Chapter 11—Flank Speed

In his final column as SPE President, Tom Blasingame reminds members to never forget the enormous responsibility they bear in providing the global community with one of its most essential commodities. He calls for increased efforts to engage and contribute to our industry and to SPE to pave the way to sustainable and renewable energy.

Front of a sailing boat in a regatta with waves hitting it
Getty Images.
Either move or be moved.
—Ezra Pound, American poet, 1885–1972

Flank Speed (a ship’s maximum speed)

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
—Helen Keller, American author, 1880–1968 (she was blind and deaf from birth)

I will be uncharacteristically brief: if there were ever a time for operating at maximum capacity/capability, then this is it. I ask that everyone reading this column think of 10 tasks/ideas/concepts that they can perform right now that will change their trajectory (and hopefully SPE’s as well), distill those 10 tasks to three, and commit like your life depends on it to performing at least one of those tasks in the next 6–12 months.

Call it homework if you want, but every person reading this column can create, innovate, and deliver some task/idea/concept that will significantly benefit our industry. Don’t say you have more important things to do—this is your profession and your passion. Get started, push directly to flank speed, and get it done. Then move to the next idea on your list. SPE needs its member contributions as never before.

SPE and You

Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.
—Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian, 1892–1971

It is very easy to sit on the fence, but sooner or later the post will hurt you where it counts. You must do something constructive in this life to be alive. More simply, in the words of the British clergyman John Henry Newman, “Growth is the only evidence of life.”

SPE must grow its missions, but its missions must also include what we do now to prepare for the foreseeable future. Energy transition is not a fad; it is a critical path we as an industry and as a professional society must pursue to provide energy for all.

Oil and gas are simultaneously our most secure energy resources, as well as our “battery backup” for situations where renewable options are either unavailable or impractical. Energy sustainability will evolve (I guarantee it), but let’s never forget what will pave the way to that sustainable and renewable energy future—oil and gas. Every conceivable product that is part of the energy transition is either fueled by or dependent on oil and gas as raw materials.

Regardless of how you feel about SPE as a professional organization, it cannot and will not grow into what it must become without your volunteerism and your engagement. I understand that “change=pain,” but we are in a different world now. We can choose to be patient (wait and see what happens), pause (basically be in a state of paralysis), or we can pivot, which is to say that we can push or change/evolve to another path. It is complicated, because in the last year on an individual basis most if not all, of us have done all three.

As the pandemic recedes, we must decide what we as SPE want to be. I am just one vote, but I hope we become a more diverse/progressive industry and a more robust and innovative SPE. We must understand that the challenges ahead of us also lead to the greatest opportunities in the history of our industry. As an industry, we will continue to contribute to the global economy in a very significant manner. We will have to become more proficient in understanding the different facets/paths of being the dominant energy resource provider.

Don’t worry, SPE will always be SPE regardless of whether we merge, collaborate, change our branding, etc. We are and will remain the most innovative and creative people I know, but we must evolve. If you are concerned about the future of our industry, join the club. The world has changed, but the people, the need, and the mission to serve has not. In fact, these are much more critical in a near-post-pandemic world.

Lagniappe (Cajun word meaning “a little something extra”)

The best sermon is a testimonial.
—Tom Blasingame, teacher and petroleum engineer, 1962–

Most of you don’t know this, but my father owned a small drilling and well service company in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I recall sitting on his lap “driving” Swab Unit No. 3 down to Jennings, Louisiana, on old Highway 90 (probably because that rattletrap could not go faster than 40 mph/64 kph, and so the police would not stop me from driving). From the time I was old enough to walk until my father died when I was 10 years old, I spent almost every free minute of my life with him at the rig yard. I thought everybody’s parents worked 7 days a week and had phone calls in the middle of the night for work. I only recall one vacation in those days—and even then, my father insisted we visit an oil field/facility in the area (it was Trinidad in 1972 and my father’s best friend took us to the field).

I can also tell you I saw my father cry only twice. The first time was when he was trying to teach me when to let go of a baseball bat after hitting a baseball. Suffice it to say he did not intend for me to let go of the bat into his knees. The second time I saw my father cry was at a saltwater blowout in Creole, Louisiana, when Red Adair pulled our Rig No. 2 off the well and dragged it away with several bulldozers. There was no fire, but Rig. No. 2 was in pieces. For the life of me, I can’t believe they let a 6-year-old on that location, but my father was not a man easily denied.

I can also tell you that a career in oil and gas was the last thing on my mind. I took some “career tests” when I was having a particularly bad semester. One of two separate exams concluded I should be a minister, and the other that I was not inclined to permanent employment. I even tried to enroll in welding school during that semester and the gentleman on the other end of the phone hung up on me when I told him I was enrolled in engineering at Texas A&M—but not before giving me a few choice words about getting my head examined (that is not exactly what he said).

In short, I came to petroleum engineering the hard way. My best friend from childhood told me it was my destiny (and by that time I had changed my major four times, so I was pretty much out of options). You could not tell it was my destiny by my undergraduate grades, but I am grateful to all those who saw my potential and to the powers that rule the universe that gave me the talent and inspiration to contribute to our industry.

I have always felt that being a petroleum engineer is the best role I could ever have, and I really mean that. Sure, I am a dinosaur in the minds of our young people, but I have the heart and spirit of a 22-year-old who just graduated. I truly believe in what we do, why we do it, and how important our contributions are to the global society.

Last Words

I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.”
—Neil Armstrong, American astronaut, 1930–2012

As this is my last column, it is only natural that I am a bit sentimental. For almost 40 years my only goal was to be the best teacher and the best reservoir engineer that I could be. There are probably several thousand recipients of my efforts that would state emphatically that I have a long way to go on both accounts, but I try. I want to make it clear that you can be and do anything you want. This discipline attracts the best “can-do” people of any industry that I have ever experienced. But being an energy professional is not just a job or even a career—it is a passion.

Every person reading this column has and will continue to contribute to this industry, driven by a passion for excellence in everything they do. As I go back to being “just a member,” I ask that each of you increase your efforts to engage and contribute to our industry, and that you also do so with the SPE. I also ask that as SPE evolves, you support its leadership with your input, time, and best efforts to help “expand the tent” and extend the mission. The future is what we make it—it’s that simple.

I want to confide in you that this service as the 2021 SPE President has been the privilege of my career, not the position (and recall in my first column I told you that I did not even want to be SPE President, but my wife and my nominator insisted otherwise). To have the opportunity to serve the SPE when it needed me the most has been my most rewarding career service experience. We should all be so fortunate as to see a need and fill that need, or as in my own case, to have it put in my path.

The future holds many challenges and uncertainties for our industry as a whole and for us as individual contributors, but never forget the enormous responsibility we bear in providing the global community with one of its most essential commodities. When all the dust settles, we are a family of purpose-driven professionals without whom the world would have a far less progressive and balanced society.

In closing, I would like to thank my predecessor, Shauna Noonan, for her leadership in 2019–2020. None of us were prepared for the impact of the pandemic, but Shauna gave a shining example of strength and resilience. I would like to thank my successor, Kamel Ben-Naceur. SPE could not ask for a more intelligent or thoughtful leader. It will be my privilege to continue to work with him. And lastly, I must thank the SPE staff, in particular the senior staff. This has been a nail-biter of a year and a half, but SPE staff have served with absolute distinction, helping me to navigate the financial crises on my watch, as well as enable new initiatives that will hopefully refine and repurpose SPE’s missions for generations to come.

As my last words, we have a lot more work to do in oil and gas and their peripheral technologies, so let’s get to it!

Until 23 September 2021, please feel free to contact me at for any feedback. You can always find me through the membership directory.