Chapter 8: Trade Winds

President Tom Blasingame reminds SPE members that the pandemic is not over and that SPE has a long way to go before significant revenue is realized. However, SPE’s commitment remains strong to maintain consistent, high-quality services to its members—not only in good times, but in difficult times as well.

Sailboat on the sea
Yacht sailing towards the horizon,
nikitje/Getty Images
Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.
—Betty Friedan, American feminist, 1921–2006 (Cofounder of the National Organization for Women)

Where Are We Going?

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.
—Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman statesman, 4 BC–65 AD

The most challenging aspect of creating a monthly column is to try to balance mission (i.e., long-term strategy), contemporary events (i.e., things happening now), and the urgent (i.e., news you need to know). This column will have a bit of all three.

I chose “trade winds” as the theme for this article. As every sailor knows, you must tack to where the wind is, not where you want it to be. I know that every student and Young Professional is waiting for the wind to align with their path. Frankly, I cannot promise that will happen anytime soon, but I can promise it will happen.

To borrow a phrase, “patience or pivot” is on everyone’s mind right now. What I would point out is that we have already done both; we have been patient and we have pivoted. I believe that our pivot has been to see the strength and missions of our industry as never before. This is not just in terms of the financial recovery that will significantly enhance activity across all sectors of our industry, but also the impact of having secure and cost-effective energy to power that economy and to provide so many direct benefits to society.

My goal as SPE President is to ensure that every initiative that can be considered is considered, that every member feels valued, that their voice is heard, and most of all, that we collectively and proactively work to build the future of our industry.

As an adolescent, a family member once told me that “sentimentality is the worst investment advisor.” Obviously, this advice was given as I was about to invest in something stupid and my family member used it as a moment to educate me. I confess it took a while to sink in, but it is true. We must be realistic about the value generated by our investments in life (e.g., time, education, personal relationships, and of course, money). SPE must make investments to remain relevant, and frankly, I need your support to ensure those investments are both wise and appropriate.

In line with this thinking about investments, I want to remind everyone to invest in themselves as follows.

  • See only the best in others (certainly we only want others to see the best in us).
  • Learn from the past but leave it behind (we cannot be guided by sentimentality).
  • The future is what we make it (sounds simple but it is absolutely true; doing nothing yields a pretty poor future).
  • There is no room for small talk in our industry. We must talk about the big things such as our mission of service, our energy business models, our engagement with the public and the renewables communities, and our goals as SPE (i.e., what do we want to accomplish for our industry).
  • Lastly, do not view yourself as a victim of circumstance. There are opportunities everywhere, but these opportunities are not going to come to you. My theme of trade winds for this column is to assure you that opportunities are out there, but you must go and catch them.

SPE Update

The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it.
—Mother Teresa, Catholic saint, 1910–1997

That is a pretty powerful quote to start an SPE Update. I thought it would both get your attention and convey the mission of service that the staff and volunteers have for their service to SPE. This is a mission of purpose. We must take a serious moment and update you on revenue and costs.

At present, the situation is roughly where the SPE Executive Staff and SPE Board of Directors expected it to be at this time. Specifically, we are slightly under target. For the moment, this situation is offset somewhat by our investment portfolio performance in the past 6 months or so, as well as our second Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the US government.

As most of you know, SPE is a not-for-profit organization and member services drive everything we do. It is that simple. Every cent raised, and even more, is spent on member services. Over the past decade, we have spent about $2.3 million more per year than we collected in various forms of revenue. Historically, this deficit has been offset by our investment income, which we can assure everyone we manage more carefully than our own personal funds.

I mention this because even in a time of almost zero revenue SPE is trying to increase its member services. From reducing the cost of online program content (and in some cases, making it available at no cost) to reducing the member price for papers in OnePetro, SPE is working tirelessly to ensure that legacy content remains viable and available to as many members as possible. In addition, we have created a virtual programs content team using existing SPE staff (i.e., no new hires). This team has a mandate to create, process, present, and archive as much virtual content as possible. We expect this new effort to generate 15–20% of SPE’s revenue over the long term once in-person events are restarted in full.

Recall that our historical revenue model relies primarily on in-person conferences to generate revenue and these funds are then used to pay for other member services. Specifically, there are many programs that are both popular and highly valued, but also have significant costs with little or no revenue to support them. Such programs include our Distinguished Lecturer program, technical journals, PetroWiki, webinars, podcasts, student programs, and online magazines.

As I close this section, I want to assure everyone that the SPE Executive Staff and the SPE Board of Directors are committed to providing the absolute maximum value in member services with as much control on costs as possible. We respect and appreciate your membership and your service to SPE. We do need to remind everyone from time to time that the pandemic is not over and that SPE has a long way to go before significant revenue is realized. With that said, our primary goal is to maintain consistent services to our SPE members—not only in good times, but in difficult times as well. You have our collective promise to do just that.

SPE and You

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.
—Albert Schweitzer, German theologian, organist, writer, humanitarian, philosopher, and physician, 1875–1965

Yes, I finally played the “Albert Schweitzer” card. Those of you who know me very well may have heard me utter that one should aspire to be somewhere between Albert Schweitzer and Albert Einstein, implying that very few of us have a totality of purpose to contribute to society and to serve others. For certain, I fall very short, but I view every day as an opportunity to try to give more, to serve more, and to love more unconditionally. A strange way to start a section titled “SPE and You”—absolutely, but I must ask that you give more (in volunteerism) and create more (in technical and applied knowledge). SPE is in an evolutionary state as we transition to a low-carbon future, and we need every member and “near-member” to contribute more than their fair share.

There are no simple solutions, but a failure to evolve will ensure our extinction as an essential industry. I am sure that statement will evoke emotion, but it is the truth. As I have said many, many times, we must evolve or become irrelevant in a relatively short period of time. We must engage beyond our present missions and purposes. Let me be clear: I believe it is our mission to continue to meet the world’s energy needs while transitioning to a net-zero economy. While the energy transition cannot occur without us, we still have our day jobs. Specifically, we still have to produce enormous volumes of oil and gas for the world we serve.

SPE is our technical repository and one of our learning platforms, and perhaps most importantly, it is our global forum for technical exchange and dialogue. Although the pandemic has severely affected our ability to generate revenue, in 2020–2021 we have

  • Expanded many, if not all, of our technical offerings (most virtually, of course).
  • Expanded most of our service to members programs.
  • Created a storehouse of virtual content from conferences and workshops (and SPE Live).
  • Planned for virtual content in future SPE conferences and workshops (where feasible/appropriate).

We have also lost ground on in-person programs and most of our members have been negatively affected by the pandemic, some very severely. But there have been tremendous contributions of time and effort given by our SPE members in service to others. We have enhanced our members-in-transition (MIT) programs and pivoted to new virtual programming models, including not only events but also student and member services programs.

In my role, I am privileged on a daily basis to see someone step up to contribute, often in amazing ways such as these virtual offerings: SPE PetroBowl, SPE Student Paper Contest, Section and Student Chapter meetings, as well as numerous less formal virtual events. I confess that I never look my best at 0100 local time, wherever I may be, but I am honored and humbled to participate in as many events as possible, just like the rest of the members of the SPE Board.

My challenge to you this month is to give just one extra contribution to SPE.

  • Attend a meeting.
  • Mentor a colleague or student.
  • Give a presentation at an SPE function.
  • Write a paper.
  • Informally volunteer your service on an SPE program or service committee.

Or do something really important and reach out to your current and past colleagues just to say, “How’s it going?” or “Is there anything I can help with?” The small moments in life make the big differences; try to be a hero to your friends, family, and colleagues as often as you can. You will find that they need and appreciate it, and so will you.

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