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Perspicacious Perce

The Percival Allen Medal of the Association of European Geological Societies

Ted Nield reports on the discovery of a discovery.

Geoscientist 18.11 November 2009

Success has many fathers. I have lost count of the number of palaeontologists who have claimed to have been in the taxi from the Geological Society on that fateful day when Council rejected their call for a specialist group to be formed, and so led them to found the Palaeontological Association. And how many professors have you heard say, while pointing to the North Sea on a wall map: "Ah, I remember well in nineteen fifty something-or-other, when I said to those people from Shell, "I'd start looking out there if I were you"?

The recent obituary for former GSL President Professor Percival Allen (1917-2008) claimed however that Perce had been the first to publish on North Sea prospects. The Society obituary, by Andrew Parker, states: "in 1959 he published a prophetic paper emphasising that the best bet for the oil industry would be in the North Sea, and advocated a programme of exploration there."

This lead set the indefatigable historian of our science, Dr Norman Butcher of Edinburgh, off on a trail of discovery that eventually led him to an even earlier reference than this. In the 6 August 1956 edition of New Scientist (a magazine born in the same year as me, and which later in life paid my rent) carried a piece by Perce entitled "The future of oil geology". In its final par, he writes (New Scientist italics) :

"Nearer at home, the North Sea Basin looks promising on general grounds. A good case could be made out for the presence of oil accumulations, like those of England, Holland and Germany, in the same rocks out there. Possibly the time is not far off when the oil industry will consider it worth while to undertake exploration…"

Does anyone know of an earlier published reference to what might lie beneath the Herring Pond?

If the past is the key to your present interests, visit the History of Geology Group (HOGG) website at: