In Memoriam: John Etherington

John Etherington, a petroleum reserves champion and an SPE Distinguished Member, died 19 September. He was 76.

Etherington played a pivotal role in the development of the now commonly used petroleum reserves definitions, Petroleum Reserves Management System (PRMS). Over the past decades, he acted as a fulcrum for its development and updating through his work with several international societies, agencies, and governments in arriving at unified definitions for oil and gas reserves estimation. Among others, he is widely recognized by fellow SPE members and industry professionals for his primary role in drafting the 2007 SPE PRMS.

Etherington advised many companies on reserves evaluation and audit during his long career. He spent more than 32 years with Mobil Oil, completing major field reserve evaluations in many countries and consulting on exploration ventures in deepwater Brazil and West Africa. He was part of the company’s central resources audit group for 5 years. He joined PRA International in 2000 and provided consulting services and training in hydrocarbon resource management to several oil and gas companies and government agencies.

Efforts across countries to standardize the definitions of petroleum reserves and how they are estimated began in the 1930s. Such definitions are reviewed and updated over the years for international consistency and to factor in technological development. Etherington was a member of the SPE Oil and Gas Reserves Committee (OGRC) for many years and played a key role in the development of the multisociety 2007 SPE PRMS. He chaired the committee encompassing SPE, World Petroleum Council, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and Society of Petroleum Evaluation Engineers (SPEE) members, which developed the 2007 PRMS providing definitions and guidelines as a common reference for the petroleum industry. As part of the efforts, Etherington chaired the OGRC mapping subcommittee in 2005, which mapped SPE’s reserves definitions to eight international classification systems. He continued his contributions to PRMS over the years since, including his participation in the 2017–2018 update of the document.

As a member of the SPEE Calgary chapter and the SPEE Reserves Definitions Committee, he was involved in many discussions and debates on resource evaluation and classification. He was a member of the committee that prepared the section on “Resources Other than Reserves Guidelines of the Canadian Oil and Gas Evaluation Handbook” published in 2014. 

Etherington also led the SPE interface with United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC) and International Accounting Standards Board Extractive Activities Working Group. He was an active member of the UN’s Expert Group of Resource Management (EGRM) from 2006 to 2017. He contributed to the development of the UNFC and was the founding chair of EGRM's Technical Advisory Group. As the group’s chair he led the development of UNFC’s sectoral specifications and bridging documents to the national systems of Russia and China. His untiring efforts contributed to the global application of UNFC that is witnessed today.

In addition to his role in drafting the PRMS, Etherington also played a key role in educating the industry on the reserves definitions. He developed and delivered the Joint Committee on Reserves Evaluator Training for individuals responsible for petroleum reserves and resources evaluation. He delivered many PRMS presentations to graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Calgary, and trained industry professionals through SPE training courses. More than 1,600 geoscientists and engineers from 46 countries benefitted from his training. Etherington is the author of more than 20 technical papers, was an SPE Distinguished Lecturer, and the coauthor of the SPE Monograph Unconventional Gas and Tight Oil Exploitation.

Etherington was recognized for his contribution with several industry awards and accolades. He was the recipient of the SPE Regional Management and Information Award for the Canada region in 2017, honored with SPE Distinguished Membership in 2020, and made an Honorary Lifetime Member of the SPEE.

The UN’s Bureau of the Expert Group on Resource Classification recognized the many years of his service to UNFC with a certificate in recognition of his work. In its tribute to Etherington the bureau said, “Our community will remember John for the passion, energy, and sense of humor that accompanied the expertise and experience that he was always willing to share. John will be missed by all who knew him and had the pleasure to work with him.”

Etherington held a BSc Honors in geology from the University of Western Ontario and an MSc in geology from the University of Alberta.