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Mister Energy

Charged with advancing science and shaping policy for the oil and natural gas industries on an international scale, David Curtiss ’92 doesn’t stay put in one place for long. by Ruby Thomas


SceneDuring his first 15 months as executive director of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), David Curtiss ’92 spent 214 nights on the road. It got to the point where if you asked him what he did for a living, he’d say, “Sit on an airplane.”

From his base in Tulsa, David has crisscrossed the globe to visit many of the AAPG’s 38,000 members—geoscientists focused on energy, working in government, academia, and industry in 116 countries. David steers the 80+ staff headquartered in Tulsa as well as the AAPG teams in Bogota, Dubai, London, Singapore, and Washington, D.C. For a missionary kid, the international scope of the work is a joy, despite the never-ending travel itineraries.

David continues the work he began as head of AAPG’s policy activities in Washington, D.C. Through briefings and one-on-one meetings, he educated U.S. policy makers about energy and the science and technology of oil and natural gas exploration and production. As a resource to Congress, he brought science to bear in conversations about the energy issues of the day, such as the potential of shale gas and the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract these resources in an environmentally responsible way. Also, he spent a lot of time informing policy makers and the public on the central role that oil and natural gas play in supplying the world’s energy.

David got his start in policy work by serving as a Congressional Science Fellow from 2001 to 2002, working for then Representative J. C. Watts, Jr., alongside three other Wheaton graduates, Jon Vandenheuvel ’91, Greg McCarthy ’91, and James Smith ’92. These three, like David, attended Wheaton during a time when the geology and environmental science (GES) department was emerging from near extinction.

Originally interested in political science, David declared for geology at the end of his freshman year. “The fact that we were such a small department contributed greatly to our sense of camaraderie. A geology major? We have that at Wheaton?”

In 2012 the GES department launched their largest class ever—33 graduates; in contrast, David’s class graduated just six geology majors. He was among the first group of students shepherded by Drs. Jeffrey Greenberg and Stephen Moshier. His time at Wheaton proved formative.

“I was forced to wrestle with issues such as the age of the Earth and how to integrate God’s role as Creator with scientific observation and testing,” he says. “This wrestling builds important skills that go far beyond issues of faith and learning—it forces you to see the big picture and how to place whatever you are doing into its larger context.”

In his role with the AAPG, his “big picture” now includes the whole world, as energy resources are required everywhere to generate electricity, transportation, heating, cooling, food, water, and clothing. “It is enormous,” David says of the oil and natural gas industry. “The scale is mind-boggling—and international. And the energy we find and produce is the foundation of modern society.”

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