Jeff Spath, 2014 SPE President
One of the personal objectives I took as president was to increase the extent in which SPE collaborates with other professional societies and other industries. This is important for two reasons. First, I think we all will agree that meeting the world’s increasing energy demand is becoming more challenging. Reservoirs are becoming more difficult to find and produce. They are generally smaller, more complex, and exist in increasingly challenging environments, whether in the Arctic, beneath 10,000 ft of water, or at very high pressures and temperatures. We need all the help we can get from experts in other domains, other industries, and nascent technologies being developed for different uses.
Second, project costs are increasing at a much higher rate than new production; it is taking more technology, effort, and capital expenditure (Capex) to produce another barrel of oil and another thousand cubic feet of gas. Over the past 10 years, exploration and production (E&P) Capex spend has grown approximately by 400% while global oil production is up by only 15%. In just the past 3 years, the upstream E&P industry has spent on average USD 600 billion per year, and the only part of the oil production base that has grown significantly is the liquids production from North American unconventional resource plays (Kibsgaard 2014).
The relatively easy oil—the first trillion barrels or so we have already produced—has been developed and the next trillion will be much more costly and require more sophisticated, integrated technologies and processes. This is why we must reach out to other industries and societies to identify new processes, different ideas, and innovative technologies.
Partnering with related societies has been the norm for SPE throughout its existence. Last year, however, the SPE Board of Directors placed greater emphasis on the degree and frequency in which we work with “sister” societies, such as the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the Society of Petrophysicists and Well Log Analysts (SPWLA), and the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE). One of the more successful recent examples of multisociety collaboration is the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC) that SPE, AAPG, and SEG held last year in Denver. I personally witnessed the interaction and shared education of engineers, petrophysicists, geologists, and geophysicists who are working to identify the best methods to develop and produce complicated shale reservoirs. We are now engaging with other societies that represent adjoining domains, which also play an important role in understanding shale gas production. Let us expand on this. Why not include the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the International Association of Mathematical Physics and the American Rock Mechanics Association (ARMA), when their expertise we know is required to complete the shale gas puzzle? SPE will take part in this collaboration for the 2014 URTeC next month.
Another useful outcome of working together with related societies is the valuable and popular OnePetro repository of technical papers. This searchable database of technical literature has more than 160,000 papers, articles, and videos from 18 publishing partners, including the SPE, SEG, and SPWLA. For example, searching for literature, on completion techniques in the Eagle Ford Shale yields hundreds of papers describing the completion design and engineering, the geological and petrophysical considerations, and the structural and stress information from seismic interpretations.
In light of the technology challenges facing our industry, it is becoming commonplace, to reach out to other industries to help develop solutions requiring specialized domain expertise. Several industries in particular have provided valuable knowledge and technologies to the upstream E&P sector over the past decade or so. At Schlumberger, we have worked with both the automotive and aerospace industries in the codevelopment of lower-cost sensors and lighter, higher-strength materials that are able to perform at similarly demanding pressures and temperatures, whether in the fuselage of a modern airliner, the engine of an automobile, or the bottom of a drillstring in the presence of hydrogen sulfide. We are learning from the aviation industry how they have applied Six Sigma performance criteria to improve processes and technologies. Imagine the cost savings of moving the service industry from the current levels of reliability to those of the aerospace industry.
Another branch of science we, as an industry, are currently collaborating with and exchanging technologies with is the biomedical business. Whether imaging and visualizing the 3D human body or a 3D seismic cube from deepwater Gulf of Mexico, the fundamental technologies are identical and we are sharing them. Whether modeling the diffusion of medicine in the bloodstream or the diffusion of pressure in a porous medium, the mathematics is identical. Nanotechnologies are working their way into our vocabulary in more applications, from nanosensors for improving enhanced oil recovery techniques and measurements to nanotubes for viscosity modification in drilling fluids. It makes much more sense to collaborate with nanotechnology experts in the more mature medical, electrical, and consumer goods markets, together with leading universities, rather than reinventing the fundamentals. SPE is helping our industry to collaborate by providing the venues and the technical literature essential in addressing these common needs. SPE is sponsoring an academic R&D competition aimed at bringing ideas from outside our industry to bear on the challenges we face. The competition is open to academia, research institutes and organizations, companies, and individual investigators. You can find more information on the competition website www.spe.org/industry/competition.php.
Collaboration in the Classroom
Academia has caught on to the advantages of collaboration by combining curricula into combined degrees, primarily as a result of our industry’s push to graduate petroleum engineers who are more knowledgeable in geology and geophysics, for example. Other forms of energy education, such as nuclear, wind, and solar, are being combined with petroleum engineering to create “energy engineers.” Certainly, new engineering buildings on campuses around the world are being built using open architecture to foster collaboration, particularly around laboratories. Collaborating with other engineering and geoscience domains makes sense on campus as the graduates will be better equipped to collaborate in industry.
Enhancing the learning experience of these collaborative students is the availability now of comprehensive software workflows that enable basin geologists, for example, to work with geophysicists, petrophysicists, completion engineers, and reservoir engineers to develop a single, coherent model of the overall production system.
SPE the Collaborator
In summary, in order to continue to cost effectively meet the world’s increasing energy demand, we must increase the rate and magnitude of technology innovation and implementation as well as improve our reliability to the level that exists in other industries. Collaboration is the answer and SPE is facilitating the effort.
SPE has recognized the needs of members to develop collaborative technical solutions to meet our industry challenges. To that end, we have increased the number of conferences cohosted with relevant sister societies and we will continue to expand the societies and domains with whom we hold workshops and forums. An example of this type of collaboration would be soliciting domain expertise from societies in nanotechnology, robotics, and microelectromechanical systems for an SPE subsea conference.
We will also continue to expand the OnePetro library, adding papers from other societies to facilitate the collaboration with geologists, geophysicists, and well log analysts.
Finally, SPE has also recognized the need to work with other engineering societies to promote the significance of petroleum engineering in society. Last year, SPE launched a project with five other engineering societies, including AIChE, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, to provide a history of technology and engineering. By collaborating with other professional societies, SPE will be able to promote the petroleum engineering profession’s history and heritage to help communicate a positive message about the industry’s contributions to society.
Each month, I post my JPT column topic on the SPE LinkedIn group for comment and discussion. I invite you all to join in this discussion and look forward to hearing your viewpoints.
Kibsgaard, P. 2014. Howard Weil 42nd Annual Energy Conference. Speech given at the conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, 24 March.