Third Pod Live: O-klahoma, Where There’s Fracking, Oil, Faults, and More!

Cuttings collection during SAFOD Phase III (2007). Credit: Brett Carpenter.

What’s it like to be a seismologist who’s studied the Marcellus Shale and San Andreas Fault, worked around the world from Pennsylvania to Rome, and is now a professor at the University of Oklahoma? We found out at AAA’s annual meeting earlier this year when we talked to assistant professor Brett Carpenter. Just a sampling of what we talked about:

  • Being gifted a piece of Indiana limestone from a random person on the side of the road while doing fieldwork in Oklahoma.
  • Batting away anxious scientists while pulling up sediment cores.
  • Nervously retreating from a landowner who fired warning shots telling him to get off his land.

(All of these are true.)

This episode was produced by Shane M Hanlon and mixed by Kayla Surrey.



Shane Hanlon:              00:00                Today, we are talking with Brett Carpenter from Oklahoma University, not the University of Oklahoma.

Nanci Bompey:             00:07                No, it is-

Brett Carpenter:            00:07                University-

Nanci Bompey:             00:07                No, it is the University of Oklahoma.

Brett Carpenter:            00:09                University of Oklahoma, not OU.

Shane Hanlon:              00:11                See, this is why we cut. We do a lot of post-editing.

Shane Hanlon:              00:17                Welcome to the American Geophysical Union’s podcast about the scientists and the methods behind the science. These are the stories you won’t read in a manuscript or hear in a lecture. I’m Shane Hanlon …

Nanci Bompey:             00:27                And I’m Nanci Bompy …

Shane Hanlon:              00:28                And this is Third Pod from the Sun, live.

Shane Hanlon:              00:37                Hi, Nanci.

Nanci Bompey:             00:38                Hey, Shane.

Shane Hanlon:              00:40                So, it turns out that recording in front of a live audience is a little bit more difficult than I imagined.

Nanci Bompey:             00:45                It was fun. It was fun.

Shane Hanlon:              00:47                Yeah. So, this episode, it was a special episode we recorded live at the AAAS 2019 meeting, which was here in DC earlier this year. And I don’t think we messed up too much. It was-

Nanci Bompey:             01:02                No, hopefully not.

Shane Hanlon:              01:05                Hopefully not. But that’s what cutting together is for. But yeah, so we interviewed Brett, and without further ado, let’s hear from him.

Brett Carpenter:            01:18                All right. So I did my graduate work at Penn State University in, basically, rock mechanics and fault structure.

Shane Hanlon:              01:26                What is that?

Brett Carpenter:            01:26                It’s a fancy way of saying I like to look at faults in the field and then try to determine if they’re going to have an earthquake or not. What can I tell from the geologic record for an earthquake? What can I look for? I then went and spent three and a half years in Rome, Italy at INGV, which is their USGS, studying faults in the Apennine Mountains, and then landed at University of Oklahoma as an Assistant Professor of Structural Geology. So a lot of what I study is both laboratory and field based. So I’ll go out in the field, try to find faults, studied the structure of those faults. What do they look like, how do they intersect each other and then try to collect fault rocks to study in the lab.

Shane Hanlon:              02:11                I’m from rural PA. I can’t imagine going from rural PA to Rome to Oklahoma.

Nanci Bompey:             02:17                Yeah, that is quite a kind of a transition. I went from Chicago to Thailand to North Carolina.

Shane Hanlon:              02:24                I figured that’s adequate. I went from PA to Tennessee to DC, so not quite the same, but.

Nanci Bompey:             02:31                So to start, out in the field, how do you find a fault or how do you know where to go? What does it look like? Would I be able to know?

Shane Hanlon:              02:39                What does a fault look like?

Brett Carpenter:            02:41                Some of the best places to look for faults are road cuts where civic authorities have given you a nice fresh faces to look at. And so one of the main things we look for in faults are just displaced geologic bodies. So displaced sedimentary layers, displaced, let’s say, intrusions like dikes or sills. So anything that can give us relative motion between two sides of a fault.

Nanci Bompey:             03:06                What’s dike and a sill, or what does it look like? If I went out and I was looking at these road cuts, what would I see?

Brett Carpenter:            03:11                A dike is a vertically propagating upward igneous intrusion. In Oklahoma, they’re mafic, so they’re black. A sill is horizontal, and will kind of step up horizontally made of the same material.

Shane Hanlon:              03:25                And you’re basically just looking for these alterations in this rock face. Essentially, these different things that just look out of the ordinary in these different ways.

Brett Carpenter:            03:33                Yeah, faults are definitely out of the ordinary. Like I said, they offset various things and they also have a bunch of different types of rocks associated with them. The rocks around the fault, they’re really beat up. And so that’s one thing we look for as well when we look for faults.

Shane Hanlon:              03:49                Have you ever done the type of stuff where you’re just on the side of the highway and there are people blowing by in their cars, thinking like, “What the heck’s happening?” Or have you ever had any interesting interactions with folks who are just wondering what you’re doing?

Brett Carpenter:            04:00                Not in the particular fault studies, but I also teach Structural Geology at the university and we go out in a field trip and every time someone from the university goes by, they honk. I’ve also had a gentleman from Indiana stop by and he carried a piece of fossiliferous limestone all the way from Indiana as he was going to Texas for the winter and stop and said, “I brought this for you guys so you would have this sample.” That was probably about the strangest incident I’ve had.

Nanci Bompey:             04:29                Wait. How did he know who you were, where you were?

Brett Carpenter:            04:32                The vehicles that we have out there have OU on them, but every winter he would go drive by and catch somebody in the field. And so the year I was out, he just decided to bring a piece of limestone from Indiana and dropped it off. I was like, “Okay, thank you.”

Shane Hanlon:              04:49                You have fans.

Brett Carpenter:            04:52                Yup.

Shane Hanlon:              04:52                Man. So I want fans.

Nanci Bompey:             04:55                I have a fan.

Shane Hanlon:              04:55                You have a fan, like a podcast fan?

Nanci Bompey:             04:57                Yeah, a podcast fan.

Shane Hanlon:              04:57                That’s interesting.

Nanci Bompey:             04:58                So this woman, that … one of the [inaudible 00:05:00] consultants who works here, she was listening to the podcasts with her son and he’s a huge fan.

Shane Hanlon:              05:05                Oh no, you told me about this.

Nanci Bompey:             05:07                Yeah, so it’s exciting.

Shane Hanlon:              05:09                I was actually just talking to folks this weekend … I was at a workshop and people … I’ve had this before, people can now recognize me by my voice.

Nanci Bompey:             05:18                So weird. So weird. So I guess that counts.

Shane Hanlon:              05:21                What does that actually look like in the field? Like when you’re out there drilling, how does this happen? I mean is it like ice core, is like that type of thing? Do you have these big giant machineries? What does that actually look like?

Brett Carpenter:            05:33                It really depends on the project. I was involved with a project on the San Andreas and a project in New Zealand on the Alpine fault; the drill rig on the Alpine fault was a literal, a little mineral exploration rig. So, the same size of a drill rig that would drill a water well. So you know, very small. The San Andreas rake was a typical oil industry drilling, so it was enormous with all the various parts that you need for industry drilling. So I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. A drivable [inaudible 00:00:06:12], a rig that takes, I think it was 40 tractor trailers to move site to site.

Nanci Bompey:             06:17                How do you know where to drill?

Shane Hanlon:              06:20                Do you look at a divining rod?

Brett Carpenter:            06:23                A dividing rod would be nice. So typically, how SAFOD was chosen was through 20-plus years of characterization of the site. And then we chose a spot far enough away from the fall and then we aimed for it, and we knew we crossed the fault because we crossed from one geologic formation into the other, and that was the only way we knew we crossed it initially. Then we put casing in that borehole and the fault sheared the casing and told us exactly where it was. Other faults, you have to do a lot of onsite characterization.

Brett Carpenter:            06:59                I’m lucky right now in Oklahoma. I’m studying a specific area where I can see the fault on the surface. So actually going and characterizing it is a bit easy because I can stand on it.

Shane Hanlon:              07:10                The ones you can stand on like this one, how big … if we were to look at it, what would we actually be looking at, looking for?

Brett Carpenter:            07:16                So this particular fault is actually just a series of fractures that get really, really close to where you have pulverized rock in the middle. So as you go away from the center of the structure, the number of fractures decreases. And then as you get to the middle of it, the damage is the highest. You have pulverized rock. In this particular fault, we’ve traced for about seven kilometers in Southern Oklahoma.

Shane Hanlon:              07:38                So what are you using? What type of machine, or is there a machine, or is it just a big sledgehammer?

Brett Carpenter:            07:42                A lot of machines that I’ve used are kind of purpose-built deformation machines.

Brett Carpenter:            07:48                They’re not … you can’t go into Walmart or even some of the companies that sell rock testing machines and buy these. They’re prototypes, kind of self-built. There are some machines from a company, various companies, GCTS MTS, these are just acronyms, but they make machines that industry uses to test cores. So you … a lot of scientific labs will start with some of those machines, but then we retrofit it with the stuff that we want to measure in terms of deformation because, in terms of faulting, we care about a little bit different type of data than typical industry applications.

Shane Hanlon:              08:27                Run us through just one of your … one of these things, you created or retrofitted. Physically, you put these cores, or part of the cores, into this thing. What does it do? What does it … because you say hydraulic fluid, so I assume there’s a lot of pressing or something. What does this look like?

Brett Carpenter:            08:46                These rigs typically have one or two hydraulic pistons and then they have a chamber where you will put the sample. We put a jacketing around the sample of either copper or shrink tube to keep it separated. We then basically close this vessel, fill it with oil, and heat it to the conditions that we want to. We can then pump water into the sample as well. And then we just deform it. So either deform it to find out its strength and yielding behavior, or if or we put it in and basically slide one piece against another, determine the friction rate.

Nanci Bompey:             09:25                What do the rocks do when you’re … you push it, or you’re pressurizing it, obviously. In doing what, what do they do? Do they like, do they pulverize them? Do they end up, I don’t know. What do they look like at the end when you take it all out?

Brett Carpenter:            09:37                So it really depends on rock type a lot, in a lot of cases. Let’s say granite in the shallow crust that is very brittle, that tends to just break and pulverize. You take calcite, so like a limestone at mid-crustal conditions, that behaves much more ductally, so much more like silly putty. I mean it’s a rigid silly putty but much more like silly putty.

Shane Hanlon:              10:01                Rigid silly putty.

Brett Carpenter:            10:03                So it just depends on rock type. And that’s one of the reasons why we do this field mapping and drilling is to determine what rock types are in play for particular faults.

Shane Hanlon:              10:12                Has anything ever really … like you put something into … so to say like when you’re doing more like the pulverizing or like the … not necessarily the one against the other, but more of the pushing them to … like, crushing them, in many ways. Have you ever really been surprised by something, like something hasn’t behaved the way you thought it would or maybe, I mean hopefully not. But like something did something to one of your machines or anything like that?

Brett Carpenter:            10:34                I would say one of my most surprising results, and as we were testing a piece of chert, which is microcrystalline quartz. It’s very strong, and we knew it was very strong, but we didn’t know how strong. We actually deformed our machine trying to break the quartz and there were little pieces of the quartz. So we do our best to put up shields and all around these.

Brett Carpenter:            11:00                But you always have people who like to get in and try to look or take a selfie with the deformation. And so a small piece of quartz, the chert, actually broke off, shot out of the machine, and actually caused a little bit of a cut on a person.

Shane Hanlon:              11:14                What?

Brett Carpenter:            11:15                Yeah, it wasn’t, it just a little scratch, but it was just so hard. I mean, chert is used for arrowheads for a reason, and in this case that person found out that reason in the experiment.

Nanci Bompey:             11:27                So some people take selfies with the-

Brett Carpenter:            11:30                Yes. I am not a big fan of people taking a selfie in front of a machine that’s at high pressure and temperature. I prefer to, “you can take a selfie in front of it when it’s not doing anything. That’s fine, but not during the experiment.”

Shane Hanlon:              11:45                So yeah. That’s crazy. When you’re drilling into these faults, is there any … I’m a biologist by training, so I obviously don’t know this. Is there any concern about messing with the structural integrity of these areas cause you’re literally removing part from an already-

Nanci Bompey:             12:01                Or that you could set something off?

Shane Hanlon:              12:02                Yeah.

Brett Carpenter:            12:06                So from a societal side, there is a concern for some very good reasons. I’m from Oklahoma. Those reasons are fairly self-evident when you mess around with the state of stress around the fault. But drilling a four inch hole through the San Andreas fault, which is hundreds of kilometers long? No, we’re not. We would be worried if we increased the pore pressure substantially. But the mud weight in the borehole was just meant to keep the borehole open. Not to do, let’s say, not to fracture into the rock.

Shane Hanlon:              12:39                So I guess that’s a no, that people shouldn’t, we shouldn’t be concerned about.

Nanci Bompey:             12:44                No, don’t be concerned, Shane.

Shane Hanlon:              12:46                Yeah, but I know people might be, even though the best evidence says when you’re just drilling into something, it’s like, “Oh, this is a fault. It might crack open and-”

Nanci Bompey:             12:54                Right, but we should not be too concerned.

Shane Hanlon:              12:55                We should not be concerned. All right. Well, but it kind of makes me wonder though. I wonder what, so when he’s drilling and especially when he’s pulling up cores and stuff, I wonder what it’s like to be in that space, or in that room.

Nanci Bompey:             13:09                Yeah. It sounds like it’s pretty crazy.

Nanci Bompey:             13:11                I was just going to ask, then, about … I mean you said about the cores, there’s like a mass rush after you bring it up, you open it up. So you’re all in this little trailer. Everyone’s got their … I don’t know, what do they have there? They have their stuff out so they can take a sample. How long do you have to take the sample? I mean, what occurs there and how long does that all take?

Brett Carpenter:            13:30                I’ll be honest, as a, as a part of the team that was responsible for basically curating the core, there are some samples, like if we want to sample the fluids in the core that are taken immediately so there’s no degradation. You basically take a sample, put it under vacuum to pull the water out.

Brett Carpenter:            13:51                The primary goal of the people on site was to get the core cleaned. We had a log, a sensor logger, that would scan for geophysics and take a high resolution, high resolution picture of the core. So we did that and then our goal was to basically get it from on-deck to basically shrunk wrapped and sealed in as little time possible. So when you had all these scientists in, in the room getting in our way, it was a bit, you know, there were points where I was shoeing principle investigators and other scientists out of the room saying, “This is great, but if we let this dry out, you’re going to be mad at us later. So let’s wait till-”

Nanci Bompey:             14:29                Wait. So it has to be wet? Is that what you’re saying?

Brett Carpenter:            14:32                Well, we want to keep it as damp as possible to keep all the formation fluid that’s in it to help hold it together. As the core dries out, it desiccates and crumbles. So in a fault zone, the rock is basically just rubble. And in a lot of cases, the only thing holding it together is the fluid that’s there. It’s the only cohesive force there. And so if it dries out, then it … so our goal is to process it as quickly as possible without disturbing it. Take whatever immediate time-sensitive sample we had, but then to get a basically shrunk wrapped and sealed so that it could be properly analyzed later.

Brett Carpenter:            15:11                And so when we had these exciting cores come up, there was always the competition between excitement and “Get the heck out of my way, I need to curate this core properly.”

Shane Hanlon:              15:22                I love this image of him like literally having to kick people out of this tiny little trailer because they’re just so excited to see what’s in these cores.

Nanci Bompey:             15:31                Scientists. Scientist excitement right there. But yeah, and you know, I kind of … now he explained what they actually are finding in there.

Shane Hanlon:              15:42                Yeah. What they’re actually so excited about.

Brett Carpenter:            15:45                What we think about from the history of the rocks where we sampled it, there’s evidence that there were past earthquakes in that core. We found evidence of earthquakes coming through there. So that breaks up the rock. It produces what we call fault gouge, which is-

Nanci Bompey:             15:58                Can you say, like, “That happened in this year?”

Brett Carpenter:            16:01                Oh, no. We would like to, but no.

Nanci Bompey:             16:05                Okay.

Brett Carpenter:            16:05                But so, that it forms this potted rock called fault gouge. Any chemist will tell you, increase surface area, you increase the chemical reaction rate. And so in this case you’ve got basically quartz and feldspar dominated rocks from the Pacific plate and you’ve got this serpentine, which is magnesium rich. So you’ve got magnesium rich fluids coming off the serpentine interacting with these quartz and feldspar rich rocks forming the sweet clay called saponite. And so that reaction is fairly aggressive, and it’s something that we tend not to see at the surface because saponite is so easily weatherable at the surface that if you walked up to an outcrop it likely wouldn’t be there.

Brett Carpenter:            16:47                So it was just something that we couldn’t tell from the surface exposures.

Nanci Bompey:             16:52                And so the saponite, if I’m saying it correctly, how does that factor into earthquakes?

Brett Carpenter:            16:56                Saponite, in two ways. One, so when we talk about faults, we talk about what is the fault strength. What is its resistance to shear, to slip-

Nanci Bompey:             17:06                To move.

Brett Carpenter:            17:07                To move.

Nanci Bompey:             17:07                Okay.

Brett Carpenter:            17:08                What is its resistance? And we use friction, much like friction is talked about in other areas, to describe that. And so saponite is very frictionally weak. We also talk about the fault’s seismic stability. And that is the likelihood that once slip has begun to accelerate, will that slip arrest or will that slip accelerate into an earthquake. And as far as we can tell, that is a material property about the materials in the fault. And so saponite is both weak and seismically stable, which explains why the fault creeps, so it doesn’t … you don’t have big earthquakes where we sampled it.

Nanci Bompey:             17:47                They’re creeping. They’re just small-

Brett Carpenter:            17:49                Steady sliding kind of past itself. There’re great pictures from … creep was basically discovered not far from where we did it, at the La Cienega Winery in California. Just offset in the basement while they had to fix every year. Wikipedia has got a good page on that. Students, don’t use Wikipedia as a source.

Nanci Bompey:             18:09                But the areas where you have the saponite, where you have the creep, I mean, so if you don’t have the saponite, you’re more likely then to get a big earthquake happen rather than the creep, or not necessarily? I don’t know.

Brett Carpenter:            18:20                That that’s what we think. So now, where the SAFOD borehole currently sits, it’s about actually a hundred meters above a magnitude two earthquake that happens every two years. And part of a goal … we just had an interscope synthesis workshop to talk about SAFOD and get ready for this meeting … would be to go back and to sample that, and then we can directly say, “Okay, creep here, earthquakes here. This is why.”

Shane Hanlon:              18:44                That’s really cool.

Brett Carpenter:            18:50                Just to the South of the site in Parkfield, in 2004 they had a magnitude six earthquake. So we think the fault structure is quite a bit different there. But you know, SAFOD costs in the neighborhood of $30 million. So there’s just not that money lying around to go throw four inch bore holes everywhere across the fault. So you have to do some surface mapping to interpret the fault structure.

Shane Hanlon:              19:15                Sure. Have you ever seen the movie San Andreas?

Brett Carpenter:            19:20                I have seen the movie San Andreas.

Shane Hanlon:              19:23                What did you think of it? For those of you who aren’t aware, San Andreas is like The Day After Tomorrow of earthquakes.

Brett Carpenter:            19:30                Yup.

Nanci Bompey:             19:30                I never saw it.

Shane Hanlon:              19:31                It’s not good.

Nanci Bompey:             19:32                I heard it was not good.

Shane Hanlon:              19:34                I like Dwayne Johnson, but it’s not good.

Brett Carpenter:            19:36                My actual favorite way to watch that, there’s a famous scientist from the USGS; there’s a version of it where basically she live-tweeted it during it, and the tweets show up on the screen.

Shane Hanlon:              19:47                Was it Susan?

Nanci Bompey:             19:48                Lucy John-

Brett Carpenter:            19:49                I can’t remember. [crosstalk 00:19:50].

Nanci Bompey:             19:53                Oh, like Pop Up Video?

Brett Carpenter:            19:55                But it was like a real time fact check of the [inaudible 00:19:57] as it was going through. And that’s my favorite version to watch. That’s the version that I have students watch. So don’t get me wrong, there are parts of the San Andreas, let’s say the Southern San Andreas, that if you look at probabilistic hazard forecasting, are due for an earthquake of magnitude six to seven. The Bay region is probably due for a six to seven again, and by due I mean 60% chance in the next 30 years. That’s why when we talk about probabilistic forecasting, that’s what we think about in terms of earthquakes. So the actual movie San Andreas, I’m a bit skeptical that the entire San Andres could break all at once. And if it did, I’m even more skeptical that it would cause a tsunami. Just not that type of fault.

Shane Hanlon:              20:45                I love this phrase, “Not that type of fault.” Like I wonder if there’s a fault where it could trigger a tsunami maybe?

Nanci Bompey:             20:52                Yeah. I mean, that’s how tsunamis are triggered.

Shane Hanlon:              20:54                But not the San Andres made-for-TV, or I guess not made for-

Nanci Bompey:             20:57                I guess that’s just not how that fault works. There’s different types.

Shane Hanlon:              20:59                Made by Dwayne “The Rock”-

Nanci Bompey:             21:03                “The Rock” Johnson.

Shane Hanlon:              21:07                Johnson. From these cores, no tsunami triggered, but they did actually find some really cool stuff.

Brett Carpenter:            21:12                So we cored the fault. We had that beautiful core in the lab. Everybody was patting themselves on the back, you know, mission accomplished. What happened after that was while we wanted to put casing in the borehole, so to do that you have to make it wider. So they were going through, after coring it, opening up the borehole. And when you do that, you get cuttings that come out. Now at the time we knew that it would be, you know, as a PhD student, I have a finite amount of time to complete my degree, but I knew that at that point in time, that it would be a process for the core to get distributed around to different labs. So I made a deal with the project PIs that while they were opening the fault zones, that I would collect cuttings for myself and the project.

Brett Carpenter:            21:56                And so that night that that happened was the celebratory project dinner. So I stayed on site. It was a rainy night and because there was already a borehole there, this happened very fast. So basically over an hour I was just collecting cuttings in these sip trays as fast as I could off the shaker table. So I took mine back to Penn State, ran some experiments. And so actually one of my most cited papers is from that evening. While everyone was having dinner, I was … luckily the shaker tables were covered, so I wasn’t standing in the pouring rain, but it was not a nice evening, let’s say. And it was two in the morning or so. I have to look back at the times.

Shane Hanlon:              22:36                The joys of fieldwork.

Brett Carpenter:            22:37                Yes.

Shane Hanlon:              22:40                I was talking with Brett beforehand about Penn State. I’m from that area and I also know a lot, I could do some [inaudible 00:22:46] Marcellus Shale. And so I just wanted to kind of get a little bit of background on his timing, whether or not like he was there when Marcellus Shale was discovered or whatever else. So we chatted a little bit about that.

Brett Carpenter:            22:57                I was at Penn State, to be honest, first as a Master’s student. I thought I was going to teach high school earth science and physics, and wanted a degree, wanted a Master’s in content instead of education. So I went but kind of fell in love with the academic research lifestyle and haven’t left since. So the Marcellus as a unit has been known about for a long time. The Marcellus as an economically viable unit has only been known about since, or really looked at seriously, since the early 2000’s and I was there during that time. And Terry Engelder, who’s kind of one half of the group that gets credit for discovering the economic viability of it, was actually on my Master’s committee. So I was there during that phase and actually got to see and smell some of the Marcellus in one of our rock prep rooms at Penn State.

Shane Hanlon:              23:49                Natural gas doesn’t have an odor. What does the Marcellus Shale smell like?

Brett Carpenter:            23:54                But there are other rotting organisms that do have an odor. And so it’s a bit hard to describe what that … but you know it when you smell it.

Shane Hanlon:              24:03                So from your science days, do you remember … did you ever have any really terribly smelling things that you ever had to work with? No, you were more on the chemical side.

Nanci Bompey:             24:12                Chemicals don’t really … some of them smell kind of good, but they’re bad for you. But you know what I do remember in high school? Ugh, dissecting the frogs. That formaldehyde.

Shane Hanlon:              24:23                Formaldehyde’s terrible.

Nanci Bompey:             24:24                Oh, my God, I almost threw up.

Shane Hanlon:              24:26                Yeah, yeah. No, I … being a herpetologist working with frogs, the formaldehyde, the pickled ones are … we call them pickled … are really gross. But I teach this class every summer and frogs love habitats that are just gross, like low oxygen bogs and just things that smell terrible. My students hate me so much by the end of it, but it’s where you find the best stuff.

Nanci Bompey:             24:49                What’s your favorite fault?

Brett Carpenter:            24:51                Oh, I don’t know if I can answer that without angering people.

Shane Hanlon:              24:58                I guess-

Brett Carpenter:            24:59                My favorite drilling location is New Zealand. So I spent almost, I guess one day shy of six months on two different trips in New Zealand. So taking my visitor visa up to the last day, each time, for two different projects drilling in New Zealand. And it was the South Island of the West coast. Just a beautiful area.

Nanci Bompey:             25:19                So what’s that field site like? What do you love it so much?

Shane Hanlon:              25:22                Are you like in Middle Earth?

Brett Carpenter:            25:24                I was going to say, “Picture Middle Earth.” That’s about what the field site looks like.

Nanci Bompey:             25:29                Did you camp there? What’s your typical … your months out there like?

Brett Carpenter:            25:33                Well the town we were in is called Whataroa. It’s a sleepy little town, a little bit bigger than Parkfield, but they do a lot of tourism so they have cabins and a hotel, and so we stayed there.

Brett Carpenter:            25:45                But on my first trip it was a very shoestring budget. This is where we had the small rig, the water drilling rig, but the students, and I was a student at the time, were responsible for site security. And that meant that you camped onsite overnight and were, I didn’t know supposed, to scare people away. The whole security part wasn’t very well-defined, but it was basically site security was two students sleeping in a tent on the site overnight during drilling operations.

Shane Hanlon:              26:15                So essentially it was so they didn’t have to pay for you?

Brett Carpenter:            26:18                Yeah, I mean I-

Nanci Bompey:             26:19                Did you have to scare anyone away?

Brett Carpenter:            26:23                So we actually had a hunters come up to us one night while I was there and they were just curious. One thing about all drilling projects that is … really you actually … if you do it right, you become part of the community, and so the community knows exactly what’s going on and why. Whether you’re in Parkfield or the West coast of New Zealand or in Oklahoma, you really have to get community buy in and explain things and keep them up to date for it to be successful.

Brett Carpenter:            26:48                I mean, in Whataroa, we tripled their population when we had the drilling project just by all the scientists coming in.

Shane Hanlon:              26:55                I don’t know if I ever had … when I was doing fieldwork, I don’t know if I ever had any experiences where I got any bad experience with landowners or anything. But a lot of our work was done at night and so I was always under … I was always worried that under the cover of darkness, that in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in rural Pennsylvania or rural Tennessee, and no one knows you’re out there.

Nanci Bompey:             27:18                Some flashlight shining in your face like “What are you doing here?” Yeah, definitely.

Shane Hanlon:              27:22                But still here. So we’re all good.

Brett Carpenter:            27:25                In scientific drilling, things go wrong all the time. The SAFOD project, although I … yeah, if you would’ve come to my talk yesterday, you would have heard rainbows and sunshine and how great it was. We lost several boreholes during that where we basically got stuck in the borehole, had to twist off the pipe, and come back out. Some of the New Zealand drilling projects didn’t go all the way to completion. So you have this … you put all this work in, you’re out there, you’re basically beating your head against the wall, and then the wall punches back hard. And so part of it is, the first time it happens, it’s a real downer. Every time it happens, it’s a real downer. But you have to … scientific drilling is high risk, high reward. And so once you understand that, you kind of get used to it.

Brett Carpenter:            28:16                Other times I’ve taken students out to a field site and basically been asked to leave by the landowner. So kind of hard to teach students structural geology when the land owner’s implying that, I mean it is Oklahoma, that they would prefer you not to be on their property.

Shane Hanlon:              28:32                So have you ever actually been like scared or like, yeah, I guess like scared for your students or yourself or?

Brett Carpenter:            28:41                I would say the only time I’ve actually been scared was myself. I was out collecting samples in California. Full disclosure, I was in a place I knew I shouldn’t be in, but the fault was right on the other side of the fence. So I jumped it. I had my rock hammer and a bag and I just scooped as much as I could as quick as I could. The landowner came out and fired off a shot, just up in the air, and I waved to him, hopped back over the fence. I got my sample, though. I knew I shouldn’t have been there, but I took a calculated risk.

Shane Hanlon:              29:22                That sounds like the true scientists, as it were.

Shane Hanlon:              29:28                See, that’s my nightmare.

Nanci Bompey:             29:31                Being chased, or being shot at, I guess?

Shane Hanlon:              29:34                Or, yeah. I mean-

Nanci Bompey:             29:35                I guess most people that would be their nightmare too.

Shane Hanlon:              29:38                But I mean it’s … I don’t know, I feel like that’s like a real thing that could actually-

Nanci Bompey:             29:42                Happen.

Shane Hanlon:              29:42                Yeah. I think the most I ever got to happen was like I got yelled at by someone for stepping on their property, but-

Nanci Bompey:             29:48                I get yelled at every day. No, I’m kidding.

Shane Hanlon:              29:50                The mean streets of DC. All right, well that’s all from Third Pod from the Sun Live.

Nanci Bompey:             29:57                Thank you so much to … I guess us.

Shane Hanlon:              30:00                Us. Yeah.

Nanci Bompey:             30:01                But Shane did most of the work on this one, I will say. I just showed up for the interview.

Shane Hanlon:              30:07                I couldn’t do it without you, Nanci.

Nanci Bompey:             30:08                And of course thanks to Brett for sharing his work with us, and of course thanks to AAAS for providing a space and equipment for us to record at their 2019 annual meeting here in DC.

Shane Hanlon:              30:18                Yeah. So this podcast was produced by Nancy and me, and mixed by Kayla Surrey.

Nanci Bompey:             30:22                We would love to hear your thoughts as always on this podcast. Please rate and review us. Listen to us wherever you get your podcasts or at

Shane Hanlon:              30:31                Thanks all, and we’ll see you next time.


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