The 2015 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Baltimore (November 1-4) saw the debut of the GSA Energy Geology Division (EGD), a continuation but topical expansion of the Society’s second oldest division, the Coal Geology Division.
The Coal Geology Division was founded in 1954. But, as well explained by the division’s chair and secretary at http://www.uky.edu/KGS/coal/GSA/gsa_namechange.htm, as energy resources have evolved, so have energy research interests and career opportunities. The portion of coal as part of the energy budget in many regions is declining, and other options, including nuclear and other non-fossil fuel sources, provide increasing portions of our power needs. The number of earth science departments that include coal geology has also dwindled in the last 20 years so there are also fewer coal geologists trained at the university level.
The discussion on amending the focus of the division, both within the division and between the division and the Society, has gone on for almost two decades. One option was to just add petroleum science formally to the mission: those educated or trained in coal petrographic techniques, for example, frequently work on petroleum source rocks. The final name change, approved in March 2015 by 80% of members voting, reflects the inclusion of geologists and geology topics related to all aspects of renewable and non-renewable energy exploration, extraction, and use. The official purpose of the expanded division “is to provide a suitable forum for presentation of scientific papers and discussion of problems of mutual interest in the geologic study of energy resources, to stimulate research and interchange of scientific information about energy resources and related issues within the wide range of their geologic significance, and to act as an organized group in promoting these objectives within the framework of the Geological Society of America.” (http://www.uky.edu/KGS/coal/GSA/ )
At the 2015 GSA meeting, the Energy Geology Division was primary sponsor of two Geologic Energy Research topical oral sessions (https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2015AM/webprogram/Session37614.html) (https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2015AM/webprogram/Session38992.html) and one poster session (https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2015AM/webprogram/Session38751.html). A sampling of topics in these sessions include inorganic chemistry of coal, fly ash and gas shale; uranium deposits; CO2 storage reservoirs; geothermal systems; oil sands; oil/gas produced waters, hydrocarbon geochemistry; thermal maturity and organic petrology; basin tectonics, heat flow, and petroleum systems analysis; nuclear power plant siting; and borehole geophysics.
The Division was also the lead sponsor of “From Peat to Coke: Honoring the Legacy of William Spackman”. Dr. Spackman (1919-2014; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016651621400072X) had a comprehensive knowledge of and research career in coal from deposition to utilization including paleobotany, palynology, peat-forming environments, coal petrography, and industrial coal usage. He began the internationally-recognized coal geology research program at Penn State that produced probably the majority of US coal scientists from the 1950’s through the 1980’s and continues today as the Coal Science and Technology section of Penn State’s Earth and Minerals Sciences Energy Institute. Several of the presenters were Spackman students or students of his students (I am one of the latter but did not give a talk).
Other sessions where EGD was a co-sponsor include “Shale gas basins: Their stratigraphy, sedimentary environments, tectonics, and structural evolution” (oral and poster sessions); “Water and Fluid Migration During Energy Development: Implications for Hydraulic Fracturing, CO2 Storage, Enhanced Oil Recovery, In Situ Uranium Recovery, and Waste Water Injection”. The Division also sponsored a field trip, “Geologic investigation of the impact of a subsurface coal fire: Centralia, Pennsylvania”.
The Spackman theme session preceded the annual Division business meeting and awards ceremony and reception. The Coal Geology Division had two major awards (http://www.uky.edu/KGS/coal/GSA/awards.htm): the Gilbert H. Cady award for “outstanding contributions to the field of coal geology”, and the Antoinette Lierman Medlin coal science student research scholarships (two) for completion of field work and completion of lab/analytical work. Dr. Claus F. K. Diessel of the University of Newcastle, Australia, best known for his research in the sedimentology and sequence stratigraphy of coal-bearing successions, was this year’s Cady award recipient. The Cady award and Medlin grants will continue as Energy Geology Division awards in coal geology. However, the Division hopes to add two new categories that will mirror the Cady and Medlin awards but span energy topics in earth science.