Product has been added to the basket

Marlan Wayne Downey 1931-2017

Legendary oil finder whose long career spanned Shell, Roxanna Oil, Atlantic Richfield, Arco International and academia.

eyjiMarlan Wayne Downey was born in Falls City, Nebraska, on October 2, 1931, the oldest child of Wayne and Elizabeth Downey.  After graduating from Falls City High School at age 16 he attended Peru State College for his first degree, in Chemistry.

He was inducted into the US Army on the day he graduated from college and served in an artillery unit during the Korean War.  After two years of service and an honorable discharge, he attended the University of Nebraska under the GI Bill, earning a BA and a Masters in Geology.  His first work as a geologist was in hard rock geology – gold mining in South Dakota – during the summer break but switched to oil and gas and a job with Shell on graduation.

Marlan Downey had a thirty-year career with Shell Oil in research and management.  Marlan became Shell’s youngest-ever Chief Geologist, led Shell’s Alaska Division; then organized and headed Shell’s Pecten International Company, with major discoveries and developments in Cameroon, Syria, Canada, Malaysia, and Brazil, retiring in 1987.  He was also Chairman of the Board of Amigos de las Americas during his time in Houston.  After Shell, Marlan was a director, consultant and special advisor to numerous oil and gas companies across the country and internationally and made a profound contribution to the oil and gas industry especially in the evolution of shale exploration and production.  Marlan was responsible for the seminal work on producing oil and gas from shales that was occurring while he was the head of the “Origin and Migration of Hydrocarbons” research project at Shell’s Bellaire Research Lab.  He continued to lead the charge on exploring for and producing oil and gas from unconventional resources the remainder of his life.

After a brief retirement from Shell (during which he founded Roxanna Oil, a family oil and gas business) Marlan joined Atlantic Richfield and served as President of Arco International.  Retiring from Arco at age 65, he resumed his work with Roxanna and assumed the Bartell Chair as Professor of Geoscience at the University of Oklahoma.  There he was Chief Scientist and Chairman of the Sarkeys Energy Center for three years.  For his services to the University and his students, Marlan was made an honorary University of Oklahoma Alumnus..  In addition, he taught courses and seminars at SMU where his students included his sons, SMU undergraduates and some senior oil and gas executives in Dallas. 

Marlan, a former President of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and was honoured by AAPG as “A Living Legend in the Oil and Gas Business.”  In 2005, the Petroleum History Foundation honored him as a Legendary Oil Finder.  In 2002 he received the R. H Dott award for best geological publication and in 2003 he received the Hedberg Medal for his distinguished international scientific service.  In 2009 he was awarded the AAPG’s highest honor, the Sidney Powers Medal in recognition of distinguished and outstanding contributions to, or achievements in, petroleum geology - the ‘Nobel Prize’ in his field. 

Marlan was a Senior Fellow of the Institute for the study of Earth and Man at SMU. He was an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Fellow of the Geological Society of London.  In 1987, President Biya of Cameroon knighted Marlan for his services to that country. He continued to serve on the boards of several energy companies and remained Chairman of Roxanna Oil, the family business, as it grew and prospered.  Marlan increasingly brought his family into Roxanna to help with its leadership and operations and he supported a wide range of charitable activities of his wife and children with his time and resources.  He was very proud of the work each of them were doing in their respective fields.

Marlan lived in Dallas with his wife, Marea, and was a voracious reader.  He enjoyed time at their cottage in England and their ranch north of Dallas.  His hobby was blacksmithing, specializing in custom knives and spurs.  Marlan also once built a log cabin using no modern tools, just the same tools his much admired grandfather used.

Despite many achievements and accolades he remained modest, and was ever eager to encourage, befriend and mentor young people.  His advice to others was to keep learning, and he led by example.  Marlan had the ambition to outlive his grandfather who died at 102.  Sadly for all, he passed away on May 29, Memorial Day.  However, his last conscious moments of a well-lived life were spent cheerfully talking about his full range of interests but especially of his pleasure and pride in his family during lunch with a longtime friend.  We can all take comfort from knowing that he has left us with many pleasant memories at the height of his intellectual powers and still sharing his insight and wisdom with others.

His family laid the beloved geologist and patriarch to rest in the earth on Thursday, June 1 in a private family service in Dallas.  His wife, Marea, and all his children, Donald, Julie, Karen, Justin, Alex and Nicholas, survive him.

Marea Downey

Note: A Charitable Giving Fund with Fidelity Charitable has been setup to fund scholarships in the field of Geology for generations to come.  If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation in Marlan’s memory to the newly-created fund, simply make a cheque out to: Fidelity Charitable and send it to:

  • P.O. Box 770001, Cincinnati, OH 45277-0053.  In the memo line, please write “Marlan Downey Memorial Fund”.