SPE News

Chapter 3: Getting Oriented

I begin this column by saying that after attending several recent SPE events filled with students and professionals, all virtual of course, that I have seen the very best of us as members of SPE. To a person, you all have been nothing short of inspiring.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President

Getting Oriented—The Only Wrong Direction Is Backwards

I begin this column by saying that after attending several recent SPE events filled with students and professionals, all virtual of course, that I have seen the very best of us as members of SPE. To a person, you all have been nothing short of inspiring. Our members know that there is a better tomorrow on the horizon and diligently prepare for the days when our industry begins to thrive again. On the other hand, the industry consolidations and workforce reductions continue, and frankly, I don’t know of anyone whose life and career has not been touched by this pandemic-induced crisis. It’s an axiom of life that if you cannot control it, then you must control how you deal with it. I believe operating under this axiom will serve us well collectively and individually as we push through the pandemic.

I want to repeat a passage from my remarks at the President’s Session on Member Monday at ATCE in late October.

“As an industry, we are as relevant as ever, even more so now. And further, our industry continues to provide economic growth, as well as access to cleaner water, better food, and affordable transportation. I am a believer, a true believer, I believe in what we do, in who we are, and how important our contributions are to society … I want to thank each of you for your time and effort in support of SPE. We are who we are because of what you have done, and we are who we will become because of your commitment to serve this industry and our global society. The world needs what we do—now, more than ever.”

I want you to know that I believe in our mission and our ­future. As we “Get Oriented,” I want to assure you that as a discipline, we will become stronger, and as an organization, SPE will become more focused on content generation and delivery than at any time in its history. Most importantly, I want to assure you that SPE will continue to serve its members and its global community as the preeminent technical organization in upstream oil and gas. It is imperative that you “Get Oriented” with what you can do and will do in the future as SPE continues to evolve.

Energy Transition—Our Industry Is Changing

As I have stated several times, I should trademark the phrase “We are Energy Transition” for SPE. Oil and gas are the most reliable, most secure, most economical, and most abundant energy resource currently available for the billions of people who rely on it. We must accept that there will be an energy transition on a global scale during this century, and frankly, we should not only embrace it, but we should lead it. Our resource is far too valuable to be dominantly consumed as a transport fuel or for power generation. The future world will hunger not just for fuel but also for all the chemical, pharmaceutical, and industrial products in which oil and gas serve as primary feedstock. But I digress.

As engineers, geoscientists, and practitioners of our discipline, we recognize that, at least for the next 40 to 50 years, there will be increasing demand for oil and gas.

So, what will our role be in the energy transition? Well, we are both the primary energy resource and the “battery backup” until renewables and/or nuclear energy can dominate and become self-sustaining. Data from the 2020 BP Energy Outlook show that as a percentage of total energy consumed worldwide, nuclear is about 4.3% and wind+solar is about 3.3%. By comparison, oil is 33% and natural gas is 24% of global energy consumption.

The data do not lie. I understand that non-oil and -gas practitioners and proponents see our industry’s dominance as an opportunity, but it is up to them to create their own destiny. Our destiny is rooted in what we do best—find, produce, and transport oil and gas, and we do so safely and in harmony with the environments and people where we work. Obviously, we have room to adapt and improve what we do. Still, as the providers of the dominant energy resources available in the world today, our job is to use our centuries of skills, knowledge, and experience to facilitate the energy transition which will include a significant, if not dominant, role for oil and gas in the foreseeable future.

SPE Is Changing—To Better Serve You

Many members have asked me how SPE is managing and adapting during such trying times. I thought it would be helpful to share our progress and successes with all members. As a brief financial update on SPE itself, our inability to hold in-person events due to COVID-19 safety concerns has significantly impacted SPE’s budget. SPE has transitioned to an essentially all-virtual event lineup until there are clear signs that governments will permit large in-person gatherings and people will feel safe attending. Our best guess for this is in the second or third quarter of 2021.

I would comment that our rapid evolution to an all-virtual delivery format has been much faster and much more effective than anyone would have predicted before the pandemic. We’re still learning and improving, but I find that the preparation, quality, and delivery of technical presentations are better, often much better, than traditional in-person delivery. Presenters are able to submit their best “take” and understand because their materials are being recorded, the audience expectation for excellence is much higher.

In times like this, I think of the proverb “necessity is the mother of invention.” SPE has realigned with our financial reality, like all others in the industry. Thankfully, with the support of the SPE Foundation and our reserve fund, we have maintained most of our services and operations. In many cases, we’ve been able to improve the benefits we provide to members. SPE staff are actively reducing costs wherever we can, across all departments and programs. In addition, we have reduced staff salaries, and we have lowered costs through a transition to virtual programming for Distinguished Lecturer and student programs. We have also moved JPT to a digital-only format for the foreseeable future.

What can you do? First, remember to renew your membership. (Dues waivers are available for those who are unemployed). Continue to support SPE by participating in activities at the local level. Attend a virtual event. Reach out to your nonmember colleagues and friends and encourage them to join you as part of the SPE community.

Perspectives—We Are SPE

I would like to talk about our SPE legacy. From the inception of the oil and gas industry, there have always been unsung, sometimes unknown, heroes who saw an economic, operational, or technical challenge and then developed and published their work for all to follow. We owe these men and women an enormous debt of gratitude. As a gentle reminder, a legacy is a gift. Still, there are implied expectations—expectations that this legacy will not be wasted, expectations that this legacy will be nurtured and allowed to grow, and most importantly, expectations that the legacy will be shared. The reality in life is that everything that is worth something must be earned, especially legacies.

My question is, how will you contribute to the SPE legacy? I encourage every member to contribute through volunteerism on program and service committees, section activities, and SPE International programs such as Energy4me and the SPE Ambassador Lecturer program. There is no lack of volunteer opportunities. Contact your local section to see how you can help and watch for SPE’s call for volunteers in the first quarter of 2021. Besides direct volunteerism, you can contribute via publications and other technical products such as webinars, the ­Distinguished Lecturer program, and PetroWiki. These services are the essential “genetic codes” of SPE and must be a priority. Simply put, we need your best efforts to continue SPE’s role as the preeminent technical resource in our industry.

Along the lines of respecting our colleagues’ contributions, I strongly encourage everyone reading this column to con­sider nominating a deserving colleague through our SPE recognition programs. Please note the 2021 deadlines are 15 February for International Awards, 1 March for Regional Awards, and 15 March for the Distinguished Lecturer program. I believe resolutely in the advocacy and recognition of “under-recognized” colleagues, and I hope you will adopt the same philosophy. As a “senior professional,” I see the contributions across the spectrum of time and disciplines, or, to paraphrase the old cliche, I see “thousands of points of lights” where the members who came before us have lit the paths for us. At a minimum, please say “thank you” to your fellow members, and please consider nominating a deserving colleague.

I know these are some of the toughest times our industry has seen. Probably even the toughest, but I want you to know that the roughly 270 SPE staff, the SPE Board of Directors, and myself are absolutely committed to your success and to providing you with the access, the technical content, and the support you need to make your maximum possible impact in this industry.

As always, I sincerely welcome your feedback. Feel free to contact me at president@spe.org.