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ND geologist who aided oil and gas industry in Bakken receives national award posthumously

Former Gov. John Hoeven, left, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem stand with with Julie LeFever, then director of the nation's most complete core library from oil and gas drilling at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. LeFever received posthumous recognition Sunday from her peers. Submitted photo

BISMARCK—Julie LeFever died in December at age 63, but her career-long contribution to the state's oil and gas industry won't be crumbling any time soon.

LeFever, known by some in the field as "Miss Bakken," was among the state's preeminent research geologists and directed the nation's most complete library of core samples collected downhole from oil and gas exploration.

She oversaw the Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where a laboratory was named in her honor when a $14 million expansion to the sample library was dedicated last fall.

As proof her contributions will long outlast her — just like the geologic rock she studied, researched and catalogued — LeFever was posthumously awarded the Robert R. Berg Outstanding Research Award by the American Association of Professional Geologists Sunday in Houston.

The award, accepted by her family, is for singular achievement in petroleum geoscience research.

State geologist Ed Murphy worked alongside LeFever until his position was moved to Bismarck and said his colleague was thrilled to learn of the award in November.

"After more than three decades of dedication to research geology in the state, I think she is truly deserving of the award. Julie's early work on the Bakken formation was the foundation for many companies looking to produce oil in North Dakota," Murphy said.

LeFever wrote her first paper on the Bakken Formation in 1990 — decades before hydraulic fracking would finally crack open the source rock oil — and went on to write 50 more papers on the Bakken, earning her the "Miss Bakken" nickname. In all, she authored more than 150 papers, articles, posters and maps on the Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks in the Williston Basin. She and her husband, Rich LeFever, collaborated on 20 of those.

Lynn Helms, executive director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said, while LeFever's contribution to the geologic literature was significant, it was her personal enthusiasm and helpfulness that set her apart.

"Countless industry geologists, professors and graduate students benefited from her spontaneous, one-on-one workshops in the Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library," Helms said. "Her reputation and the core library are so intertwined."

The creation of a core library was the idea of Wilson M. Laird in 1941, and the library archives 85 percent of the oil and gas cores in North Dakota.