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Rudolph Geoffrey Waldemar Brunstrom 1925-2016

fsgtjGeologist with British Petroleum, whose insight led to commercial oil discoveries in Dorset.

Working for BP in the early ‘sixties, Geoff Brunstrom’s analysis of past unsuccessful drilling in Dorset led him to conclude that the pre-Albian structure, not the more obvious Alpine structure, was the key to success in this basin. Oil was discovered at Wareham by BP in 1964 in such a structure, and had BP retained the operatorship of the exploration venture it would have led on to its discovery of the giant Wytch Farm Oilfield in another pre-Albian structure. But BP’s management chose instead to assign operatorship to its partner, the Gas Council, and it is they who are remembered as the discoverer: "…..even now I find it hard to bear" he wrote to me in 2007.


Geoff was born in Stocksfield, Northumberland, on 8 November 1925, the son of a coal exporter of Swedish descent. After attending Newcastle Grammar School (with a period evacuated to Penrith that left a lifelong love of the Lake District) he entered Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1943 to study chemistry and geology. Unusually, while still an undergraduate he spent several years working with BP (then the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) in England and ‘Persia’ before returning to Cambridge and completing his degree (First Class Honours) in 1950. He then re-joined BP as a geologist, a company he remained with for the whole of his career.

Initially he resumed work in Iran, but Anglo-Iranian’s nationalisation in May 1951 led to the withdrawal of all its personnel. The Company needed to identify oil reserves elsewhere, and Geoff was posted to Switzerland to assess prospects in the Molasse Basin. While there he met Sheila Baillie, a Scottish nurse, whom he married in 1953.  A period well-sitting in the UK followed, and then in the tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea, before returning in 1958 to Eakring, Nottinghamshire, the base for exploration in the East Midlands and Wessex Basin. Geoff Brunstrom had been a Fellow of the Geological Society since 1947, and in 1962 he was awarded its Wollaston Fund for his work in those areas, on which he published several papers in the 1960s.

Head Office

In 1963 the family moved to Reigate, and Geoff joined BP’s head-office exploration team in London, although his commuting lifestyle was interrupted by periods overseeing the Company’s operations in New Zealand and Holland. As Southern North Sea gas exploration gathered pace in the mid-1960s he played an important part, and published several papers on the basin’s Permian rocks.

Geoff had an uneasy relationship with BP’s senior management, and in 1979 while holidaying in the Lake District he decided to resign, at the age of 55. He and Sheila settled in Ambleside among the fells and lakes that he loved. Natural history, industrial archaeology, railways, and fell-walking occupied the next 17 years of Geoff’s retirement. When they eventually moved it was to the flatter terrain of Stokesley in North Yorkshire, still within sight of the hills. 


He was a first-rate geologist with a rather private, controlled manner, verging on the puritanical. He died on 8 July 2016 aged 90 at Middleton Hall, Darlington, and is survived by his wife Sheila, sons Richard and Alan, and four grandchildren.

By Michael F Ridd, with help from Alan Brunstrom