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Julie LeFever, head of state geology library, dies

Julie LeFever, director of the Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library at UND, shows part of the expansion of the facility during a rededication Monday at UND. photo by Eric Hylden/Forum News Service file photo

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—The longtime director of North Dakota's geological core library at the University of North Dakota has died.

Julie LeFever was in charge of the Laird Core and Sample Library on campus for 27 years, the only director the facility had.

She died in Grand Forks Dec. 5, according to an obituary Tuesday. She was 63.

The library was an important resource for the oil industry, researchers and students. State officials dedicated a $13.6 million expansion of the center in September, including a new lab named for LeFever. Before her death, LeFever had been selected to receive the 2017 Robert R. Berg Outstanding Research Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Jim Sorenson, principal geologist at the Energy and Environmental Research Center at UND, described LeFever as a "fantastic geologist" who knew the oil-rich Williston Basin in western North Dakota "better than anyone."

"She was the kind of person you could call up and talk rocks anytime," Sorenson said of LeFever, whom he'd known professionally since the early 2000s. "As far as legacy, she's renowned throughout North America as the expert on Bakken geology. I don't think anybody had as deep an understanding on the rocks of the Bakken as Julie LeFever, and I think you could go from Texas, to Manitoba and Saskatchewan and they'd say the same."

Ed Murphy, the state geologist for North Dakota, said he and LeFever shared an office in the early 1980s. When the North Dakota Geological Survey moved to Bismarck from its former location near UND, LeFever stayed behind as director of the core and sample library.

"She didn't have office space any longer, so she moved into a lab setting in the core library," Murphy remembered. "Her desk was a lab bench and a lab stool, which is as non-ergonomical as you can get. That was her office for the next 19 years. She had a bookcase for walls and no door, but she didn't complain."

Remodeling of the library in 2008 made space for LeFever to move into an actual office before the overhaul of the facility completed last summer.

Murphy also spoke of LeFever's extensive knowledge of the Bakken Formation. Her expertise in the library was to the benefit of many new geologists coming to the state as part of the most recent oil boom, he said, and her research on the Pronghorn Member of the formation had actually helped pay for the library in which she worked.

Whiting Petroleum Corp., Murphy said, attributed the discovery of oil in the Pronghorn Member to a line of inquiry followed with samples housed in the Grand Forks core library.

Oil production from the area yielded about 20 million barrels of oil from 2010 to 2014, Murphy said, which in turn created approximately $50 million in extraction taxes for the state of North Dakota.

"That could pay for four core library expansions," he said. "And it helped us sell it to the state Legislature to be able to show how valuable the core library was. Her unselfishness of pointing that information out to other companies led to her ending up with a very nice facility to manage."

Murphy said he was happy LeFever had been able to see the library her work had helped build.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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