Wayne F. Meents

1912 to 1996
Petroleum Geology

Wayne F. MeentsWayne Franklin Meents was a true scientist who never stopped trying to understand the world around him. He was always willing to embrace new technologies if they could help him in his work. In addition to having a questioning mind, he was a meticulous record keeper, documenting everything that he did so that others would be able to benefit from his efforts. Wayne had a tremendous impact on the lives of many of those with whom he worked, and his contributions to the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) and to Illinois will not soon be forgotten.

Meents was born on December 28, 1912, in Ashkum, Illinois, the son of Richard R. and Hulda Carpenter Meents. He grew up on the banks of the Kankakee River in a home he eventually inherited; he maintained his childhood home as a summer home and returned to live there during his retirement. He married his wife Margareet in 1945; the couple had a son, Len, and two granddaughters

After graduating from high school and attending the University of Illinois, Meents worked as a house painter and then took a job erecting windmills, a common source of farm water in those days. His inquisitive mind drove him to try to understand his environment better, and he began collecting data on water levels, depths, and volumes, which in turn led him to develop an understanding of the geology of Iroquois County. According to his friend and colleague, Dick Howard, "...the value of his water well database was recognized by an Illinois Survey geologist, who told the Survey Chief about it. The Chief asked Meents to come in for an interview and hired him on the spot."

Meents started working part time in the Survey's Subsurface Geology Section in 1939 and, in September of that year, transferred to the Oil and Gas Section, where he worked continuously for 41 years. His arrival at the Survey coincided with Illinois' second and biggest oil boom, and his early years were spent as an "oil scout," traveling throughout the state collecting data on oil drilling activities and assisting the oil and gas industry. According to his retirement records, he collected, chipped, and described 5,000 diamond cores from 4,000 wells. About 300 of these were from Silurian reefs and another 500 were from the Devonian. As a result, he was a leading authority on Devonian and Silurian carbonates in Illinois, and his publications in those areas are still foundations for a variety of research and service projects. He tested 1,550 gas wells and 1,650 gassy water wells across the state and ran 2,000 gas-oil ratios. Published data from the 3,000 bedrock brine samples he collected also made him an authority on Illinois brines. The same can be said for Illinois crude oils, of which he collected some 800 samples.

During the later part of his career, he concentrated on natural gas, providing gas testing services throughout the state. Meents was interested in both the environmental and energy aspects of the gas, and he helped many farmers make use of this small but locally significant resource. Wayne hypothesized that much of the natural gas trapped in glacial sediments was actually from the bacterial decomposition of buried peat deposits and unrelated to deeper oil and gas deposits. With the development of radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analysis at the ISGS, Meents was quick to see that this new "high-tech" method might help him answer some of his many questions. Radiocarbon dating of gases from "drift-gas" wells and from gassy water wells proved that his hypotheses had been right. This work was instrumental in demonstrating that isotopic analysis could also be used to identify gas that had leaked from underground natural gas storage fields, a technique that has now become a standard tool throughout the world. Meents' work on glacial drift gas is now taking on new meaning as higher energy costs have spiked new interest in this resource.

Wayne Meents initiated the ISGS Oil and Gas Drilling Reports and is said to have "done more than any other one guy to build the ISGS well records." Wayne was also responsible for much of the Illinois State Water Survey's database on the chemical composition of groundwater in Illinois as a result of his careful and meticulous collection of water samples whenever he was doing dissolved gas analysis. In the course of his work, he drove well over one million miles and, to my knowledge, was the only Survey employee to have a field car permanently assigned to him. Meents enriched the literature of Illinois petroleum with 19 Survey publications. His very substantial contributions to the ISGS and to the State of Illinois were recognized on November 16, 1995, when Wayne Meents was awarded the ISGS Lifetime Distinguished Service Award.

Meents' death occurred on June 21, 1996. As so well stated in the eulogy prepared by his friend and colleague David Reinertsen, "we who had the opportunity to work with Wayne Meents were most fortunate and we came to recognize the genius of this exceptional man. His accomplishments are a gift to scientific studies and a lasting legacy."

Honored by: 
Dennis and Eileen Coleman
Citation Contributed by: 
Dennis Coleman