August 28, 2015 by Kathy Jesperson, NRCCE
Morgantown, W.Va. – During Dr. Doug Patchen’s more than 40-year career, he’s experienced many successes and accomplished more than he ever expected. He’s been with the National Research Center for Coal and Energy since the early 1990s.
However, Patchen’s road to the NRCCE was not a straight shot. In fact, when he started out in college, he thought he would study history. But he soon changed his mind. He chose geology instead because, “Understanding geology helps make sense of what happens on the surface.” And that understanding helped him to become a recognized authority on energy resources in Appalachia.
After receiving his PhD in geology from Syracuse University, Patchen accepted a position with the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey (WVGES) and eventually became the state’s chief geologist, a position he held since 1988.
After several years of success with the organization, Patchen drew the attention of Dr. Richard (Dick) Bajura, director of the NRCCE at West Virginia University (WVU).
In September 1990, Bajura approached the WVGES with a request that Patchen serve as director of NRCCE’s newly formed Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium (AONGRC). That request was for a three-year agreement. But the position turned into a decades-long relationship that led to the establishment of the Appalachian Regional Lead Organization of the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council (PTTC) and participation in the Zero Emission Research and Technology Center (ZERT) of Montana State University.
When Patchen accepted Bajura’s offer, he didn’t expect to stay much longer than it took to get the program in a good place. “I tease Dick [Bajura] all the time,” he said. “I tell him I’m in my 18th year of a three-year loan.
“I came here to manage an already effective program for what was supposed to be three years,” Patchen said—explaining that he was working part-time between two jobs—his position at the Geological Survey and his new post at WVU—an arrangement that he thought wouldn’t be permanent. After the three years had passed, Patchen went to Bajura to figure out what was next.
“I asked Dick if he’d gotten anyone to replace me, and he said, ‘Yes. You,’” Patchen said.
“Doug’s research was very helpful to us in terms of building a long-standing project,” said Bajura. “What came about was we pulled together a consortium.”
The consortium, AONGRC, consisted of the West Virginia Geological Survey and West Virginia University (WVU)—including the NRCCE, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering Department and Geology & Geography—and later branched out to include the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.
The team was successful in determining the types and amounts of natural resources available in the area, which included estimates of oil and gas, maps of targeted areas and establishing funding for the project, according to Bajura. He added that Patchen’s leadership was critical in pulling it all together.
“Doug established a clearinghouse that included a resource library, numerous reports, and private consultation,” said Bajura.
The programs’ efforts also help to promote the “supply of needed energy while keeping costs down and being environmentally responsible.”
Under the AONGRC, Patchen directed research that resulted in The Atlas of Major Appalachian Gas Plays and the Geologic Play Book for Trenton-Black River Appalachian Basin Exploration. He also coordinated the Jacksonburg-Stringtown Project–a reservoir characterization and heterogeneity study of oil in northwestern West Virginia. Recently, he completed the Utica Play Book.
“When we created the Atlas, the Trenton-Black River and Utica plays didn’t exist,” he said. “We tried to cover the basin when we developed these play books because we wanted to have a good picture of the resources that were there.”
These geological studies provide an insight into the resources that are potentially available. When researchers have an idea of what is available, they can look for better, more efficient ways to extract it. To that end, Patchen said that the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council (PTTC) was developed.
“The PTTC is something I’m really proud of,” Patchen said.
The PTTC is a national not-for-profit organization established by the Department of Energy and led by an independent Board of Directors. PTTC was established to provide a forum for transfer of technology and best practices within the producer community.
“Doug has been very successful in technology transfer,” said Bajura, explaining that the technology transfer process means that scientific findings can be further developed or even commercialized when universities and private companies work together.
Under the PTTC, Patchen has organized more than 175 workshops in six states and trained more than 9,000 people. These workshops transfer the results of research to independent oil and gas producers for use in gas plays, such as the Marcellus and Utica.
“When companies hire new people, they send them to the trainings so they can learn about new technologies,” said Patchen.
The PTTC has developed Regional Lead Organizations (RLOs), which were established in conjunction with State Geological Surveys and/or Petroleum Engineering Departments that blend geology and engineering background expertise. And that will continue.
Other accomplishments include the John T. Galey Memorial Award of the Eastern Section American Association of Petroleum Geologists, its highest honor, which Patchen received in 2008. In 2009, he was inducted as an honorary member of the Appalachian Geological Society in recognition of a remarkable career spanning 43 years of service to the State of West Virginia.
“I always hope that the project is worth the money and important,” said Patchen, summing up his career. “I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction from getting a project done.”
Patchen continues to speak at regional and national seminars to inform landowners, researchers, industry professionals, and policy makers about the benefits and risks of oil and gas drilling.
While his personal career accomplishments have meant a lot to him, he said that working with students has been his greatest reward. “I have the opportunity to show students how geology and engineering can be combined to solve energy problems.” Nothing makes him feel more pride than passing along his knowledge to future generations—and that makes it all worth it.
CONTACT: Tracy Novak, NRCCE Communications