Paul R. LaPointe has used his UW-Madison training to show the energy industry how important it is to understand fractures in hard rock. “In the 1970’s, not too many people worried about how to rigorously characterize and model the natural fractures in rock for engineering design,” he says.
In 1976, as LaPointe finished his master’s degree in geology at UW-Madison, engineers began turning to more complex problems that would require them to better understand the effects of natural fractures. But after an inspiring visit to a granite quarry with Materials Science and Engineering and Geological Engineering Professor Bezalel C. Haimson, he decided to pursue a PhD in rock mechanics.
“I was able to blend my structural geologic background with my newly developing engineering skills to formulate novel ways to characterize and model fractured rock masses for engineering purposes,” he says.
LaPointe’s graduate work was an early contribution to a modeling approach and technology that came to be called discrete fracture network (DFN) modeling. After completing his PhD, he spent 11 years working at ARCO Oil and Gas as an engineer and a geologist.
Moving to Golder Associates in 1992, he continued to develop and commercialize DFN software and technology that allows engineers to create 3-D models of fracture patterns in rock to solve flow, transport and geomechanics problems. Today the technology enjoys wide use and LaPointe counts his role in developing it among his greatest career accomplishments. He currently manages Golder’s worldwide fractured reservoir consulting services.
LaPointe was co-recipient of the 2011 Golder Outstanding Technical Excellence Award, the company’s highest honor, for his role in developing DFN technologies for shale gas and oil shale. He also earned the ARCO Major Technical Achievement award in 1987 for his work in formulating and testing novel mathematical characterization techniques for fractured reservoir development and undiscovered resource assessment.
LaPointe is a fellow of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and a member of many technical and honorary societies, including Sigma Xi and the Society of Petroleum Engineers. He has served on the American Rock Mechanics Association Board of Directors and has shared his expertise through numerous books, professional publications, lectures, and courses.
LaPointe is grateful to his wife, Margaret, and his late mother, Gladys, for their support throughout his career. In his free time, LaPointe is an avid cross-country skier, sea kayaker and soccer player. He lives in Woodinville, Washington.