History of Petroleum Abstracts

The late 1950s was not a good time for the petroleum industry. Following the resolution of the Suez crisis of 1956, a surplus of crude developed. Declining oil prices and price wars at the gasoline pumps eroded the economics of the industry. In this economic framework, information managers at several major oil companies saw the need for a cost-saving, centralized information service. They envisioned a periodical containing abstracts of technical articles and patents in the area of petroleum exploration and production.

Dr. Scott W. Walker, Dean of Petroleum Sciences and Engineering at The University of Tulsa, recognized this as an opportunity for the university to apply its uncommon set of assets and technical talent to serve a vital worldwide industry and, in return, to enhance its reputation. Walker used his influence in the industry and his powers of persuasion to establish this E&P information service at the university.

Walker appointed Dr. E. T. Guerrero, then Chair of Petroleum Engineering, to organize and direct the new service. Guerrero began the tasks of recruiting staff to build an organization, working with subscribers to design the service, and solving countless problems associated with starting a new publication. Volume 1, Number 1 of the weekly Petroleum Abstracts bulletin was published on January 7, 1961.

From 1961 through 1964, subscribers to Petroleum Abstracts received the weekly bulletin and abstract card sets derived from that publication. During 1964, a retrospective retrieval system was designed that would make use of the best of available technology. The result was a new retrieval service, available for an additional subscription fee. The foundation of this service was the Exploration and Production Thesaurus, created to define the terminology of the petroleum E&P industry.

In the mid-1970s, the information industry began to adopt a new paradigm -- online searching. Previously, most retrospective searching had been done locally, utilizing the sequential search programs of the era. Online searching made use of two new technologies: direct access computer data storage and long-haul, value-added telecommunication networks.

Initially, Petroleum Abstracts subscribers were skeptical of the economics of online searching. In early 1975, intense discussions were held with the service's industry advisory council about making the material contained on PA's Master Record Tapes available through one of the online services. The result of these discussions was the establishment of the TULSA file on the ORBIT search service in October 1975. TULSA initially contained only citations for the abstracts published from 1965 (the first entry number was 50,001) and was updated monthly.

In 1981, PA made a major improvement to the TULSA file by adding abstract text from abstracts published in the Petroleum Abstracts bulletin since 1978, plus some 20,000 abstracts in the technical area of enhanced recovery that were published from 1965 through 1977. In addition, a weekly updating frequency was initiated. Recently, the full complement of abstracts from 1965 through 1977 was added to the file.

Petroleum Abstracts entered the 1990s well-established as the leading abstracting and indexing service for the exploration and production sector of the petroleum industry. Most of the world's largest E&P companies and national oil companies, and a significant number of Service and Supply companies, are today subscribers.

Petroleum Abstracts has also continued to keep abreast of developments in information technology. In a major break from the past, all of PA's products are now electronically distributed. The weekly bulletin is sent by electronic mail, either in full or with selective sections. The two thesauri and their supplements have been replaced by the web-based search aids product, Bricks. These developments have provided a major improvement in usability and economy to PA's subscribers.

This brief history has, of necessity, failed to mention dozens of people who made significant contributions to the service. Their efforts have made Petroleum Abstracts what it is today: a vigorous service, adapting technology to achieve its mission of providing the best in information services and products for the petroleum exploration and production industry.

For a more detailed history, download John A. Bailey's "It Has to be Good: A History of the Petroleum Abstracts Service at The University of Tulsa" (pdf format).


Dr. E.T. Guerrero image

Dr E.T.Guerrero, Founding Director of Petroleum Abstracts