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John Suter, Winter 2017

For me, this is the last of a series of columns required every year of the GCSSEPM Section President. Owing to some family health issues, this column is a bit late with consequent effect on the final 2017 GCSSEPM newsletter. Hopefully, everyone reading this column had a peaceful and joyful Holiday Season, which would be a great relief to end this year.

What a year it was! After a long drought dating back to 2005, major hurricanes decided to resume making landfall in the United States. The first to do so was, of course, Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, followed by Irma and Maria further east. Few of us escaped the direct impacts of the storms, and none of us will go unaffected by the incredible damage and suffering that we felt or watched seemingly nonstop on television and social media. None of the Section Executive Council or the Foundation Trustees experienced home flooding, but all of us have friends and neighbors who did. My family lives in Corpus Christi in a house built in 1950, so I watched Harvey’s path with relief when it took a slight jog to the north and decided not to make landfall directly over Corpus. My family came out OK, but that was not the case for many friends in places like Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and Rockport, all of which were devastated and are still trying to recover. My wife has good friends in Tampa and her father hails from Ponce, Puerto Rico, so we watched both Irma and Maria with “skin in the game.” The friends in Tampa were spared major impact, and Ponce, unlike many other parts of Puerto Rico, was also lucky. It currently has power and full services, but the much of island is struggling mightily to recover.

I am a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast, with a brief stint or two overseas. I have been through many direct hurricane and tropical storm impacts, but nothing like Harvey. The real-time experience of watching the flooding and evacuations happening all over Houston and southeast Texas, then listening to the Corps of Engineers and Harris County Flood Control District announce increasing water releases from the Addicks and Barker-Cypress reservoirs which raised the Buffalo Bayou flood levels to unknown heights was truly chilling. This experience reinforced what I like to call the difference between knowing something intellectually and emotionally. Of course, my wife and I knew about the reservoirs and the reason for which they were built 70 or so years ago. We live in a neighborhood east of Beltway 8 which adjoins Buffalo Bayou, and the bayou’s course runs only a couple of hundred meters from our front door. Fortunately, we are geologists, and bought a home on the cutbank side of the bayou, situated at the highest elevation in the neighborhood, well above the Alison 500-year flood plain. Nevertheless, it was highly unpleasant monitoring the ever-rising flood gauges on the Bayou, and walking through our neighborhood, cleaning the storm drains and watching almost helplessly as many neighbors fled their flooded homes. We helped where we could, and remain really grateful that the final flood level was still a couple of feet below our slab elevation. I now understand the Addicks and Barker-Cypress reservoirs and their functions emotionally.

Many, many people were impacted more directly and devastatingly. We will be recovering for years to come, and need to face difficult decisions about planning, development and the future impact of natural disasters. Flooding is currently on the front burner for those in Houston and southeast Texas, but we need only look at our neighbors in Rockport and other areas to see that hurricanes have multiple types of impacts. Fortunately, storm surge and loss of life were relatively muted in these recent storms, but it was only 2005 when almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina, 1969 for the devastation of Hurricane Camille, the 1919 hurricane in Corpus Christi or the 1900 hurricane in Galveston. Urbanization, population increase and development throughout flood plains and coastal areas makes us susceptible to future natural disasters, and geoscientists need to be actively involved in the discussion of how to best minimize those impacts going forward. The Houston Geological Society is organizing a 2018 conference on Hurricane Harvey which will address many of these questions. The GCSSEPM is involved in this conference, so stay tuned for updates.
Normal GCSSEPM business and issues seem rather small by comparison to the year’s meteorological events, but regular business carried on. Hurricane Harvey delayed the 2017 elections, but they still took place. An excellent slate of candidates faced the online membership, which delivered about a 10% increase in turnout from last year. Kudos to everyone who voted. Laura Zahm of Statoil is the President-elect for 2018, and Milly Wright of Chemostrat has been chosen Secretary for the two-year term of 2018-2019. Congratulations to the two new members of the Executive Council for 2018. Many thanks and the award for valor to Jon Rotzien and Marie Thomas, who also stood for office.

The biggest change for the year is the registration of the GCSSEPM as a nonprofit corporation with the State of Texas. The Executive Council voted unanimously to affect this incorporation, resolving a discussion which had been ongoing for some time. There will be no effective change to the Section’s operations, but the effort was undertaken to minimize potential liability issues. Please be aware that the Section has NOT sought or been granted tax-free status, and is NOT able to receive tax-deductible contributions. The GCSSEPM Foundation retains its tax-free designation as a 501C entity, and is ready, willing, and able to accept any tax-deductible donations that any of you may wish to provide.

The Section’s major effort for the year is participation in the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies (GCAGS) annual conference and exhibition. The relationship between GCSSEPM and GCAGS is analogous to that between our parent, SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology) and the AAPG. Basically, we provide technical content and some technical events to the GCAGS program. This year, at the GCAGS in San Antonio, we resumed this major role in GCAGS. Bonnie Weise, GCSSEPM corporate liaison in San Antonio, served as the Sponsorship Chair of the conference, and was very successful in fund raising. I served as the Technical Vice-Chairman and helped solicit and evaluate abstracts and organize the technical program. Jon Rotzien solicited and organized a two-day Deep-Water Systems Symposium, which provided over 40% of the technical content of the conference, and by my somewhat biased reckoning, got well over 50% of the attendance at the technical sessions. Bruce Hart and Carl Fiduk staged a highly successful (and almost free) Student Short Course after the conference, the venue for which was graciously provided by Trinity University. SEPM National and the GCSSEPM Foundation co-sponsored the attendance of SEPM President Maria Mutti, who gave a very interesting presentation at the annual GCSSEPM Luncheon. Tony D’Agostino, the Executive Chairman of the GCSSEPM Foundation and Dorene West, with very small and intermittent amounts of help from yours truly, set up and manned the GCSSEPM booth in the sparsely attended Exhibition Hall. The Section presented two awards at GCAGS. Dr. Charles Winker, retired from Shell Oil Company, received the 2017 GCSSEPM Doris Malkin Curtis Medal for his outstanding research aimed at understanding the geology of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as his contributions to deep water exploration and development. Dorene West, past President and current Foundation Trustee, received the 2017 GCSSEPM Distinguished Service Award for her tireless efforts on behalf of the Society. Please consider nominating any of those you feel worthy of these awards for 2018, or for the GCSSEPM Honorary Membership Award. Consult the GCSSEPM website for criteria for eligibility.

Going forward, we face a possible restructuring of our relationship with GCAGS. The ongoing downturn and reshaping of the domestic hydrocarbon industry has greatly impacted all aspects of petroleum and sedimentary geology. Neither GCSSEPM nor GCAGS have been spared. The past several GCAGS conferences have had disappointingly low attendance and have not been, to put it mildly, financial successes. There is lively debate in various quarters about the future of this once essential Gulf Coast conference. The GCAGS is currently considering options for restructuring its annual conference, including its revolving locations between its constituent societies, possible thematic meetings, as well as its annual occurrence. The Executive Council of GCSSEPM is involved in these discussions and will be relaying information to the membership as developments occur. Please feel free to provide any input you may have to the Council members.

On a happier note, the 2017 GCSSEPM Perkins-Rosen Conference “Sequence Stratigraphy: The Future Defined” commemorated the 40th anniversary of the publication of AAPG Memoir 26 “Seismic Stratigraphy—Applications to Hydrocarbon Exploration.” The conference was held December 4–5, 2017 at the Marathon Conference Center in Houston, Texas, and was again a technical and financial success. Co-conveners Bruce Hart, Steve Bachtel, and Richard Denne, along with the Technical Program Committee, put together a great program. The move from a hotel venue to the graciously donated Marathon facility has been immensely beneficial to the GCSSEPM. The Foundation Trustees and the Executive Council are discussing potential topics for the 2018 Perkins Rosen Conference and hope to be able to announce that early in the new year. Please provide the Executive Director with any ideas that you may have for next year’s or future research conferences.

Finally, my tenure as president of the GCSSEPM over the last year has been very interesting and sometimes memorable. I would like to express my appreciation to officers and trustees of both the GCSSEPM Foundation and the Section. Foundation Executive Director Tony D’Agostino, Trustees Bruce Hart, Ron Waszczak, Jory Pacht and Dorene West were a great help and source of ideas and productive discussions. Likewise, the interactions with Section officers, including past-President Dorene West, President-Elect Thomas Demchuk, Vice President Joe Macquaker, Treasurer Julitta Kirkova-Porciau, Secretary Jennifer Wadsworth, plus the Awards Chairman Sushanta Bose and newly designated social media chairman Justin Goesses. Their efforts have kept GCSSEPM operating over the last year, through some trying times in the petroleum industry and major hurricane impacts. I greatly appreciate their time, patience, hard work and good company.

Cheers,

John Suter, PhD
GCSSEPM President