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Stephen John Mills 1942-2012


Oil industry geologist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s sedimentary basins and a pioneer of plate tectonic theory in hydrocarbon exploration

Stephen John Mills died peacefully on Saturday 7 January, 2012 in Calgary, Canada after a long and courageous battle against Parkinson’s Disease. Steve was well known to many people internationally in the E&P industry. During his time in London Steve was a regular attendee at courses and symposia organised by the Society as well as a regular visitor to the Society’s library.

Steve was born on 20 November 1942 in Gosforth, Northumberland, England. He was the only son of John and Florence Eileen Mills. He was educated at St Bees School in Cumbria from 1956 to 1961. He attended the University of Durham graduating with a BSc (Hons) degree in Geology in 1964 and later an MSc degree in micropalaeontology from the University of London in 1965.

His first job was with Burmah Oil Company in Ecuador in 1965. He worked as a geologist in general exploration geology which included field work in the Santa Elena Peninsula and later in the Oriente Basin of Ecuador.

In 1972 Steve was transferred to Burmah’s Perth office in Western Australia. Burmah’s giant Northwest Shelf gas/condensate discoveries made this period exciting times for the company. He was later appointed District Geologist in the Bonaparte Gulf Basin and his work resulted in the multi-TCF gas/condensate discoveries at Sunrise, Troubadour and Kelp. Subsequent to that he was involved in geological field work in Indonesia and Portuguese Timor.

Following Burmah’s liquidity problems and the sale of their Australian assets to a BHP/Shell consortium, Steve was transferred back to London, where he became responsible for exploration in Burmah’s assets in the Central North Sea. He later moved to BNOC in Glasgow.

While in Ecuador and Australia Steve became excited by the new theory of global plate tectonics and used these new global tectonic concepts in his basin analysis on the NW Shelf of Australia, and in the North Sea. At BNOC he became much admired for his skill in being able to condense a play, showing its plate tectonic setting and prospectivity attributes, into a single diagram.

In 1979 he moved to Hudbay Oil International in Calgary in the role of Manager of Geology with a worldwide brief. During this period Steve developed an attractive and well-balanced portfolio of assets at Hudbay, adding to assets already existing and acquiring new ones throughout Southeast Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa. Steve was very well liked in Hudbay and was highly regarded by the management and board of the parent company.

Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas was acquired by Dome Petroleum in late 1981. The latter subsequently sold its international assets to Lasmo, and so Steve moved back to London during early 1983. He assumed the position of International Geology Manager at Lasmo with a worldwide brief. Throughout his seven years with the company he filled various senior exploration management and international new venture roles. He impressed all with his ability to talk knowledgeably about any sedimentary basin in the world and was modest with it. He had a phenomenal memory and could recall conversations, discussions at meetings attended and reports read in amazing detail. He was a perfectionist and brought this trait into all recommendations and decisions in which he participated. Steve was a good manager to work for, and was always supportive of those under his supervision. Despite his affable and easy-going manner, his standards were extremely high and he demanded the same from those in his team.

In late 1990 CanadianOxy offered him the position of International Exploration Vice President in Calgary which he accepted. At that time the company was in an expansionist mode and the international new venture group was an exciting place in which to work. Again, Steve inspired all with his quiet competence and extraordinary knowledge about seemingly every petroleum province in the world.

In 1996 he left CanadianOxy to pursue a career as a consultant. By about 2000 Steve decided to discontinue his petroleum consulting and redirected his energy and enthusiasm into military history publications.

Steve had great spirit and firm determination as demonstrated during his long illness. He will be remembered as a gentleman, an excellent geologist, a military historian and above all as a loyal and trusted friend. He was erudite, broadly read, a linguist and a wonderful raconteur.

by Robert W Duke and J Bruce Blanche, with contributions from Phil Wright, Dave Boote, Brian Hodgson, Dave Powell, John Hogan, Don Poynton and Jenny Miles