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Chapter 5: Steering by the Stars

I want to remind everyone reading this column that we in the upstream petroleum sector are very good at what we do. Like Dr. Spock (not Mr. Spock) stated, “You know more than you think you do.”

Starry sky
Deep space background with nebulae
Getty Images.
The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.
—David S. Viscott, American psychiatrist
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.
—David McCullough, American historian

Steering by the Stars

I recently read a “thought piece” in a major magazine that was a fictional account of how a new CEO would address his or her company’s employees while simultaneously restructuring the company’s units to deal with the pandemic. The fictitious CEO focused on prioritizing two things: treating the employees with respect while rewarding their loyalty and contributions and taking the necessary actions to maintain and improve engagement and sales for the company’s customers.

This story is a reminder of the effect the pandemic has on businesses—all businesses. When the need to hire, utilize, and retain the very best talent is absolutely essential, do talented people really need to be micromanaged and endlessly evaluated? Or should we have the confidence to let them do their jobs?

As I have mentioned in past columns, we (the big we—the oil and gas industry) will emerge leaner and a lot meaner when this storm finally passes. Employment, promotions, career mobility, and access to capital will become much more competitive. Our next generation, the students, need to understand and accept this. Young professionals need to realize that being a best-in-class performer may not be an option, and yes, layers of management will disappear as we rely on people to self-motivate and self-optimize their performance.

We must also focus on what our customers want, namely energy security, diversity of access to energy, a lower-carbon future, and assurances that we are “walking the walk” on ESG issues. ESG stands for environmental, social, and corporate governance, in case you forgot. Each of these is both desirable and achievable—and need I restate that this is what our customers want?

So how do we “steer by the stars?” Start with the obvious: If you can’t see the stars, you may want to wait until you do.

Most importantly, this method works—crudely perhaps, and certainly not with the precision or reliability of GPS, but we aren’t trying to thread a needle. We are trying to ensure the significance of our industry and the livelihoods of our people. Understanding how to get where we need to be is the most essential element to getting there. We have the talent, technology, and infrastructure to provide a vital energy component. We need to make sure that we are “steering” toward our customers and toward a future where we con-tinue to make a significant social and economic impact on the global economy.

Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do
—Benjamin Spock, American pediatrician and author of Baby and Child Care

Faith in Who We Are and What We Do

I want to remind everyone reading this column that we in the upstream petroleum sector are very good at what we do. Like Dr. Spock (not Mr. Spock) stated, “You know more than you think you do.” This statement is undoubtedly true, and my professional pride would add that you can, and will, do more than you think you can do. We are a can-do industry—who else can drill thousands of feet or meters and land a well in a window the thickness of a home or less? Who else can build equipment that provides reliable readings in environments that would melt, vibrate, corrode, or disintegrate most components in other industries? Who else can compute at the level of intricacy and reliability that we do, especially given the complexity of our subsurface problems?

In short, I just wanted to take a moment to emphasize that we know more than we think we know, we can do more than we think we can do, and we can evolve and adapt more rapidly and effectively than most other industries could dream of. I ask that you put your mindset into a “can do and will do” mentality. Our industry needs us sharp and strong, so stay prepared. We will face evolutionary and revolutionary change in the coming years.

Looking Ahead to 2021

I know it’s a little late for New Year’s resolutions, but given the state of the universe, I believe I should go ahead and make some resolutions and a few predictions.

My Personal New Year’s Resolutions

  • Assume the good in everyone. There is something to like and respect in every person.
  • Always act for others before yourself. When you open a door for others, doors will open for you.
  • Be realistic. Things rarely go as planned.
  • Be prepared, flexible, and willing to change.
  • Avoid judgment. You rarely know all the facts.
  • Read the obituaries to understand self-significance.

SPE’s New Year’s Resolutions

SPE Strategic Priorities

  • Ensure every member knows they are valued.
  • Return to physical meetings and conferences by the third quarter of 2021.
  • Pursue 20–30% virtual content in all conferences and workshops for the long term.
  • Pursue voracious volunteerism across all SPE demographics.

SPE Missions

  • Motivate people to serve in section leadership.
  • Ensure diversity and inclusion in all SPE activities.
  • Encourage and support technical innovation in all disciplines.

Energy Predictions

  • The economic recovery from the pandemic will be stronger, but slower, than predicted.
  • Oil and gas will continuously strengthen in price and production during 2021.
  • Energy diversity will accelerate, but infrastructure constraints will limit access to renewable energy.
  • Hydrogen will begin to be used in some markets and applications.
  • Natural gas will continue to grow, perhaps significantly, in the power and transportation sectors.

Yes, I realize all predictions are wrong—especially those about the weather, politics, and love. I am just sharing my own perceptions.

Reminders and Final Thoughts

Please recall that the Call for Papers season is heaviest in the months of January–May, and there is still a bit of time to nominate a colleague for an SPE International or Regional Award.
It is also volunteer season; I would appreciate your consideration of contributing to SPE via your service. Please visit the SPE Volunteer Portal if you are so inclined. As a personal comment, the very best part of this job is seeing members step up to serve SPE. Please note that your single best path to the service you want to perform is through the SPE Volunteer Portal. I can assure you that all submissions are processed and reasonable attempts are made to place a member where they want to serve.

The SPE President’s role has been traditionally to spend a year visiting sections, attending events, and, of course, leading the SPE Board of Directors to pursue strategic initiatives and occasionally make tactical decisions. I would have been happy to do all of those things, but my primary goal as SPE President has not changed and never will. I want to leave SPE stronger, better, and more functional than I found it. If you can recall from a previous column, this is a lesson I learned in Boy Scouts. I can perform the necessary elements of this job from behind a monitor and keyboard, as well as on the phone.

As my closing comments, I sincerely welcome your input, whether positive, negative, neutral, or even emotional. To those who have written, I thank you; your words have helped guide my thoughts, initiatives, and actions. My job is to serve the needs of SPE, and as President, to be your servant in our common quest to provide the best technical resources and practices for the upstream petroleum industry.

As always, please feel free to contact me at president@spe.org for any feedback.