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Geologist earns public service award for preservation

May 1, 2010

KALAMAZOO--A Western Michigan University geologist has earned a national award from the world's largest professional geological society for being a visionary pack rat.

Dr. William B. Harrison III, emeritus professor of geosciences, received a 2010 Public Service Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists for his nearly 30-year effort to save one-of-a kind rock samples and paper records that provide critical data about Michigan's geology.

The award, presented during the group's annual convention April 11-14 in New Orleans, recognizes the contributions that AAPG members make in the public affairs arena above and beyond their normal job responsibilities. Four people worldwide received the award this year.

Harrison was cited for having dedicated his professional life to establishing WMU’s Michigan Basin Core Research Laboratory in 1982 and building it into the preeminent source for data on the state’s subsurface geology.

He also was praised for securing donations of textbooks and laboratory equipment for the geology department at the University of Latvia in Riga and introducing the department to Western-style lectures. That assistance, for which Harrison was awarded an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree, helped the university to rapidly modernize as Latvia emerged from the breakup of the former Soviet Union.

Harrison joined WMU's faculty in 1973 and retired in 2003, but continues serving as the core lab’s founding director and as an emeritus researcher in the geosciences department. His research focuses on retrieving oil from abandoned fields using alternative drilling techniques and on managing and analyzing large data sets from Michigan subsurface geological layers.

The core lab makes information about those layers available by maintaining extensive online databases and housing the most comprehensive archive of Michigan geological samples and data. That archive includes 400,000 feet of rock cores from oil, gas, water and environmental research wells and from glacial research and Lake Michigan bluff erosion studies. It also contains impressive collections of geologic maps, and thousands of drillers’ reports, electrical/mechanical logs, mudlogs, porosity and permeability analyses, and related well data.

"Most of these essential data would otherwise have been lost, or, at best, scattered throughout the state and elsewhere," internationally renowned geologist Dr. Paul Potter wrote in Harrison's award citation. "Through Dr. Harrison's pioneering development of this repository and through unending willingness to help students and professionals alike, he has shown that he is indeed an outstanding 'citizen of geology,' who richly deserves the AAPGs Public Service Award."

The effort to create the core lab began when Harrison was having difficulty finding the well samples and data he needed for his research and learned that much of those precious materials was lost or being discarded as new well leases were acquired and new well research was completed.

Fellow geologists and industry friends began offering to give their materials to Harrison. He accepted the donations rather than let the materials be abandoned or shipped off to landfills.

WMU provided basement storage space for the donations in one of its oldest buildings, and the Michigan Basin Core Research Laboratory was born. Harrison patched and painted the core lab's walls using personal funds, then wore out three pick-up trucks lugging home tons of rock and records, some of which date back to the mid-1920s and Michigan's first commercial oils. With no dock, Harrison had to bring in the long rock cores by hand through narrow basement windows.

He did that single handedly until 1993, when his wife, Linda, joined in the enterprise and hired a team of work-study students to organize the materials while Harrison continued collecting and searching for a new facility to house the core lab's overflowing basement space. He enlisted the aid of Michigan Oil and Gas Association members, who raised $1 million for the project, and soon WMU and federal agencies also contributed funding.

The funds allowed the Department of Geosciences to lease and renovate a 27,000-square-foot building in 2006 near the University's main Kalamazoo campus and open a new research center that incorporates the core lab and uses its vast data collections to expand on the lab's original mission.

Called the Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education, the center now functions as WMU's primary location for research and technology transfer related to petroleum geology, CO2 sequestration, Great Lakes bluff erosion and water resources. It also serves as a base for K-16 educational outreach, public outreach, post-graduate training and research related to water and environmental issues.

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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