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Ken Glennie - The Passing of a Petroleum Geology Legend

Obituary: Professor Ken Glennie was a legend in a number of fields, from the petroleum geology of the North Sea to modern and ancient desert environments, particularly in the Middle East.
This article appeared in Vol. 17, No. 1 - 2020

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Ken Glennie − The Passing of a Legend

Ken Glennie (1926–2019). © Jane Whaley. In late November 2019 the UK lost one of the giants of the oil industry. Professor Ken Glennie was a legend in a number of fields, from the petroleum geology of the North Sea to modern and ancient desert environments, particularly in the Middle East.

Ken joined Shell in 1954 − and so began his worldwide travels. The principles of petroleum geology had only just began to be formulated in the industry − as he said “we had no idea where oil came from. Oil was where you found it; it just happened” − and he was instrumental in refining these principles as he looked for potential source rocks in Europe, depositional environments in the deserts of northern Africa and turbidites − a totally new concept in the 1950s when he first wrote about them − in New Zealand. Ken was an exploration geologist in the days when mapping was done exclusively in the field, where the only tools were a hammer, a compass, a notebook and some paper maps, plus a lot of knowledge stored in the head. As a result, he had a wonderful fund of stories about his exciting adventures, near misses and interesting encounters.

In 1984 Ken published his book Introduction to the Petroleum Geology of the North Sea, which gave many an aspiring North Sea geologist a great grounding in the area,and he was also heavily involved in the series of conferences on the petroleum geology of north-west Europe known as ‘The Barbican Conferences’.

Ken Glennie (left) in the field in Oman in 2003. © Simon Armstrong. For many, however, Ken’s name will be forever linked to deserts, and in particular to Oman, a country he loved and which he first visited in the late 1960s. His work on deserts culminated in his seminal work Desert Sedimentary Environments (1970), followed by The Desert of Southeast Arabia in 2005. His long association with Oman, including the publication of Geology of the Oman Mountains in 1995, resulted by him being known as the ‘Father of Oman’s geology’. He kept up his interest in the country, and his visits there, well into retirement; in fact, at the age of 85 he returned to Oman to star in a documentary on the country’s geological heritage produced by the Geological Society of Oman.

Ken Glennie was also an enthusiastic teacher and mentor, both during his career with Shell and after his retirement in 1985. He became an Honorary Professor at the University of Aberdeen in 1995, where he lectured to the MSc class on the petroleum geology of the North Sea and supervised PhD students, with Prof. Brian Williams, working on desert and glaciogenic sediments until well into his 80s. He was also a keen member of his local branch of the University of the Third Age and was frequently involved with running courses and field trips on local geology around his home outside Aberdeen.

Professor Glennie was the recipient of many awards, including the Geological Society of London’s William Smith Medal and the AAPG’s Sidney Powers Memorial Award, but despite his undoubted intelligence, expertise and reputation he was a very modest, unassuming man who is fondly remembered by many as a wonderful teacher and a true inspiration.

Rest in peace, Ken Glennie (1926–2019); you will be sadly missed.

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