Artificial lift

Legends of Artificial Lift

Each year at the SPE Artificial Lift Conference and Exhibition, energy professionals convene to connect, grow, and learn—and also to laud outstanding innovators in their field.


UPDATE: Since publication of this article in JPT, it was decided that this event will be held virtually. Please check for further updates.

The SPE Artificial Lift Conference and Exhibition–Americas will be held 25–27 August 2020 in The Woodlands, Texas. The event, an opportunity for energy professionals to gain insights into current trends, grow their networks and connect with leaders, understand field experiences, and explore innovative solutions, will feature a special Legends of Artificial Lift Luncheon. This year, the two individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of artificial lift technology are John C. Patterson and Orvel. L. Rowlan.

John C. Patterson

John C. Patterson is hailed ­throughout the energy industry as a foremost ­authority on artificial lift, having authored nine technical papers for SPE and holding six patents on artificial lift and facility concepts.

Since joining SPE in 1974, Patterson has primarily been focused on the Production and Operations and Completions disciplines. He served on the 2013 SPE Artificial Lift Forum program committee and both the ALCE-NA ESP and Sucker Rod Pump subcommittees in 2014.

Patterson has been active with the SPE Electrical Submersible Pump (ESP) ­workshop, in the capacity of chairman for the workshop in 2013 and for 10 years as continuing education director. He has also taught attendees about ESP dismantle, inspection, and failure analysis.

He has published several papers related to artificial lift, and before retiring regularly reviewed production and operations manuscripts submitted for SPE publication.

Patterson is a sought-after speaker at industry operating company forums—including the Southwestern Petroleum Short Course, where he led rod pumping failure analysis courses from 1990 to 2000. In 2019, he presented at the SPE Electrical Submersible Pumps Symposium and in 2018 at the SPE International Heavy Oil Conference and Exhibition.

In 2017, Patterson was the keynote speaker for the Artificial Lift R&D Council International Sucker Rod Pumping Workshop, and in 2013 he was a technical session speaker on unconventional reservoirs at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition. In 2012, he served as keynote speaker at the SPE Applied Technology Workshop on Unconventional Artificial Lift Completions and Deployment Methods.

In 2015, after 40 years of service, Patterson retired from ConocoPhillips and founded Patterson Consulting. Currently he is a production engineering consultant to AccessESP, where he provides technical assistance in design, operation, and testing of ESPs for various through-tubing applications and also advises the CEO on general topics.

Given his long tenure in the industry and experience in a variety of ­economic climates, Patterson is well suited to offer such advice to industry executives. “In a low-oil-price world, we are always forced to do more with less,” he said. “In a present-value economic world, the initial capital cost outweighs the future operating cost. But once the well is turned over to operations, they have to live with the future operating cost which will impact the ultimate economic life of the well. Technology application and utilization in an $80/bbl world is much different when put in a $20 to $30/bbl environment.”

Patterson started with Phillips in 2000 (before its merger with Conoco) where he was global production engineering chief. During his tenure, the company made numerous technology advancements, including through-tubing-deployed ESPs, coiled-tubing-deployed ESPs, pumps for gas-well dewatering, and the gear centrifugal pump for low and high temperatures.

While at ConocoPhillips, he performed artificial lift studies and ­equipment design, developed new deployment methods, conducted field trials of new installations, performed equipment tear downs, and evaluated equipment performance using data analysis to improve run life.

After graduating from Texas A&M in 1975 with a BS degree in petroleum engineering, Patterson worked for 25 years with ARCO in Midland, Texas.

He is the recipient of the 2012 SPE International Production and Operations Award, the 2011 ConocoPhillips Lifetime Technology award, the 2011 ALRDC Artificial Lift Award, the 1998 J.C. Slonneger award from the Southwestern Petroleum Short Course Association, and three ARCO Outstanding Technical Achievement awards.

“In the current economic climate, we have to remember a few rules,” Patterson said. “We are in business to make money. Technology application that works on the expense side can be economical in a low-oil world, especially where workover costs are extremely high.”

Orvel L. Rowlan

With more than 39 years of service to the oil and gas industry, Orvel L. Rowlan has long been recognized for his many advancements in the area of artificial lift.

Rowlan has authored 14 SPE technical papers and more than 80 research papers for the Southwestern Petroleum Short Course, the Solution Mining Research Institute, the Artificial Lift Research and Development Council, Russian Oil & Gas Technologies magazine, the Canadian Petroleum Society, and SPE.

He holds a US patent on plunger lift analysis and coauthored Gas Well De­liquification, a book for gas well production optimization.

Until his retirement in 2019, Rowlan was vice president of engineering at Echometer, where he sought to advance the technology of the company’s portable well analyzer to optimize the operation of artificial lift production systems.

Prior to August 2000, he served as artificial lift consultant for Amerada Hess Corporation in Houston.

Rowlan has given hundreds of seminars and talks on the efficient ­operation, optimization, and troubleshooting of oil and gas wells. Since 2009, he has offered online training in advanced dynamometer analysis, a specialty he particularly knows and enjoys.  

To younger petroleum engineers, he advises, “Become an expert doing something that you enjoy. Never think that you know everything because there is always more to learn. Use data to guide your decisions.”

Rowlan received the 2000 J.C. Slonneger award and the 2011 Crawford Service award, both from the Southwestern Petroleum Short Course Association, as well as the 2010 SPE Regional Production and Operations Award for Southwestern North America.

He holds BS and MS degrees in civil engineering from Oklahoma State University and earned his registered professional engineer credentials in 2015.

With his wealth of experience, Rowlan’s perspective as an independent consultant is greatly valued. “People are what makes a company ­successful,” he said. “People recognize and implement technology.”

With this in mind, Rowlan predicts the industry will be challenged by “loss of knowledge due to cutting costs, because oil prices are low.”

“Without a champion to lead the implementation of technology, then the new technology will not succeed,” he concluded. “Dedicated people with ideas and determination are the next big thing in artificial lift.”