Chapter 10—Anchors Aweigh

As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides in most parts of the world, it is time for our ship to leave port. As we pull up our anchor, we must accept that there are risks out there, but we must get back to the task of exploration and production to improve lives, mitigate poverty, and provide the energy to enable a modern global society.

Anchor in the water with sun shining from above
Matthias Kulka/Getty Images
I don’t think that the next generation should fear just being who they are rather than confirming to an expectation of what they are meant to be.
—Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand politician, 1980

It Is Time To Leave Port

Education is not a way to escape poverty; it is a way of fighting it.
— Julius Nyerere, Tanzanian president, 1922–1999

As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides in most parts of the world, and as a global society we commit ourselves to its control and eradication everywhere, it is time for our “ship” to leave port. As we pull up our anchor (“anchors aweigh” means the anchor is off bottom and the ship is free to move), we must accept that there are risks out there, but we must get back to the task of exploration and production of oil and gas as never before. As I predicted in this column many months ago, we are definitely leaner (fewer people, with even more work to do) and now we need to be much meaner (better skilled, better motivated, and better focused). All the old adages apply: “life isn’t fair,” “there are no guarantees,” etc.—but a commitment to “duty, honor, and service” (an unofficial motto of my employer, Texas A&M University) stands firm in my mind for our industry. As we leave port, we must have the confidence and purpose that has defined our industry since its inception—improving lives, mitigating poverty, and providing the energy to enable a modern global society.

Reasons We Must Change as an Industry

Life’s a bit like mountaineering—never look down.
—Edmund Hillary, New Zealand explorer, 1919–2008

I was in a panel session a few weeks back and, as SPE President, I am certain they saved the toughest question for me: “What are the reasons we must change as an industry?” I confess that this question was particularly hard because it requires a sketch of our future strategies as an industry and as a professional society, which in many ways remains undefined. Fortunately, I had some advance notice and was able to put some thought into my answer. Paraphrasing Darwin, “we must adapt or die.” It is that simple. Our industry provides enormous societal benefit, and just as the future of renewables lies in metals for batteries, conducting materials, circuitry, etc., the present and future of manufacturing lies in oil and gas. There simply are no viable substitutes.

My answer to the question had several subcomponents. I have addressed these point by point below.

Sustainability aspects

  • We must address the relevance/need of our industry.
  • We must acknowledge a low-carbon future and our role in it.
  • We must engage the public as a trusted partner, not just as an energy-resource vendor.

Effect of the COVID crisis

  • Oil and gas remain the most secure, affordable, and reliable energy source.
  • The world changed—constricted demand, economics, talent, and perceptions.
  • “Big Crew Massacre”—senior talent loss and entry-level talent barriers.

Market considerations

  • Oil and gas are increasing in price but lag other mineral commodities.
  • Industry consolidations will continue.
  • We may see significant swings in price over the next several years as supply and demand rebalance.

Global energy demand

The global demand in energy has increased as follows for the past 20 years (20-year averages).

Global energy demand table

I realize that the main takeaway for most people will be that the demand for our oil and gas has continuously increased over time, but we cannot take that historical fact for granted. We must recognize that going forward we must have an energy-mix scenario. While oil and gas will remain primary energy resources for the foreseeable future, we will have to compete for our share of that energy mix. I believe that the most substantial challenge facing humanity will be meeting the continuously increasing global energy demand in a sustainable manner. Energy enables everything else—water, food, utilities, transport, manufacturing, construction, retail, communications, and IT, etc.

SPE and You

The question is not whether we are able to change but whether we are changing fast enough.
—Angela Merkel, German politician, former chancellor of Germany, 1954

I am certain that by now everyone reading this is aware of our “exploratory” work with the AAPG in advance of a possible merger, tentatively to be completed in 2022. I want to assure you as members of SPE that this decision to explore a merger was not made in haste, nor by a single individual. I am the current SPE President and I did plant this seed in 2020; but in fairness, others have also made similar proposals in the past. However, now is the time when we take the opportunity to build a professional and technical society that covers all the historical pillars of our industry, and one that adds the capability to build more.

I am not going to make the case for this merger. Each SPE and AAPG member will have to consider the facts, the needs, and the opportunities of being “better (and stronger) together” in terms of how we serve our industry, the public, and the evolving mission of energy transition. As I approach the end of my term, I recognize, as we all do, the best we can do in life is to leave things better than we found them. In that sense, I believe this merger, and potential future collaborations with other sister societies, is not an option. It is essential for us to continue to serve and lead our industry into the future.

As I close this section, I must thank the SPE Board of Directors and the AAPG Executive Committee for its engagement and their unanimous support to commence the merger exploration process. This is not a “trust me” exercise. There are many things that must go right, and I appreciate the commitment to process that this requires of all of us. I must also acknowledge and express my appreciation to the SPE senior staff and non-Board members who were involved in the initial process, as well as the trustees of the SPE Foundation, who are providing much-needed guidance and perspective during the exploration process. Last but not least, I must thank my successor, Dr. Kamel Ben-Naceur for being the point person in this process for SPE. As the 2022 SPE President, it was decided that he would lead the initiative. I can confirm that his leadership and service in this role have been essential to our progress thus far.

Last Words

Words motivate, actions activate.
—Anonymous (Quoted from a motivational business article)

As a teacher, I am always on the lookout for something that motivates/stimulates learning. I stumbled across the “70-20-10 rule” (Center for Creative Leadership) when (as always) I was looking for something else. This rule states that individuals tend to learn as follows:

  • 70% of their knowledge comes from challenging experiences/assignments.
  • 20% of their knowledge comes from developmental relationships, mentoring.
  • 10% of their knowledge comes from formal coursework and training.

The implications of the 70-20-10 rule for SPE are that we are part of the 90% of the nonformal coursework and training; although we are part of coursework, too, the academics may disagree. This is an incredible responsibility for a professional society when you think about it. I would ask that you consider how you can contribute more of your time, your knowledge, and your service to SPE—then act. Your professional society needs you now more than ever.

As always, please feel free to contact me at with any feedback.


AAPG and SPE Explore Merger To Create New Organization

EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2020

BP Statistical Review of the World

Center for Creative Leadership. 70-20-10 Rule