Geophysical Advances in the Midst of Uncertainty—The 1990s
2001. "Geophysical Advances in the Midst of Uncertainty—The 1990s", Geophysics in the Affairs of Mankind: A Personalized History of Exploration Geophysics, L. C. (Lee) Lawyer, Charles C. Bates, Robert B. Rice
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Oil prices slowly recovered from the drastic fall in 1986, but, unlike the earlier recoveries, no one was predicting $80/barrel. Most oil company economists thought that the price of oil would stabilize around $18/barrel. This prediction was rudely interrupted by the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War. Prices jumped to record levels. Oil company profits soared. With Iraq’s production cut off, the prices settled down to around $17/bbl but as the Asian economies suffered so did the price of oil. OPEC was unwilling (or unable) to alter the situation by cutting back on production quotas. The prices fell to about $11/bbl or less throughout much of 1998. Regular gasoline prices dropped to less than $0.80/gallon, which, on a constant dollar basis was less than 1950 gasoline prices.
Adjusted for inflation, one can see that the price of oil has been relatively constant for many years, except for the big spike in the early eighties (see Figure 9.1).2 As discussed in Chapter 8, the industry went through structural adjustments both during the boom and then with the price decline. Mergers, buyouts, and layoffs streamlined the industry, greatly cutting the expense side of the ledger. The continued gradual decline in prices in 1998 brought about mega-mergers. British Petroleum (BP) bought Amoco and then later picked up Arco. The biggest of all was the merger of Exxon and Mobil, which was followed by Chevron and Texaco. The impact of these consolidations will be
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Scientists have long been trained to build on the successes or failures of their predecessors, their teachers, and their fellows largely through scientific associations and their publications. Such societies range from small, local ones to huge organizations with membership drawn from over 100 countries. The oldest and most prestigious for geophysicists is the Royal Society, given both its name and charter by Britain’s King Charles II back in 1660. The Royal Astronomical Society, chartered in 1820, has also had a marked interest in geophysical matters, even to the extent of publishing a Geophysical Journal, because the earth is very much a part of the planetary system. Within the United States, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was started as an ally of government at the initiative of President Abraham Lincoln who asked the scientific community in 1863 for technical assistance with the war effort. Geophysical societies per se did not appear until the early 1900s. As a result of the great San Francisco earthquake, the Seismological Society of America (SSA) was formed in 1906. The International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) came into being in 1911, while its U.S. interface, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), was finally organized in 1919. The field of exploration geophysics lagged even further, with the Society of Exploration Geophysicists not being incorporated until 1930.
Long before the advent of scientific societies, perceptive men had been contending with the physical forces of nature. Aristotle (384–322 BC) compiled the first known geophysical treatise, the Meteorologica, less than half of which pertained to weather matters—the remainder dealt with oceanography, astronomy, and meteors (also called shooting stars). Formal seismic instrumentation appeared as early as A.D. 132 when Chang Heng set up a seismoscope in China that not only indicated that an earthquake had occurred but also the direction of the first motion. However, man’s formal knowledge of the physics of the earth did not change much from the time of Aristotle until late in the European Renaissance, when the fertile mind of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) initiated new thinking on this subject, as he did in so many others. Early in the 16th century, he studied, for example, the tides of the Euxine (Black) and Caspian Seas, as well as the mechanics and inherent dangers of rock slippage along a geological fault near Florence, Italy. He also deduced that Alpine rocks were at one time submerged for he found embedded sea shell fossils.