKelvey.
They said it was the understatement of the year.
Yes, and McKelvey had rewritten the report. Were there other instances where this occurred?
Well, all kinds of heat was put on them while they were working on this, trying to get them to increase their figures, which they refused. And this thing was kind of a running dogfight that went on for about a year before their report came out. If it hadn't been for that contract — the report was held up, not being released, until the FEA people said, "When are we going to get this report? It was promised in May, 1965." So they finally got it in June, 1965. But doctored. There were additions and deletions, by McKelvey and the then Assistant Secretary of Interior. And Harry Thompson had said before, "If you change this report without our permission, I quit." And they did change it and he did quit.
How much did the FEA know about what was happening?
I have an idea that they were reasonably well informed. By the grapevine. OK. I had retired from the Survey 1976, September, '76. I believe it was shortly after that that I was invited — well, I was invited by the Committee of the API, the same organization that had invited me to give this paper in '56. They said, "Look, we've had 20 years since that paper. There's a lot of things that have been happening. Why don't you give us a review of what's been going during these last 20 years?" Well, that was the time when I was making this trip to Europe and so on. So I said, well, I couldn't possibly, the meeting was going to be I think in March or so in 1979 and I can't possibly. The best I can give you is an oral presentation with slides." So they agreed to that and I did. I submitted the manuscript and it appeared in the PROCEEDINGS of that meeting, and I gave you a copy of that probably the last time. The data at that time indicated that the crude reserves and discoveries were falling short of my earlier 1972 estimate.
I was forced to cut the figures back a little to about 163 billion barrels. At about the same time, David Rose had made a new study on oil found per foot which was different from mine. I made a run on that with this new method of analysis, and it gives about 170 billion barrels. So that was the last study that I had made until now. I'm working on updating it at the present time. And it appears that my present figures are going to be a little higher than the 1970, possibly 10 percent higher, based on a new method of analysis and of course all the data that have happened subsequently.
You now have another 15 years of solid data.
Yes. Natural gas, on the other hand, I'm estimating practically right on the money what we had before, a figure somewhere around 940 to 950 trillion cubic feet. These are all 48 states' figures. So at present there's general recognition in the country and in the press and so on that we're on our way down in oil. The oil industry is still trying to promote more money, tax breaks, government lack of interference and what not. They're not quite so bold in their claims of what they can do, but it's still a variation of the same theme is going on right now. And in the meantime, the oil and gas is going steadily downward even including Alaska.
But clearly your own analysis gained credence through the recognition of the decline?
Well, only…Not by logic. Only because of the force of circumstances. As I said back in the 1960s, the logic was impeccable, the data, the evidence, in the Academy report. The conclusion was inescapable that we were going to hit the peak about the end of the decade. In a few years, maybe three years. That logic was utterly ineffective, either with the Academy committee or other people concerned. So all right, if rational analysis is ineffective, what can you do? Well, let's let the experiment decide, like Galileo and the falling bodies. If I'm right, we're going to hit the peak around 1970. And if the McKelvey figures are more nearly correct, that peak date isn't going to occur before the 1990 decade. Well, that's a pretty diagnostic criterion: let's wait and see what happens. We did wait and it did happen.
It did indeed.
In 1970. So now they're just forcing themselves to the admission that we are on the way down. Not by logic, but just by the evidence of—not predicting what will happen, but by what has happened. Looking back oil passed its peak 19 years ago, 18 years ago.
Right. But as you say, it's a difficult matter for many people to reckon with.
So you're steeped in wishful thinking. Of course many people have no knowledge of these things. All they know is they can buy gas at the gas station. But the people who did have knowledge of it did not distinguish themselves scientifically. I mean, those who were capable, whose scientific qualifications should have led them to a rational conclusion. And they didn't. They played around on who's the expert, "I'm a greater expert than you are, and so and so".
Of course, the stakes were extremely high.
Yes. Yes. So they tried to suppress my Academy report. They didn't get away with it. And of all the reports of that committee, they're all published, a thousand. Mine was stretched to another 500 and then they printed a second 500 and finally a third 500 before they signed off. And that was the only reprinted one of all the reports of the committee.
I'm curious about what plans you had for the second part of the 1974 report, the one you didn't have time to finish?
Oh, more or less routine. It would have been an evaluation of other sources of energy, water power, solar, nuclear, coal. There was nothing revolutionary about it. It just would have been a straightforward factual analysis including nuclear problems of the waste disposal and relative abundance of uranium and what not, and fusion versus fission.
Has your thinking about the problems of nuclear disposal changed since your first exposure to those issues back in the 1950's?
Not significantly. The problem is here, and it appears more intractable now than it did then. And the thing that finally influenced my attitude there for 10 years or so was if this problem is manageable, with the technology existing, using low grade sources of uranium, we had not infinite supplies but very large supplies of energy. Further, if we could go to fusion, and could utilize deuterium from the ocean, which could be extracted at small energy cost, as compared with its energy content, why, then you'd be at an almost astronomical level of energy resources. Well, what's subsequently happened, with regard to fission, and that is the irresponsibility of the AEC, of penny pinching financially, nuclear power without the backup of what would have to be done. That performance is still going on, essentially unaltered, and it drew me to the conclusion that that isn't the answer to our energy problems, and the sooner we get rid of it the better off we're going to be. I would never recommend shutting all the plants down tomorrow, but certainly phasing them out. See, we haven't faced up to the big problem: what are we going to do with these radioactive plants when we have to dismantle them? We haven't had that yet. So, that was when I took another look at solar energy, and I came to the conclusion—it was a change of conclusion. Before, I thought that solar energy, although large, was so diffusive that it was impractical. I changed my mind on that. With solar cells, existing solar cells but with improvements, and utilizing what I call the chemical route of collecting in solar cells where there's good solar energy, storing it chemically, utilizing flat planes or tankers, liquids or gases, for delivery. That is entirely practical for producing all the industrial energy that we have any use for, with the very small fraction of available areas for collection.
I was curious that in the 1971 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article you mentioned a number of solar energy possibilities, and you mentioned an idea that had been proposed by Alan Meinel, the astronomer and his wife. How had you come into contact with people who were working in solar energy at that time?
I think I met him when I was out at the University of Arizona giving a lecture. A friend of mine invited me to his house and had Meinel to the same dinner. And he gave me a considerable lot of information on his work with regard to solar energy. He was using not the solar cells but thermal, collecting solar energy thermally. And he was very enthusiastic about it at the time. At least he convinced me for the first time that it was practical, which I hadn't previously conceived it to be.
Did you know much of his other work before you met him?
No. I think he was the director of the Kitt Peak Astronomical Observatory.
He had been at an earlier time, that's right.
I think he was at that time.
I can check on that.
I'm talking about the 1960's, I think it was.
OK, the early 1960's?
Well, that pretty well runs through that sequence. But another parallel thing that ought to be mentioned. You mentioned this SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article. That was published in the big issue on energy and power, of September 1971, I believe. A few weeks after that appeared, I got a telephone call from a stranger who was with the executive civil service, executive seminar center for the Civil Service Commission in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Would I be interested in coming down and lecturing to the people at this seminar? What seminar? I didn't even know they had such a thing. I learned that the Civil Service Commission, Office of Personnel Management, I believe they changed the name about this time, had this center at Oak Ridge. They had another one in Berkeley, California, right across the street from campus of the University of California, and they had a third one up at Kings Point, Long Island, which was domiciled in the Merchant Marine Academy, which provided them with living quarters and a lecture room and meals and so on. So what all the people were doing roughly was the same thing, but Oak Ridge was the one that I came to know the best, although I talked to them all at different times.
Well, anyhow, I was interested and did agree to come down and give a talk to them at their seminar. Pat Rochelle was the man who called me, who was in charge. What they had was a director, William King, and they had four, I think, associate directors. Each one of them ran a particular program on a particular aspect. They had brought these men in, about 30 or 40 men at a time, people, but principally men. They were in [Government Service] grades about 12, 14, maybe 15. So they were middle bracket men in the civil service hierarchy, and ages, average age say in the forties. They were sent to this seminar by their respective bureaus or employers. The seminar ran a month. They were holed up there, they were in a hotel across the street and got their meals in the hotel, and the meetings at a nice little center, including offices, library and a big lecture room appropriate for these meetings, and some smaller work rooms. So they would assemble and, after preliminary introductions, they would go through their month's work. Finally they graduated and were sent back home. So when I came down there, I was invited to give a lecture along the lines of this SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article.
You just gave one lecture in that series?
Yes. I think they allowed me about two hours or so, lecture and discussion. Well, it turned out it wasn't enough time. People came only by invitation. They did like it and I was invited back. In fact I was practically a member of that faculty there for the next ten or twelve years. So I needed more time. I couldn't cover the subject adequately in that time. So either the next time or sometime soon thereafter, we stepped it up to a half day. And we did that for a while. We still were short of time. And we finally wound up that I had a whole day. Counting the presentation, breaks, coffee break in the morning, a lunch break, and then considerable time for discussion in the afternoon. Well, I did this thing, coming down on an average of three or four times a year, at these successive meetings of the group, up until three years ago. Three or four years ago, from 1971. Later the word spread and I was invited to come out to the group in Berkeley, and the group at Kings Point. Well, Berkeley, I was only I think in Berkeley once. They were undergoing a metamorphosis, and they closed the office there and moved to Denver. Later on, I got a repeat invitation to come to Denver. I went out there two or three times.
When was it you first went to Berkeley?
Oh, sometime in the early or middle seventies. I started at Oak Ridge in fall of 1971. And they came along a couple of years later or so. All right.
What made that group particularly appealing?
Well, fundamentally I'm an educator and always have been. I was in Shell. I was with the government.
And so this was an opportunity to deal with the working corps of a large class of civil servants in various departments of the government, and to educate them on this very important subject of where we are in the energy situation.
One advantage being that these people are being drawn from different branches?
Different branches, and they would take this information home with them. And so, it was just an opportunity to educate the US government.
Yes. That's clear. That's what I was thinking.
And the staff at Oak Ridge: Oak Ridge was always my principal one, the others were secondary, but the staff at Oak Ridge was right with me every inch of the way, right up until I signed off in my old age. But one interesting thing occurred. Somewhere around 1974 or 1975, Pat Rochelle told me that an emissary of the Geological Survey had been sent down to see if they could get rid of me, and have some other Survey speaker on these seminars.
This is still at the time that McKelvey is director?
Yes. Right. Who the emissary was, I don't know, and he didn't feel like telling me. But he repeated this to me on more than one occasion, that an emissary was sent down, and in the discussion as to why they wanted to do this, I was kind of "corrosive" or something or other. And yet, after some discussion, the guy admitted, "Well, Hubbert's right." As we all know, or something of the sort. The civil service people did not accept the proposition. But an effort was made.
Praise, but coming from quite afar.
So, well, that was a very important thing. Another thing that I commented on, I was on two or three lecture tours of national scope.
Right. In fact there were quite a few questions I wanted to ask about your other work during the sixties and early seventies, but I just want to ask you this now. You retired from the Survey in 1975 or '76.
1st of September 1976, I believe.
OK. Were you at all involved or aware of the concerns about finding a replacement for McKelvey?
Yes. I knew something about that. Not so much McKelvey. I knew about what was going on in finding a director for succeeding Tom Nolan. That was Bill Pecora. Bill was working very hard politically on this.
How do you mean working politically?
He wanted the job and he was soft-soaping the members of the nominating committee. Very actively. Very actively. That I know. The chairman of that committee, I believe, was Hoover Mackin?
I think it was.
And Bill Pecora made a special trip to California to influence the committee.
Hoover Mackin's committee?
The nominating committee for the new director of the Geological Survey. He was running for the office.
OK. This was at the time when Tom Nolan was ready to step down?
Yes. The successor to McKelvey, I had nothing to do with that. I was retired. I was out of the Survey. And so I didn't know all that was going on until it happened.
OK. Was there an age requirement for retirement within the Survey, or had you at that point had enough?
I was special. I was a civil grade appointment. And I didn't even know it, but when I read the rules later, I found out that there was a provision for a total of 15 years of service, deducing past government service. Well, it turned out I had three years of past government service and so I had 12 years of civil grade service. But another interesting thing happened along about 1975 or so. I got a preemptory notice from the personnel office, I was supposed to retire on such and such a date, and they moved the date up by two weeks.
So I wondered, what the hell is going on now? You can't imagine somebody sitting around and saying, "Let's go look at all these old records and see whether or not —" They were told to do it. And so they dug through all the papers, and they docked me by two weeks. And had me retire two weeks earlier than I was supposed to. And in the meantime, I had to keep a lecture engagement somewhere in that two weeks, but I got an order, almost the last day, that that had been a mistake, and they were restoring the two weeks. Well, the hell with that, I quit.
That sounds like a petty business.
Somebody had instructed the civil service people, personnel people, to dig into those old records to see if they could find some reason to get rid of me sooner. Two weeks was all they could do, and that was wrong!
Given how important your work has been in the Survey, probably that's the best note to end our discussion of oil and gas reserves. If something comes up that we haven't covered on tape, please don't hesitate to bring that in. But one area I'm very curious about occurred just before you got into the Survey, between 1958 and 1960. You were on the visiting committee for geophysics of MIT. What do you recall about meetings and plans being discussed? Clearly that was a critical time for American geophysics.
At MIT, what they were doing was amalgamating geophysics and geology and meteorology and oceanography. Before they'd had a geology department. Maybe geophysics was in there, I don't remember. Spector had been the original director of the geophysical work, but they had a very active meteorology division under Carl Rossby who'd been brought over to start this off, dynamic oceanography and meteorology. So the time I was there, they were in the process of amalgamating these administratively, into one unified administration group. That included the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
What were the advantages of doing that?
Well, they were all aspects of earth sciences. Logically they should have been amalgamated.
All right, but bureaucracy often keeps things as they were.
But they were pulling them together. They were in old prewar buildings, or maybe even a wartime temporary building. They were just crowded, many times more crowded than my office here, in little offices with three desks in it or something like that. The whole thing was almost disgraceful for a major department in a major institution. Well, one of the members on this committee was my long time friend Cecil Green. Cecil Green I first met shortly after I joined [unclear] and I was on the first APG lecture tour. He was my host when I came to Dallas, which was when I met him, and I think he was my chairman. Certainly he was my host at that stop in Dallas, and we've been good friends ever since. And Cecil Green was on this visiting committee. Cecil Green was an Englishman. I think he'd gone from England to Vancouver and then came as a student to MIT, in electrical engineering. Finally he wound up as a chief with — what was its name, Geophysical Service Incorporated. Incidentally, during this meeting, Cecil Green made to me a quiet remark while we were visiting together about this new development of Texas Instruments on transistors. He seemed to think it was very important, and in retrospect I think he was handing it to me as a good thing, but I didn't derive any financial opportunism. It was at a very low level. But I remember this. Two or three times, at dinner times, he mentioned the significance of this work that Texas Instruments was going into, in transistors.
Did he invest in it himself?
He was one of the large owners of it. Well, anyhow, this thing at MIT, this advisory committee. One thing they were much concerned with was that, well, they had a bright young man there on the faculty, and he was about to be taken away from them by a university on the West Coast or somewhere offering him very attractive jobs. They were worried about losing the young man. At the same time, they were trying to hire a big name in the department, and they wanted a recommendation by this committee in support of their search or endeavor to get this very important big name scientist into their establishment.
Did they have a particular person in mind?
Well, they had in mind, I'm not sure that I should mention him. I think I should not mention either of these at this time. Well, anyhow, this was one of the problems with this visiting committee. The chairman of the visiting committee was also a member of the board of overseers, by statute or agreement internally. The other thing was that the committee always met with the staff. The head of the geology department was present at every meeting. And so we were being essentially importuned to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. They told us what they wanted recommended, and then we would recommend it and so on. And usually the recommendation was positive. I remember particularly with regard to this problem, my feeling was that if we had had an opportunity to have a private meeting to discuss this thing among ourselves, we would have recommended promoting the bright young man they had and forget about the big name. The next time we met, a year later, the young man had left and the big name had turned them down. So they were left empty handed. I wrote a memorandum to the members of the board of overseers about this thing, and I said, I thought the most serious mistake of this visiting committee was that they'd had no opportunity to settle down in quiet congress among themselves, without any staff members being present, to discuss the problems that were put before them, and to decide what their recommendation would be. But with staff breathing down their necks, they were almost coerced into recommending what the staff wanted. And I used this illustration, this particular case of where they'd gone wrong, as their most important problem of that meeting. Well, as I said, I'd known Cecil Green since 1943 or '44, I guess. He and his wife Ida and I were staying at the same motel in Boston. Out of nostalgia, he and his wife were out walking around after hours in downtown Boston, and I was invited along. We rambled around the old area down by Faneuil Hall and so on. About a year or so later, I learned that Cecil Green had given them five million dollars for a building. I didn't even know the guy was rich. And that was Texas Instruments's money. He was big holder on the ground floor of Texas Instruments stock.
And he was with TSI I believe. I believe he was president of it. But he was also in on the ground floor and a big stockholder of Texas Instruments. He had no children, and so at the time that he and Ida and I were walking around and so on, he was turning over in his mind this donation to get rid of this disgraceful housing problem that these people had there at MIT. Well, not only had he given them five million dollars, but they chiseled him out of another five million for upkeep. He wound up with a total contribution of ten million dollars. The result was the Cecil Green Tower, a ten story building right in the middle of the MIT campus, the tallest building on the campus, that houses the whole shebang. Well, that was roughly the MIT thing. More or less in parallel with that, but not at the same time, I was invited to give a series of lectures at MIT, which I did in 1959 or so, maybe a year or so later. That was the thing that I told you. I encountered this man from the Academy meeting a couple of years before at the National Academy of Sciences, by the name of Howard Johnson. I'd never heard of him before, but he was the chairman of the board of overseers at MIT.
Since I was as I am now somewhat decrepit, I was out of the meeting when it broke up, sitting in a chair in the archway. I was heading out the front door, and this man came dashing out, obviously heading for the plane, and started to pass me. He stopped and introduced himself to me and said, "I heard your lectures at MIT and we haven't forgotten them yet," he said.
That made quite an impression.
Well, I wrote a letter to him following that up, asking him what lecture it was, because I lectured there two or three times on different occasions on different subjects. It turned out it was that series. And he was in the Sloane School at the time.
What were your impressions of the MIT departments, geology and geophysics? How well did you get to know the people who were there?
Well, I knew them fairly well. In fact, somewhere near that time, I don't remember, before or after. I was actually invited there with the possibility of being head of the department.
Is that so?
Again, it was one of these things were Robert Schrock was my principal host and he never let me get five feet away from him. He had very obviously very badly wanted the job himself.
He did become the chairman of the department.
Yes. So this must have been before this meeting, because Bob Schrock was the chairman, and chairman of the visiting committee. But I remember his asking me, if I were offered the job, whether I would accept it. And I said, well, it would be a difficult decision. It's not clean cut. That was really all that he needed to open the gate for him. I didn't give a forthright answer that I wanted the job. And I did have serious doubts about it.
Yes. What doubts did you have?
Well, doubts about, I'd be undertaking the type of thing that was novel as going into a strange institution, and I just didn't know how it would work out. And I had a very good job as it was that I was fairly satisfied with. It would be a very major decision as to whether to make that break. And whether the break might be a mistake. Anyhow, I was invited there at MIT for a couple of days in which I gave one or two lectures on different subjects. But with the idea of whether or not I might become the chairman of the department. I had doubts about it and it didn't go through.
OK. It wasn't too many years later, in 1962, that you became president of the GSA, Geological Society of America.
I'm curious, did you have any plans to change any aspects of the way the Society was operating when you were elected?
Not particularly. The Society had gotten itself in such difficulties, something had to be done to extricate it. It wasn't a case of having prior ideas; it was a case of, what do we do now? And the state that the Geological Survey was in — well, they had had a man by the name of Henry Aldrich who had been there, taken over the job following Peter Berkey to run the Geological Society of America. Up until the middle thirties some time. Henry Aldrich had been brought in. He'd been assistant geologist of Wisconsin. And he'd been brought in as assistant secretary, which meant the in-house manager of the office, under Berkey and he'd had a pretty unpleasant experience as long as Berkey was dominant over him. Berkey finally had retired, gone into health decline and they succeeded in getting rid of him. Then Henry Aldrich took over as the secretary of the Society.
Well, Aldrich was a very capable man and very well liked by everybody, and he held that job until late 1950s, '58, '59, somewhere along in there. But out of their respect for Aldrich — he was a modest type person and he wasn't making a hell of a lot of money, just his salary — the council, which was the governing body of the Society, had the idea of honoring Henry Aldrich by making him a member of the council and an officer of the Society. Well, that was just a fortunate thing for Henry Aldrich, but it was also a mistake administratively.
Because it was set up institutionally that his successor would also get the same authority.
Right, exactly. So finally when Henry Aldrich retired, well, I'd been a member of the council back in 1948 or so, but then I'd had practically no contact administratively with the GSA subsequently. The successor to Henry Aldrich was a man by the name of Fred Betts. Now, Fred Betts had been student at City College in New York. As a graduate student he'd come down to Columbia. Frank Stead, I believe, was another one. He came down and took a course in geophysics at Columbia, and then I lost track of the man. But following the war, he was on some kind of assignment in foreign geology, I believe, for the USGS, stationed in Germany. Apparently he had fit in his Teutonic ancestry and psychology and he'd pretty well lapped up his association with the Germans. He loved it. And of course they were very much his mental sort. Well, the result was that when he got in as director of the Geological Society, he was also an officer of the Society, following this precedent of Henry Aldrich. And he started throwing his weight around. He simply wrecked the headquarters staff, began firing people and taking all kinds of arbitrary actions on his own, high handedly, somewhat like I described with Press Cloud. Well, the thing got impossible. He was wrecking the place. All right. The way the Geological Society, the GSA, operated, there was a nominating committee but they only nominated one man for each position. So it was really an appointive system, and it was a pretty good appointive system because you had a nominating committee that reviewed the field and hand-picked good men for the various jobs, and they served their term. One of the jobs of course was a member of the council. It was a three year term, and that was a rotating body, about twelve people. Three of them served one three year term and the others overlapped them so you had this rotation and continuous change where new men were being broken in to what had gone on in the department. Well, I was … at the meeting I think maybe, the Research Council or something, in spring of 1960, I guess. And Tom Nolan was there and I sat down next to him. He said, "Congratulations, you've just been nominated "—whatever the title was, but it was the president in training. Again, you had that sequence that you picked somebody who was — I forget their title, but he would spend the year as a kind of an apprentice, breaking in. He would be a year as president and then a third year as past president. They had that overlapping system again where the new man was being trained by the older ones in what was going on there.
Did you have any reluctance to do that, given your other responsibilities?
No. No, I was very pleased to do this. And so, in due course, the following meeting, in the fall, why, I was elected pre-president, I don't remember the title, maybe vice president. That was just at the time when this headquarters thing was approaching a crisis point. I remember that we had a private meeting up in a hotel room of the council over this problem. I made a presentation. I'd gone into what was going on and I had the record on it and so on. And so it was agreed that Fred Betts had to be called. And so he got the word after that meeting, I think, that he was out. This was just the time when they had what you have as a big takeover now; at that time it was proxy fights. Somebody took over a company by a proxy fight. So Fred got the idea of having a proxy fight in the Geological Society.
That's an interesting parallel.
Well, he'd taken his dossier to Harry Hess in person. Harry followed me as president, I believe. And Harry called Fred Betts in and said, "Fred, don't you be a stupid ass. Drop this business." And he did.
So there wasn't trouble after that?
[unclear] was the senior woman on the staff. She'd earlier wanted this job, but she'd changed her mind by now. We talked her into doing it temporarily till they could finally get somebody to take over on a more permanent basis. She was kind of acting secretary for a year or two, I believe. But we were having troubles all during that year. I mean, it became more and more obvious that the constitution and bylaws were inadequate or defective in some important respects, including this business of making the secretary an officer of the Society, the hired help being part of the management of the Society. A lot of this became obvious, that we needed to not tinker with the constitution and bylaws but to rewrite them. And so I appointed a committee with that assignment, to basically keep the basic structure, which was sound, but to go over it and consider those things that were so wrong and set them right. Not just by having a vote on this little amendment and that little amendment, but just go over the whole damned thing and clean it up.
Who did you plan to have work on that?
I suppose Vice President of Amerada in Tulsa. Man I know well, knew well. He was appointed the chairman of the committee, and another member of the committee was a prominent Canadian geologist, and I forget who else, to do this job. Then at that time, Roger Dennison, retired from Amerada. As a going away gift, they gave him and his wife a trip around the world, compliments of Amerada Petroleum Corporation. So on that trip, he went out to Hawaii, and while taking off or landing in Hawaii, I don't remember which, the plane was wrecked and they were killed. The work on the committee had just barely started. Then I called the Canadian man on the telephone, the first time he'd had news of it, and I told him the calamity and asked if he could take over. (Laughter). Which I think he resented because he'd had a lot of health problems and had been in the hospital with a serious operation not too long ago, so he wasn't in too good a condition. But he did a magnificent job on this just the same and did re-do the constitution and bylaws with a legal counsel collaborating. This was duly passed in the annual meeting when I was the president. As I say, the executive committee was meeting all during this time, several times a year. We just had so damned many thorny problems. Then here was coming up — now, wait a minute. It was really two years, the year when I was vice president and then when I was president.
When you say thorny issues, what in particular?
Well, there were personnel issues, the constitution and bylaws.
OK. All that.
And these were very major problems.
Staff problems at headquarters and so on. We'd been through the three presidents, vice president, president, past president; they were the executive committee of the organization. So I had three years on the executive committee. We'd been through two years of this, one when I was vice president and one when I was president, so the end of my term was at the annual meeting in '62. Well, according to the established routine was that the president had to give the presidential address.
Before we get into the address, which is certainly important, I'm curious: Did the reorganization also affect the way that the Penrose funds were distributed or awarded?
Not that I remember. If there was, it was minor. All right. So, in addition to all these other things, the president had to give the presidential address at the end of the year. And I was so damned busy that the last thing I had time to think about was a presidential address. So come along about August or so, and Agnes Colby began to put the heat on me as to what was going to be my subject. I said, "Oh, hell, call it presidential address." She wouldn't accept that. She had to have a title. And so she kept hounding me. Finally in exasperation I said, "OK, here's the title, 'Why We Are Retrogressing in Science.'"
How much had you thought about that before you said it?
I'd thought about that plenty. I'd been working on this thing for five years, not as a presidential address, but as a general review of what's wrong with what's going on in science. And so I had a fair amount of information on the subject. However, there had not been time to do any writing, composition of a presidential address. It still was a subject that I had been very actively thinking about and talking about for something like five years or more. And the reason for that was this thing that I'd encountered, both in my own laboratory and much broader, the number of errors that were showing up, fundamental errors, in many cases, certainly in classical physics, and in many cases in elementary physics, by very high level people, say, physicists. And the general attitude was of authoritarianism, that if something is said by the proper person, it must be so. If it wasn't said by the proper person, you couldn't trust it. That sort of thing.
The Muskat example.
Exactly. That's one example. Another thing that had happened, some time a year or two before, the American Institute of Physics had come out with a big Handbook called PHYSICS, I believe. This Handbook was published by McGraw-Hill, as I recall, and the authorship of it was physicists, many of them from universities, professors, and undoubtedly industrial ones too. It was a big tome, about a thousand pages. Well, I happened to come across this, and flipped the pages, and one of the very early chapters was written by a professor, as I recall, from Brown University, and dealt with units of measurement. OK. And I go down the list, and I find fundamental units. What are the fundamental units of physics? One was a circular mill. One was a second. You find there's certain fraction of a day as occurred in a formula or something or other, of a day, and the day was the period of rotation of the earth. Well, it turned out that that unit was wrong by a ratio of 166 over 165, because the period of the rotation of the earth is the sidereal day. Whereas a second is the mean solar second.
That's exactly right.
OK. Well, it turned out that in that time table was a hodgepodge of the most ungodly lot of quantities that were supposed to be fundamental units of physics that I've ever seen in print. Only one existing fundamental unit, the second, and it was erroneous. I'm sorry to say I don't have a copy of that book, but as I say, the circular mill, an inch of mercury, as I recall it. It was an incredible hodgepodge. And then they got over to derived units. Well, a derived unit by definition must be based on a fundamental unit, and there was no relation between the derived units and the fundamental units. Well, I was simply so astonished at this performance that I called it to the attention of a professor of physics at the University of Houston whom I knew quite well. He said, "Have you seen the contemporary college textbooks in physics?" Well, I hadn't. I didn't have a contemporary textbook since I'd been a student. I hadn't kept up with it. So he loaned me a stack of about five textbooks, college textbooks of physics that were in use at the present time.
Who was this, by the way, in Texas? Don't trouble yourself, we can put it in later.
I don't remember.
That's all right.
But he was a professor of physics at the University of Houston. He was a contemporary of this man Alred who was also a professor of physics. Well, Buddy Hatfield, Hatfield. He'd formerly been at Louisiana University and had come to Houston. He was at University of Houston at the time. And so he lent me this stack of books. Well, I examined them with two criteria in mind. One was, are the propositions correct? The second one was, were the derived, or was it so because the book said so? Were they derived from primary experimental data and so on, or did the professor just say it's so? Well, all five of the books, somewhere in an early chapter, stated Newton's Law of Gravitation. Four of them stated it erroneously. One stated it correctly.
Only one had mentioned that it was based on Kepler's law, as I recall.
— no. No, that was not it.
Even the statement itself was incorrect?
No. The misstatement was that any two bodies attract each other. The correct statement was that any two particles or point masses, sort of thing. All five of them proceeded then to compute the mass of the earth. All five of them did it erroneously, not that they got the wrong answer, but they got it for invalid reasons. Now, they assumed that the attraction was proportional to the distance from from the center of the earth out to the point. Well, that happens to be true, if you're outside the earth. But it requires proof, and no proof was given. The best book of the lot, the one that stated it correctly, said, now, this really is not valid but we just haven't got time to do it right. We're in a hurry. Now, I went through and looked at various other topics. One of them was electricity and magnetism. And several of them went through this kind of a rigmarole. Yes, they could waste time on old fashioned things like the attraction and repulsion between charged pit balls. But it's far easier if we do it in the following way. Now, matter is made of atoms, and atoms have a nucleus and electrons, planetary electrons going around. Now, an electron has so and so many electrostatic units of charge. "Electrostatic unit" is nowhere defined. All right. And so with this take-off they start to deal with electricity and magnetism. Well, I believe the book that said we haven't got time and this isn't a valid method of computing the mass of the earth, or at least the theoretical reason was valid, and later on develop Gauss's theorem for electrostatics. Well, if they develop Gauss's theorem back when they were dealing with the earth, they would have a valid theoretical basis for determining the mass of the earth. They don't have to do it by Gauss's theorem but it's the easiest way of doing it. They did it for electricity and electrostatics, and Here when they are dealing with the earth, it didn't occur to them. Well, I read these textbooks in terms of these criteria of validity, if you used an A, B, C, D, F grading system. I think the poorest one got about a D, and the best one about maybe a B or a B plus and the others in between. So, OK, that was that. Then, into my background, turning this thing over in my mind, I wondered how I ever got into this kind of situation, because back when I was in school, classical physics was the dominant, nuclear physics was just the emerging then. Compton had the Nobel Prize in cosmic rays, I believe.
Right, Arthur Compton.
Arthur Compton was at Chicago just at that time.
Michelson was the first Nobel Prize winner in light, which is classical physics. I was a student in a good physics department and it was principally classical physics, but it was given by people who thought they knew what they were talking about. But at the same time, they were in this transition phase where the Nobel Prizes group were in this exotic field, quantum mechanics, which was coming in at the time. Heisenberg was a Nobel Prize winner in physics, and was a German. After all there weren't many Nobel Prize winners in physics.
Hadn't Stark won the prize earlier?
Anyhow, here was a list. He was a young man, in his thirties. He was a visiting professor at Chicago during one, I don't know, a year, a quarter or what. Now wait a minute. Let me out of here [takes off microphone] and I'll find it for you.
Let's do that. [Interruption]. We were talking about Heisenberg.
All right — what I was saying was that when I was a student in the twenties, physics was undergoing a transformation from classical physics over to nuclear, theory of relativity, to quantum mechanics and so on. Those were all new hot subjects, and included Werner Heisenberg was here as the visiting professor at the time. All right, but the older professors thoroughly understood classical physics. But this is a time when the graduate students were pretty much skipping through classical physics superficially to get over into the Happy Hunting Grounds of these newfangled branches of physics. I remember in particular, I was a member of a graduate fraternity that was made up of about 25 members who were mostly senior graduate students in the various scientific departments. We had two or three physicists in this group, and I was working on a physical problem of potential theory in gravitation. One of these graduate students was an assistant working for his PhD under Compton. I was asking him some questions about potential theory, with regard to an equal pressure surface. Was gravity for example constant over an equal potential surface? He assured me that it was. Well, that's entirely erroneous. In other words, it was classical physics but he didn't know classical physics.
He was skipping over it. Well, this was going on at that time, and undoubtedly more so later. These same guys began teaching physics later on and they didn't know classical physics either. Instead, everybody was getting along to where the Nobel Prizes go and they were skimping on classical physics. Many of them didn't know any classical physics, which is still the foundation. No matter what they say, it's still the foundation, intellectually. So this was the thing that was going through my mind. How could these crazy things I was seeing in the textbooks be written by senior people in physics, professors and so on, who apparently didn't know what they were talking about? In fact, I had a whole collection of things of that sort from other books. I had just kind of been making notes on these boners over the years. And so I raised this question, citing the evidence I've just cited to you, that we are losing sight of our foundations. And that the reason for it could well be that they abandoned classical physics in their over-eagerness to get on into nuclear physics, and lost sight of their foundations. Well, that was the burden of this address on "Why Are We Retrogressing in Science?"
Right. That was the presidential address which then appeared in two different places, one of which was in SCIENCE.
Yes, published in SCIENCE. The meeting was in November. Oh yes, let me give you a little background on that meeting.
I'd like to hear it.
I told you that I had no written text. Agnes tortured me into giving her a title. I tried to avoid even that. We were very busy with administrative matters right up to the time of the meeting. The meeting was in a hotel in Houston, and my wife and I had a presidential suite of rooms. So came the morning of the big general annual meeting, when the presidential address would have to be given. My wife and I were up in the room desperately patching together scraps of paper, and Tom Nolan down below was calling up and saying, "For God's sake get down here, to make your speech of welcome, get down here." Well, I was piecing together these scraps. I had a few…two or three Lantern slides, illustrating some of these points, and I had a copy of the HANDBOOK OF PHYSICS with me in my other hand, and so equipped I went down. All right, the house was full, the ballroom was packed. Tom was waiting for me. He got me through the audience and up to the platform just to the deadline, and so — I knocked it off. I knocked it off, fighting my way through this crowd.
Fighting your way to the microphone?
OK. Well, as I say, I had I don't know, 50 lantern slides, and I had a copy of the HANDBOOK OF PHYSICS with me. Off the cuff I gave the presidential address. When I got through, Phil Abelson, who was the editor of SCIENCE at the time, came up and wanted that paper for SCIENCE.
I was curious how SCIENCE had gotten that. I wasn't aware that Phil Abelson was in the audience.
He was in the audience and he wanted it for SCIENCE. I said, "Look, I can't give it to you as a GSA presidential address, they will to print it." So he was making a deal with Agnes, who was the acting manager about it. Well, immediately following that meeting, Miriam and I took a vacation down in south Texas for a week or so. When I came back and I went to work then on writing this thing, and then I had to go to Stanford in January. I don't know whether I got a draft to Abelson before I went to Stanford. I guess not. Probably not. I don't recall. But anyhow, he printed it before the GSA. The GSA printed it in the spring say of '63, but SCIENCE I believe had printed it earlier, slightly condensed, a little bit cut down. Then the formal uncondensed version came out from the GSA.
You'd written one larger version, then Phil Abelson had published a condensation of that for SCIENCE?
Not very much, but he turned it over to their editorial staff, and they cut it down a little bit. He thought it was unnecessarily long. Well, the response to that was again, it was the second time — I had that enormous response to the paper I mentioned before, back in 1948, that I published in January of 1949.
I got three or four hundred letters in response to that one in 1949. I got the same thing here. I got just an explosion of letters, mostly highly favorable. One man from — medical man from the National Institutes of Health here in Washington, wished he had met me, etc. But it was that kind of thing.
Many people sharing similar frustrations of their own?
Yes, evidently, aware of the same thing and being unhappy about it. So Phil Abelson came by at Stanford…I may be a year off, it may have been the next year but I think it was the same year. He went over those letters, and picked out a few of them for publication. And one that came later was sent in as a discussion, and that was by this young president of Caltech.
Yes, Lee DuBridge.
Right, Lee DuBridge.
Now, he hadn't sent that to you? He had sent that to Abelson?
To Phil Abelson, and Phil Abelson sent it on to me. That was the article where I had mentioned Caltech and Yale and various other schools. Oh yes — one of the things in this address that I brought up was that one of the things that had contributed to this situation was these NSF grants and other grants, where you gave the money to the so-called Principal Investigator and he hired somebody else to do the work. I cited some examples of that.
Right. You remembered that from your own committee work.
That's right, I cited, I didn't give the name but I cited examples of this kind of thing. It was apparently an ubiquitous practice. And that I thought that had been very detrimental in the overall understanding of science. They were just losing track again at the National Science Foundation. I cited a bit of statistics over the magnitude of these grants to various institutions. The institutions were becoming almost dependent upon them.
Upon the federal contracts, you mean?
Federal contracts, grants, military or NSF, NIH, etc.
You had an impressive range of figures in the article.
Yes. Well, I took those figures out of a handbook that's published annually dealing with the various universities, a summary of annual reports and so on. I picked those figures out of this handbook. That's one thing Lee DuBridge took exception to, that I had misrepresented Stanford. So I got Stanford's annual report itself, and what had happened was that there was just a very slight indentation between two figures, and the indentation wasn't immediately apparent, I mean, you might easily overlook it. So the Handbook had misinterpreted those figures. I took them right out of the official annual report and corrected them. I was told by acquaintances at Caltech that they were very delighted at DuBridge's discomfiture, because he was very nasty in his comment in this response.
It certainly was a strident response to the piece that you had written.
Had you know DuBridge before, during the time that you were out at Caltech?
No. I don't know him now. Never met him.
Not at all?
I knew who he was. I've seen him. I knew who he was by sight. But I've never been introduced to him, never spoke to him. But people at Caltech, many of them, were restive over the same situation and were apparently just delighted with my response.
Do you mean the people in the geology division in particular, people like Bob Sharp?
Well, among the people that I refer to, yes, and geophysics.
OK. Frank Press was out there at that time, wasn't he.
Frank. He was not one. I think Dick Dobbs was maybe one, and Busby. OK, that's the presidential address.
Did you get any other responses that were particularly memorable besides the one from Lee DuBridge, from other universities?
Well, perhaps the leading negative response I got was from Brooks. What's his name, Brooks at Harvard.
Physics. Harvey Brooks.
It was Harvey Brooks? OK.
Harvey Brooks. I got a very nasty letter from him, because he's one of the big operators at collecting these grants, and he didn't like it at all that I criticized this system. He was the same mentality as Roger Revelle and a nearly contemporary, the same group, who had been out at Brookhaven and then went down to Texas, University of Texas, bright chap out of Dallas. He is a physicist. But all these guys were big time operators, and manipulated the government for everything they could get out of it. I was not popular with them.
I can imagine. When you were on the advisory committees of different universities, not only MIT but also the University of Houston, were you involved in discussions about what could be done about grants and contracts that these institutions were receiving? Did you have a strong idea of what might be changed?
I don't recall that such things were on their agenda.
Then you weren't able to raise that?
We proceeded on agendas of what they wanted to talk about, and that's what we talked about.
Yes, and that hadn't come up.
It was out of that association that my friend Buddy Hatfield said, "Well, have you seen these contemporary textbooks of physics?" and loaned me a pile of them.
Right, OK. At the University of Houston you were on the advisory committee of the department of physics. Do you remember any discussions in particular during that time?
They were mostly administrative problems.
Did you feel that you had a major influence when you were associated with Houston?
Well, maybe so. Shortly before this time the University of Houston, which was a new school, had been endowed a million dollars by a local rich man who was intellectually stupid. It was kind of a mixture of Chamber of Commerce and YMCA, a matter of psychology. The president for example ordered the faculty to go out to see the football team off on one of its tours, and that kind of stupidity. It was so bad that I didn't think that, I doubted that it would ever get out of it. About that time, I got a letter from my friend Beno Gutenberg at Caltech, saying that his son was being offered a job at the University of Houston and he didn't know anything about it and wanted my opinion of it. And I cited some of these things that were contemporary. His son took a job somewhere else. But the University of Houston, not long after that, began to make a very significant turnaround. One way that they did it was by hiring retired distinguished professors from major universities who still had a few years of good work ahead of them. They couldn't possibly have hired these men in their prime, but they were available now and they could get two or three years' work out of them at a price they could afford to pay, and they did that very effectively. They boosted themselves up out of this morasse they were in by a very large amount. Curiously, when I was at Stanford two or three years later, I got an invitation to accept a professorship at the University of Houston, in which my status would be exactly the same as if I were a professor at Harvard.
That was a letter from the dean of the graduate school.
Yes, that's interesting. How did that idea come about in Houston? Was that a suggestion that you helped promote?
Nope. I had nothing to do with it. They thought it up themselves. But they did get themselves out of that situation.
How did you come to be on the advisory committee at UCLA?
Well, I was friendly with people in the physics department, and they apparently recommended me for the advisory committee. I knew them socially. Some of them had been from the University of Texas, and there was a camaraderie among them and our people in Shell and people at the University of Texas and it carried over into the physics department at the University of Houston. It was a kind of social level of people who knew each other. I was involved in this, and so when they were setting up an advisory committee, I was put on it. Aldrich [unclear] wrote that letter. I could tell you a little story on that. That had something to do with it.
Right. Was it a similar story for the University of California Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics when you came on their advisory committee?
No, that was quite a different situation. After Slichter had retired, the man who took over was a carbon 14 physicist. Who?
Libby, right. Libby succeeded Slichter as head of the Institute of Geophysics. I don't know. I was well known to quite a large number of their staff people. And so some of them told me, recommended me as a member of the visiting committee. But I found that very disturbing. I didn't like what Libby was doing at all.
What do you mean by that?
Well, for one thing, he was again playing the big operator, big money from the government. The government had a piece of property over there. He was trying to get them to donate that property to his institution. What he was going to do with it, I don't remember. And then he had the matter of research funds. I think it was at San Diego that the average professor down there — this was in geophysics and related matters, was where the space racket got to be the big thing. That's where the money was. And so you had across the board research funds for members of the faculty, $12,000 a year each. But the guy who was in on the space racket got several times that amount. And so it was that kind of thing. I just found it disgusting.
You weren't on that committee for long?
I was one term and no more.
What was your impression of the Institute?
Well, it's a good body of people. They co-existed there in the same building, their headquarters at UCLA, with the geology department. There was on the whole I think a very good relation between them. Some of the people were working with one foot in each camp and so on. It was an active, effective good group of people.
Perhaps now that we're talking about California it may be appropriate to talk about your interactions with Edward Teller. I was curious: when did those meetings occur with him?
Well, my first acquaintance, you might say, with Teller was simply in print. In fact, I read the book, by the two journalists, brothers Stuart and somebody. Alsop, was that the name? A prominent journalist of the time. They were brothers. Following this episode of you might almost say the court martial of Oppenheimer, Edward Teller was one of the principal prosecutors. Well, the Alsops wrote a book, modeled after the French scandal in the military, a case in the 1890's. The Dreyfuss case. And somebody wrote a book J'ACCUSE. He wrote this book WE ACCUSE, and did the whole thing, who did what and to whom, Edward Teller was one of the principal villains in the work. That was my first early impression of Edward Teller. At the same time, I came to Washington for some meeting or other. I was staying at the Cosmos Club. On Sunday they don't serve an evening meal, but the people who live there or out of town people like myself could get beer and sandwiches down in the lunch room. So I was down in the lunch room having beer and sandwiches or whatever there was to eat. I was at a table with a very distinguished member of the Bureau of Standards who lived there, Tuckerman. I knew Tuckerman slightly because I'd met him at meetings of the Geophysical Union in the preceding two or three years, and much admired him. But at that time, he was very very depressed. He said that when Edward Teller had come over, he didn't have a job, and he had recommended him for his first job. He said he recognized him as being brilliant, but he did not suspect that he was also vicious. Well, some time along more or less in parallel with this, the Atomic Energy people were just going wild over uncontrolled firing of atom bombs all over the place. Edward Teller was a principal ringleader of that group. He was going to blast a harbor off the coast of Alaska. It didn't matter, nobody lived there but Indians and the hell with Indians.
That was Project Plowshares.
Yes, OK. His term. Biblical. And they wanted to blast a sea-level canal across the Isthmus of Panama. To hell with the people who live there too. And later on they tried to get in on the space racket, and set off a blast on the moon. They'd find water on the moon. Edward Teller came to Houston during that time. Somebody had put up a big fund, endowed fund, for the promotion of chemistry in Texas. The board who ran this thing was embarrassed what to do, and the only thing they could think of was to invite big name scientists to come in and give lectures, public lectures, also associated with the universities. In that connection, the great Edward Teller was invited to come and give an endowed lecture at the University of Houston. I was not in Houston at the time. I was out of town. But when I came back, I heard an account of what went on. Maybe they gave me a newspaper clipping, with some tangible evidence of what he'd talked about. Well, they had this meeting. It was essentially a black tie meeting type of thing, a dress up affair, in the biggest ballroom of the biggest hotel in town at that time. Apparently the local people were just falling all over themselves because the great Edward Teller was giving this lecture. What was it he told them? He said you could blast an underground canal from the Mississippi River to West Texas and the Mississippi River would flow and they would have the seven good years and seven bad years and so on and the desert would bloom in West Texas. West Texas is 3500 feet elevation in the area he was talking about.
The Mississippi River was almost sea level. And that uphill river, canal he was going to use, would have to go through a thousand feet or more of salt beds on the way up to the surface. The bastard didn't even bother to check his facts. And he had the affrontery to give that kind of a lecture in front of least a considerable group of petroleum managers who knew something about these things! Well, I was just — all this combination of blasting these harbors, canals across the Isthmus of Panama, anything in this world to find an excuse for setting nuclear firecrackers, and Teller was the ringleader of the whole group. I was thoroughly disgusted with the man. They had a meeting in Houston, they had one of the AEC men who were involved in this program give a talk to the local Geological Society. I got up in response to his talk and cited some of these projects, and I took very strong exception to this whole program. Of course that got back to Teller. Not long after that, there was a man in Alabama, Mobile, Alabama, who was the chairman of the board of one of the big power complexes of that region. He was a guy who was a dictatorial type, liked to throw his weight around. He had the idea of developing some kind of an institution there at Mobile, that was partly medical, partly beyond that, I think. It would be an endowed institution, and it was modeled somewhat after the Sloane-Kettering Cancer Institute. So he practically ordered me and Tom Nolan separately to be part of this two day program that he was putting on in this institution of his in Mobile, this new thing just starting up. And so we did.
We went there and gave our respective talks. But surprise, he said the great Edward Teller was coming in to give a talk in the evening. Well, Edward Teller saw me, he practically buttonholed me and said, "I must talk with you. We need you." So after the meeting, we got in a corner somewhere, and with Edward Teller out, "Well, now, we need you." The implication was that they'd give me a job so they could shut me up. I didn't buy it! I said, "No, thank you." Oh yes. A year or two later then there was a review by the National Research Council, science division, over this whole Plowshare program. And I was being very critical of the whole thing there, and David Griggs who was both a geophysicist and a personal friend of Edward Teller from UCLA Institute of Geophysics was at this meeting. He apparently telephoned Edward Teller that he'd better be there. Teller was apparently sick and had been in the hospital or something. So Teller flew in, at Griggs' almost insistent demand, to this meeting for the second day, but over here at Dupont Circle, that new building just south of Dupont Circle [Washington, DC]. They apparently had a local office in that. And so he wanted a bunch of us down for this private conference before this meeting the next day. I think we had this in the afternoon, the first day. Well, the object was very plain, as it became evident later: it was a kind of softening up operation before the next day. Naturally he was very very — he was all sweetness and light, and actually gave a very gracious presentation. But it was because of this alarm that things weren't going right that he came in to put out the fire.
Had you and he been talking earlier about these specific criticisms that you had of his programs? Had that come up between you?
Not before that. The only time I ever talked to him was at this meeting in Mobile, Alabama, and this brief thing at the National Resources Council.
And it didn't come up in Mobile either?
Well, there was probably conversation that had something to do with it but I don't remember any great detail. He was saying, "We need you" and so on. And the only thing I could make out of that was, he wanted to get control. I wasn't playing.
Did you have any further contacts with him after that second meeting?
Well, I don't remember which of these were first. I think the Mobile was first and the Research Council second but I'm not sure.
Maybe it was the other way around.
OK. But in any case, that was the extent of your contact?
Well, I heard him give a lecture at Stanford which was just as poisonous as the other things. But I didn't see him there. He was invited to give a lecture on the campus, big auditorium. But it was the same kind of Teller operation where facts were of no consequence whatever, a propaganda operation. In other words, destroy other things. That was what Teller doing.
That's clearly the most current example.
One other big area that I wanted to turn to was the Symposium on Uniformity, and your contribution to it.
Yes. Let's go back to Teller just a minute.
While we were dealing with waste disposal, and that report had been suppressed and so on, and the problems of Savannah River, Oak Ridge and what not were going on, I remember when the — I think Senator from Alaska was causing a certain amount of stir, over this whole situation. I was called by a reporter, a woman, from the famous old paper in Pittsburgh. Not Pittsburgh but Philadelphia —
The PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER?
Yes, the INQUIRER, asking me something about this whole waste disposal problem, and quoting Edward Teller on some aspect of it. Well, I gave her some information with regard to Edward Teller. I said, "As far as I'm concerned, Edward Teller is an abomination unto the Lord." A Biblical quotation. Old Testament quotation. She quoted that, but she didn't know her Bible and she misquoted it.
What did she say?
She quoted it as "an abomination under the Lord." [Laughter].
All right. What was the next question?
I was curious about how you got involved in the Albritton Symposium on Uniformity. Had you known Albritton well before?
Fairly well. He'd sent me a copy of a paper that he and another graduate student had written while he was a student at Harvard.
Do you recall what that paper was about?
It had to do with the impact of meteorites.
Right. In 1936 he was concerned about why there was such a low number of meteorite craters on the earth.
Yes. I think he was quoting or making use of a paper…Maybe that was a little later on; maybe I made use of their things when I wrote "The Theory of Scale Models." I know there was a relation. I think I quoted their paper maybe in the "Theory of Scale Models."
If it was before. Mine was '37. Theirs may have been '36.
It's probably as you're remembering it.
OK. So I think that was my first acquaintance with him. He was from SMU. And the faculty at my little college in Texas are mostly SMU students so I had a kind of intellectual liaison with SMU, and Albritton was from there. Again, there as a commonality. After all, this was a church university although it was becoming more and more secular — as such universities do — but nonetheless, there was this affiliation and many of the students, as I had been, had been brought up on the Bible and the church and all that kind of thing, and were rebelling against it. That included Albritton, so he had a deep interest in the fundamental contrast between the results of geology and the Biblical authoritarianism of the past. This thing was still in the air at the time. I mean, there were aspects of it kicking around, and so he got interested in the possibility of reviewing what you might call a philosophical foundation to geology. But in the context of this whole theological-geological conflict dating back to Hutton and Darwin and so on. I don't know how I got into it, but it was known that I had comparable interests. He wanted me in on the operation. And so I ended up by making this review.
The central theme of Albritton's work was this principle, the so-called principle of uniformity, and I'd come to the conclusion quite some time before that. Well, for years I'd run into this thing in my geological bull sessions with my colleagues and friends, and over and over again this question would come up. Well, now, at the time I erroneously was of that thought that geology was kind of a second class science because it isn't on the quantitative mathematical physical level. But out of this, you had my opposites in geology, Jim Gilully and others, defending geology, saying, well, now, yes we have fundamental laws. I said, "Why doesn't geology have fundamental laws like physics and chemistry and so on, astronomy?" "Well, we have, we have this principle of uniformity. And we have the principle of superposition, where the younger rocks rest on older rocks," and that kind of thing. And then you had Walter Bucher from Cincinnati who had written a book that was published by Princeton. Walter H. Bucher, The Deformation of the Earth's Crust: An Innovative Approach to the Problems of Diastrophism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1933. The whole damned thing was an attempt to establish a bunch of laws for geology. It was a ridiculous performance but it was published by Princeton University Press. This law, that and the other, that he was formulating for geology.
That was back in the 1930's?
Yes, mid-thirties. Well, the whole thing was kind of ridiculous, because it more and more emerged that the laws of geology were exactly the same as physics, laws of mechanics, potential theory, heat, radioactivity. There wasn't any separate series of laws. You were dealing with physical phenomena, and so the things that were true in one aspect [were true in others] — whether it was the physics department, the astronomy department or the geology department. So that was what let me to write this paper back in 1938. On the place of geophysics in the geology department. I explained in that thesis as to what is the relationship between these various sciences. And my theme was that they all dealt with one common subject, matter and energy, but they deal with it in various levels of abstraction or complexity. If you start out with physics as the most general, the laws of thermodynamics and so on were very very general. They had no bounds in terms of phenomena. They were true in matter and energy and wherever. But when you're into chemistry, you're limited to matter on the atomic and molecular scale, and their interchanges and the corresponding energy relations.
If you went into astronomy, you're dealing with the same thing on a cosmic level. And you work down to what I had as the next level, geology, which was the earth as part of the solar system, as part of astronomy. It's related laterally with biology as being the only known source of organisms in the universe. We have their bones and their records for hundreds of millions of years, and yet the complexity of the phenomena, they're physical, chemical, but they're far more complex than the chem lab, shall we say, and the physics lab, because we're dealing with a more complex arrangement. So that was my thesis at that time, and still is. That was the background when this thing came up. So to me, all this business about special laws of geology was ridiculous. The principles of uniformity, I made a review of that going back to Lyell's first principles, first edition of Principles of Geology. I ran this thing down: how did it come about in the literature? Which I then wrote was a critique of the principles and what they are really, and how there wasn't any such thing, as different from the ordinary fundamental rules. Water freezes at the same temperature tomorrow as it did today or yesterday. And we can interpret the geologic past on the grounds that glaciers were made of the same kind of ice that glaciers are made out of at the present time. And have the same mechanical and dynamical properties.
It was the continuity of these relationships which was the basis for their use in the interpretation of geological history. I pointed out that this made observing these interrelations to see if you could work out a chronology as to what happened first. I used a homely little illustration that if you take a cake of wet clay and inscribe it and plow a mark across it and plow another one across it, well, no problem, but then ask a person who didn't see you do it, which one was made first, and which one was made second. Although they never saw it happen, they can tell you unambiguously which one had to be made first and second. And that this principle of superposition in geology is not fundamentally different from that simple observation. In other words, you could tell by looking at the rocks and the imprints of what had happened, then what happened first and what happened second. Out of this you could work out a chronology, not a time scale but a chronology. Then the time scale came along when you began to estimate how long the various accumulations of sediments would take, and then later on that they had had radioactivity, rate of decay and time span, half life periods and so on. So that was my sermon on the subject of the principle of uniformity.
You're also raising the concern that it wasn't absolutely clear that the pace of events and the occurrence of events in the past could be clearly predicted from events that were observed in the present.
Well, the principle of uniformity had placed mutually inconsistent and contradictory expressions, and one of them was that not only the same kinds of events happened in the past, but they occurred at the same rate. Well, I pointed out there that that couldn't possibly be so, because of the fact that the phenomena on the earth are irreversible thermodynamics. Energy is continuously flowing from inside the earth, and discharging into the outer universe. And you have the geothermal gradient. You have the tectonic phenomena, the mountain making. You have the volcanics. In every one of those case energy is derived from inside the earth.
To be sure, there's an inpouring from the outer of the solar radiation, for example, but very superficial. It does not penetrate the earth more than a few feet deep. So the energy of mountain making, of tectonic earth deformation, of geothermal, is entirely an irreversible thermodynamical phenomenon, and that energy is leaving the earth. The thermal energy of the earth accumulates however it may have accumulated, and maybe partly the thermal energy of condensation. Maybe radioactivity. But forever, that energy is being dissipated, slowly, to be sure. Now, the question, for example, take a mountain. Where does the energy go to when this mountain has eroded away and its debris washed down and deposited in the sea? Or take a unit mass at the top of the mountain. Let it be chemically pulverized into sand and mud, and let it can be carried down to the sea in a body of flowing water. The energy at the top of the mountain, mechanical energy, is simply G per unit mass times the elevation. The kinetic energy is zero. By the time it gets down there and is deposited at approximately sea level, its potential energy is at sea level is zero, its kinetic energy is zero again, although it may not have been zero en route. Where did that energy go to? It was dissipated as heat by friction. It's irreversible thermodynamics. Where did the heat go to? It left the earth. So therefore the energy of the mountain — and this was one of the perpetual motion machines that the isostacy people were guilty of part of the time — [unclear] was particularly good at that — he took the energy of the mountain to make another one. It's physically impossible. The energy's gone when the mountain is gone. So if you make another mountain, you have to have another source of energy, and the only source is the interior of the earth. That being true, there is a running down mechanism, and undoubtedly a slowing mechanism in force. The radioactivity source of energy was much higher earlier than it is now.
Right. I was wondering too how much the ideas of catastrophism were playing into that. It was at this time when Shoemaker and others for example were demonstrating that there were numerous impacts that had occurred on the earth. If I'm not mistaken, it was around that time that Bretz's hypothesis of the scablands finally began to gain credence.
Well, they were dealing with a kind of a theology. One of the things that used to be common in science in general around the turn of the century was that laws were kind of God-given things and man discovered them. We know now that laws are man-made. He observed phenomena he didn't understand and in order to understand he formulates one more general formulation, or several. The formulations may become more and more simple and more and more powerful and comprehensive. So along with that first interpretation is a kind of theological interpretation, and so that's what we ran into with Bretz's scabland. Here they were in top position, and this was in print, Geological Survey people and some of them outside. Well, now, this violates the principle of uniformity, as if the principle of uniformity was handed down by God and not subject to question. And Bretz on the other hand had a concrete example of a very major event. But for that matter, an earthquake is a catastrophic event, and so. But this theological sort of interpretation entered into the use of these things. If it was a God made law, you can't change it! [Laughter].
Right. That's a good point. Did you have much contact with the other people who were at the Symposium, Leonard Wilson or Nelson Goodman?
We had a committee meeting. One that I recall I think was in Dallas, in which these people were present. But it was a time when we were discussing various contributions that various people would make, and I think there was some dissent certainly between me and one of these people and I don't know which. Some of the names you mentioned to me, two names?
Leonard Wilson, Norman Newell, and Nelson Goodman. In addition of course to Claude Albritton.
Newell I know. He's a paleontologist. But the other two men?
Leonard Wilson and Nelson Goodman.
They were both from Princeton, weren't they, or was one from…They were philosophers or something.
Could well be. I'm not certain that it's Princeton but I can check.
Well, one of these men, I don't know which one it was, I think it was Princeton, put forward a long argument that I thought was seriously erroneous. I didn't like it worth a damn. I think I said so.
OK. It's still helpful. There were a few other appointments that you had in the very early 1970's that I wanted to hear a bit more about. You were for a while an instructor at Johns Hopkins University.
I'm curious how that came about and what plans you had for it.
Well, it was, turned out to be that it was a disaster of sorts. I was a staff person, I was about ready to sign off then, and Woolman was the head of the geology department, and also a first class geologist there. He was the son of Abel Woolman a very prominent figure in Hopkins.
And so he was in the inner circle of the management of Hopkins. He wrote to me or called me on the telephone or something to know whether I would consider coming to Hopkins on the same part time basis, as I had at Stanford. Since I was about ready to sign off at Stanford, I told him I'd be very interested. But I think it was in the winter time and I said I'd be willing to tackle it for a brief period that spring. Well, where I made my mistake was that I had given these training courses in Shell, where I had a group of 15 for special courses on hydrodynamic entrapment and that kind of thing. There you have a group of 15 or so men come in from the operating areas. These are not beginning students but men in their thirties or so, and we would have an intensive all day long five days a week, for one month. They would do in one month what a university would do in a semester or so by limited one hour lectures and lab work. Well, that was very successful, because they just isolated the students from everything else, and they concentrated on this one subject. I'd often thought, well, I would like to be able to do this with students. Instead of having this great motley of courses all going on conflicting with each other, if you could just hole them up and concentrate on one subject to the exclusion of everything else, and then drop it and go on to the next one, rather than the experience of having a whole bunch of them running around and interfering with each other.
So when this proposition was made, and I would only be there a brief time, a couple of weeks or so, that spring, I proposed that we try to do it this way. What I'd like to do is just have a workroom and round up the students and have a few key references, like we have here, and we'd just hole up and make a workshop out of it, with a combination of theoretical development, lectures and laboratory work of interpreting the data. We were dealing with oil and gas problems and related things. Well, I hadn't fully anticipated the impossibility of doing that in an academic environment, with the schedules that the university ran on. Students just weren't willing to do it. The library wasn't willing to give us the books, on that kind of a sign-out; they'd lose their books and so on. We kind of struggled through this, but unsatisfactorily because it was a conflict — we couldn't do it. So at the end of the whole thing, why, I suggested we just call it off. I didn't think we could do enough on the lecture basis of one or two hours of lecture a week, and make commuting over there in between times. We just couldn't get in enough time, and so the upshot was they agreed to drop it.
Francis Pettijohn was at Johns Hopkins at that time, wasn't he?
Did you have much contact with him?
Not at the time. Pettijohn's an old friend of mine, from Chicago. But I was so busy doing what I was doing that I never saw anybody else.
The experience that you had at Berkeley was rather different from the one at Johns Hopkins, wasn't it? I'm curious how that came about.
Oh, Berkeley was quite a different situation. The University of California has a system that's been going on for decades. I don't know when it started, of inviting outside scholars in as essentially guests of the university, on a temporary basis. This was authorized by the Board of Regents and they're called Regent's Professorships. I knew of their existence. As I said, I'd been offered one at UCLA and I couldn't accept it because I couldn't afford the time, three months. They had another lesser thing called Regents' lectureship, two weeks, and I accepted that one. But the Regents' Professorship, I had had no experience with before. How this came about was, this Resources of Man book had just been published in 1969. It was 1970, 1971 or so that I got a phone call from this stranger at University of California, Berkeley. He introduced himself as…I have the name problem again.
We can fill that in later.
He was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Was it possible that I'd be coming out to Berkeley any time soon? If so, could I stop and give a lecture at the university? Well, I didn't anticipate being out there any time in the future that I could name, but we had a very interesting visit on the telephone. And what impressed me was the guy's interest, far broader than electrical engineering, social problems, etc. And along the lines of that conversation, I said, "Well, this interests me very much because I'm accustomed to dealing with engineers who limit themselves to building highways or power plants or electronic equipment, and beyond that they don't give a damn what's going on. How did you people get this broader range of interest?" He said, "Our students."
Well, it's only partly true, but it was a gracious statement to make. They had all hell cut loose there at Berkeley in the sixties. Well, anyhow, we had an interesting visit on the telephone, and after I hung up, I suddenly recalled, my God, one month from today I have to be in Reno, Nevada. I was a member of the board of advisers to the Desert Resource Institute of the University of Nevada. The meeting was on Friday and Saturday, I think, and I could easily hop over the Sierras and be at Berkeley on say Monday and maybe Tuesday. So I called my friend back and told him that I'd completely forgotten this, but that I was going to be at this meeting in Nevada, and I could come over on Monday or Monday to Tuesday and visit with them. But if I gave a lecture, I didn't want to give just a class or seminar or a special group because what I was talking about was of equal interest to the whole campus. So I proposed, if they were agreeable, that I would give a lecture on this subject, energy resources, in the evening. If they could get an auditorium that I would give a public lecture to as large an audience as they could put together. He agreed with that, also that I was very much interested in the whole philosophy of scientific education, and I would like very much to be able to discuss problems of this sort with the responsible faculty and administration. If it was agreeable, I thought it could be a very profitable visit. Well, he not only agreed, but he went into high gear and he arranged the biggest auditorium on the campus. They had placards around the campus announcing this lecture, and in relation to that, there was a group that were working on fusion, with Lawrence Berkeley Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, and so it was a joint work between the campus and these AEC laboratories.
My friend, the host who had called me, was working on some aspects of the fusion problem, and he had a very bright young man named John Haldrin who was working in this field also and was there for a year at the time. So what turned up was that this fusion group wanted me to talk to their seminar, I suppose it was, but at the same time, there was a group over in the geography department who wanted me to talk to a group of about three or four hundred students over there. There was a conflict. And they had arrangements for conferences with deans, the dean of the school of engineering, and other administrative officials, and I had a friend that I'd known by the name of Christensen who was in the geology department. He'd become a deputy provost or something or other in the central office of administration, and I knew him. So as they sent me out to the hills — what I said was that I'd give this main lecture the first day, and I'd stay over a second day to talk about anything they wanted to talk about. Well, I did give the lecture at 4 o'clock for an hour or so. But they also had these groups; they wanted me to talk to the fusion group and also the geography group. They had a dinner at the Faculty Club that evening with about a dozen people, partly faculty, partly administration, right down from the president's office. Well, I never had a more exciting two days in my life…It was just terrific. [telephone]. Immediately following that I had to have a prostate operation, which is a very major operation. I was under doctor's orders to take it absolutely quiet, not even climb a flight of stairs for the next several weeks. So I went in through the Christmas vacation and wasn't coming out in circulation until the first of January. So I got to my office, oh, the second of January or whatever, found a pile of mail, and the phone rang. It was my friend from Berkeley who had originally called me, to wonder if they could nominate me for a Regent's Professorship for next year. I said, well, I'd be very interested, provided that they could make it as late as spring quarter, that I just had so many commitments before that time that I wouldn't be prepared to do it, but if they could make it spring quarter 1973. This was January 1972.
Well, he said they'd see what they could do. Again they went into high gear. I understand that the competition for these appointments was very fierce, with different groups in the university promoting their candidates. My people won. The point was that this could not be announced until you get it from the Regents. So — yes, I knew that I was nominated. My nomination was cleared in the faculty. But nobody could announce it until it had been formally acknowledged by the Board of Regents, although there was no known case where the Board of Regents had ever crossed or contradicted the faculty in these choices. So we had to lay kind of low on this for some months until it was officially announced, and well, what were the duties of this prestigious appointment? You're not a member of any department. You're a guest of the entire university. The official duties are that the Regent's Professor gives one or more public lectures.
Beyond that the field is wide open. I told them, I had to go out to the University of Oregon, where is the University of Oregon, what's the name of it? Eugene. Well, anyhow, I was invited out there, again about the first of 1972. I got an invitation from a man who wanted me to talk to a legal group on environmental law. It was meeting at the University of Oregon along in February or so, 1972. And he said, "You may not remember me, but I used to be the solicitor of the Department of Energy, of Interior. And before you say no to this invitation, I hope you'll wait until you hear from Stuart Udall." Well, I did hear from Stuart Udall. I was almost decrepit from this operation. And also, I had something approaching a mild case of flu. I wasn't in very good condition, and I was very busy as well. So I told him, no, I can't do it. But having second thoughts and so on, I finally reversed myself and decided I couldn't afford not to, because these were top level legal people who were formulating new basic law in a new field. That was what was impressed upon me when the man first talked to me. So I agreed to do it. But while I was out there, I'd better go by Berkeley. This was 1973 now. I'd better go from Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, by Berkeley and talk with people there, and see what it is they wanted me to do. So I got in touch with the Berkeley people and arranged, after Oregon I'd come "in one day and out the next", visiting with them, to discuss what they wanted to do. In that discussion, I said, "Look, what I want to talk about, I can't do it in one hour lecture or two hours. I suggest a three one-hour series."
A series of lectures?
Spaced at about two weeks intervals. And I think I gave them the titles. If not then I did it later on by mail. Beyond that, I said, "If I tried to run a seminar or something like that, I'd be dealing with a dozen or a half a dozen or so people. I'd be wasting my time as far as people are concerned. Since I'm dealing with things that are of far broader interest, I propose that I simply be available, and I'll talk to any group, class or ongoing affair in which they would like to have me come in and talk. You people can work it out any way you like and schedule it. Except remember I can't be two places at once." Well, that was agreed to. I think I got by mail a little later, three typewritten papers, 8 1/2 x 11 pages, full of my schedule, during this period. And I was talking across the boards, from the nuclear energy people, geology people, law school, economics and anyway — a very tight schedule on the basis of these three lectures. Then as the quarter was approaching its end, or without a couple of weeks or so of the end of the quarter, the representatives of the student body of the engineering graduating class of 1973 came to see me and asked me to give the graduation address.
Oh, really? That's quite an honor.
I had about two weeks to prepare it. I was working on that graduation address and had a secretary working in the evening until 9 or 10 o'clock the night before the graduation day.
And the title of that was "Engineering in a Non-Expanding Society."
Can you tell me a little more about what you said in that address and how it was received?
Well, the basic thing again was the thing that I'd talked about, informally and broadly, and that was that this growth thing was a temporary affair. The papers I gave you.
Right. And also what you attempted to communicate to Hoffman.
Yes, that same thesis. You can't keep it up. This thing we're dealing with was the short view of history, where exponential growth seems to be the way God intended. It's actually the most unusual thing in the history of the human species. And you can't keep it up. But you could keep it up to a state of disaster. The question is, can we view this thing far enough in advance, bring enough intelligence to bear on it, so that we can keep ourselves out of trouble? That's where the responsibility lies, that we reorient our whole modus operandi and we control the population to a level compatible with earth's resources, we rely on solar energy and replaceable supplies far more than on irreplaceable fossil fuels, etc. So I broadly sketched the role that engineering would play in this kind of a situation, the kind of objectives we'd be working towards, quite different from the ones in a growth-oriented economy. That was the general theme of my address. It was very well received, and a synopsis of it was published in the engineering school's publication, of the engineering department, or their alumni group, I don't remember which. They published it, not entirely but a synopsis or journalistic account of it. It went over, I would say, very very satisfactorily.
Was there a hope on the part of your hosts at Berkeley to set up a program in the same general area to which you were contributing?
Well, before I was involved here, a year or so before, they had started an internal look around over this proposition. Energy and resources was obviously a fundamental thing in the present human society. I think they made a review of their own campus programs, and found about 40 different courses dealing with various aspects of these things fragmentally. There wasn't a comprehensive integral of the whole thing on the campus and no provision for one. Everybody was doing their own little fragment, and no synthesis, no integration. Well, they got set up an official committee of the university administration to look into this thing. They had made such a review, and they came up recommending that there be established a group, not based in any department, but an inter-departmental group called the Energy and Resources Group that would have one or two faculty members to run the thing brought in full time. The others would be a collaboration, speaking on different aspects. Even the law school and the department of economics and agricultural people would be involved. It would be an inter-departmental collaboration, centered on this theme of integration of energy resources, studies and understanding.
Well, what apparently led to this was this Resources and Management Report. A man from the nuclear energy group had read this and brought it over to my friend the electrical engineer who I believe was chairman of this group. He said, "Look, we want this guy for a Regent's Professor." He looked it over. That's how it started. They read this Resources report of mine. But once I was there, I could see what they were doing in administration. When I visited there over night about five years ago, I had an evening with the same group as of the earlier date. They graciously credited me with being one of the founders.
All right, they wanted this man John Aldrin. John Holdrin was working with nuclear fusion, running a seminar. He was also co-author with a biologist at Stanford of a book dealing with ecological and population problems. A very very broad-gauge chap. And he was at this time back in Caltech. So they had their eye on him. He was a bright young man, 35 or so. And they wanted to hire him as their director, and sure enough, they did.
Who was this person?
John Holdrin. Then they added the others, Christiansen that I spoke of in geology, who had been kind of a deputy provost at Berkeley, and the other was in some similar role or a little higher role down at the campus south of Stanford, on the coast.
No. North of Santa Barbara.
Santa Cruz. He went down there in the higher levels of administration, but apparently he didn't like it and he came back. I remember him on the staff of this Resources and Energy Resources Group. They've got a couple more people. They've got about four or five staff members. They're not members of any department. They're their own show, but they work collaboratively across the campus with other departments, and they also have arrangements for higher degrees. So a student can come in from oh, electrical engineering or mechanical engineering etc. or something else, come over there and take courses, and then go back and take his degree in his own department. But if he's interested, he can come over there and take his degree there, do his work in his own departments but take his degree there, an administrative technique. So that arrangement is working very well. I think it's the best thing in the country of its kind.
Yes. Have you stayed in touch with the people who are out there?
I haven't been out there. I was there one night about five or six years ago, but I'm not just — I've had these health problems came up right after that.
And so I haven't been out there since, and there's not much likelihood that I'm going to. Again, I am just spending time on writing letters, and so, I'm — so I just get a week some time, I get a little calendar of a week or two weeks. Not only this school but other things that are related, some of them on campus, other groups. But they have a little bulletin and I get a copy of it every week or two weeks, every week or so, what they're doing.
You've received quite a few major awards in your career. In 1954, the Day Medal from the GSA, and the Gold Medal from the Society of Petroleum Engineers in '71, and the Rockefeller award. When you look back, I wonder if any of those had a particular impact on your career? Do any stand out in your mind?
Well, more or less. I mean, yes, I was honored, pleased, proud, but I wouldn't say that they had any influence otherwise.
I kept doing what I was doing. I mean, these things are ironical in a way, because usually it was when I was battling with somebody over some subject, and I got an award. Like the Geological Survey here. So what do I get? I get the Rockefeller Public Service Award, when I'm in a battle with the Geological Survey. So that was the judgment of outside people looking in.
Which came in the middle of the battle as well.
Yes. In that case, the man from the Rockefeller Woodrow Wilson School who was administering this thing—I don't know what the title was but he'd been one of the highest level administrative officers in the old Department of (?) or something before Health and Human Services. It was back in the old days when Hobby was the Secretary, earlier. He'd been the principal administrative officer of that big department. After he retired there he became head of the Woodrow Wilson School. It was he who nominated me and pushed me for this Rockefeller Foundation Award.
He knew what was going on in Washington.
That makes a good story. Granted you spent a great deal of time in your professional career working for Shell, where your contacts with students in the universities was not as strong as if you had been in a university department. But were there any students that you particularly wanted to talk about, people whose careers you played an active role in?
Well, actually I had far more influence on American universities when I worked for Shell than I ever did when I worked for a university. I was a one man operator across the country.
On the lecture tours?
On geological education. Like these series of reports on geological and geophysical education that we got out in the thirties and forties.
That revolutionized, in a way, geological education in the United States. It probably would have happened without me, but I think it happened faster with that catalyst. Again, I did a lot of lecturing. I lectured in universities pretty well all over the country, on a great variety of subjects, some of which were of that nature; others were the kind of thing that I was working on such as energy, structural geology problems, hydraulics etc. But I had far more influence academically when I worked for Shell than I ever had when I worked for the universities, partly because it was a better base, and partly because somehow or other they have more respect for an outsider than they do for their own people.
I think that's true in many cases. Were there any particular individuals, though, that come to mind that you feel you have been principally involved in training, either from Columbia or other associations?
Not very many. Mostly when I was teaching I didn't have much contact with the students. I didn't have enough time. And so again, I was in an old fashioned department where students knew damned well which side their bread was buttered on. For example, in Columbia if a student didn't think that Charles Peter Berkey was Jesus Christ he'd better get the hell out because this ain't no place for skeptics. And nobody would succeed at Columbia if the student didn't genuinely think he was.
If a student had doubts about it, Berkey knew it. And it wasn't good for the student. So well, that was my last academic teaching. The only other academic teaching I did was on this short term basis where I'd give a series of lectures maybe for a week or two weeks. MIT, Caltech, UCLA, etc. These AAPG lecture tours. Many of those were at universities. But they were not of any extent.
Speaking of that, were there any other lecture tours that you thought were important that we haven't covered yet?
Well, the first one that I took was this two weeks back in 1945 or so, and when I was at Shell. That was in the nature of a kind of a debut into technical oil society, as an outsider, both in Shell and in the petroleum industry. Later on, through this epoch-making paper on entrapment of petroleum by hydrodyanmics, I think I had an invitation from the Distinguished Lecture Committee within a few weeks from the time I gave that paper to go on a tour that fall. The meeting was in about March or so, the paper, in Los Angeles. When they got that exchange in, as I say, it was a local option thing, the various societies and universities and so on. They go over the list of speakers and day "I'll have Joe" and so on. When they got the returns in, I was signed on for six weeks on that lecture tour from coast to coast and across Canada and the US. And after that, let's see, I was going to Washington, first of January 1964, and in '63 I got an invitation from the Petroleum Engineers to go on their Distinguished Lecture Circuit. I said, "Look, I've been invited on this tour; if I do, I'll be giving essentially what's in this report. Is there any objection on the part of the Survey to this?" He said there wasn't one, so I went. I actually gave two alternative lectures, one on the energy resource thing, oil and gas and so on, the other on reservoir engineering. In the field audiences, I gave the lecture on the underground fluid mechanics. Then at the headquarters, on the energy picture.
Right. It worked out well.
That was a six weeks tour. That was '63, '64. In the early seventies, I was invited then by the AAPG, the Petroleum Geologists, to go on a major lecture tour on the energy subject. That turned out to be nine weeks of two or three week intervals in between. I remember about that same time, or a little later, there was an Englishman who was a technical advisor or something or other in the British industry here. He came to see me. I was resting, after this Academy report or another report had been published. I had a copy of it with me. I wanted to talk about it. And later on, they had a new minister of energy who'd just been appointed, and he was over at the British embassy, and they were having their reception for him in this round building sticking out on the corner here, the British embassy. That's where they held the receptions, cocktail parties and things and that's where it was. I was introduced to this gentleman, and after a bit he kind of cornered me off in a corner and confidentially asked, "Now, are you held in disrepute in your professional associations?" And I said, "Well, I don't think so. I'm a past president of the Geological Society of America. I've been associate editor for about fifteen years of the BULLETIN of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. I've been an editor of the Society of Geophysics JOURNAL OR BULLETIN of the Society of Geophysics. I'm a member of the National Academy of Sciences. I'm a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. "I'm a holder of this, that and the other medal." He said, "Enough, you don't have to say any more."
So you made your point; that's good. Were there any unusual experiences, particular memories that come back to mind from the time that you were editor of those various publications? Any decisions that you felt you needed to make?
Well, in a sense, one of the more memorable circumstances was when I was associate editor of the AAPG BULLETIN. That was a time when every difficult paper, especially mathematical papers, was routed to me as a general oil geologist. Well now, this is the kind of thing again, one thing, that's wrong with scientific literature. Ordinarily people who don't know too much about a subject that's a little unusual, that's mathematical, say it looks impressive, so they say OK. Well, in my case I studied it. And over and over again, I'd turn these papers down as being physically erroneous. I mean, I studied these things sometimes as long as two weeks, and when I wrote the commentary that I sent in to headquarters, it might be a half a dozen typewritten pages on that paper. And that went on. I was the most critical editor they had, and all of these kinds of papers were the ones that they routed to me. It was the same sort of thing with the Society of Petroleum Engineers. I remember one particular paper. A man in one of the oil companies in Oklahoma, one of the big oil companies, submitted a manuscript marked Part 1, implying there was going to be Part 2 or more coming up. In it, he attempted to derive the equations of fluids starting out with the total energy, thermal as well as everything else — and he didn't know what he was talking about. Yet it was superficially impressive. And this was Part 1, so he was going to follow that up with Part 2. Well, the program committee, the people who were working with it, included one of my own colleagues who was a senior Dutch physicist. He saw this thing and couldn't make any sense out of it, and proposed that the committee refer it to me. And I went over it. It was not valid. And besides that, in principle I object to accepting any paper that says Part 1 without simultaneously passing on Part 2. Otherwise you're buying a pig in a poke. So this paper was turned down. But it was the same kind of thing, and I did this over and over again. But when I wrote this thing—did I give you a copy of this editorial thing on the 50 Year Anniversary of the GSA to comment on some of these points?
No, I don't have a copy of that. I would like to see it.
Well, I'll see if I can find it.
OK. I just wanted to ask you one more question. We've talked already about the experience you had with religion in growing up. I was curious if you had other strong convictions either with regard to philosophy or philosophy of life that you haven't spoken about yet that you might want to mention?
Well, a simple rational view, discerned from the organisms in the earth and their impressions. As a famous physiologist from Chicago, Antone J. Carson, head of the physiology department, used to shock his audiences with, "One of these days, I'm going to be a long time dead." Like the dinosaurs, here today, gone tomorrow.
Let me thank you very very much for this long session, and all the ones that we have been taping so far. I'm reminded of an interview that I did once with Hubert Alyea at Princeton, who was 91 at the time. He said, "Well, why don't you run along and see my old colleague Charlie Smyth; he's a youngster, he's only 87." Let me just mention — this ought to be put on the tape — that you will be retaining full editorial control over the contents of this tape, and it will not be released to anyone without your express permission on the AIP consent forms, and that you'll be able to review the transcripts as soon as they are available.
Well, thank you very much. That's important.