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GeoLegends: Bert Bally (Part 1)


Bert Bally - Research Scientist, Explorationist, and Professor (Part 1)

Full Transcript

I went straight for PhD.

Interviewer: Oh, you're one of those, huh?

I found out that you could get a PhD which helped me- preventing all the pains of exams and tests and everything else. I hated tests anyway. So basically I'm—

I went straight for PhD. It was high risk for position. So you stayed there for ten years. I stayed for ten long years there. About two thirds of I did as—I was a TA there.

So I was paid for the ten years. I was not a burden on my parents. And so after ten years I had to take all the tests. And I did not flunk like an idiot. So—

What we did we had like a lot of Alpine exposure, field trips that we could—in the summer we had field trips and we went all over the Alps. So basically I know the Alps pretty well from those times.

But then my PhD I did in Italy and most of my PhD was fieldwork. Most of it was stratigraphy and so that I went into carbonates basically.

I got involved with what nowadays would be carbonate, stratigraphy, sedimentology you’d say today and microfacies.

So basically I was a trained microface TA—TA as a micropaleontologist and most of my background was basically—my specialized background was micropaleontology.

Interviewer: These were the Cretaceous carbonates that you were looking at?

It was all the way to the Tertiary—lower Cretaceous all the way to basically Miocene carbonates.

I spent about four years in the field and four years off and on so in net field time you're looking at about 12 months or something like that.

A lot of time in the field running up the mountains taking samples, packing them, lugging them back, transporting them on my back to Zurich and then making my own thin sections of which there were lots.

Interviewer: Sounds like. After you finished up, I noticed you did a year or two at Lamont. Is that right?

I went to Lamont. I got a fellowship in Lamont. Well, first of all, I sent about 15 letters to various U.S. uni—I wanted to come to the States.

The reason why I wanted to come to the States is because I was impressed by the Committee on Paleoecology and Ecology who put these big reports—

two big books eventually on paleoecology from the Cambrian all the way up to the Tertiary. And I thought, in the U.S. they're doing this kind of work was quite interesting. That was one reason.

The other reason was that I had a—never really understood the relationship of shallow water to deep water sediments.

So I had a carbonate platform. I could see the clastic derived from the platform all the way down into the pelagic facias and then all of a sudden in a different area I have—

I had shales with radial ((sp) a-en-ox) and radial ((sp) a-en-ox) were alternating with corrals. And so I saw these were a shallow water radial anomalies which was obviously a bunch of nonsense.

And it turned out many, many years later I had them analyzed. It’s probably the highest organic content of any measured at that time in the Shell lab,

something like about, I don't know, T or C would be something like 50-60 percent.

Interviewer: That’s pretty high.

Just incredibly high. Also about 30 years later I find out that there was—well, I found it was immature and eventually I found out the age of them which was basically they aged about the same as the _____.

So I never could figure out how deep sea sediments were alternating with corrals which obviously they did not do because of their source beds but—

and I knew a lot about source beds at that time. I was also TAing in petroleum geology which was three semesters and one full semester was only dedicated to the origin of oil. One whole semester.

That was around 1948. So- but it just didn’t—corrals didn’t fit in and too many things didn’t fit in there which I didn’t know anything about.

So I figured the best way to figure something out when I sent my 15-20 letters to various universities I was rejected by most of them. Very friendly answers—sorry we don’t have an opportunity for you.

But Lamont and Columbia University was Walter Bucher. He sent letter and it says, you know, come on over. And that was prime opportunity to look at deep sea corrals.

Now when you look at deep sea corrals you will know that they are muds and so we had to go and

it was different kind of paleontology and was basically you washed the samples and got programs out of it that way.

But David Ericson’s main interest was what you today would call climate change. So Global Italia would turn in one day and rotate in the other way.

So I made endless climate curves and the whole thing and I knew the climate was changing but the climate changes was happening before the car was invented.

So you know so something happened there before people started running around in trains and cars and it was pretty massive. So that was basically my experience in Lamont.

I spent most of that doing—I didn’t publish very much except for one pamphlet called Deep Sea and Early Man.

And the idea was that there to find out what caused the demise of Santorini- not Santorini, the Cretan Minoan civilization basically.

And so the argument went like so is that we simply said—first of all, I convinced myself because my corrals are alternating with radial a logs,

I figured out it has something to do with volcanism because I had marilonite in those things and the sort of whole thing from opal to calcedine and the whole thing.

So I—and had all the reasons for thinking that ashes had something to do with it. I also found out that in the meantime that you can create source beds at that time in lakes.

So it turns out that whenever you have the bloom of diatoms and radial a—whenever you have an ash you have a bloom of radial a and diatoms meaning that seal that they're pelagic on and they seal off the hole—

the hole in the bottom of the dome and that creates an anoxic environment. So that there’s a relationship between ash faults and radial a logs.

This is politically not correct, I know, but you'll find many, many of them are that way like the Devonic facies in Russia is a classical case and some of the Middle East radial source beds are that way.

So I wanted to pursue that and the best way to pursue the effect of ash faults on deep-sea corrals was to find a reason for getting some piston corrals in there.

And Santorini was a good testing ground. Santorini and the Minoan civilization was then Santorin was a good—

the request for that thing was denied by none other than Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was the famous Jesuit priest who discovered Peking Man and he was—in that time he was rejected by the Vatican and he was

an advisor to the Men of Grain Foundation which are the Swedish of it which makes the circles that complain us.

So that’s how the whole thing got—but he didn’t think it was a good idea apparently so I was—I had to find other employment and I went to working for Shell.

Shell got wind of me in The Hague—in Switzerland largely because it was run by Swiss at the time. The chief geologist was a Swiss guy. It was Hunting.

But the main reason why he was interested in me was because I’d worked for Gulf in southeast Sicily for Elmer Thomas. Elmer Thomas was the first president of the AAPG.

My guess is I may be one of the few people alive who new Elmer Thomas. So if you want to have a centennial celebration, you want to get a ghost there, you can get me.

So anyway, so I was hired by—what’s his name—by Clint’s uncle, and got to know Elmer Thomas, meeting him first—I met him in Rome at the time and he asked me normal questions about my background.

That was basically my main qualifications was I speak Italian and Elmer Thomas and Clint did not speak Italian. So Edward Twinpeak is the name—Edward. It is Rudy Twinpeak’s uncle.

So my qualification that I spoke Italian and that I knew my way around in Italian geology, but I didn’t know my way around Sicilian geology.

I asked Elmer Thomas at the time—okay, the other thing is I didn’t know his - I didn’t speak any English. I acquired my English strictly by osmosis. I had only one lesson and I rejected the full position to have formal English lessons and it shows even today.

So I asked Sue, my Swiss translator, I asked Elmer Thomas why he took the permit in Sicily. You know you wonder why somebody—why an American effectively would take an exploration term in Sicily.

He said, “Young man, it’s very simple. What you are looking at is your driving around the countryside and you determine what the regional dip is. And when you see reversal on the regional dip, that’s where you take the permit out.”

And that to me was a lesson which sticks with me—stuck with me forever because it simply tells you what the petroleum system is. Today that’s the petroleum system.

Any reversal on the regional dip, that’s the petroleum system. And he had that intuitively. He knew that.

And he took the permit out. I had to do most of the mapping. So I spent six months in the summer in Sicily mapping. It was hot as blazes.

And we had something like a dozen prospects and then the boss says “Rank them”, and I ranked them from 1 to 12. And on top of it was what turned out to be the Ranguza Field which was a reversal on the regional dip.

And the reason why it was on top was because there was an asphalt mine on it. So it was very simple reasoning.

Interviewer: So just biodegraded oil—the shallow oil got biodegraded?

No, it just leaked.

Interviewer: Just leaked, okay, just water washed.

It just leaked up there and that was found much deeper. And at the time they try various geophysical things, magnetic and seismic;

and at the time they were not good enough to the job so they drilled anyway and made a good discovery.

Interviewer: There you go.

And so that was the way they made the discovery. I was already in the U.S. when they made the discovery. So the people in The Hague knew about that, not about the discovery but I’d worked for Gulf and I also had in my thesis area,

the biggest anticline in Italy full of oil seeps is yet to be drilled and—but it was now declared to be a national park so it won’t be drilled.

And it’s right on the marker. It’s on the other side of the area of the peninsula on the other side of Rome, on the Rietic side.

So then they hired you in The Hague then? Shell hired you in The Hague?

No, they didn’t hire me in The Hague. In fact, I was interviewed in The Hague and the first time they didn’t hire me because I didn’t want to get into the tropics because as a child I had malaria

and I didn’t want to have another malaria encounter. I was pretty sick for awhile.

And so they thought I would be the right guy, so the people in Hague decided no and then the guy—the chief geologist comes back and says we got another doctor here in Switzerland who can talk to you

and maybe he will give you a more favorable thing. And I went to the other doctor and I told them I don’t want to go to the tropics because of malaria, and then I got another rejection so.

I eventually got hired by Shell because I also was a guide for American geologist, Shell geologists, which were given a tour to Switzerland. So I toured them around Switzerland. I showed them the Alps and this and that.

And my future boss- McAdams- was one of my clients, if you wish;

and so when I needed a job, I had the option to go for Gulf or Shell and the head of this was in New York and Gulf’s office was in Pittsburgh

and New York was closer to Lamont so I knocked on their door and they said come on over and they send me to Canada.

Interviewer: So to Calgary first? Is that where they sent you?

Calgary was my first Shell assignment, yeah.

Interviewer: How long were there for?

Oh, I was in Calgary for about 12 years or so.

Interviewer: So when you went to Calgary then, that was kind of the time I think where they were first starting to move into the Thrust Belt.

Shell was in Canada long time before. But then just when about just when the Leduc was discovered, Shell pulled out of Canada.

And the reason for pulling out of Canada was quite obvious is they had—after the war they had limited funds. They had lost all their investments in Russia, and also in Indonesia and the whole thing.

So they basically had to start over from scratch and they had to make a decision what to focus on. They made entirely the correct decision.

They went to Venezuela. So they withdrew from Canada and many years later—oh, not many years later but Leduc was ‘47 and I came to Canada in 1954, so something like five or six years later they came back to Canada.

And it turned out that most of the acreage on the D3 play on the Leduc play was basically taken and seismic was working so-so in carbon and exploration in the Plains, and they decided then to go to the Folded Belt.

So they took out some acreage in the Folded Belt in various places, and decided to aggressively pursue it and I was lucky enough they said, you know, come on over. You are Swiss. You know about folded belts.

Tell us what the Rocky Mountains are all about. And I said, “Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir” and I—because I didn’t know how to drive, I says “I need a car and a chauffeur.

I want to go across the Cordillera and I want to see all the cow—all the field parts we have. I want to see”—and I went up in an airplane to see what it looks like.

That’s just basically in the first two weeks when I arrived in Shell. I want this, this, this, this.

I had to do what I had to do. So for me then—but they said, “Well, when are you going to give us this report about that?”

I says, “Well, when do you want it?” I said okay. They said “Six months.” So I had to, in six months, I had to tell them all about the geology of the Rocky Mountains, how to explore it, and how to find oil.

And I delivered the good six months. I wrote a report which I don’t think I would want to see published anywhere. But yes, this was more work to be done.

Interviewer: So it was a good report.

It was good work. It was, yeah, all reports should end with more work to be done.

Interviewer: Of course.

So and so that’s how I got involved in seismic in Canada. And the biggest experience was the interaction between geophysicists and geologists, also Glen Roberts particularly was a key man there.

He didn’t know much about folded belts, and I basically knew any about geophysics because I didn’t care for about for temple integrations and all that stuff.

So I took him in the field and showed him rocks and he took me by the hand and guided me through the geophysics and we worked together.

So it was—it was friendship. It was never mind teamwork, it was friendship and we had a small group. We all worked together and worked it out.

The first year was probably the critical year in the whole thing. So about—within less than a year of the whole thing I had to put my name under the drilling accommodation together with everybody else for the Morrilee well.

At the time it was $1.6 million, which will be 1955 million. So that was a lot of money.

Interviewer: Yep.

We drilled into it, went halfway down, and we found out that we encountered some high velocity oxygen there. That the well was not located exactly right.

So it was all this complicated Mesozoic imblicates and we made as good a job as we could out of that, but it was not exactly right.

So we went to the boss and said, “We have a problem. We probably need to deviate the well or do something about the whole thing.”

And then we went to the boss’ boss, and the boss’ boss says, “Well, it’s all right if you tell me what you're telling me- but if you were wrong in the first place, how do I know that you're not wrong this time here?”

And he went right ahead and we kept on drilling and sure enough, we had a dry hole. Eventually people found—drilled a well and it turned out to be a significant gas field.

But the key point on the whole thing is that we were allowed to drill dry holes. There was no discrimination. It was a fairly civilized relationship for you know your dry holes are there to be learned from.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Sure.

And so I say, something I tell the students over and over again, my specialty are the dry holes. And any discovery I was involved with—none of them was my personal discovery.

Nobody makes them. They—it’s always a bunch of people getting together and it’s basically teamwork and decision-making and all kind of things.

Interviewer: Inside majors, I would agree with that. I think you will find a lot of independents work in little places around that—

Independents, yeah, this is correct but if you're working for a large oil company, you can’t go and say that I'm responsible for a discovery.

I was associated closely—I was associated with one than other plays. Some I was very closely associated, some less closely associated with than some.

And the higher up you get in the organization the looser your association is because you're just pay—in my case I was just an advisor.

So sometimes I gave bum advice and sometimes I gave good advice and when I gave bum advice, I can put that on my dry hole list.

And so it’s really important to recognize when you were wrong. And you know don’t get paranoid about it, but—

Interviewer: I think a lot of people that I've run into over the years, don’t have the personality for failure and they don’t have the personality for drilling dry holes.

I always felt like you were always going to be wrong at something. So your interpretation is always wrong. Something is wrong about it so- be honest about it. Get on with it, you know.

Right. That’s right, yeah. But you know with tight economic constraints and economics being what they are, risk has to be reduced as much as you can.

If you don’t take any risks then you cannot be—then you are wrong less frequently. That’s entirely correct. But then most of the major oil was found was when people took larger risks. So you know you can play it one way or the other.

Eventually the first real big discovery was Wattenberg. It’s a big gas field and was an interesting thing because most people even today don’t know that secret.

Wattenberg, the seismic was okay so you saw a big anticlinal complex. Clint Dawson decided to call it a duplex.

We knew what it looked like, but how did we know in all this maze of reflections whether it would be duplex and where the carbonates would be? Well, that’s getting lost. It was done by bald side refraction.

That would be refraction along a strike line. It gives you a much crisper definition of the leading edges of these structures. So as the strike perspective on folded belts, which is getting lost completely, even today.

So you have to—if you look around in various publications on folded belts, it’s normally single cross sections. If you look at the stuff we published in Canada, it has a long strike section which is the key to everything.

It doesn’t say it is the key to everything but—and I did the same in Italy. And the strike section allows you to go from good data and bad data area with less velocity

disturbance because the velocity disturbance along strikes are less than a cross strike. It’s very simple. Very simple stuff.

And that message is basically lost even today. Now today you can do it with—you could do it tomography but it’s the acquisition, how you lay out your lines when you are in the folded belt.

You just don’t brute force yourself into it. Do cross sections and transects and 3D is the same. You got to look at that strike dimensions.

It looks a little bit better in 3D is of course the beauty that you get the time slices or depth slices which allow you to map things. But then I find out that most people don’t really know how to use depth slices.

Depth slices are only used as a crutch to interpret sections and for map things. But the depth slices in themselves, they are an enormous amount of geologic information off target which is a key to understanding what is going on.

So you have to go through the time slices and everything else and typically that’s not a use—structurally it’s not used. You rarely see time slices across folded belts.

 Anyway, we did that. We were successful and then people in Shell Canada decided we are good at this business and we want to see what else.

And what else was Sul Ross and we had a big mapping program then. We decided to map the whole Cordillera from Fort Nelson all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

It lasted for about four or five years. Typically a year we had six geological crews down. A crew—a geological crew was one helicopter, one party chief, about four or five geologists and I'm sitting in the field camp.

They all did the photo geology before they went out in the field. And then they verified what the photo geology was about so.

The support consisted out of an extra helicopter for emergencies and for myself, I was basically in charge of the technical part of the operation. So I had to for summers I could helicopter all the way from BC all the way to the Arctic coast-

which is why I know that area pretty well. It’s—then we have fixed support with a couple of others in these three. So it was a massive operation.

Interviewer: Sounds like it, yeah.

We mapped the whole thing. Our maps differ from the—differed from the geological survey maps. The survey at the time didn’t have any maps in the area. It was basically blank topography. We had to start from scratch. We made very careful differentiations between outcrop and non-outcrop.

We wanted to separate fact from fiction. So we had a legend which is labeled as far as marines, gravel plains and everything else. When you shoot seismic you find out when you sit on a gravel plain your results are not so good.

It gives you—you're going to look forward and see what your seismic environment is going to be. So we had a pretty good legend for various types of surface coals.

And it has the advantage and also we could see where somebody has been, where it was pure for the geology and where the actual person had the actually had dips and strikes. So where the dip strikes was, this is where the person was.

Sampling was at ten feet interval, if necessary, but possibly between three and ten feet of sand stratigraphic samples or less. So we measured stratigraphic section—hundreds of stratigraphic sections.

None of it has been published. It’s all—it’s all—

Interviewer: Were you bringing a lot of alpine-trained people here?

No, we had a mix of summer students which we trained. But we had good party chiefs. The best known ones I guess nowadays was Pete Zeigler was one of the party chiefs. Ken Glenny was one.

And people of that caliber. There were very good people. And they were familiar because they did their own photo geology. The people who did the photo geology went in the field to verify the map.

It was a cycle over one year. January 1 you do the photo. December of that year you submit your reports and the maps. And it was very good. An unbelievable opportunity to get to know the whole Canadian Cordillera.

And there’s still a lot of it is not published, not seen or anything else. I wish they would release those reports. But these things, like so many things, they get lost eventually.

What happened is the northwestern Canada, the base for Phil King’s tectonic map was a Canadian tectonic map by—I try to remember the man’s name—who worked with Phil King on the Canadian portion.

And we gave him the portion on the northwest territories and on this other BC. So it basically reappeared in the form of Phil King’s tectonic map.

But the Canadians did a superb job in the Arctic Islands with their surveys there. They did them about the same time we worked in the Cordillera.

We expanded to also include the British Columbia. We took that big—we found out that basically the onshore allowance were coupled to the British Columbia so for work commitment we could take the whole British Columbia offshore.

And again we had the field part there on the boat on an old mine sweep with a helicopter. Peter Zeigler was in charge of that. We went all the way up and down the British Columbia coast, mapped everything including fantastic turbidites and everything else.

Ever been on Hesquiat Islands—Hesquiat Peninsula? You want to see a nice little good outcropping sequence of turbidites on some offshore—on Vancouver out from the coast. Incredible outcrops.

That’s basically what I did in Canada.

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An internationally known geologist/explorationist whose mapping in southeastern Sicily eventually led to Gulf Oil’s discovery of Ragusa Field. (Sidney Powers medalist) Show More

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