Wallace (Wally) Dow
by Daniel M. Jarvie
Modern geochemistry and the term ‘petroleum system’ are in the forefront of exploration for new sources of petroleum largely due to Wallace (Wally) G. Dow. Wally is the father of the concept of the petroleum system (originally ‘oil system’). Dow’s intuitive, scientific and practical approach to the search for oil and gas has provided oil exploration companies with a systematic approach to evaluation and assessment of petroleum resources.

Wally began his career by studying geology at The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers University, from 1955 to 1959 where he earned his Bachelor’s degree. He continued his education by pursuing a master’s degree at the University of North Dakota in geology, which he completed in 1964.

An important part of the journey through the MS program was meeting his future bride, Marlys, who also played a major role in Wally’s entrepreneurial efforts in the 1980’s-1990’s. In August 2015 they will celebrate their golden anniversary. They have two sons and five grandchildren.

After a three-year stint in the U.S. Army, Wally’s early profession career was spent with Amoco Production Company and Amoco Research Company in Tulsa. The Amoco connection was special for Dow as it connected him with exploration geochemistry, chemistry and lab analyses, and colleagues such as Jack Williams, Bob Thompson, John Winters, and many others. While at Amoco, Wally and his colleague, Jack Williams, effectively launched the petroleum system approach in the Williston Basin. Dow’s 1974 seminal publication on the oil systems of the Williston Basin is the foundation for the petroleum systems approach in exploration today.

Wally continued his education pursuing his PhD at the University of Tulsa. However, in the midst of this pursuit, he was offered a position at The Superior Oil Company in Houston where he established a geochemical laboratory. here he met many of his long term colleagues such as Dolores O’Connor and John Allen, both of whom worked with Wally later in their joint professional journeys. Wally moved to Getty Oil after Superior, but an offer from Robertson Research as vice president extracted him from Getty. However, one of the 1980’s business down turns resulted in Robertson closing their Houston laboratory and Wally set out on his own establishing his own geochemical laboratory, Dow Geochemical Services, later changing the name to DGSI.

Running his own business from 1984 to 2000 was a difficult assignment for anyone in the petroleum sector including Wally, his family, and colleagues. However, the business succeeded on the strength of Dow’s energy, perseverance, and financial contributions. While many geochemical laboratories were data factories for oil companies, DGSI succeeded on the strength of Dow’s ability to provide data with an integrated interpretive report that assisted the success of clients in assessment of conventional and unconventional plays.

After selling DGSI in 2000, Wally became an independent consultant for several years. In 2006 he joined EOG Resources as chief geochemist, where he assisted in identifying the best areas for oil production in the Eagle Ford Shale play. After leaving EOG in 2011, Wally became chief geochemist with Cimarex and he and Marlys returned to Tulsa.

Working with Wally over the years, it was obvious that his innovative and technical skills were always advancing as shown by his willingness to try new ideas and concepts. His company, DGSI, was the first to transmit geochemical data electronically. Also, while capillary chromatography had gained popularity, it was not widely used in the petroleum industry including at major oil companies and Wally’s DGSI offered very high resolution whole oil analysis in 1984. Further to his credit, DGSI was also one of the first companies to demonstrate use of 1D basin modeling to assess petroleum prospects. A paper given in 1987 at the AAPG National Convention featured Arif Yukler’s basin modeling work with DGSI’s kinetic analysis. DGSI was also first service company to have the Rock-Eval 6 and an internet website.

Wally was always willing to share his knowledge with others, but he expected such students to work at understanding the basis for such concepts that he related to them. He would provide references for colleagues or students to read and later sit down and discuss what they learned and thought. I consider Wally my mentor in organic geochemistry providing the foundation on which to build a career in the field.

Perhaps one of the key contributions of Wally’s career was joining Les Magoon of the U.S. Geological Survey as a co-editor and joint instigator of AAPG Memoir 60, The Petroleum System – from Source to Trap, which was published in 1994. This is one of the most popular books ever published by the AAPG. In fact this publication won the editors AAPG’s Robert H. Dott Memorial Award for the best special publication dealing with geology.

Although Dow’s work on petroleum systems is a well-known association, he has published numerous papers and given innumerable presentations and courses. His oil and gas generation bubble chart featuring oil and gas windows with thermal maturity measurements is widely utilized. In addition Wally and his good friend and colleague, Prasanta Mukhopdyay (Muki), were co-editors of a 1994 ACS Symposium Series book entitled Vitrinite Reflectance as a Maturity Parameter: Applications and Limitations.

Wally has also received numerous awards and honors such as the Arthur Gray Leonard Medal from the University of North Dakota for outstanding achievement in the geosciences. He has been recognized with a variety of awards from groups in North and South America. Wally is a long time and emeritus member of AAPG as well as an AAPG Charles Taylor Fellow. He is also a member and active participant in The Society for Organic Petrography (TSOP), The European Association of Organic Geochemists (EAOG), The Latin American Association of Organic Geochemists (ALAGO), and Sigma Xi.

In 2014 a session was organized at the AAPG ACE deservedly honored Wally Dow for his 50 years of service in the field of organic geochemistry. Wallace G. Dow, the father of the petroleum system concept – a true leader and innovator in the field of organic geochemistry.