DOI: 10.2118/0124-0018-jpt ISSN: 0149-2136

A Millenium’s Worth of Good Ideas: Celebrating 10 of the Biggest Upstream Innovations Since 1999

Trent Jacobs
  • Strategy and Management
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Industrial relations
  • Fuel Technology

You’ve read it in the editorials of JPT or heard it preached from the podium at one of the industry’s technical conferences over the years: The oil and gas industry is notoriously slow to innovate and adopt new technologies.

But what if it just wasn’t so?

Since 1999, the slow-moving oil and gas industry has only managed to push the needle from 75 million B/D to more than 102 million B/D—a remarkable 36% increase in global supply.

This growth came in spite of what turned out to be fairly valid concerns openly expressed by many a quarter century ago that all the so-called “easy oil” had been discovered.

Much of the world’s new supply indeed flows out from complex and/or difficult-to-access reservoirs that in 1999 were far from the minds of most. This includes the rise of the North America’s tight oil and gas plays, the deepwater sector, and a myriad of other megaprojects from Sakhalin to Kashagan to Manifa that have each pushed the petroleum engineering envelope to new limits.

This is to say that the year 1999 represents an interesting turning point in the industry’s technological journey. It was a time when industry professionals, along with the rest of the word, were wondering what changes a new millennium would bring.

As it turned out, many of the key technologies that made the aforementioned developments and others possible were just emerging in 1999 but the impact they would soon have was hardly clear.

1999 is also a useful signpost because odds are, the time that has passed since represents the majority or the entirety of your career—this is your defining era.

According to our data, the average age of SPE membership in 2022 was 48. This would make the average member a 24-year-old back in 1999 which suggests that most of those reading this were at that point still in petroleum engineering school or just getting their feet wet in the industry.

It’s also the case that 1999 was the last time JPT editors took the opportunity to celebrate the publication as it turned 50 years old that year.

Now, as JPT welcomes its 75th anniversary, we are once again reflecting on the progress that’s filled the pages of this publication.

As I thought of ways to commemorate the moment, one of the ideas that came to mind was a list of the most impactful technological developments to arise since our last big birthday bash. To keep the exercise focused I considered only those technologies which have led to some significant change in the core disciplines of drilling, completions, and reservoir engineering.

Lists are nothing new to us and, in fact, my late father penned one several years ago for JPT.

Steve Jacobs, an offshore roughneck turned oilfield entrepreneur and lifetime SPE member, acknowledged that list making is a tricky business in a guest editorial written about his top 10 all-time great oilfield technologies back in 2010.

His way of measuring a technology’s impact boiled down to how hard it would be for the industry to live without it. The biggest pitfall of the exercise, though, is that there are always a few technologies left off that warrant reconsideration.

“But,” as my father wrote, “that is the fun of compiling such a list—discussing and arguing which ‘players’ should make such an all-star, all-time ‘team.’”

With that, and in no particular order, I present my selection of the top 10 technological breakthroughs of the past quarter century.

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