How to Adapt to a Cyclical Industry: SPE President Spady Answers Young Professionals’ Questions

2018 SPE President Darcy Spady with students during his recent visit to the University of Malaya SPE student chapter in Malaysia.

Darcy Spady is 2018 SPE president. Spady works with Calgary-based Broadview Energy, and has been an active SPE member since graduating from university. Most recently, he served on the SPE International Board as regional director for Canada; he is also a member of the Vancouver and Calgary sections. Spady has held officer positions in the Calgary, Illinois Basin, and Appalachian sections. In 2012, he won a Regional Service Award for his work in the Canada region. Spady has an extensive background in the natural gas, oil, and heavy oil segments of the industry, having worked a decade for Schlumberger across North America in its wireline and pressure pumping segments, as well as with Columbia Natural Resources/Triana Energy group in the Appalachians, and Atlantic Canada. He has also served as CEO of Calgary-based Contact Exploration and more recently as head of sales for Sanjel Corporation. He is an active independent director, serving as board chairman for Green Imaging Technologies, Crestwynd Exploration, and as a board member of MNP Petroleum. He previously served on the boards of Edge Resources, Contact Exploration, Guildhall Minerals, and Poplar Point Exploration. Spady holds a BS degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Alberta.

Today people discuss electric vehicles, the future of mobility, and the internet of things—and how that can impact the oil and gas industry. How have technologies impacted the industry over the course of your career?

Two things have had a direct and massive impact during my career─horizontal drilling and multizone completions. Another two that have not affected me personally are deepwater drilling and 4D seismic.

I frequently give two examples of technology change that I have lived through: When I started my career, a horizontal well was known as a mistake. Now, horizontal drilling technology─not just hundreds of meters but thousands of meters─is the norm, part of the AFE [authority for expenditure] from the planning of the well and exploitation.

Then midway in my career, the norm became the massive technological advancement of multiple stage fracturing with one trip into the wellbore. This was a massive technological change. We would not have dreamed of such an efficient technology when I graduated, and now we do hundreds of stages in one operation─something that takes days, when once it took weeks or even months.

What role did SPE play in your early career?

"SPE is all about volunteers, like Lim Yi Jie, a
UTP Student who volunteered all week
at OTC Asia." — Darcy Spady @SPE2018Pres

Two things really, the “technical” and the “organizational.” Technically, SPE was a place early in my career where I could listen to technical papers and section-level speakers. Later, I was able to write my first SPE paper and present it at a conference. This was a massive learning experience both in technical competence and the ability to present and field questions.

From an organizational point of view, early in my career I was involved in section executive activities (Edmonton, Illinois Basin, and Appalachian sections), which taught me simple things like teamwork, chairing meetings, and networking.

What does it mean to be the SPE president in such a dynamic period in the industry?

It is an amazing honor to be the SPE President, and it is not something that I ever planned to be until very recently. So, suddenly, I have a very large responsibility to represent 158,000 very smart and hard-working individuals. I’m humbled, actually.

This period in the industry seems dynamic, but really I think we have been in a fast-paced and frequently changing industry for the last 50 years. It does not lessen the responsibility, but I don’t think it is any more dynamic. We work in a “hold on to your hats…here we go!...boom and bust” industry.

My job as president is really to be the chairperson of the board and, effectively, the organization. The president needs to find a middle ground and gather consensus for a lot of very divergent opinions, backgrounds, and geographic areas. It’s the ultimate “chair” job, and it is something that my early times in SPE taught me to do effectively.

Overcoming the challenges in a cyclical industry

Many students began studying petroleum engineering, geology, and the hard sciences in a $100 oil world. What does the price drop mean for petroleum engineering job opportunities?

The most important thing for graduating petroleum engineers and young professionals is to realize that we are in a cyclical industry. One thing for certain—the conditions “will” change. If the price is good, it will fall. If it is poor, it will recover.

The only difference that I have seen in my career is that these cycles seem to be much tighter. The boom/bust cycle time has moved from decades to years, maybe even months.

A couple of tips: If the price is good and you are making good money and bonuses, don’t buy the fancy car and the big house. Buy the average car and the average house. Be moderate. Save a little for the downturn, which is sure to come. In the low-price scenario, you will be OK if you put a little money aside─you may lose your job, just be ready for it. When the market comes back, you will be ready for the next cycle.

Never assume that you are in a never-ending boom or bust. If you follow this advice, you will be fine.

With the potential recovery on the horizon, how can young professionals position themselves to grow through the eventual boom?

Think about papers. Think about committee work and plan to be effective with your volunteer time. Utilizing your extra time during slow market conditions is the key to being ready when things get busy.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the negative—do something positive. Write a paper, get another degree, join a technical committee. I have been very well rewarded in my career with the SPE-related activities that I engaged in when things were slow. Utilize the slowness, because a period of activity is always just around the corner.

How do you think individuals, particularly younger professionals, can help address issues around social license to operate, community consensus, and corporate social responsibility?

Big question! The new generation is yours. Things will be done differently in the future. As our Canadian Prime Minister (himself a pretty young guy) said last year: “We don’t choose between economy and environment; we choose ‘both.’”

Your generation will be critical for providing the energy needs of a population while exploiting that energy source as a good neighbor.

Two rules apply in this pursuit of community consensus and corporate social responsibility:

  • Look in the mirror. Don’t expect to give (design, execute) to others what you would not accept yourself. If you do that, you are a hypocrite. When I am negotiating for pipeline right-of-way on my farmland, I consider the need for shipping liquid products in that pipeline and how I enjoy the product as an end user. I can’t deny access for something that I use, if it is built in a manner to which I agree. Don’t ever give what you would not take.

  • Be the best that you can be technically. This is where SPE comes in. We want to help the individual member maximize technical competency, so that you can be the best. Don’t try to explain to the public why you are right, and they are not─Do better. Be better technically. Know your industry. Be competent in your technology. This is the way we will earn back the trust of the public. Be a better citizen. Be technically competent. Engage the community, and we will earn their trust.

What skills should students and young professionals develop today to help their career in the future? What opportunities and resources does SPE provide towards this?

Improve your technical competence any way you can. Read papers, attend conferences, write a technical paper, listen to lectures at your section level, and ask questions. Engage as a professional. Keep fresh technically. Then, work on the soft skills. Learn how to listen. Learn how to write and communicate effectively to non-engineers. Chair a meeting. Be a volunteer.

These skills will enhance your teamwork abilities and the comfort zone you will need to work with others in the future. I cannot stress enough the value of a well-rounded engineer. If you can, learn a new skill, take up a musical instrument or join a drama group. These all challenge the “other” side of our engineering brains and allow us to be more well-rounded people. SPE fosters so many of these passions and skills.

 Spady playing piano an hour before the 2018 SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference


Does SPE plan to increase involvement with young professionals groups and student chapters in 2018?

I am not sure if we are deliberately planning to increase involvement with young professionals as a goal, but personally I am very passionate about visiting as many young professionals as I can. You are our future!

Student chapters are a little different; we are looking for student chapters to increase in excellence, which does not mean more chapters. We want higher retention rates after graduation so that strong student members can become strong professional members.

Any other advice to recent graduates joining the oil patch today?

Yes, get used to cycles and plan appropriately. Own your space as a professional and be the best, the most competent professional that you can be. And please, don’t force on others what you wouldn’t accept yourself.

Better people make better engineers who, in turn, make better members of society. The world will need our energy sources for years to come, so let’s embrace energy of all forms to ensure global energy equality.

Also, read about the other forms of energy. I encourage you to visit EnAct, The Energy Action Project. This group was created with the goal to help rid the world of energy poverty. Its website contains great information on all sources of energy. Their work is a great topic for the “community moment” at the water cooler every morning. Check it out. Be a better person and consider others.


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