Houston Matters

How a pioneering geologist helped transform the search for oil and gas — and the Texas economy

We learn about the short life of Laura Lee Lane Weinzierl, what studying microscopic fossils undegorund can tell us about where to look for oil and gas, and how work like hers helped transform Houston and Texas.


Laura Lee Lane Weinzierl was a pioneering geologist and paleontologist in the early Texas oil fields.
Laura Lee Lane Weinzierl was a pioneering geologist and paleontologist in the early Texas oil fields.


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Many Houstonians who work in the energy sector know the search for underground oil and gas is a high-tech endeavor. But it wasn’t always that way.

Back around the turn of the 20th century, wildcatters sometimes employed methods that were, let’s say, less than scientific. Therefore anyone who came up with a more scientific approach to finding that oil would have a serious advantage.

The Goose Creek Oil Field near Baytown in the 1920s.

So, oil companies hired geologists to study what was beneath the ground. That makes sense. But why would an oil company hire someone with a specialty in paleontology? Someone who studies fossils — you know, like dinosaur bones. In the 1920s, the Marland Oil Company hired someone to do just that.

Laura Lee Lane Weinzierl specialized in the study of foraminifera, tiny shelled micro-organisms. The presence of their microscopic fossils can help oilfield scientists trangulate the position of oil and gas.

Foraminifera fossils can be used to locate underground oil and gas deposits.

Weinzierl worked in a lab processing and studying drilling samples. In the audio above, Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty tells the story of her life and her work, which was at the heart of transforming the practices used to search for oil and gas and, in turn, reshaping the Texas economy and making Houston the energy capital of the world.

Some of her artifacts, drilling samples, correspondence, and a large portrait have been donated to Sam Houston State University. Dr. William Godwin, curator of the university’s natural history collections talks about her life and what it tells us.

Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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