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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Oil Exploration


Marland Oil quarterly 1922

How Foraminifera Changed Oil Exploration


The exponential increase in the use of oil combustion engines during the early 1900s led to tremendous growth in the demand for petroleum and the global search for major petroleum deposits. Scientists quickly realized that invertebrate fossils, which had traditionally been used for geologic age determinations in field mapping, could not be used to monitor progress during borehole drilling because they were destroyed by the drill bit and became unidentifiable among the small sediment chips brought to the surface as borehole cuttings. During his consulting work with the Marland Oil Company in the early 1920s, Joseph Cushman demonstrated that the small size of foraminifera, their abundance in a small amount of sediment and their utility as age and environmental indicators made them extremely useful for borehole age determinations and correlation of subsurface strata. Financial support for the study of well samples from Marland Oil soon provided the funds for the construction of the Cushman Laboratory building, the training of students and the publication of scientific results in a new journal called the Cushman Laboratory for Foraminiferal Research Contributions. The petroleum industry continues to be a major employer of foraminifer paleontologists today with the increased need to precisely determine the age and structure of rock strata.

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