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General News

Archon Michael Johnson: Atom Bomb, Oil Pioneer, Climate Change

July 5, 2020
By Catherina Ploumidakis

Michael S. Johnson is a consulting oil and gas geologist recognized for his contribution to the discovery of the Parshall Oil Field in North Dakota, a supergiant oil find.

He and his wife are also devoted to the Greek-American community. Both are members of Leadership 100 and he also serves on their Board of Trustees. He also served for 22 years on the Archdiocesan Council and is a member of the Faith endowment. In 1979 he became a member of The Order of Saint Andrew The Apostle, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

In 2017, he published his autobiography Obscurity to Success in the Oil Business (Amazon).

The National Herald: Tell us a few words about yourself.

Michael S. Johnson: I was born in 1926 in Maryville, Missouri, of Greek immigrants parents. My interest in the oil business began when my family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1931, then called the Oil Capital of The World. I have spent my entire career in the Rocky Mountain Region. For the past 57 years, I have resided in Denver, Colorado, concentrating my exploration efforts in the Williston Basin of North Dakota.

TNH: You were drafted into the U.S. Army in 1950 during the Korean War.

MJ: I was assigned to The Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (AFSWP) headquartered in the Pentagon. While there, I experienced one of the most exciting times of my life. For the first time in history AFSWP, together with The Atomic Energy Commission, would detonate several atomic bombs at The Nevada Test Site.

This program would provide the very first measurement data on the effect of surface and underground nuclear detonations and the project was named Operation Buster-Jangle.

Preceding our tests was the Trinity shot at Alamogordo, New Mexico – the very first nuclear bomb detonation. It gave birth to the nuclear era and  was quickly followed by the drops at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War ll.

For the Operation Buster-Jangle blast, we stood nine miles from ground zero. The flash heat from the blast was like opening an oven heated to 300 degrees F. The white, radiation-filled, mushroom-shaped cloud rose from the ground, churning and boiling. It was followed by a dirt and dust-filled cloud sucked up from the ground by the blast. When the huge, thunderous roar of the shock wave came, it shook the ground violently like a severe earthquake. Near ground zero there was total destruction.

TNH: What a rare experience.

MJ: Indeed. How many people in the world have ever experienced an atomic bomb explosion? What a terrifying destructive element had been created.

One bomb could wipe out an entire city. The atomic bomb brought on the Cold War with Russia and it took years of negotiating until a final solution was reached [the nuclear test ban treaty]. This included an exchange of scientists where the Russians came to the Nevada Site and U.S. scientists spent time at the Russian test site at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. The purpose was to be able to conclusively verify a nuclear explosion. The last atomic bomb detonation occurred in 1992.

TNH: In 2006 you were involved in the discovery of Parshall Oil Field in North Dakota, that would become one of the largest oil fields in North America.

MJ: That was the highlight of my entire professional career. The Williston Basin of North Dakota was not a favorite of the oil industry. But I had developed a prospect there that I felt had merit. At the time, none of the acreage in this prospective area was leased and no wells had been drilled in over 12 Years. My research suggested an oil trap (possible oil accumulation) that was unlike any oil trap in the entire Rocky Mountain Region. But it would have the benefit of using horizontal drilling, a new drilling technology, that was just emerging and from new fracking techniques developed by Greek-American George Mitchell and others.

I prepared a 65-page power point slide presentation and named it Parshall Prospect after a small, nearby North Dakota town. For the next nine months we made 17 one to two hour-long presentations to oil companies and twenty to thirty telephone and letter proposals, all to no avail. The main objection to the prospect was the high prospect cost and the lack of experience of companies in the use of the new horizontal drilling technique.

Finally, EOG Resources, an active and well-respected, independent company based in Houston and with offices in Denver, stepped up and took the entire prospect.

The well was commenced in April, 2006. This oil discovery by EOG Resources will be long remembered for it marks the beginning of a new drilling era using the new horizontal drilling technique.

TNH: What followed after that?

MJ: It was phenomenal. Rapid development of the field followed because of expiring oil and gas leases. Quickly, it became apparent that the oil field was larger than originally projected. Parshall had become one of the largest oil fields in North America and North Dakota has become the second largest oil-producing state in the country.

TNH: You have had an interesting, fulfilling, and financially rewarding career.

MJ: Yes, for my efforts, I was awarded The Explorer of the Year Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and also from The Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists.

TNH: Now, however, the world is experiencing a double-digit drop in oil and gas prices.

MJ: The virus affected the oil industry just like everybody else. People quit driving cars, going places, doing things. Oil price dropped below ten dollars per barrel. Gasoline sold for less than one dollar per gallon. Oil has started its recovery and has risen to 39 dollars per barrel, which is good news but still below commercial. Supply still exceeds demand. The U.S. is the largest oil producer in the world and we lead the world in technological innovations. In my opinion, we will in one year find a cure for the virus and restore greatness to the economy. 

TNH: On another topic, one that is of worldwide concern and hotly-debated, is climate change. What is your opinion?

MJ: The cyclic nature of earth’s climate is one of the most important issues. A perfect example is found in reviewing the glacial history of North America. For about a million years, ending only about 12,000 years ago, glaciers hundreds of feet high occupied parts of the northern U.S. Throughout geologic time there is repeated  evidence of cyclic climate, some cycles even covering millions of years and later subdivided into smaller cycles.

I will conclude by saying I applaud our country for their efforts in reducing use of fossil fuels, but It will take some time to convert 270 million cars to renewables. Also, for industrial changes from coal to natural gas and for care for the environment. I worry about climate change, rising sea levels, adverse weather, and China.

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