Acceptance Speech for the 2009 Alfred Treibs Award

Kenneth E. Peters a, email

a Schlumberger, Integrated Services for Exploration, 18 Manzanita Place, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA←

I thank you Roger for your kind introduction and for honoring me with this prestigious award. I am proud to accept it; fully acknowledging the many mentors, colleagues, and friends who helped to make it possible. Many thanks are due to those who nominated me and those who prepared letters of support. I thank the members of the Award Committee; their decision was certainly difficult because there are so many worthy geochemists. I am grateful to the Geochemical Society for continuing to support and promote our science through publications and professional meetings.

Part of the pleasure of the Treibs Award is the opportunity to reminisce, which may be dreadfully boring to some, but perhaps there are some general truths to be learned. My career in petroleum geochemistry, and basin and petroleum system modeling (BPSM) now spans over 31 years. I have been employed by academia, government, industry, and the service sector. It is time to reflect on the people and events that shaped my career. My mother, Ruth, was a college English teacher who spent many hours reading stories and teaching the wonders of reading and writing to me as a child. My father, Charles, taught high school chemistry and made ends meet as a driver training instructor, math and chemistry tutor, newspaper route deliveryman and Executive Director of the Annual Santa Barbara County Science Fair. A highlight of my youth was to win the Sweepstakes Award as a junior in high school, which made my parents very proud. My parents certainly provided the genes, but they also encouraged my scientific curiosity and my fledgling attempts to read with comprehension and write with authority.

My entry into geochemistry was partly fortuitous, but the key first step was when I decided to overcome my tendency to be a shy, anonymous student. I had planned to become an organic chemist, biochemist, or doctor. However, a biochemist friend with a 3.8 GPA and a name now lost, told me that of the dozen graduate schools to which he applied, he was accepted only at the University of Guadalajara. I decided to try something else. Fortunately, I gathered the courage to contact an inspiring undergraduate geology advisor at UCSB, Bob Webb. Based on his encouragement, I took a graduate course (as an undergraduate) having the same title as the textbook; ‘Adventures in Earth History' (Cloud, 1970). This classic book described many revolutionary geoscience discoveries of the late 1960's and included contributions by Stephen Gould, Konrad Krauskopf, Harold Urey, and Tuzo Wilson. Who could resist? If I had first taken the basic (and quite dull) geology course, my career would have been very different.

I introduced myself to a young geochemist who spoke about pyrolysis of a strange substance called ‘kerogen' at the UCSB Geology Department Seminar. That chance meeting with Joel Leventhal ultimately determined my career path. Joel was a postdoctoral student with Preston Cloud in the Biogeology Clean Lab, where he mentored me for two years as I completed an MA in Geology. Joel kindly recommended me to Ian Kaplan at UCLA, where I spent three years on my Ph.D. Both my MA and Ph.D. dealt with laboratory maturation of organic matter from different depositional environments. Partly because I was a starving student, I spent one summer during that period at Mobil's Field Research Lab in Dallas, working with Wilson Orr on humic acids, and another summer at the USGS in Denver, working with Neely Bostick on vitrinite reflectance. I had no idea that later in my career I would be employed by both of these organizations. Thanks to Ian Kaplan's leadership and outstanding colleagues in the legendary UCLA geochemistry group (e.g., Zeev Aizenshtat, Dave DesMarais, Brian Rohrback, Bernd Simoneit, and Bob Sweeney), I achieved my Ph.D. in Geochemistry on a Friday in October of 1978. The following Monday I reported to Chevron Oil Field Research Company in La Habra, California. This was the result of an inspired visiting lecture at UCLA by Jim Baroffio, who was then Vice President of the La Habra lab.

My career in the oil industry was challenging, exhilarating, and in many ways analogous to running across a swamp by stepping on the noses of a dozen hungry alligators. The cyclic nature of oil prices translated to boom-or-bust research, but who could resist? The most productive time during my 15 years with Chevron occurred in the late 1980's and early 1990's. I spoke with Wolf Seifert about transferring from La Habra to his biomarker laboratory at the refinery in Richmond, California. Geoff Eglinton recently told me that Wolf came up with the term ‘biomarker' to identify the molecular fossils in crude oil and source-rock extracts that were the focus of his work with Mike Moldowan. Although Wolf was enthusiastic about the move, his untimely death seemed to put an end to the plan. Fortunately, Mike and I were the two principal scientists doing biomarker work for Chevron in Richmond, supported by nearly a dozen research staff. We ‘moved mountains', largely because of a nearly endless supply of interesting geologic and geochemical questions posed by the business units. Prior to my move from Richmond to coordinate geochemistry for Chevron U.S.A. Western Region, and then Chevron Overseas Petroleum in San Ramon, Mike and I were joined by two innovative colleagues, Bob Carlson and Jeremy Dahl, and it was a pleasure working with them.

During this time I began a long collaboration with John Hunt and Jean Wheland from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. John's attitude toward life and his documentation of the concepts of petroleum geochemistry (Hunt, 1978, 1996) were inspiring and helped me to formulate my own ideas about a geochemistry book. The Book by Tissot and Welte (1984) was also encouraging, because although excellent, the discussion of biomarkers was limited and outdated by the early 1990's.

Probably most people in the audience associate my name with The Biomarker Guide (Peters and Moldowan, 1993). Although much of our technical work for Chevron remains proprietary, the first edition of the book was published thanks to Gerard Demaison, who was Geochemical Coordinator at Chevron Overseas Petroleum for many years. Mike and I had originally planned the work as an internal memorandum for Chevron geologists. However, Gerard convinced management that publication would contribute to the technical prestige of Chevron.

In 1993, times were difficult in the petroleum industry, the alligators were restless, and opportunities for exciting research at Chevron plummeted. I received a phone call from Jim Stinnett at Mobil Oil Company in Dallas. Jim turned out to be an outstanding manager with the rare capacity to listen to the technical recommendations of the experts around him and fight, if necessary, to implement those recommendations for the benefit of the company. My six years with Mobil were highly productive, partly due to my association with another fine scientist, Cliff Walters. Cliff, Mike, and I published the much expanded, two-volume second edition of The Biomarker Guide after the ExxonMobil merger (Peters et al., 2005). Few realize how much effort went into the second edition, but it is gratifying to see the popularity of this book among geoscientists in academia, government, industry, and service companies worldwide.

After the ExxonMobil merger, I continued in petroleum geochemistry for a short time, but BPSM offered many new and exciting opportunities based largely upon geochemical expertise. With the help of Gary Isaksen and Bill Clendenen at ExxonMobil, I made the transition to the modeling group, where I spent an additional two years.

In 2002, I made the decision to move from ExxonMobil to the USGS in Menlo Park, California. Many of my friends at ExxonMobil were mystified that I could leave high pay and stock options as a Senior Research Associate to work for much less pay as a Research Geologist with the government. However, I was inspired by John Hayes, who under similar circumstances also followed his heart and scientific interests. Furthermore, my friends at ExxonMobil do not know Les Magoon! Les and Wally Dow formalized the petroleum system concept (Magoon and Dow, 1994). Les told me of his dream to incorporate BPSM into USGS workflows and he showed me mountains of untouched data, waiting to be harvested. Who could resist?

As at Mobil in the 1990's, my six years with the USGS were very productive. Much of my research focused on three-dimensional BPSM of the San Joaquin basin (e.g., Peters et al., 2008a) and Alaska North Slope (e.g., Al-Hajeri et al., 2009). Les Magoon and Ken Bird proved to be great colleagues and friends who contributed unselfishly to a common goal. They were joined by colleagues from Integrated Exploration Systems (IES, Aachen, Germany), including Dietrich Welte, Carolyn Lampe, Bjorn Wygrala, Thomas Hantschel, Armin Kauerauf, and Oliver Schenk. I also continued research on various chemometric approaches to better understand the origins and mixing behavior of petroleum with the help of John Zumberge, Stephen Brown (GeoMark Research, Ltd.), Scott Ramos, Brian Rohrback (Infometrix, Inc.), Tom Lorenson, and Bob Rosenbauer (USGS). With colleagues from Stanford University, including Stephan Graham, Tapan Mukerji, Mike Moldowan, and Allegra Hosford Scheirer, Les Magoon and I initiated the BPSM Industrial Affiliates Program in 2008 ( This growing program currently has four corporate sponsors and seven graduate students.

I am now Resource Advisor and Business Development Manager for Schlumberger in a new and growing unit called Integrated Services for Exploration (ISE). ISE provides state-of-the-art BPSM and access to products and services from various Schlumberger segments aimed to improve exploration success for national and international oil companies and governments. I am particularly thankful for the vision and leadership of my colleagues Ian Bryant, Bjorn Wygrala, and Thomas Hantschel.

Although we have insufficient time for details, I will at least mention examples of my research that warrant further work: (1) a new geochemical-stratigraphic model for exploration in tropical deltas (Peters et al., 2000), (2) molecular modeling to validate susceptibility to biodegradation (Peters et al, 1996), (3) diamondoids to correlate and identify previously unknown deep source rocks (Dahl et al., 1999; Peters and Creaney, 2004), (4) kinetic uncertainty and BPSM (Peters et al., 2006; Peters, 2009), and (5) ‘decision-tree chemometrics' for oil classification (Peters et al., 2007; 2008b) and alternating least squares to deconvolute mixed oils (Peters et al., 2008c).

As a Treibs medalist, it is fitting that I reflect on how geochemists can ‘give back' to our science. Although we may think of the world as a place where science thrives, there are many warning signals. For example, it may surprise the audience to know that more than 50% of the USA public believes in creationism or intelligent design rather than Darwinian evolution. The science section in my hometown bookstore is smaller than that on astrology and the occult. Even more disturbing, most politicians in the USA and elsewhere have no clue about science or technology, yet many are eager to make uninformed decisions about our future and the future of nations.

What can we do? I know from first-hand experience that many of you in the audience would rather work on immediate objectives than take the time to review a manuscript submitted for publication, serve on a dissertation committee, or mentor a young colleague. However, please consider this: if you do not volunteer to chair a scientific session or meeting, if you do not lecture at a local school or teach a course at the university, if you do not participate in the debate about climate change, evolution, or energy policy, who will? I have spent much of my career doing these ‘extra' things and the results have been tremendously satisfying and rewarding. For example, I have taught many courses both professionally and at various universities, such as UC Berkeley and Stanford. Teaching bright young students can be a great learning experience for the instructor too. Who could resist?

I gratefully acknowledge the devotion of my wife, Vanessa, and my son, Brent. They have endured my ambition with grace and style. Whenever I am sequestered in my office, attending meetings, or traveling on business, I am thankful for their support and understanding. Finally, I want to thank the organic geochemistry community, which has served as an extended family for me throughout my career. I am deeply indebted to the many generous and talented colleagues with whom I have been privileged to work. They truly deserve a share of this award. Thank you.


Al-Hajeri M.M. et al. (2009) Basin and petroleum system modeling. Oilfield Review 21(2), 14-29.

Cloud P.E., ed. (1970) Adventures in Earth History. W.H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, 992 p.

Dahl J.E., Moldowan J.M., Peters K.E., Claypool G.E., Rooney M.A., Michael G.E., Mello M.R., and Kohnen M.L. (1999) Diamondoid hydrocarbons as indicators of natural oil cracking. Nature 399, 54-57.

Hunt J.M. (1978) Petroleum Geochemistry and Geology. W.H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, 617 p.

Hunt J.M. (1996) Petroleum Geochemistry and Geology. W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 743 p.

Magoon L.B. and Dow W.G., eds. (1994) The Petroleum System-From Source to Trap. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Memoir 60, 655p.

Peters K.E., ed. (2009) Basin and Petroleum System Modeling. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Getting Started Series 16, AAPG/Datapages, Tulsa, OK

Peters K.E. and Moldowan J.M. (1993) The Biomarker Guide. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 393 p.

Peters K.E. and S. Creaney (2004) Geochemical differentiation of Silurian from Devonian crude oils in eastern Algeria. In Geochemical Investigations in Earth and Space Science: A Tribute to Isaac R. Kaplan (ed. R.J. Hill et al); The Geochemical Society Special Publication Series 9, p. 287-301.

Peters K.E., Moldowan J.M., McCaffrey M.A., and Fago F.J. (1996) Selective biodegradation of extended hopanes to 25-norhopanes in petroleum reservoirs. Insights from molecular mechanics. Organic Geochemistry 24, 765-783.

Peters K.E., Snedden J.W., Sulaeman A., Sarg J.F., and Enrico R.J. (2000) A new geochemical-sequence stratigraphic model for the Mahakam Delta and Makassar Slope, Kalimantan Indonesia. AAPG Bulletin 84, 12-44.

Peters K.E., C.C. Walters, and J.M. Moldowan (2005) The Biomarker Guide. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1155 p.

Peters K.E., C.C. Walters, and P.J. Mankiewicz (2006) Evaluation of kinetic uncertainty in numerical models of petroleum generation. AAPG Bulletin 90, 1-19.

Peters K.E., L.S. Ramos, J.E. Zumberge, Z.C. Valin, C.R. Scotese, and D.L. Gautier (2007) Circum-Arctic petroleum systems identified using decision-tree chemometrics. AAPG Bulletin 91, 877-913.

Peters K.E., Magoon L.B., Lampe C., Hosford Scheirer A., Lillis P.G., and Gautier D.L. (2008a) A four-dimensional petroleum systems model for the San Joaquin Basin, California. In Petroleum Systems and Geologic Assessment of Oil and Gas in the San Joaquin Basin Province, California (ed. Hosford Scheirer, A., 2007); U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1713, chapter 12, 35 p.

Peters K.E., F.D. Hostettler, T.D. Lorenson, and R.J. Rosenbauer, 2008b. Families of Miocene crude oil, seep, and tarball samples, costal California. AAPG Bulletin 92, 1131-1152.

Peters K.E., Ramos L.S., Zumberge J.S., Valin Z.C., and Bird K.J. (2008c) De-convoluting mixed crude oil in Prudhoe Bay field, North Slope, Alaska. Organic Geochemistry 39, 623-645.

Tissot B.P., and Welte D.H. (1984) Petroleum Formations and Occurrence. Springer-Verlag, New York, 699 p.