Legends of Artificial Lift

This year, the SPE Artificial Lift Conference and Exhibition–Americas will be held 23–25 August in Galveston, Texas, with the theme “Modern Artificial Lift–Adapting to a Changing Industry.” The event provides opportunities for technical professionals to gain insights into current trends and field experiences and explore innovative solutions. A special Legends of Artificial Lift Luncheon on 23 August will celebrate three individuals for their outstanding contributions to the technical knowledge in this field: Norman Hein Jr., Ken Nolen, and Gabor Takacs.

Jack pump in desert

Norman W. Hein Jr. has worked for 45 years in upstream production, his distinguished career spanning from research, development, and testing to ventures in production engineering, manufacturing, onshore and offshore project management, industry standardization, and the principles of artificial lift.

Hein joined the industry in 1977 as a research scientist with Continental Oil Company, where he learned about oil and gas production materials, failures, fatigue, and offshore construction. He then worked for Conoco and later ConocoPhillips in various engineering positions. In 2010, he joined the sucker-rod division of Norris Production Solutions as director of research, development, engineering, and quality; later at CONSOL Energy he was promoted to chief technology professional and senior advisor. Currently, Hein is president and managing director of Oil and Gas Optimization Specialists Ltd., which he established in 2003.

A proven innovator, Hein holds 12 domestic patents and more than 50 international patents. He has given more than 100 technical presentations and taught courses on artificial lift, production operations, production chemicals, corrosion, failure analysis, and well/field optimization, both domestically and internationally.

Hein said he likes to share his knowledge and background with new field operators and engineers as well as those more experienced but still needing help. “As an engineer,” he said, “I like to solve problems and my diversified background allows the transfer and application of knowledge to provide better and unique solutions to problems.”

Hein’s impressive record of achievements with SPE reinforces his status as a legend of artificial lift. A long-time SPE member with more than 30 years of service, he has authored or coauthored SPE Distinguished Author Series papers on artificial-lift method selection and sucker-rod-lift field optimization, including “Beam-Pumping Operations: Problem Solving and Technology Advancements” and “Recommendations and Comparisons for Selecting Artificial-Lift Methods.” He wrote the chapter on sucker-rod lift for the latest edition of the SPE Petroleum Engineering Handbook; wrote the second edition (2016) of Artificial Lift for The University of Texas at Austin Petroleum Extension (PETEX); and coauthored Surface Dynamometer Card Interpretation: A Beam Pumping Problem-Solving Tool.

He served as a member of several SPE committees, including the Progressing Cavity Pumps Program Committee, the Progressing Cavity Pumps Committee, Forum Steering Committee–North America, and the SPE Annual Technical Conference. He also served as an SPE technical editor for editorial review.

As a founding member of the Artificial Lift Research Development Council (ALRDC), Hein taught a variety of courses, chaired sessions, and served on its board of directors until 2020. He has been honored with the J.C. Slonneger Award from the Southwest Petroleum Short Course Association in Lubbock, Texas, its highest honor; a letter of appreciation from ANSI/API for his work on ISO/TC67; and a certificate of service from API for his work as secretary, vice chairman, and chairman on Subcommittee 11 on Field Operating Equipment Standardization.

He has also been called on to serve as an industry expert witness in more than 20 lawsuits and is accepted as an authority in Texas, Oklahoma, and Michigan on corrosion, failure analysis, production operations, electric submersible pumping, plunger lift, and sucker-rod lift. Each of these experiences has confirmed industry recognition of Hein’s leadership skills in addition to his technical knowledge.

Hein is now semi-retired but still offers consulting services.

Reflecting on his most significant contribution to the industry, Hein said he values his “ability to transfer knowledge and experiences from many scientific fields to help solve problems in the industry.” Regarding his new status as a legend, “It is an honor to be recognized for multiple contributions, which I hope have assisted the industry with continuing safe and effective processes, procedures, and solutions,” he said.

He holds a master’s of science degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Ken Nolen photo

Kenneth B. (Ken) Nolen for 62 years has been a key contributor to what he calls “the art and science of artificial lift.”

“My college degree in mechanical engineering was largely devoted to science,” he explains, “and that’s a branch of knowledge dealing with the physical world of facts and principles. Art, on the other hand, uses science to create new technology and products—in my field, that is to enhance artificial lift.”

His career in optimizing this art and science began after graduating from Texas A&M and serving his country in the US Air Force for a 3-year tour. Nolen joined Shell Oil Company as a production engineer before teaming up with Dr. Sam G. Gibbs to become co-founder and vice president of Nabla Corporation in Midland, Texas—a technical service company that specialized in artificial-lift diagnosis, optimization, design, training on pumping wells, and manufacturing pumpoff controllers and fluid-level sounders. “It was at Nabla that I pursued my long-held passion for optimizing production from artificially lifted wells.”

Nolen is proud that Nabla patented the pump card method for pumpoff control and that he helped introduce the means to calculate downhole pump dynamometer cards from surface measurements.

When the pair sold the company to Lufkin Automation in 1997, Nolen continued his career as technical coordinator as Lufkin refined the system and renamed the method the SAM Well Manager. Today, WellWorx Energy uses this technology worldwide under the name Ken Well Manager.

Following a short-lived retirement, which he said was “boring and not satisfying,” he returned to work as an artificial-lift consultant specializing in technical support and training. “I left retirement because I love the oil field, its challenges, and its people,” he said.

In 2014, Nolen again teamed up with Gibbs to form GreenShot LLC, a company specializing in automated oil-well fluid-level technology, and to develop various wellsite diagnostic methods (dynamometers, fluid-level sounders, and pumpoff controllers) for sucker-rod pumping systems. These diagnostic methods are widely used within the industry to access data remotely through automated continuous-monitoring systems. When WellWorx Energy acquired GreenShot in 2018, Nolen continued as R&D advisor and currently is developing several new patents in addition to the eight he holds.

An active SPE member his entire career, he was inducted into the SPE Legion of Honor in 2015. Nolen has authored or coauthored more than a dozen technical papers and training textbooks on artificial-lift subjects. In the past 50 years, he also has taught courses on artificial lift, dealing mainly in rod-pumping technology, in more than 200 schools worldwide.

For his numerous contributions to petroleum production technology, Nolen received the 2018 Hearst Energy Technology Award, and the 1997 J.C. Slonneger Award from the Southwest Petroleum Short Course Association in Lubbock, Texas, its highest honor. He is a registered professional engineer emeritus in Colorado and New Mexico.

Acknowledging his new status as a legend in his field, Nolen is quick to point out, “No man is an island. We stand on the shoulders of others. For example, Dr. Gibbs was my business partner for 49 years and he was the first to win this award in 2014. I’m deeply indebted to this great man. There are many more that I could name.”

“Thank God for my chosen profession in artificial lift,” he concluded. “It’s been a wild but rewarding ride!”

Nolen holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M.

Gabor Takacs photo

Gabor Takacs joins the Legends of Artificial Lift as an internationally recognized consultant with more than 35 years of consulting and teaching experience in the fields of production engineering, with a concentration in artificial lift.

“The great honor of being nominated is an absolutely thrilling sensation for me,” he said. “It gives me a special satisfaction to be the first foreigner to join those wonderful people whom I have been privileged to meet and cooperate with during my career.”

Takacs is a professor emeritus at the University of Miskolc, Hungary, where he led the petroleum engineering department from 1995 to 2012.

“My eternal love is sucker-rod pumping and it started at Texas Tech when I met most of the Legends of Artificial Lift,” he said. “So, my major contributions are also related to rod pumping and include tapered rod string design and optimum counterbalancing of pumping units.”

After teaching at Texas Tech University from 1988 to 1989, Takacs was acting director of the petroleum engineering program at the Petroleum Institute (now Khalifa University) in Abu Dhabi between 2007 and 2010. He also has taught more than 70 week-long courses on artificial-lift topics (gas lift, electrical submersible pumps, sucker-rod pumping, among others) for oil companies in Libya, Mexico, Argentina, Indonesia, UAE, Romania, Malaysia, Peru, Oman, India, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, Vietnam, and Austria.

He said he always enjoyed the thrill of new places and new people and always tried to stir the same enthusiasm in his students. “Those trips also allowed me to meet professionals of different regions who experience different problems. Those interactions helped me to continuously improve my teaching materials and eventually my books.”

His books on artificial-lift technology include Modern Sucker-Rod Pumping (1993), Sucker-Rod Pumping Manual (2002), Gas Lift Manual (2005), Electrical Submersible Pumps Manual (2009), Sucker‑Rod Pumping Handbook (2015), and Electrical Submersible Pumps Manual (second edition, 2017). For a change of pace, he is enjoying a break from technical topics to write a book on sailing, his first love outside of sucker-rod pumping.

In addition to his books, Takacs has more than 100 technical papers to his credit and has authored 14 SPE technical papers and 13 papers for the Southwestern Petroleum Short Course Association. He holds a Hungarian patent on pressure-operated gas-lift valves.

Takacs was instrumental in setting up the SPE Hungarian Section in 1992 and was the section’s first chairman between 1992 and 1994. He was selected SPE Distinguished Lecturer from 1995 to 1996, named Outstanding Technical Editor for the SPE Production and Facilities Journal from 1992 to 2003, and chaired the SPE Artificial Lift TIG (Technical Interest Group) from 1997 to 2003. He currently is both technical editor and associate editor of SPE Production and Operations.

Among his honors, Takacs received the SPE South, Central and East Europe Regional Production and Operations Award in 2017 and the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary in 2021. He contributed to the Artificial Lift Research and Development Council (ALRDC) in 2006 and was keynote speaker at the 2021 ALRDC Sucker-Rod Pumping Workshop.

Despite all the industry accolades, Takacs said, “My biggest reward was when Joe P. Byrd III, the inventor of the Mark II pumping unit, wrote about my book, ‘… has clearly and successfully unscrambled the mysteries of beam and sucker-rod pumping.’”

He holds MS, PhD, and doctorate degrees in petroleum engineering, all from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

To learn more about the conference’s technical program, special sessions, and training courses, and to register, visit SPE Artificial Lift Conference and Exhibition–Americas.