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Kansas Geological Survey--Annual Report 2005

Director's Report

31 July 2006

In February of this year, I was named Director of the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) and the Kansas State Geologist. This is the first KGS annual report that has been produced since I was named to this position. Many people use annual reports to learn what has transpired in an organization over 12 months without having to piece together information from news releases, meeting minutes, or routine internal correspondence. I hope this document serves that purpose. In addition, this annual report is an opportunity for me to highlight an issue that I believe has been seriously underappreciated or just plain neglected.

The issue is how the KGS contributes "added-value" to the State of Kansas.

The concept of adding value has been discussed in almost every setting imaginable. It has been considered in the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies, in State and Federal agencies, in two-person start-up companies, and even in purely academic environments. It occurs when a product is given more value than was originally envisioned. How does this apply to programmatic activities at the KGS? Our mission is to conduct geological surveys or studies of the natural resources of Kansas and to disseminate (through publications and reports) the results of such studies. We are funded with taxpayer dollars, and we are expected to generate products for the people of Kansas. For the KGS, much of the "added-value" may well be the result of transitioning a research product into a needed and useful service. Several examples come to mind. In the early 1980's, the KGS conducted a series of relatively modest research projects designed to distinguish between the origins of brines. The scientific hypothesis being tested was this: "Is it possible to tell the difference between a brine that results from bedded salt layers coming in contact with freshwater and a brine associated with petroleum production?" The results indicated that such discrimination was possible. The findings were robust enough to produce the technology commonly employed today when Kansas agencies seek to identify possible sources of contamination. Another example concerns the use of geophysics to help identify areas where subsurface dissolution helps promote surface collapse and subsidence features. About 25 years ago, the KGS studied the collapse features along Interstate 70 in Russell County. With additional experience, enhanced computer software, and improvements in field-acquisition techniques, the KGS developed the capabilities to use selected geophysical properties to help assess whether subsurface conditions were likely to contribute to surface collapse. By virtue of this technology, the Kansas Department of Transportation recently relocated a planned multi-million dollar overpass in south-central Kansas 5 miles from the originally intended location.

Two recent joint projects between the KU Department of Geology and the KGS have resulted in technology that I am confident will make the research-to-service transition quickly. High-grade aggregate materials for construction and road-building purposes require material with certain physical properties, particularly related to clay content. However, the tests required to establish them as high-grade aggregate material take several months. While these tests are going forward, activities at the quarry are proceeding. If the material fails the physical properties tests, the material that has been quarried has significantly less value than it would if it had successfully passed. The KU Department of Geology-KGS projects have yielded a technique that has immense promise as a clay-content screening tool that can be deployed at the quarry in real-time. In fact, KU has acquired patent protection on the technology and is actively marketing it. Finally, the cumulative efforts of the KGS energy research section over the years have yielded results that oil and gas operators routinely exploit in order to increase production. Selected results from past projects have yielded breakthroughs in the understanding of reservoir properties to the extent that development wells have been drilled on such new insight. To date, such wells have been productive and thus the relative percentage of dry (or non-productive) holes has been reduced. Results such as these contribute significantly to the annual tax revenue base of the State of Kansas.

From a global perspective, many research results are either negative or inconclusive. Bench-scale chemical or pharmaceutical research typically involve well-understood (and predictable) reagents and chemicals and thus lend themselves to reasonably well-constrained experiments. However, natural-resource research-like that undertaken at the KGS-involves whatever materials Nature provides. That makes outcomes much less predictable; moreover, results of this research are frequently negative. When one considers what is required for natural-resources research to be commercially successful, probabilities become extremely low. It is remarkable that the KGS can lay claim to a number of positive and successful research results that truly provide benefit to the State and society.

These are a few examples that illustrate the "added-value" from KGS research. I am proud of the people at the KGS and the work that they do. I am confident that we can achieve even more in the future. And I look forward to being a part of the KGS as we pursue new research and service objectives for the people of Kansas.

Signiture of Bill Harrison

William E. Harrison
Director, Kansas Geological Survey
State Geologist

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Online Sept. 1, 2006

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