Seismic Soundoff

Seismic Soundoff

In-depth conversations in applied geophysics.


01 Jul 2021

119: Why the energy transition from coal to oil matters today

Historian Brian Frehner discusses the energy transition from coal to oil and the historical importance of J. Clarence Karcher.

June 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of field tests confirming that J. Clarence Karcher's seismic reflection technique could detect and map structures capable of trapping oil. In this future-focused conversation, Brian discusses why Karcher left the oil business after his major breakthrough, the impact business had on the development of the oil industry, the creation of geophysics as a discipline, and the lessons learned for future energy transitions.

The transition to oil may seem obvious now, but it was not inevitable. By studying the past energy transition from coal to oil, scientists and the public can better understand how transitions do and do not occur and better prepare for future transitions.

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Note: An episode highlighting the special section in June's The Leading Edge -  The role of advanced modeling in enhanced carbon storage - will be released on 8 July 2021. 

Brian Frehner is an Associate Professor of History at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Brian writes and teaches about the history of oil, energy, the environment, and the American West. He is currently at work on a monograph that recounts the history of the science and technology that make up the field of “exploration geophysics” during the first half of the twentieth century. He is also co-editing a volume that examines the role of technology in facilitating humans’ adaptations to their environments. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation and is tentatively titled “Great Plains: An Environmental History.” He is also the author of Finding Oil: The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920.


This episode is sponsored by TGS


TGS offers a wide range of energy data and insights to meet the industry where it’s at and where it’s headed.

TGS provides scientific data and intelligence to companies active in the energy sector. In addition to a global, extensive and diverse energy data library, TGS offers specialized services such as advanced processing and analytics alongside cloud-based data applications and solutions.


Original music by Zach Bridges. 

This episode was hosted, edited, and produced by Andrew Geary at 51 features, LLC. Thank you to the SEG podcast team: Ted Bakamjian, Kathy Gamble, Ally McGinnis, and Mick Swiney.
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