Geoscience Complex

The Howe-Russell Geoscience Complex stands tall on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, on South Campus Drive in Baton Rouge, La.

Clare Falcon assumed the offices of director of the Louisiana Geological Survey and Louisiana state geologist on Sept. 20. Falcon brings decades of experience as a sedimentologist who has worked in every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and is the first woman to hold these positions.

Falcon is from southwest England and earned her PhD and bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Leeds and Liverpool University, respectively. She has worked with oil and natural gas companies from several countries, including France, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands. 

She said her multinational employment background has developed her skills to where she can now partner with the industry by providing data to inform policy and decision making.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to really think about how we support economic development holistically as we inevitably work our way through the transition of energy for our nation and globally,” Falcon said.

The LGS recently received $1 million dollars from the state legislature to complete a statewide carbon sequestration study.

Current goals from the Governor’s Climate Initiatives Task Force target 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, 50% reduction by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. Emissions goals are based on 2005 levels.

Sam Bentley, vice president of the Office of Research and Economic Development at LSU, worked closely with the Louisiana Board of Professional Geoscientists through the interview and selection process.

He said Falcon’s leadership will help the LGS move in new directions with carbon capture, utilization and storage, while maintaining their historical mission.

“There’s a long history of geological survey mapping that’s going to continue. That’s critical to the success of any geological survey,” Bentley said. “There’s a big convergence that’s taking place across industry, government and environmental needs that is creating new needs for information, new needs for technological understanding.”

As director of the LGS, Falcon will oversee the 11 staff members of the applied geosciences program. They will survey and collect data of Louisiana’s natural resources, water reserves and natural hazards to provide the most up-to-date information to inform policy and support environmental protection and economic growth.

“There’s so many awesome and unique challenges,” Falcon said. “One of the unique things about Louisiana and offshore Louisiana is the interaction of salt and the special place that it has. It helps the economy but it also creates massive challenges.”

Salt domes create structures that seal oil and natural gas, and both salt mining and oil and natural gas extraction are two of Louisiana’s most important industries. The LGS researches in support of oil and salt mining companies to prevent disasters like the 1980 Lake Peigneur and 2012 Bayou Corne sinkhole events.

Bentley said retired salt caverns will be one candidate for carbon dioxide and hydrogen storage to balance the atmospheric carbon budget, and Falcon’s industry experience will be critical in navigating the challenges presented by their volatility.

“Dr. Falcon has lengthy experience in the oil and gas industry using technologies that are essentially the inverse of what’s going to be used for carbon sequestration and hydrogen storage in the subsurface,” Bentley said. “Instead of pulling oil and gas out of the ground, we’re putting CO2 back in.”

As the state geologist, Falcon will be the representative of the LGS in the Association of American State Geologists. Administrative coordinator Melissa Esnault said she and the rest of the LGS are excited to support Falcon’s mission to the state.

“She has fantastic energy; she’s a breath of fresh air,” Esnault said. “We’re very excited that she’s here.”

She said she is humbled and grateful to take on these roles and credited predecessors such as Genevieve Atwood, the first female state geologist, who held the position in Utah.

Falcon said her first week at LSU has been much like a student’s experience, full of nerves, excitement and of course a trip to the Union to get her Tiger card.

Most of her time has gone towards getting to know the LGS staff and learning how to best support their research missions, from carbon capture to preserving historical LGS maps.

“One scientific highlight of my first week was to see the latest geological maps produced by the LGS in final form, a culmination of more than a year of dedicated geological and GIS work by Paul Heinrich, Dr. Marty Horn, Robert Paulsell and Richard McCulloh,” she said.

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