History of Structure Contour Mapping in the Appalachian Basin: 1870-1917, Jim McDonald


Jim McDonald

Geology Program Supervisor, Ohio Geological Survey


Subsurface structure contours have been used as a method in delineating anticlines since the 1870s. Between 1870 and 1900, there were a handful of geologists and mining engineers who began using map-based depictions of structure contours to show the relationship between anticlines and oil accumulations. These geologists – Benjamin Smith Lyman, John F. Carll, Edward Orton Sr., and Marius Campbell published some of the earliest structure contour maps. The early contributions of these geologists slowly advanced the technique of using structure contours to depict the subsurface geology and aid in the hunt for anticlines.

In 1902, William T. Griswold of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) created a technique to map structure contours using plane table and alidade in the Cadiz, Ohio area. This technique was used to identify anticlinal traps for petroleum exploration. Griswold also taught this technique to several of his geologist colleagues, including Malcolm J. Munn and Frederick Clapp. In 1908, Griswold left the USGS and started one of the first petroleum-geology consulting firms in the world, W.T. Griswold & Company, with his former USGS colleagues Edgar McCrary and Fred Hutchinson. After two years, Griswold left to become the Chief Geologist of the Philadelphia Company. The firm was renamed the Hutchinson & McCrary and was in operation for five years in Marietta, Ohio, until it was dissolved at the end 1912.

Between 1908 and 1917, more geologists began using structure contours to identify anticlines in the subsurface in the Appalachian Basin. Griswold left the Philadelphia Company to work with Guffey and Gillespie in the Appalachian Basin from the early 1910s through the late 1920s. Between 1908 and 1917, the USGS hired many geologists to replace those who had left government employment for the private sector. These new USGS geologists, such as D.D. Condit, G.S. Rogers, and C.A. Bonine, continued mapping and publishing structure contour maps in the Appalachian Basin up to the beginning of World War I.

During the 1910s, major oil field discoveries were made in Oklahoma. This brought many people to the Midcontinent to explore for oil, including geologists such as Edgar McCrary and Malcolm Munn, who applied geological techniques. Because these geologists were extremely successful in finding oil, the industry adopted their techniques. Structure contour mapping using plane table and alidade was the practical technique that made the use of geology indispensable to oil and gas exploration.

Link to the Journal of Oil-Industry History article:

https://archives.datapages.com/data/phi/v18-2017/mcdonald.htm [archives.datapages.com]

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