Practitioner Spotlight--Wayne Hutchinson

Practitioner Spotlight--Wayne Hutchinson

November 10th, 2015

wayne hutchinson photo


 Wayne Hutchinson



Practice Area:

Environmental Remediation

Area of expertise:


About Me in 140 Characters (or more!):

I suppose I was drawn to a career in science, and specifically hydrogeology, because it allows me to use and apply mathematics, chemistry and physics to solve three-dimensional puzzles. And, as it turns out, it was also the perfect outlet for my curiosity.

I married another geologist, who I met in Glaciology class and who is now a science teacher at a local college. Our daughter is studying to be a science teacher and our son, through some unknown quirk of fate, earned an MBA and CPA and works for one of the largest accounting firms in the world.

Favorite Thing about Being a Practitioner:

My favorite aspect of working in this field is the diversity – occasionally there is an unusual contaminant, but more often than not, understanding the uniqueness of the hydrogeology at each site is the key to a successful project outcome and, in the end, very rewarding. It all comes down to developing a Conceptual Site Model that addresses the features and uniqueness that control the distribution, mobility, recoverability of a compound, the ground water or the vapor.

What is the most interesting project you’ve ever worked on?

It’s very difficult to choose just one project to highlight as my most interesting project ever, but one that stands out for me was in southwestern Missouri where a propane storage cavern had been excavated out of the shale in 1964 at a depth of 300 feet below the ground surface. Propane had leaked out of the cavern and contaminated several residential wells over a fairly large area.

As I learned, the key to keeping the propane in the cavern was to maintain a higher pressure outside the cavern than the storage pressure of the propane inside the cavern. This was accomplished using a water curtain to inject water under high pressure into the formation. Unfortunately, it appeared the water curtain had some gaps and I was part of the project team that investigated the hydrogeology of the site, the well hydraulics, the aquifer characteristics, and most importantly the Conceptual Site Model.

The 40-year-old Conceptual Site Model had determined that the injected water went into the Sylamore Unconformity that was thought to run under the propane cavern. However, based on new drilling, the use of advanced downhole hydrophysics techniques, 3D geologic visualization software, and a reinterpretation of historical reports (including an invaluable MS Thesis from the University of Missouri from 1924), we found that 90% of the injected water went into the Pierson Limestone through a flat-lying fracture about 50 feet above the propane gas storage cavern and we found that the Sylamore Unconformity did not even exist in the vicinity of the propane storage cavern.

The redefinition of the Conceptual Site Model allowed for a better understanding of the operation of the propane storage cavern, operation of the water curtain, and curtailment of any further propane leakage.

What are some of your favorite tools/resources for professional development in this practice area?

I would say reading has probably been the most value tool or resource in my professional development. I’ve collected thousands of technical papers and publications over the course of my career (I’m so thankful I can scan or download papers now), and I find that reading and re-reading these has been instrumental in allowing me to apply sound science to so many of my projects. In fact, I find it valuable to read papers on a topic that have been written by different authors because each author explains the topic a bit differently and at least one explanation I hopefully will understand.

I also find re-reading papers of particular value not only because I may have progressed to a point where I can now understand the paper, but also because I may find information that appeared to have no bearing on my work previously but is now quite relevant. The value of reading and applying the science and methods described in technical papers is further enhanced by discussions with knowledgeable colleagues.

What is a key ingredient for success as a practitioner?

Throughout my career, I think curiosity and tenacity have been the biggest contributors to my success.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My first love in science was to be a meteorologist, but I also had aspirations to be a baseball pitcher or guitarist. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I had limited talent for the latter two aspirations, but did seem to have a modicum of ability in the sciences.

What was your first job?

My very first job was at a pizza restaurant, but my first job related to geology was as a driller’s helper.  This position evolved into the only Geologist position in a large multi-national engineering company that then afforded me the opportunity to work throughout the United States and overseas on some very interesting engineering-geology projects.

What TV show character do you identify most with?

Toss-up between Jim Rockford (Rockford Files) and Leonard Hofstadter (The Big Bang Theory)


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