A Few Thoughts on the Recent SPE Board Election
Just as you would do a project “look-back” to identify what could have been handled differently or better, it seems appropriate to look back at the recent election process and what can help us build a better SPE future.
The election process has demonstrated that SPE’s governance model is democratic and open to challenge, just as it was designed to be back in 1957. SPE’s leadership made every effort to fairly facilitate both petition and election processes and to ensure that members understood the opportunity and importance of voting. View election results.
We want to identify the lessons to be learned from this process and to incorporate these lessons into our future activities. The Board plans, and hopes all members will join us, to embrace the need to move forward and navigate the challenging path ahead.
While there have been minor adjustments over time, SPE’s board selection process is essentially the same as the one developed 65 years ago, before SPE became a quasi-independent society under AIME. Candidates for SPE’s Board of Directors are selected by a Nominating Committee chaired by the immediate Past President, comprised of Board members in their final year of service and three at-large members selected from former SPE Presidents and other recognized SPE contributors. The full process is explained here. The majority of associations use a similar process.
Nominations for open SPE Board positions are solicited from the membership each year in a notice on SPE.org and our social channels. A wide range of members across regions and technical specialties are involved in narrowing the list of candidates for consideration by the Board. Over time, this process has been very effective for SPE — providing for a remarkable diversity of Board members, including from a geographical and a company affiliation standpoint.
The process also allows for additional nominees for open positions to be added by petition. The threshold of 1% of the membership for a successful petition for an individual candidate was established in 1957, when electronic communications didn’t exist. Signatures had to be collected and validated manually, making the 1% threshold a high bar to achieve. The only other time SPE has had a petition campaign was in 1995 for two Board positions, when manual signature collection was still required. That aspect of our governance process remains unchanged despite the ease of electronic signature collection, so for the 2022-2023 process, petitioners were still required to achieve a 1% threshold of SPE membership to propose alternative candidates. SPE facilitated the electronic petition process to ensure that the petition and election process could be completed in time for the new directors to take their places on the Board at the end of 2022 ATCE.
The three petitioners, who were already candidates through the nomination process but were not selected, were collectively successful in reaching the 1% threshold (660 member signatures) in July 2022. An election was scheduled over a 30-day period in August and September. SPE contracted with a third-party vendor, Simply Voting, to conduct the ballot process. The role of SPE was to communicate with members about the opportunity and importance of voting. As such, SPE received information from Simply Voting on the percentage of members who had voted on a regular basis, but no information was received on how members voted until the conclusion of the election period. SPE used the information on the percentage of members who had voted by region as a basis for additional communications to encourage members to vote and ensure the broadest possible democratic participation.
This election process was, despite 3 reminders, decided by only 15.1% of the SPE membership. Sadly, the low participation was expected. Low voter turnout is typical among associations that use member voting for the selection of candidates. SPE’s process was used in a case study as part of an ASAE research study of Board selection processes. Our approach to providing member input and guiding the process to ensure the Board is diverse and reflects the skill sets needed is consistent with what this study calls “leading practices.” Associations that use voting to select their Boards have experienced popularity/name recognition contests, regional voting blocs, and a general reinforcement of the status quo, leaving them ill-equipped to handle new challenges facing the association.
Areas for Further Consideration
During the petition and election process, several issues were raised, that ultimately led to the conclusion by the petitioners and their supporters that a change in SPE’s governance was needed. These issues included a perceived lack of transparency and communication during the proposed AAPG merger discussions, and concerns that the Society was abandoning our core — petroleum engineers.
We acknowledge that communication during the proposed merger process could have been improved. When a merger (especially one of this magnitude) is still in the exploratory stage, there is a fine line between too much and too little sharing of information. We understand that good member communication is essential for trust.
However, we would like to be perfectly clear about one thing — abandoning oil and gas or petroleum engineers was never part of any plans or discussions. All involved recognize that even with exponential growth in renewables, oil and gas will still need to provide more than 50% of the world’s energy in 2050. The only way this will be successfully accomplished is through the continued technical advancements of our profession and members. We have also highlighted that the merger would have required a 2/3 majority of the voting members to approve it.
The world is transitioning and our industry’s place in it will evolve. For SPE to remain viable long-term, we need to continue to adapt as well. The companies and our members who provide significant support to our activities (through sponsorships, exhibitions, and volunteering) are expanding their energy footprint. Few are getting out of oil and gas; rather, they’re just adding focus to other aspects of their business and responding to their own stakeholders. Consequently, SPE leadership continues to explore ways to support our base — petroleum engineers — while also helping to prepare those who want, or need, to move into related energy pursuits. Our focus was, and remains, on the needs of our members and corporate partners.
The Path Forward
One thing this process has made clear is that our members have different perceptions of the need for, and pace of, change. The Board is undertaking a strategic planning process to help us learn how to bridge this difference of opinion and set the society up for continued future success and service to our members. Please help us do that by giving us your views on the future for both SPE and the industry we serve.
SPE’s governance process remains sound and appropriate for a global organization of our size. It enables us to develop a globally representative board who bring other important skills beyond their specific Board role to assist with overall guidance of the organization. It has also enabled remarkable diversity within SPE’s board in terms of gender, geography, and corporate affiliation. While this election has demonstrated that SPE’s governance process works, we will continue to learn and adapt in ways that support our members. We encourage all members to embrace the need to move ahead and help us continue to navigate the challenging path forward for the organization, through their engagement in the Society’s activities, and through other means such as membership surveys and constructive discussion on SPE Connect.
We hope that all members will take a moment and consider how we can individually and collectively contribute to SPE and its future. Your engagement and participation are essential to helping us find the path forward. As your SPE leadership, we thank each SPE member for their service, their passion to contribute, and their confidence in our industry to deliver the most reliable, affordable, and secure energy resources. What we do matters, we are one SPE, and we cannot be SPE without members like you.