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Interviews with Award-Winning YPs

S. Ali Vakili-Ghahani, 32, reservoir engineer at SGS Horizon BV in The Hague, Netherlands, received the 2011 Cedric K. Ferguson Young Technical Author Medal in recognition of professional achievement in petroleum engineering by an SPE member 35 or younger. The medal is presented for the paper written by an SPE member age 35 or under at the time the paper was peer approved. Previously, he was a postdoctoral researcher on reservoir systems and control at Delft University of Technology (DUT), Netherlands. Before joining DUT in 2006, he was a reservoir engineer with NIOC in Tehran for about 2 years. His main work experience is in dynamic reservoir modeling and field development projects. He was also involved in theoretical and numerical research on different elements of closed-loop reservoir management, including upscaling and model reduction, data assimilation (history matching), and optimization. The research results were published in several journals and conference proceedings. Vakili-Ghahani earned a BS degree in chemical engineering from Tehran University, Iran, and MS and PhD degrees in petroleum engineering from DUT.

How long have you been an SPE member? Are the YPs in your section active? Do you participate in YP events?

I joined SPE in 2002, when I was a master’s degree student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Yes, the Netherlands’ YP section is active and I sometimes attend their activities, the most recent being the YP Petro Pub Quiz mid-August 2011.

How many papers have you authored? What was the most challenging aspect of writing them?

I have written six papers (including four SPE papers). The first challenge was starting to write a paper. It was sometimes difficult to determine if the available research was enough to justify a lengthy and developed paper. However, from my experience, writing while you’re conducting a research project helps to develop firmer arguments and to notice the missing parts along the way. Another challenge was determining how to conclude the paper. The difficulty was to draw conclusions that are not only properly supported by the body of the paper but also consistent with endorsed reference papers. The remedy, I think, is a broad literature review and then a thorough reading of the paper before writing any conclusions.

Which do you think is the most crucial paper you’ve authored?

The SPE Journal paper titled “Control-Relevant Upscaling” (SPE J. 15 [2] 471–479), the paper responsible for my winning the Ferguson Medal, dominated my PhD research as well as my PhD dissertation.


Faisal N. AlNughaimish, 33, offshore producing engineering supervisor at Saudi Aramco, received the 2011 Young Member Outstanding Service Award. He has supervised offshore producing engineering for the Safaniya offshore field. He has provided technical support to offshore facilities, plants and networks, and producing operations. AlNughaimish received a BS degree in chemical engineering cum laude from Arizona State University and an MS degree in petroleum engineering from Heriot-Watt University.

How long have you been an SPE member?

I have been a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers since 2001.

Are the YPs in your section active?

The YPs in my section are very active, as indicated by the number of awards our YPs received this year.

Do you participate in YP events?

I always participate in YP events, as they end up being fun, learning experiences every time.

Which activities have you initiated?

Actually, I started up YP activity in our section and during 2006–07 was the first YP vice chairman for the SPE Saudi Arabia Section. Since then, I have initiated a number of activities, including field trips, knowledge sharing sessions, local chapter support programs, and the YP Annual Technical Symposium.

How has the focus on YPs helped the YPs in your section?

It started and accelerated the growth of YP activities in our section, while increasing awareness of YP capabilities among our SPE community in general.

What differentiates you from other YPs who competed to receive this award?

It is very hard to tell not knowing the other nominees and their credentials. However, I believe officially starting YP activities in our section, with YPs as a recognized SPE community, was a milestone my accomplishments represent that deserved to be acknowledged. Taking the first step is always the most difficult part of the journey.

How has SPE helped you in your professional life?

I joined SPE with a BS degree in chemical engineering and came to realize how interesting the petroleum engineering discipline and industry are. SPE was the seed for me to pursue my graduate studies in petroleum engineering. SPE provided me with venues—physical and electronic—for sharing knowledge and enhancing my technical abilities, while networking on an international level and sharpening my soft skills. All in all, SPE helped me determine and shape my career path the way it is today.


Abdullatif A. Al-Omair, 31, supervisor in the reservoir management department at Saudi Aramco, received the 2011 SPE Young Member Outstanding Service Award. This award recognizes contributions to and leadership in the public and community arenas, as well as SPE, the profession, and the industry, by a member under age 36. He is responsible for developing and managing production from a major oil field in Saudi Arabia. During his 9-year career with Saudi Aramco, Al-Omair worked with various departments such as production engineering and reservoir characterization, and was a member of Saudi Aramco’s upstream multidisciplinary event solution team. He earned a BS degree from Tulsa University and an MS degree from Texas A&M University—both in petroleum engineering.

How long have you been an SPE member?

I have been an SPE member since college—a total of almost 11 years.

Are the YPs in your section active? Do you participate in YP events?

The regional YP section in Saudi Arabia holds frequent workshops, courses, and technical exchanges. An annual large-scale technical symposium is also organized by the section members. All these activities helped SPE Saudi Arabia Section’s YP program win the first SPE award for YP section excellence in 2008, as well as the latest, for 2011. Furthermore, four members of the section have won the SPE Regional Young Member Outstanding Service Award.

In addition to participating in various YP events, I have had the privilege of leading and organizing several of these events.

Which activities have you initiated?

Some of the YP programs I’ve conducted include the SPE YP Annual Technical Symposium, courses, and social gatherings. The closest to my heart was hosting a behavior-based safety workshop for YPs working in the field and rolling out the Ambassador Lecturer program initiative to schools throughout Saudi Arabia.

How have these activities helped the YPs in your section?

The initiatives have resulted in an increase in the section’s YP members who wanted to take action and join the section’s YP volunteer team.

What differentiates you from other YPs who were in the race to receive this award?

I believe I was lucky working with amazing YP teams that have helped magnify our achievements and spread our message to the greater YP community. I would also like to recognize the unstinting support my employer Saudi Aramco gives to these YP initiatives.

How has SPE helped you in your professional life?

SPE has enabled me to add a lot to my technical skills and provided me with opportunities to share my experience with fellow professionals. SPE has introduced me to other petroleum engineering professionals all around the world, giving me a much broader understanding about the global petroleum industry.