Sidney Powers Memorial Award
Barry Friedman, Explorer Correspondent
“I’m sorry Dr. Peters, but that’s not quite right.”
This year’s Sidney Powers Memorial Award winner, Kenneth Peters, recalls that moment fondly. He was in class, making a point of which he was certain, when a student raised his hand to challenge it.
“If I had to pick one aspect of my career that was most rewarding,” said Peters, who has more than 38 years of experience with Chevron, ExxonMobil, USGS, Stanford University and Schlumberger, “it would have to be those perceptive and sometimes irreverent comments or questions posed by students or colleagues.”
He said it taught him the virtue of humility.
“Many questions forced me to re-examine my explanations for how geoscience works, and some drove me to research that culminated in publications with new insights,” he said.
Niche, But Necessary
Peters, perhaps best known and celebrated for his work in organic geochemistry, said the field hasn’t always won him the kind of recognition represented by the Sidney Powers medal.
“A significant part of my career involved research and teaching in organic geochemistry,” he related. “Soon after I began my career in industry, I learned that geochemistry was at best a niche science. I recall walking a hallway at our field laboratory when a senior vice president from corporate headquarters passed me in the other direction. He called me back with a question: ‘Say, aren’t you Ken Peters the geochemist?’ After my response, he followed with: ‘Isn’t it true that geochemistry is a mature science?’”
Peters said that when the term “mature” is used to refer to any discipline, the implication is that there is nothing more that needs to be done.
“I have always regretted my feeble denial of that on-the-spot question. After more than 40 years in the profession, I have learned that we know far less about geochemistry and basin and petroleum system modeling than we should,” he said.
It is regrettable, he explained, because those disciplines are key to reducing risk in exploration and development for both conventional and unconventional resources, which makes them opportunities for fruitful research that will give a competitive edge.