Geology was not just Paul Denney's career. It's also his passion.
As a career, his focus was the energy industry. "My job was looking for oil or natural gas,” Denney said. “I did it for 52 years."
For a few years, Denney, now 80, then taught geology to a new generation as an instructor at Pueblo Community College. He gave that up when he moved to Peyton about a year and a half ago, but he is still interested in teaching. Perhaps an online class, he said.
So what he does he do during his off time? What does he do to relax?
Geology, of course; it's also his hobby and he can often be found at Paint Mines Interpretive Park or elsewhere, studying unusual formations and rocks. (For his report on a recent find, see Paint Mines article under Feature Stories.)
"I'm sure my wife gets tired of hearing about this rock and that rock," he said.
Denney grew up in Phoenix but was happy to leave. "It's just too hot to live there," he said.
At school in Missouri, he started out with physical education as his major, but switched gears after taking a survey course in geology. He went on to study geology at the University of California, where he earned his bachelor's degree, and then he received his master's from the University of Arizona.
His first job in the oil and gas industry was with Standard Oil of Texas in the East Texas Basin; he went on to work for various companies, then became a consultant for the last 30 years or so on the job. He also has worked as a consulting hydrologist, advising people where to drill water wells.
"I started out long before the digital revolution," he said of his time in the energy industry. “And so the kind of geology I had to do was all hands on, very painstaking. We couldn't just go to a computer and type in a question and get an answer; we had to ask ourselves the questions and somehow find the answers in the paper records."
Instead of sitting at the computer, he had to sift through thousands of written well logs; every well that is drilled for oil and gas yields records of rock composition and characteristics, along with other information determined from seismic or other testing. With multiple wells, or boreholes, geologists can piece together a picture of what is underground. Formations at the surface can also offer clues as to what lies below.
During his career, Denney was involved in some major finds, including one as lead geophysicist for Chevron. Another came when he was working for the Anschutz Corp. (One thing that irked him about his boss, Philip Anschutz, was that he would call a meeting every Saturday, cutting into the weekend. "I got tired of that," Denney said.) But everyone was happy when the Anschutz Ranch East field in southwest Wyoming turned out to be "a supergiant oil field."
"So during my time with Phil Anschutz, he became a billionaire," Denney said. "He was only a millionaire up until then."
Denney has lived in Colorado since 1971 –- with the exception of a couple years working with Amoseas Indonesia in Jakarta. He has lived in various spots in the state, including Denver, Grand Junction, west of Pueblo and in Canon City; he, of course, was a member of the Canon City Geology Club during his time there. ("That’s a pretty good bunch," he said.)
It was while teaching an introduction to geology class at the Pueblo Community College-Fremont campus that he and his class made an intriguing discovery during a field trip just a few years ago: trace fossils indicating ancient marine worms. The find was chronicled in the Canon City Daily Record. "Because of the discovery, geologists might be able to infer, now, that marine conditions existed in a place they never considered, the Canon City embayment," according to the Daily Record.
Denney was also the first to notice –- or at least report –- the presence of certain fossils in the conglomerate used as wainscoting at the Fremont County Administrative Building.
"These are not major finds," he said. But, he added, "It's fun."
He and wife, Sheryl, moved from Canon City to Peyton to be closer to family in Denver. Their home near Homestead Ranch Park also offers magnificent views.
You might expect someone with such a passion for geology to have an impressive rock collection at his home; Denney did, but no more.
"I've pretty much given it away to my grandkids," he said."With all these moves, I was probably hauling 300 pounds of rocks with me."
Paul Denney may be retired, but his fascination with geology hasn’t dimmed. Photo by Bill Radford