SPE AAPG merger bites the dust

Editor Neil McNaughton reflects on the failed merger of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists which raised some interesting questions of the SPE’s governance. On which topic he has a bone to pick with the SPE.

Last year we published a short and cheeky article titled ‘SPE’s me-too Open Subsurface investigation’ on the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ 2021 Open Subsurface Workshop that was to serve as a ‘platform for SPE to reflect on the role it should play to help and support open subsurface projects in the future’. As we pointed out at the time, the SPE’s pitch, that ‘open source, data, and ecosystems tend to enable a faster pace of innovation [as opposed to] proprietary solutions’ could have been lifted from the OSDU playbook. We offered to act as scribe to the event but were told, ‘SPE workshops do not allow press reports. In order to stimulate frank discussion, no proceedings are published and members of the ‎press are not invited to attend’. Hmm… that still smarts.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since mid-2021, notably with the (now aborted) merger of SPE with AAPG. We have been a bit remiss in not reporting on what might have been an upheaval in the upstream organizations landscape. We sat things out and it is now all over. But just for a short after-action review, here goes.

The merger was very much a top-down affair initiated by management of SPE and AAPG. The rationale for the merger was partly financial (presumably costs could be saved by amalgamating the offices) but also, the perception that a combined organization would somehow help the membership ‘transition’ to a new low carbon world. Curiously, this did not prove very popular for many petroleum engineers and petroleum geologists. Along with a grass roots movement against environmental obfuscation some SPE members were concerned regarding the society’s governance, and incidentally, by the surprisingly large salary of the president.

Governance was an issue we touched on in our 2021 open source piece when we asked, ‘should an event run by a self-selected coterie with no published proceedings determine what role the SPE will play for its broader membership?’ Well, there are still no published proceedings but we were curious to read a JPT article, ‘Workshop cracks open subsurface data’ by a card-carrying member of the coterie, Patrick Bangert.

Bangert’s article is disappointing and reads more like the agenda than a report. We learn the workshop included ‘presentations about existing open projects as well as panel discussions on topics including legal matters and how to start, scale, and maintain an open project’. But we do not hear what the projects were about, or what the outcome of the discussions was. Bangert then turns to a free-form rap on open source this and that, name checking Linux, PyTorch, TensorFlow and GitHub. He makes some very good points, especially his recommendations that professional societies should ‘create a publication platform for open-access papers, open source, and open data’. But was this an outcome of the Workshop? Will it be taken on board by SPE? Remember, this was to be a ‘platform for SPE to reflect on the role it should play …. etc.’.

The paying Workshop formula with no report is no way to reflect on a society’s ‘role’. As we pointed out last year, the elephant in the upstream open source room was and remains OSDU. We saw the SPE event as a hastily organized riposte to OSDU. It is inconceivable that OSDU was not discussed at the Workshop but there is no official trace of this or any other matters arising*. So much for ‘open’!

* Naturally, we are open to any information (on or off the record) on this and other topics raised at the Workshop. As a small reward, Neil McNaughton will present a signed copy of his 1999 oeuvre, ‘A Survey of Upstream Data Management’, a $95 value (well it was in 1999).

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