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GeoLegends: Dietrich Welte (Part 3)

Summary

Dietrich Welte: Geologist and Chemist, Leader in Organic Geochemistry, and Father of Modern Petroleum System and Basin Modeling, Part 3

Full Transcript

This is my first situation with Shell in Grasswick and I had a little room next to a number of other colleagues you know like Peter Strank and Crunch, and apparently I was called – I even don’t know who made that photo.

So, this is the start of my career with Shell many, many years ago, it’s probably 1960.

This is the abstract of that paper relation between petroleum and source rock which Bob King translated, and really one should give credit to Bob King. And by the way one of his younger colleagues at the time was Dat Klemic, you all know his name, the famous Dat Klemic on the different kind of basin analysis, et cetera.

And I really have Bob King in best memories.

This is the normal alkane profile of the Miocene Messel shale. This is the one where I did pyrolysis work; and the different temperatures indicate different maturity stages.

It was a very important paper from the thinking here, also with respect to, for instance, the IFB developed rock evolve system.

This was some sort of a start. I did that in order to show that kerogen would place nicely into the funicular diagram and for the geochemistry community in Germany this was an important signal to do something like that.

This got me the job at the University in Göttingen. Well not only this alone but among others.

This is probably the first petroleum generation line that was detected, it was not me, it was my first PhD. student [Lye? Sweizer?]

I had asked him to analyze coals with very much defined maturity rank.

At the time we did not yet speak so much in detail about the maturity of source rocks but coals were classically defined into brown coal, hard brown coal, bituminous coal, sub-bituminous coal.

And we selected coals of all these different ranks and looked at the hydrocarbons that can be extracted from it, the aromatics, the asphaltic compounds and the saturated compounds and you clearly could see a change in that.

And it was published I think the first time in 1969 and it was done in 1967.

This is the petroleum evolutionary line from crude oils of different stages of maturity or ranks and their so called giftnotruf.

And at the same time, we looked at correlation or closeness of relationship between different crude oils in one and the same basin.

Which is a standard technology nowadays, it’s very much more refined data on biomarkers.

This was an important work out of two reasons – to understand the changes in molecules with respect to different faces or environments because you could indicate the kind of reduction a certain system had experienced.

And this is very important nowadays in understanding the type of source rock environment which later on is important, is it very much reducing, is it carbonate material, et cetera.

And the phytol molecule is a side chain of the chlorophyll structure.

And when I worked for Shell, in the very early work we did on gas chromatography, we found a very distinctive peak in the saturate fraction of any oil and we didn’t know what it was.

And then one of our colleagues, it was not me, he had the idea; we were at the beach in the Hague and eight young herring – and herring are the pre-dators or how do you call it – they consume algae, lots of algae.

That’s their basic food. And then we found the same peak, we extracted the young herrings.

Pressed out the oil, we refined it and we analyzed the oil and we found the same peak, we found in these oils.

And we called it the Herring compound. And later on, this peak turned out to be pristine, which is a derivative of the phytol chain.

And this is why this peak or this graph is so important.

It is the feeding chain of the algae that go into to herring, and the algae are a basic part of source rock material and then you find all these typical molecules.

We have it in our book. This is a diagram of the individual isotope data which I described before or you could show that the isotope composition C12, C13 is different for different and alkane molecules.

And it really was the first individual isotope measurement at all that was done.

And the upper line is relative abundant of - but we also looked at the optical rotation and you find that optical rotation is, of course, a sign for life and that is most strongly in certain fractions of the – this work on the organic carbon inventory where Ronoff did the worldwide study and where Idan made the further thinking into the photosynthesis during the earth history and the changes in the atmospheric, like oxygen level et cetera.

Interviewer: So, Ronoff, did you do it only with Russian/Soviet or do you actually have a global database?

I think he had mainly Russian but also from outside Russia but I’m not certain anymore. But it was mainly Russian, I know that.

Interviewer: Yes. I mean the country is so big and they have so many different petroleum systems, it probably was represent out of town.

This is for me very important because it was the first description of the concept of basin modeling.

I knew what I wanted and this really was so to speak the blueprint for the concept I had.

And you can see at the very bottom that I said, the computer application, in order to analyze and process the data that come from the other parts and I stick to that very consistently.

Even I had hired Arif Yukler and we had done the first calculations on the basin modeling.

You know this, this is the first cover of our book.

And the funny thing was, Bernard and I discussed it because we were asked to write a German and the French version and we said “no.”

We wouldn’t do that. But it was translated into Russian very quickly by one of our colleagues, very nice gentleman, Vaseryevich . I give great respect to him.

He was a really imminent Russian scientist. You probably know his name.

Interviewer: I guess, I never met him.

Well, I met him. He spoke fluent German, he had a wife from Estonia who spoke fluent German.

I may tell you a little story, I mean, it shouldn’t be said but it is like that.

Vasilyevich. I visited Moscow and, Vasilyevich, I met him. And he said I would like to warn you there is a gentleman in East Germany in the communistic part and he speaks Russian very well.

He translates your publications and presents them under his name in Russian.

And he gave me the name of this guy and I simply had the name, I couldn’t do anything.

And when the reunification came I was on a committee to visit East German research places and to assess them, et cetera, and I met the guy and he knew who I was and he very quickly disappeared. Things like that happen.

Interviewer: It’s a good story.

The other book down there –?

Interviewer: This is Spanish

This is Spanish? And the other one is Chinese.

And one of the main reasons I was selected at the time to head the first German official Science delegation to China – I have forgotten which year it was, I think, it was 1979 or 1980.

And China did not have diplomatic relations with United States, but Nixon had been there but it was not yet an official diplomatic relationship.

And China was in bad need of technical know-how and they were most interested in energy questions and petroleum.

And they had asked Germany because there was a diplomatic relationship to send delegation with experts in the petroleum industry, petroleum research, steel industry, steel research and coal industry and coal research.

And somehow I was leader of that delegation and we went to China, I think, it was ’79.

And I have been in China many times later on, but at that time you wouldn’t believe what China was looking like.

It was unbelievable. Just to give one little story.

We were in Beijing in the so-called Friendship Hotel, the main hotel in Beijing.

And everything was still very primitive. Practically no cars, the only cars were political leaders.

And thousands of bikers on the roads with their blue dresses. We were received by the – you call him, not President, but Hua Guofeng was the first successor after Mao.

When the so-called Gang of Four was running the country. I greeted or he greeted me.

And we were there and then we had the trip to the Daqing Oil Field.

And actually we should fly but we were not – for what reason, whatsoever, we couldn’t fly and we were put on a train.

And it was almost one night and one day, almost two days train trip.

And you wouldn’t believe it, they had made the windows in-transparent (sic) [not transparent] with some kind of color, so we couldn’t spy.

So we were running by train to Daqing without looking at the landscape.

We could look at it at stations when the train stopped, et cetera, but not normally.

And in the Beijing hotel, we were not pleased with the accommodation and then we found out that there were microphones in the lamps installed, very crudely, you could easily detected.

And then we started to complain loudly about things we didn’t like, and the next day they were fixed because they heard all that.

When we came to the Daqing Oil Field, we arrived at night.

And the Daqing oil has a very high viscosity, it’s very paraffinic oil, extremely paraffinic.

Interviewer: It’s the custom, isn’t it?

Yes. And when we arrived in the neighborhood we saw light,

it wasn’t night, we saw light going, well like illuminated roads or something like that.

When we came closer, you wouldn’t believe it, they had open gas flames from the gas they produced to heat the pipeline in order to keep the oil flowing, because it was winter time.

I mean, I could tell many stories like that, but that was China at the time.

Interviewer: Very different country today.

And the Chinese translated the book and we never heard of it, they presented to me the book very proudly.

Interviewer: Yes, they are famous for that.

This is now a more refined second presentation of what we did in the modeling, when I had worked with [R. F. Edgar]

This was the Elmworth Study. And I really have to give a lot of credit to John Masters.

He helped me when I had found that the company in guaranteeing contracts and I had very pleasant conversations with him on all kinds of geological problems in the Elmworth Field.

And we had fantastic skiing trips together in the Rockies out at his place at Lake Kootenay.

And John was a very good skier.

And I thought I was a good skier, but skiing in that very deep snow in the Rockies was a different ballgame.

We would ski with some sort of a ski guide in front and the ski guy at the end of us and we were four or five people.

And a Snowcat would transport us high up on a peak and then we would ski down.

And in order to avoid open slopes we would ski where there were these big trees.

And once you fall into one of these snow walls of a big tree, it’s hard to get out of it anymore.

And that happened to me once and I had so much muscle pain the next day, I couldn’t ski because I was worn out.

Canadian Hunter, yes. Well, this is the gas calculations we did for them.

And really there is so much gas produced, it’s enormous.

This was my job as a young professor.

And the type of PhDs are liberations you have with making the colleagues of the students would receive the PhD do this very nice, special hats for them –

Interviewer: That’s a very special hat.

This was the organic joke, chemistry family, as we said, Bob Reitemeier, John Burbuto, Gordon Pierce, this is John Hans’ wife, Earl Baker, John Hans, Wally Dhal, Ted Wyted and I believe that’s Ted Wyted’s or maybe Wally Dhal’s wife and myself.

No, the lady in the front is Mrs. Wyted.

This is at one of the Gordon conferences, at the left-hand side, Ben Atiso, then the next one, holding the map is [Ded Letliefhouiser] in the background is Earl Baker and Pier Albright from Paris or the University of Strasbourg.

This was my advisory work for Klaus Hebben, the investment empire in the central position.

This young man is Klaus Hebben. A very reliable and very trustful investor.

He’s a multimillionaire meanwhile and has done many, many things.

And very honest person, all I can say, we never had a contract, we always made a handshake and that was it.

And his partner is the next gentleman. No?

This [Dietrich] somebody here. A lawyer, the second one.

And the one with the white shirt is John Masters. That’s John Masters. And I think next to John is his wife, Lenora, and the next lady is my wife.

And we would occasionally fly with private jets and discuss investments.

And without them I couldn’t have kept the company. No question.

This is my trip to China, one of my trips to China. The guy to the left is what you would call, I have forgotten the various ranks, he’s the man next to the minister for our Science Ministry, one level below.

Interviewer: Deputy member, associate or something like that?

Deputy Minister probably you would say.

And I was the scientific and technical guy to do that.

And the man at the left – the two Chinese, you hardly can recognize.

The man at the left is in the Chinese Ministry of Petroleum. And by the way, I met the last President of China, not the present one but the one before, Wen Jiabao.

Wen Jiabao was an Assistant to the oil Minister when I visited.

I knew Wen Jiabao when he was a young guy, a younger guy, in the establishment in China.

And he was a petroleum geologist. Wen Jiabao is a petroleum geologist.

And I’m sure that the very consistent Chinese energy policy with respect to petroleum is for a large part his work, Wen Jiabao.

This is at the twenty-fifth anniversary at KFA. Even I gave this scientific presentation when General Electric realized that that might be an important concept.

I looked a little bit different.

This is how our later Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. When I gave this talk and he said that it’s surprising that the professor can speak that way.

And very quickly, if you’re not according to their taste anymore, you’re out.

And that happened to me.

This is the way the first reports looked like when IES was still owned mainly by KFA.

We produced these kind of reports, then it has changed into something like that, this is the Austrian oil company, year-end file.

And this is the two books Petroleum and Basin Evolution, which really was a tribute to my excellent colleagues.

Very good people. And with their own scientific standing.

And as I said before, you need, if you develop something like this, you need reliable and loyal and good people otherwise it’s not possible.

These are the two young guys who run – yes, when I left.

At the left-hand side is Thomas Hantschel. He was an excellent marathon runner.

And he did it very extensively. And at the right-hand side is Bjorn Wygrala.

He loves Motorcycle racing. And he does safety training twice a year at the so-called Nürburgring in Germany, which is a racetrack. And these two guaranteed the success of IES, and later when it was bought by Schlumberger.

And there they are again, at the left Thomas Hantschel. And at the right, Bjorn Wygrala, and in the background, Klaus Hebben, the main owner of IES before we sold it to Schlumberger.

And over-and-over again I can only say, human relationships are very important and that they are sound and solid.

Okay, this is the concept of basic modeling and the different steps, what you need to look at and how it works.

This is a graph I have developed – I’m not sure really if that’s still there – but that’s okay.

The idea is that you need to look at things in space and time at different scales.

And I really mean it, in space at different scales and in time, because many of these things are on very different time-lapses, geochemical processes, kinetics or tectonics, completely different.

And now I make a sidestep. I really know, not enough, but a lot about climate modeling.

And these climate guys didn’t do that. I’d told them over-and-over again, look at paleoclimate and look at the different cycles in CO2.

There are many sinks and sources, and the transport from one sink to the other or vice-versa is on very different timescales and space-wise.

And all that has been overlooked for many, many years, but they always came out with the same answer.

And this is my criticism.

Interviewer: That’s where all the unconventionals are happening right now is in-between those two, between the molecular scale and what you call force based because it’s nano. To me that’s the biggest revolution in what’s going on in the industry.

I absolutely agree. And I said somewhere, I don’t know where, what we do now with the unconventionals, we just go with the emphasis from the end to the beginning, and this is exactly what you say here.

Yes, I absolutely agree with you. And things like capillary pressures, fluid movement in oleophilic [corrosion] kerogen networks, all that is now important, and we know not enough about them.

Interviewer: Say something about climate modeling—

I would like to add is with respect to the climate modeling, CO2 is a greenhouse gas, we don’t have to discuss that, everybody knows it, and this is accepted, no question.

The question is, the influence. How strong is the influence of the manmade part?

And the manmade part is probably about 6% of the natural CO2 cycle.

6%. And I’ve looked into these models, and I was on different scientific committees at some of these research places.

They do so-called positive back-coupling calculations between CO2 and water vapor.

And there are so many open questions. And all I’m saying is, what I want is it should be openly said that there are a lot of uncertainties and that we should have a very thorough analysis of what we know today and what we don’t know, and we should not act – and I blame a lot of scientists, they know it, but they don’t acknowledge it, that we do no a lot about certain parts of the entire process.

And science must stay clean. And this is what I want. I want the academies of sciences to discuss that openly and with the necessary criticism what is needed in order, really, to project it into the future.

And I believe the geoscience part of the energy mix to bring it back on the objectivity level.

And this is what I want, because for a country like Germany it’s a disaster.

We spend about three times more money, per year, on our CO2 prevention measures than for the entire education of all universities together, there is something wrong.

Well, that’s the end.

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Internationally known geologist and chemist – a leader in organic geochemistry – for Royal Dutch Shell and, later, California’s Chevron Lab. He is known as the Father of Modern Petroleum System and Basin Modeling. (Sidney Powers medalist) Show More

In the News

Explorer Emphasis Article
Standing ovation, please: Dietrich Welte adds the Sidney Powers Award to his long list of accolades to become one of the most honored geologists in AAPG history.
American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

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