A Surprise Visit in Central China

My visit to China consisted of some very substantial meetings with the members from the SPE Beijing Section as well as the Northern China International Section.

2018 SPE President Darcy Spady with North China International Section Chair and “super volunteer” Tony Zhou and a group of volunteers at the PetroBowl event.

In the middle of China, and geographically sitting at the western fringe of the large plain that contains most of China’s population, is the ancient city of Xi-an. I was not very familiar with inland China and had not been there before. To my surprise, I found a hotbed of petroleum engineering, including the SPE Xi-an Shiyou University Student Chapter and plans call for a new SPE section!

My China visit consisted of some very substantial meetings with the members from the SPE Beijing Section as well as the Northern China International Section. It closed out with a high-energy visit to the Asia Pacific Regional Petrobowl qualifier meeting at China University of Petroleum (East China) at Qing Dao. The real gem, however, was the activity and maturity of the industry in the Xi-an region, right in the middle of the country. Let me explain.

The industry started in 1905 with the first well in mainland China drilled nearby 2 years later. There have been active petroleum operations there since, and there is an amazing amount of complex extraction techniques being used currently, including some time-tested EOR methods.

SPE members who have petitioned for a section in Xi-an. Photo courtesy Fanhua Zeng.


My good friend, Fanhua (Bill) Zeng, treasurer of the SPE South Saskatchewan Section and  2018 Canadian Regional Formation Evaluation Award winner and professor at the University of Regina in Canada, was my host. Zeng knows the local landscape and was amused as he pointed out some of the “normal” activities that would be leading edge or “unconventional” elsewhere. I was introduced to the large operating company in the region, the fourth-largest oil company in China, as well as the president of Xi’an Shiyou University, Li Tiantai.

Near Xi-an with Fanhua (Bill) Zeng.


In my visits with the students and potential members of the new section, we discussed unique EOR methods including the ongoing use of bio-surfactant compounds, CO2 flooding (thanks to the abundant supply of CO2 from coal and chemical operations), and in fact the home of the first CCS integrated project in the world. This was not what I was expecting. The SPE members in Shaanxi talked about tight gas and unconventional reservoirs in terms of operations, not experimentation.

Once again it cements my observation that just when you think you can predict something, all bets are off. We were not talking CO2 flooding in the Permian or southeast Saskatchewan, we were in an ancient capital of China where the silk road started…and there was no SPE section here.

This also verifies that in the global world of SPE there is still a lot of opportunity to execute our strategic plan, specifically our second core value of thinking globally. Part of thinking globally and the One SPE philosophy is the belief that there are still lots of opportunities out there.

Whether you are in Xi-an in China, Lima in Peru, or Aktau in Kazakhstan, there will be other SPE members trying to collect, exchange, and disseminate best industry practices and learnings to make themselves more competent professionals.