In Memoriam: John M. Campbell Sr.

John M. Campbell Sr., an internationally renowned expert in the petroleum industry who served as chairman of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Petroleum Engineering, died 24 August 2013, at his home in Norman, Oklahoma, after a brief illness. He was 91.

Campbell was the author of more than 150 technical articles in production operations, phase behavior and properties, economics, and financial risk management analysis. He was the primary developer of the application of time value of money concepts to the petroleum and mineral industries, and wrote the first textbook that outlined the principles of the time value of money and decline curves. He also proposed the integrated system of property evaluation currently used throughout the industry. Campbell developed the first unified system of applying risk and uncertainty to the evaluation of exploration investments and coauthored the well-known, three-volume Mineral Property Economics, which extended the scope of his earlier work to oil shale and coal.


Campbell received numerous oil industry and SPE awards during his career in recognition of his contributions to engineering innovation, research, and teaching. He was an SPE Honorary Member and an SPE Distinguished Member, and received SPE’s John Franklin Carll Award and the AIME Mineral Economics Award. He also was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering.

Born in Virden, Illinois, Campbell earned a BS degree in chemical engineering from Iowa State University in 1943. Shortly after graduation, he was assigned to the Manhattan Project by his employer, DuPont, and was part of the team that developed the commercial manufacturing of plutonium and the atomic bomb used at the end of World War II. While on the project, he met and married Gwen Thompson; their marriage lasted 61 years until her death in 2006.

In 1946, he came to the University of Oklahoma (OU) as a graduate student and instructor in chemical engineering, and soon received a PhD degree in chemical engineering from the school. After working for 3 years in the industry, he was rehired by OU in its Petroleum Engineering Department and served as department chair for 12 years. He also served as the director of the Petroleum Research Center there and was the Halliburton Professor at the school before resigning in 1968 to found the first of several companies.

“I joined the Petroleum Branch of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers in 1952 as member number 2552,” Campbell wrote in an article for JPT in October 2007 celebrating SPE’s 50th anniversary. “What a fortunate move. The ‘Big Bang’ period of petroleum technology was in progress and, like our universe, it has continued to expand at an ever-increasing rate.

“It was both a chaotic and exhilarating time. I had become a part of what was as much a challenge as my previous work on the Manhattan Project during World War II. There were so many folks doing such great things and rising to the challenge.”

During his 19 years as a university professor, Campbell became a consultant to the global petroleum industry, which led to the formation of John M. Campbell and Company, a leader in training for natural gas conditioning and processing. He was an influential mentor to many students and professionals during his university and industry careers. In 2006, Campbell published an autobiography titled, A 20th Century Odyssey.

Campbell is survived by his three sons, John Jr. and his wife, Linda; Bob and his wife, Leslie; and Chuck; 10 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.


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