Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists: Great Basin Section Monthly Meeting—Thursday, November 17

SPEAKER: Mr. Jerry Walker, Consultant (Retired)
TOPIC: What We Know and Wish We Knew About Oil Exploration in Nevada
ABSTRACT: Oil exploration in Nevada began in the early 20th century. Approximately 53 wells were spudded in the state between 1907 and January 1950. It is difficult to discern a play concept used to justify many of these wells. However, 12 wells were drilled in western Nevada in the 1920’s based on shows of biogenic gas in water wells. Surface structures, such as the Illipah Anticline and Arden Dome, were tested in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The deepest well during this time reached 5,218 feet beneath the featureless floor of Coaldale Marsh. It was reportedly located using a “Mansfield Patent Automatic Water and Oil Finder.” Modern oil exploration in Nevada began in the mid 1950’s with the first of three wells drilled by Standard Oil of California and Continental Oil. These wells were located by mapping surface anticlines defined by Paleozoic rocks. Although oil shows were reported, no production was established. It wasn’t until 1954, when Shell Oil drilled their #1 Eagle Springs well in Railroad Valley, based on a seismically identified structural anomaly, that a producing oil well was discovered. Since then, 18 additional oil accumulations have been found, producing approximately 53 million barrels of oil. Drilling since 1950 has resulted in ~3% exploratory success rate (19 discoveries/~553 wildcat wells.)

Nevada oil fields are anomalous compared to many conventional hydrocarbon accumulations. A review of the petroleum systems (i.e., hydrocarbon kitchen and container, plumbing, and timing) of Nevada’s four largest oil fields can illuminate these disparities. A fundamental difference is that in most mature oil-producing basins, exploration is focused on the hydrocarbon container, as generation of oil and gas in the hydrocarbon kitchen, the plumbing that controls the migration of the hydrocarbons from kitchen to container, and timing of generation, migration, and trap formation are no longer issues; however, in the Great Basin, exploration is driven by the hydrocarbon kitchen. Prospects are built first by identifying where source rocks are generating oil, and then by defining the trap, reservoir, and seal.

Grant Canyon Oil Field is Nevada’s largest. Two of its wells, the #3 and #4 Grant Canyon, are renowned for reportedly being the largest onshore oil producers in the lower 48 states from 1984 to 1991. However, the #10 Grant Canyon is the field’s Cinderella well. It was completed as a dry hole in 1993, despite coming in structurally tied as the second highest well in the field. Today, it is Nevada’s largest producing oil well, with the oil coming from the same reservoir that tested hot, fresh water in 1993.

Exploration methods used to identify potential hydrocarbon containers rely on reflection seismic, gravity, and surface geochemistry. However, all of these methods suffer serious deficiencies. Reflection seismic cannot adequately image the complex structure in the Tertiary volcanics and Paleozoic sedimentary section. Gravity and surface geochemistry do not provide adequate resolution to clearly define potential traps. None seem capable of evaluating the quality of reservoir and seal for a possible trap.

Any strategy for overcoming these challenging conditions must improve our ability to identify likely hydrocarbon containers. To do so, exploration should focus on areas with the potential for high quality reservoirs and seals by  considering: 1) geothermal activity that can enhance oil generation, reservoir porosity, and lateral and top seals; 2) low-angle detachment faulting that can increase the likelihood of large blocks of highly permeable reservoir rock; and, 3) en echelon faulting that can form open fractures within a potential reservoir block, providing high permeability as well as promoting deep circulation of groundwater to depths sufficient for heating to moderate geothermal temperatures. Furthermore, new tools must be developed to better image and locate varied traps with quality reservoirs and seals.

In Nevada’s Basin-and-Range Province, geology has conspired to create a continuum of environments favorable for the development of petroleum, geothermal, and precious-metal deposits and resources. Geologists exploring for oil in  Nevada can benefit from strategies used in these two complementary disciplines in the search for new hydrocarbon accumulations.

BIOGRAPHY: Jerry is a retired geologist with 41 years of experience in the oil patch exploring for and producing hydrocarbons. He branched out into geothermal during the last six years. Jerry has been employed as a geologist,  geophysicist, engineer, landman, and manager for companies as large as Texaco and as small as a sole proprietorship. Since 1993 he has consulted in the Basin-and-Range Province, California, Colorado, Utah, Idaho-Utah-Wyoming thrust belt, Venezuela, Mexico, Hungary, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Gulf of Thailand. He graduated from Indiana  University in 1972 with a B.S. in Geology and the University of Illinois in 1975 with an M.S. in Geology. Jerry has served as president of the Nevada Petroleum Society and the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, general co-chair of 2005 Rocky Mountain Section–AAPG and 2016 AAPG–Pacific Section–Rocky Mountain Section conventions, and director of the Rocky Mountain Section–AAPG Foundation.

COST:  Members: $25.00; non-members: $29.00
Student Dinners Sponsored by Amec Foster Wheeler!
First 4 Students to RSVP will receive a free dinner.

AAPG Joint Section Meeting, Las Vegas, October 2–5

American Association of Petroleum Geologists
Pacific and Rocky Mountain Sections Joint Meeting
When: October 2–5, 2016
Where: Paris Las Vegas Hotel

“Join us in Vegas for everything petroleum from Jackpot Sessions, Field Trips, Short Courses, Guest Events, a GIS Map Gallery, and so much more.”

Register now for the Las Vegas Joint Meeting here:

NPGS Monthly Dinner Meeting—Thursday May 5—RSVP by May 3

NPGS logo
Mount St. Helens Eruption from an Extremely Close Point of View
Nevada Petroleum & Geothermal Society Monthly Dinner Meeting— Thursday May 5
Topic: Mount St. Helens Eruption from an Extremely Close Point of View
Speaker: Dr. Catherine Hickson, P. Geo, FGAC, FSEG, FRGS, FGC; President, Tuya Terra Geo Corp; Burnaby, BC

Mount St. Helens—Thirty six years and counting

Where were you 36 years ago? Most people living in the North Western United states can remember the impact of the eruption – it spread a wide blanket of ash over much of Washington state and beyond. The sound was heard over a 1000 miles away. Cathie was there with a front row seat and a set of photographs to prove it! At the time she was a 3rd year geology student at the University of British Columbia, planning to complete her studies focusing on sedimentology and stratigraphy. In the back of her mind was a plan to return to the oil fields of her native Alberta, Canada. Instead, a desire to “see what was going on” first hand brought her to MSH that Sunday morning, 36 years ago.

The witnessing of this catastrophic eruption focused the rest of her studies. She used her sedimentological background to study the “Directed Blast” (pyroclastic surge) that caused most of the widespread devastation resulting from the eruption. Cathie was amongst the first to prove turbulent flow in these catastrophic events, previously thought to move under laminar flow. As a student she also started studying geothermal energy. Cathie was doing temperature surveys as well as being involved in the drilling at Mount Meager during the early 1980s. She then went on to study subglacial volcanoes for her PhD.

Since then her career has never wandered far from the volcanic theme. Volcanoes have taken her from Iceland to Italy to Indonesia and many countries in-between. She has spent time as a geothermal geologist and knows Nevada and its geothermal resources well. She is now returning to carry out exploration for Lithium brines in western Nevada. What’s the link between Lithium and geothermal? Well volcanoes of course!


Biography: Dr. Catherine Hickson, P. Geo, FGAC, FSEG, FRGS, FGC is a Director of Dajin Resources Corp and leads their exploration efforts in Nevada and Argentina. She is an exploration geologist / science manager with extensive global experience. A volcanologist, regional mapper, geothermal geologist & community communication specialist, she served as a research scientist and senior manager with the Geological Survey of Canada. During her distinguished 25 year career, she managed large multidisciplinary global teams doing regional mapping, geophysical and geochemical surveys as well as hazard and risk assessments in South America. Since 2008, she has been working in the field of geothermal resources and more recently, lithium brine exploration. She is a registered Professional Geoscientist, British Columbia Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists.


Ramada Reno Hotel
1000 East 6th Street, Reno, NV 89512
Cocktail Reception 6:30, Skyline Bar, 14th Floor
Cocktails served at 6:30 PM
Dinner Served at 7:00 PM
NPGS Members $20, Non-Members $23, Students $10

Please RSVP for the Dinner Meeting by Tuesday May 3 using this link.
If you find that you cannot attend, please email Vicki Ehni at or you can call at 775-720-6387.
NPGS will be charged for all no shows. Thank you for your consideration.

Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists: Great Basin Section (AEG) Meeting Announcement – Thursday, April 21, 2016

AEG_Logo_Revised-9-28-05_0TOPIC:  Student Night Presentations
SPEAKERS:  Mr. David Shaw, Mrs. Sara Jensen, Mr. Joseph Toth, Mr. Andrew Sadowski, and Mr. Loyd “Travis” West
Best Western Airport Plaza Court Restaurant
1981 Terminal Way, Reno, Nevada 89502
RSVP NO LATER THAN 5PM, TUESDAY April 19 BY 5:00: @ 775¬221¬1369 or
Cost: Members: $25.00, non-members: $29.00

Mr. David Shaw, University of Nevada, Reno
“Ground Surface Observations in Evaluating Shallow Stress Fields in Granitic Rock Masses”
Observations and analyses of natural rock failures in the form of buckled granitic slabs (or “pop-ups”) in the northern Sierra Nevada range are explained by high compressive stresses acting along the longitudinal axis of the slabs producing failure. The presence of high near surface in-situ stresses have been invoked in explaining granite dome formation, exfoliation, and sheet jointed slabs in granitic rock masses. From a rock engineering perspective, high in-situ stress fields parallel to the ground surface can be problematic in man-made surface excavations (e.g. at open pit mine sites) or other areas where thin slabs of rock develop dip slope failures and the inclined slabs bend, buckle, and break. In near surface underground excavations, failures occur where slab-like instabilities develop in the wall, floor, or roof of the excavation.
Two main mechanisms have been developed to explain how high stress fields develop at shallow depths: a) plate-tectonics approaches and b) residual stress energy locked into the rocks as a result of past gravitational loading. Locating slab failures is time consuming and requires high resolution aerial photographs and numerous transects in likely geologic and topographic locations favoring slab instability. Field work has located numerous examples in the Sierras where slab failure depends on slab thickness, length, tensile and compressive rock strength, and magnitude of the in-situ stress field. Current work includes numerical modeling to quantify the in-situ stress field at different localities, spanning from Yosemite National Park to Desolation Wilderness. Several pop-ups were also identified and measured in a former granitic gneiss quarry outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Workers collected in-situ stress data with the overcoring method during the Georgia quarry operations and this data will be used to validate the modeling approach.

BIOGRAPHY: David Shaw obtained a bachelor’s degrees in geology and environmental studies from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. After graduation, he was employed by Schnabel Engineering Consultants in Charlottesville, Virginia from 2007 to 2011. David was exposed to a variety of geotechnical and environmental consulting projects but was particularly interested in large-scale dam design projects, which eventually influenced him to return to school for a geological engineering master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). His master’s thesis involved constructing a global slope stability model of Lassen Peak, California and he is currently researching in-situ stress fields within granitic rock masses while enrolled in the Geo-Engineering PhD program at UNR. When not studying rocks, David can typically be found at one of the local ski areas or paddling around Lake Tahoe.

Mrs. Sara Jensen, University of Nevada, Reno
Debris flows pose a significant threat to life and property in mountainous regions. Therefore, an accurate understanding of flow mechanics is necessary to recognize and mitigate the hazards they create. Using the Discrete Element Method (DEM), a grain-scale numeric modeling tool, our study will focus on simulating dry granular avalanches and their response to changes in flow path topography. We will study how flow velocity, runout distance, energy dissipation and impact force are influenced by linear, concave up and convex up slope profiles (all consisting of the same mean slope and total relief); as well as, how these flow properties are influenced by the number, size and spacing of closed-type check dams along the flow path. Results of our preliminary investigation suggest a path dependency for these systems. Due to this path dependency flow dynamics predicted from path-averaged properties should be done with care.

BIOGRAPHY: After completing her undergraduate degree in Geological Engineering at UNR, Sara spent several years in Industry. She then returned to UNR to pursue her Master’s Degree. Her thesis focuses on the engineering design of check dams in order to mitigate the dangers debris flows pose.

Mr. Joseph Toth, Graduate Teaching Assistant in Civil Engineering at University of Nevada, Reno
Post-disaster reconnaissance of areas affected by earthquakes has documented extensive damage to buildings with shallow foundations within liquefaction-prone areas. The 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence and the 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake are some of the most recent examples where large numbers of low-story structures sustained damage resulting from liquefaction-induced settlements. Until recently, estimation of liquefaction settlement was based on empirical correlations that evaluated settlement in the free-field. However, observations have shown that liquefaction settlement under buildings can be considerably greater.
This research is based on a series of 1-g shake table experiments using a transparent soil box to reproduce liquefaction-induced building settlement. Building settlements were evaluated using a scaled model of a building foundation representing a 1-2 story home. Comprehensive parametric study was carried out to establish the effects of several parameters on free-field and building settlements such as building width and thickness of liquefiable soil layer.
Results of the experimental evaluation have provided measurements of liquefaction-induced settlement for both free-field and building conditions. The experiments utilized LVDT, accelerometers and pore water pressure sensors to monitor the rate of settlement, ground accelerations and build up of pore water pressures in both the free-field and model building footprint. Results of these experiments are compared to available centrifuge tests and field observations and conclusions are drawn with respect to the potential scaling effects.
The feasibility of installing helical piles as a mitigation strategy to reduce the building settlements will be discussed by presenting some of the exploratory experimental data obtained from a series of 1-g shake table tests.

BIOGRAPHY: Joseph Toth is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Civil Engineering at the University of Nevada Reno. His research is currently focused on mitigation of liquefaction induced settlement. In addition he is also assisting with research in alternative applications of activated sludge for geotechnical purposes and subsurface characterization using ReMi.

Mr. Andrew Sadowski, Masters in Geology at University of Nevada, Reno (2016)
The Black Warrior geothermal system lies 20 km east of the southern end of Pyramid Lake in the Truckee Range of northwestern Nevada on the Washoe-Churchill county line. It is an amagmatic blind geothermal system, as the region lacks recent (<5 Ma) volcanism and the system lacks hydrothermal surface manifestations (no fumaroles, hot springs, sinter deposits, or high temperature alteration). The system was discovered by shallow temperature gradient drilling (100-600 m, max temp: 128°C) by Phillips Petroleum Company in the 1980s.
The thermal anomaly resides in a structurally complex zone that has not been previously characterized. Detailed geologic mapping in the area has identified faults and stratigraphic relationships between successive and interfingering Tertiary volcanic sequences that nonconformably overlie Mesozoic plutonic and metamorphic basement. The structural framework is characterized by north-northeast-striking, moderately to steeply west-dipping normal faults that terminate and step in the vicinity of the thermal anomaly. This suggests two possible favorable structural settings: (1) a fault termination of the southeastern rangefront fault with accompanying horse-tail splaying producing an area with abundant closely spaced faults and high fracture permeability; and/or (2) a fault step-over in a broad left-step of the major normal faults, whereby many closely-spaced minor faults provide hard linkage and a zone of high fracture permeability. In either case, the study area lies in a favorable structural setting for geothermal activity and may host a robust geothermal system at depth.

BIOGRAPHY: Born and raised on the east coast in south Florida, Andrew began pursuing geology during his undergraduate time at Cornell University in upstate New York. After graduation, he worked in water resources and the environmental sector in New Hampshire, before returning to graduate school to study the structural geology of geothermal systems. Basically, turning his focus from cold springs to hot springs. He attended field camp across the western US as well as western Argentina, and TA’d UNR’s field camp. He has toured Iceland with fellow NBMG/UNR folks to further his understanding of geothermal systems, and has had geothermal industry internships at Ormat Nevada and Calpine’s The Geysers. He is completing his masters in geology from the University of Nevada, Reno this semester, and is looking for employment opportunities.

Mr. Loyd “Travis” West, University of Nevada, Reno
Mr. West is a Nevada native, born and raised in Las Vegas. Upon returning home from active duty in the US Army he earned my Bachelor of Science in Geology at UNLV. Loyd began his career as a geotechnical consultant for a prominent geotechnical firm in San Diego, California where his duties involved all aspects of the field investigation process for both preliminary and forensic soils investigations. Upon moving back to Las Vegas, he continued to work as a geotechnical consultant, and began gaining experience in advanced near-surface seismic studies using Refraction Microtremor (ReMi) and refraction. Loyd utilized both passive and active source methods for various engineering applications, including site classification, fault characterization, fissure and void studies, determining rippability, and depth to bedrock.
In 2007, Loyd joined the Reno-based geophysical consulting firm Optim SDS, as the general manager of their Las Vegas field office. From Las Vegas he oversaw the data-collection of over 10,700 ReMi measurements throughout Clark County for the multiyear Clark County Parcel Vs30 Microzonation Project. This dataset has become an integral part of his research efforts towards his Master of Science in Geophysics under Prof. John Louie, here at the University of Nevada, Reno. In addition to his research and TA responsibilities at UNR, he continues to work for Optim SDS guiding data-collection efforts for ReMi, Deep ReMi, refraction, and reflection based projects. Loyd’s research interests currently include earthquake site-characterization, geo-hazards, seismic microzonation, and earthquake mitigation.