Sustaining Technical Excellence: The Importance of Continual Learning for Professionals and Students

Sustained technical excellence occurs when sound plans are executed with a vigorous attention to detail in conjunction with the right resources (personnel, material, financial, etc.) and conceptual thinking. This is not to say that significant technological breakthroughs must universally result from orderly and intentional processes. Indeed, some innovations have happened entirely by accident; one memorable example being the discovery of safety glass in 1907 by French chemist Edouard Benedictus when he dropped a glass beaker and correctly hypothesized that dried collodion film inside the beaker prevented it from shattering into pieces. This led to his discovery of shatterproof glass.

Whether one classifies it as a highly ordered or chaotic process, I would argue that a critical raw ingredient for technical innovation and skill progression for individuals and institutions is continual learning and exposure to new ideas. Stephen Covey illustrates the importance of continual learning, which he incorporates into the practice of “sharpening the saw” in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Wallace E. Pratt, the fourth president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, was a pioneering petroleum geologist and visionary who understood the need for a philosophy of continual intellectual engagement and learning in the petroleum industry when he remarked,

“Where oil is first found, in the final analysis, is in the minds of men.”

- (Pratt 1952)

This statement is very valuable because it underscores that human creativity is the ultimate precursor of new solutions to increasingly complex energy challenges.

This article illustrates the importance of continual learning in the petroleum industry and why deeper content mastery and creativity are cultivated when historical technical literature is read in tandem with the modern “state-of-the-art.” It provides practical suggestions to incorporate more technical literature into professional/academic practice and a brief overview of two helpful technical resources available through SPE: the OnePetro online library for technical literature and the SPE Bookstore for textbooks.

The Trajectory of Thinking

Journal articles provide an excellent means of learning new state-of-the-art techniques in addition to helping with applied tasks such as developing property correlations, identifying reservoir analogs, benchmarking exploration-development-production strategies, and numerous other tasks. However, state-of-the-art is a moving target that changes through time. Reading older textbooks and articles promotes deeper subject-matter engagement and enhances the value of modern methods. This is because foundational papers for any subtopic allow one to systematically track the “trajectory of thinking.” Below are some examples:

Fractured Reservoirs
Core Analysis
Well Testing

[As an aside, this may also explain my anecdotal observation/running hypothesis that the number of books in an office is strongly correlated with the length of time someone has been a professor or served in a technical role.]

For example, tracking the trajectory of thinking in production data analysis would lead one from Arps’ original decline curve model in 1945 (Arp 1945) though Cinco-Ley and Samaniengo-V.’s developments for vertically fractured wells in 1981 to modern day techniques for unconventional reservoirs (see [Clarkson 2013] for a nice summary) and to continuous field measurements being incorporated into big data and artificial neural network frameworks.

Practical Suggestions for Professionals and Students

A practical suggestion for reading more papers comes from my good friend and former colleague, Taskin Akpulat, who shared with me his recommend practice of reading one journal paper each Friday at work. Based on personal experience, Fridays may be excellent times to sit down and read a paper, especially if a company has a 9/80 schedule. A second suggestion is to consider hosting regular technical seminars or small group discussions to disseminate important findings and applications to business or research tasks.

OnePetro and the SPE Bookstore                   

OnePetro is an online library of technical literature maintained by SPE that hosts more than 190,000 papers from 20 publishing partners. Articles can be accessed via subscription, which is available in university and corporate tiers, or purchased as individual articles (SPE members receive a 50% discount on individual SPE articles). 

The SPE Bookstore sells traditional textbooks in addition to e-books (SPE Direct Digital format) that can be viewed on computers or tablets using Adobe Digital Editions software.

Tips and Resources for SPE Student Chapters

OnePetro Subscription and Grant Program. University-tier subscriptions to OnePetro provide a cost-effective means of accessing articles. If your university does not have a subscription, encourage the library staff or your department to add a subscription. Furthermore, SPE provides a grant program to assist student chapters from qualifying funding-limited regions in obtaining a subscription to OnePetro.

Book Orders. SPE members save 50% on all SPE books, but a further cost-cutting strategy is to arrange bulk orders to minimize shipping costs. At our university, the Penn State SPE student chapter coordinates book exchanges and bulk orders at the start of each semester.

Orders through the SPE Bookstore are traditionally processed over the phone or online with payments submitted by check or credit card. However, any chapter encountering logistical difficulties (such as overseas chapters) are encouraged to contact the SPE Bookstore ( to identify possible alternative ordering/payment arrangements.


I would like to thank Debbie Anderson at the Society of Petroleum Engineers for her gracious assistance in providing background material about the SPE Bookstore and OnePetro online technical database. I also wish to thank my colleagues in TWA for their thoughtful feedback.


Al-Hussainy, Ramey, Jr., and Crawford. 1966. The Flow of Real Gases Through Porous Media. JPT, Vol. 18 (5).

Arps, J.J. 1945. Analysis of Decline Curves. Trans. AIME, Vol. 160 (1). SPE 945228.

Barenblatt, Zheltov, and Kochina. 1960. Basic Concepts on the Theory of Seepage of Homogeneous Liquids in Fissured Rocks (Strata). PMM, Vol. 24 (5), pp. 852–864.

Cinco-Ley, H., and Samaniengo-V., F. 1981. Transient Pressure Analysis for Fractured Wells. JPT, Vol. 33 (9). SPE 7940.

Clarkson, C.R. 2013. Production Data Analysis of Unconventional Gas Wells: Review of Theory and Best Practices. Int. J. Coal Geol. Vol. 109–110, pp. 101–146.

Klinkenberg. 1941. The Permeability of Porous Media to Liquids and Gases. API-41-200. API.

Pratt, W., 1952, Towards a philosophy of oil finding: Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Vol. 36(12), pp. 2231–2236.

Warren and Root. 1963. The Behavior of Naturally Fractured Reservoirs. SPEJ, Vol. 3 (3). SPE 426.

Michael Cronin is a doctoral student in energy and mineral engineering (petroleum and natural gas engineering option) at the Pennsylvania State University. Before starting his PhD studies, he worked as a reservoir modeler at Anadarko Petroleum’s Reservoir Technology group. His research and professional interests include production data analysis and reservoir simulation in fractured reservoirs, enhanced oil recovery, and experimental characterization. Cronin holds a master’s degree in geological sciences from the University of Texas, and dual bachelor’s degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering and geosciences (with honors) from the Pennsylvania State University. He was awarded the Eric A. Walker award by the Penn State University in 2011. Cronin has been a member of SPE since 2009 and currently serves on the editorial board for The Way Ahead.


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