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SPE’s Annual Meeting

John Donnelly, JPT Editor

John DonnellySPE’s premier conference for technical professionals will be held at the end of this month in Houston. The SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) is not only an ­annual gathering for members but has also been a platform for the technology breakthroughs as well as discussions of the ups and downs of the oil industry through the years.

The conference will take place during 28–30 September in Houston, the 13th time the event has taken place in that city since SPE became an independent association 58 years ago. The annual meeting actually dates back 90 years when the Petroleum Division of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers (AIME) was formed.  The Petroleum Division would become the Petroleum Branch by 1949 as oil demand soared and, eventually, the Society of Petroleum Engineers of AIME in 1957. The first SPE-AIME board meeting took place at the October 1957 Annual Meeting in Dallas, which was the official beginning of SPE.

The annual conference had a similar trajectory, growing in stature as it assumed new names along the way. The event was initially called the Mid-Year Meeting or Fall Meeting, then the Annual Meeting and, beginning in 1975, the Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition. The meeting also evolved from a primarily social event to one of the oil and gas industry’s main venues for learning about and discussing technology developments and trends. In 1962, SPE’s Board of Directors established 10 technical committees and charged them with helping develop technical programming for the annual conference. The committees covered Drilling and Well Completions, Education and Professionalism, Economics and Evaluation, Formation Evaluation, Gas Technology, Geological Engineering and Groundwater Hydrology, Management and General Interest, Production Operations and Engineering, Reservoir Engineering, and Fluid Mechanics and Oil Recovery Processes.

As a result, the number of technical papers at the conference grew sharply. The 1960 conference in Denver, for instance, showcased 68 technical papers, but by the 1970 meeting in Houston, paper presentations had grown to 151. This year’s conference includes more than 350 presentations across 46 technical sessions, as well as 34 training sessions, a number of panel sessions, and a host of meetings and events involving SPE technical committees and other groups. The technical papers presented at ATCE represent an important contribution to the OnePetro electronic library, which houses technical documents from SPE and other industry associations.

Through the years, the program has often framed the contemporary issues of the day not only involving technology, but also finances and geopolitics and their effect on the industry. Conferences in the 1960s revealed the growing technical depth and breadth of the industry, while the early 1970s saw sessions about the wave of new environmental regulations affecting companies. And sessions in the early 1980s covered oil price volatility and its impacts, while the 1990s often looked at industry consolidation and the growth of the service sector.

The most common sites for ATCE have been Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Denver, with Houston holding the record for the largest single conference attendance. Next year, the conference will be held in Dubai, only the third time the event has been held outside of the US, reflecting the association’s continued international growth.