Reaching New Depths

How the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists promotes awareness of the geosciences and fosters the development of its members

Lis Bjeld joined the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists as its executive director in 2008, and she knows running a successful nonprofit is no easy task. “It takes teamwork—a board of directors to set the strategy, numerous committees to coordinate key ser­vices, a staff to manage operations, and, of course, countless vol­unteers,” she says.
Lis Bjeld joined the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists as its executive director in 2008, and she knows running a successful nonprofit is no easy task. “It takes teamwork—a board of directors to set the strategy, numerous committees to coordinate key ser­vices, a staff to manage operations, and, of course, countless vol­unteers,” she says.

For much of the early 20th century, it was widely believed that significant oil reserves lay beneath the surface of Alberta, but it wasn’t until Imperial Oil’s Leduc No. 1 well, near Leduc, Alberta, managed to access an elusive underground formation that the province lit up with additional prospectors and investors. Area cities and towns began to grow dramatically, including Calgary, which went from a population of 403,000 in 1971 (just a couple of years before the Arab oil embargo) to more than 1 million today.

By 1986, the city had the second-largest population of geoscientists after Houston, Texas, and as the region’s oil boom continued, demand for industry education and networking opportunities skyrocketed.

Enter the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (CSPG). Initially founded in 1927 as the Alberta Society of Petroleum Geologists, it primarily comprised geologists working in the oil and gas industry, but as the market expanded in the area, the group merged with the Saskatchewan Geological Society and the Edmonton Geological Society to form the CSPG. By expanding, it gained other disciplines, and now its 3,500 members are referred to as “geoscientists,” and their knowledge runs the gamut from sedimentology and stratigraphy to geochemistry, basin modelling, geophysics, petrophysics, and even the movement of the tectonic plates.

Thanks to this diversity of experience, the society is more relevant than ever. “Digital technology is advancing the science that our geoscientists apply, necessitating professional development and peer networking in order to be regulatory-complaint, competent, and leading-edge,” executive director Lis Bjeld says. “The CSPG offers a ‘welcome home’ community: a professional career home for life where our members can discuss everyday work situations and industry changes, be published, and obtain their professional-development-hours credits.”

The CSPG also brings its brainpower together through a series of conventions and conferences. By the late 1970s, more and more related societies were popping up in Canada, including another in Calgary called the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists, and the CSPG now partners with that society and the Canadian Well Logging Society to run an annual convention. This year it’s called the FOCUS 2014 GeoConvention, and it’s expected to bring together approximately 4,000 geoscientists. The CSPG is also involved with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, which brings its annual ACE Conference to Calgary every 10 years; the International Conference & Exhibition in Calgary, where CSPG ran an “International Core Conference”; the Society of Sedimentology Geology and the Society of Petroleum Engineers, both of which CSPG held conferences with; and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta, which regulates the practices of engineering and geoscience across the province.

Facts & Figures

1.2 million
The present-day population of Calgary, thanks in part to the oil business

3,500
Current CSPG members

17
Technical lunches the CSPG sponsors annually

4,000
Attendees expected at the CSPG’s FOCUS 2014 GeoConvention

36
Years that the CSPG has been running its Student Industry Field Trip program

Smaller events—including 17 technical learning lunches a year, each featuring a speaker from Canada or abroad—also serve the membership. Recent topics have included oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, a brief tectonic and depositional history of the northern Gulf of Mexico, and natural fractures in shale hydrocarbon reservoirs. These subjects might sound like they would attract a small crowd, but “because we’re one of the most concentrated industry centres, we have 350–800 people at each lecture series,” Bjeld says.

Another notable CSPG program, launched in 1978, is the Student Industry Field Trip, an annual journey awarded to select third-year students working toward undergraduate degrees in the earth sciences. Every year, one student representative from each Canadian university offering a geosciences or geological engineering degree is brought to Calgary for a comprehensive introduction to the petroleum industry. The program is so rewarding that, in 1992, the students who attended even pooled their money to form the CSPG’s Educational Trust Fund, the charity arm of the organization.

Other CSPG initiatives are focused on further collaboration through the Ambassador Program, the recognition of industry involvement in CSPG activities via the Corporate Advantage Program, and the enhancement of Canadian peer-reviewed publications, among other things, and such efforts are essential. “A nonprofit strives to maximize the value delivered for the dollars available,” Bjeld says. “Too much money at the end of the year means you did not deliver as much as you could have.”

According to Bjeld, the CSPG’s board and management are constantly thinking about how to grow the organization’s membership further, which shouldn’t be a challenging feat. “At the end of the day, we’ve been here for 87 years because we provide value to members,” Bjeld says. “Many geoscientists who receive our top volunteer or technical awards express how much their professional life has been molded by the CSPG.”