Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 13
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  • JOSEPH G. RICHARDSON 1923–2007


    JOSEPH G. RICHARDSON, founder of J. Richardson Consultants, Inc., a gentle man of integrity, courage, and purpose and one of the most prestigious reservoir engineers on the international scene, passed away peacefully at his home in Houston on November 18, 2007, at the age of 84.

    Joe was born in Gulf, Texas, on October 28, 1923, to Jane Allsup and David Richardson. At the time, Gulf, which is on the Intracoastal Canal, was a company town operated by the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company, with a population of 1,500 at its peak circa 1930; the number dwindled to a few hundred inhabitants when the nearby sulphur supply was exhausted. A new company town, Newgulf, was then established some 40 miles inland, and Joe attended high school in nearby Boling.

    Although Joe had his sights set on Rice University, he bowed to his father’s wishes and entered Texas A&M University. However, his studies were interrupted by his induction into the U.S. Army in 1943. His army training included electronics school at both Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), radar school at Eastern Signal Corps Training Center, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and antiaircraft artillery school at Camp Davis, North Carolina. Joe served as a radar maintenance and repair offi cer, Harbor Defenses of Balboa, Canal Zone. During his service he attained the rank of fi rst lieutenant; he received an honorable discharge in 1946. He then resumed his education, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M 1947 and a Master of Science degree in chemical engineering from MIT in 1948.

    After graduation, Joe began his career with Humble Oil & Refi ning Company; he remained with the company until he retired in 1986 when the company was known as Exxon. His pioneering studies on the effect of reservoir and fl uid properties and fl ooding rate on oil recovery led him to conclude that these factors would also have a signifi cant impact on the engineering of water fl oods in large reservoirs.

    By the early 1960s, Joe was an industry-recognized expert in reservoir engineering. Eventually, he was asked to manage study groups and provide advice on the relevant aspects of operating the Exxon’s most important oil and gas reservoirs. In this capacity, he presented the company’s position in technical and business discussions with his counterparts in competitor and national oil companies and at meetings around the world. He was especially effective at interacting with U.S. governmental agencies, competitor oil companies, and representatives of national oil companies and associated government entities. Within Exxon, he was well regarded and appreciated for his valuable advice on the technical management of major assets and his ability to interact both with domestic and international partners.

    Domestically, Joe was especially valued for his sustained efforts on the Prudhoe Bay oil fi eld—his reservoir analyses from soon after discovery (1968) to his testimony before the famous Prudhoe Bay Arbitration Panel (1983–1985), which was convened when the owners could not agree on equity involving 10 billion barrels of oil and 27 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Joe played a very large part in the Prudhoe Bay arbitration. As chief witness for Exxon on key reservoir issues, he underwent a grueling experience, not only because of the length of the testimony but also because of the cross-examination that followed. Recognition from Exxon included the Award of Excellence as Outstanding Lecturer for the Advanced Reservoir Engineering School which he received four times (in 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1980). After 38 years, Joe retired from Exxon Production Research (EPR) Company in 1986 as senior engineering scientist, the highest position on EPR’s professional ladder.

    Following retirement, Joe was president of J. Richardson Consultants, Inc., and a founder and partner of Richardson, Sangree & Sneider, both Houston-based consulting companies. He was a licensed professional engineer in Texas.

    Joe was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1988 “for pioneering studies of oil recovery by water fl ooding and water imbibition, and for development of broadly applicable reservoir engineering technology.” Unfortunately, by that time in his life, he was not very mobile. I remember well how he struggled up the steps to the podium with the help of his cane during the induction ceremony, his face fl ushed with physical effort. That event epitomizes two qualities of his character— tenacity and true grit. Joe had been partially paralyzed since 1968, long before the Prudhoe Bay arbitration, and his perseverance and determination to excel professionally and remain mobile and of good cheer was an inspiration to many.

    Joe also belonged to the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) and the American Petroleum Institute (API), but the SPE is the organization to which he was committed and which he loved. Before his retirement from Exxon, Joe chaired many SPE committees, most of them dealing with publications, culminating in his election as SPE’s fi rst senior technical editor (from 1976 to 1979), responsible for the peer review of papers published in the two SPE journals. His commentary columns on the contents of the Journal of Petroleum Technology were typical Joe—terse and to the point.

    Joe also served on many other committees, chairing one on awards. He was a member of the SPE Board of Directors from 1980 to 1982. He received the Lester C. Uren Award from SPE in 1977, the DeGolyer Distinguished Service Medal in 1978, and the Legion of Honor Award in 1988. SPE named him a Distinguished Member in 1983 and an SPE Honorary Member in 1987. In 1988, he was named an Honorary Member of The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME).

    In my estimation, Joe’s most far-reaching and signifi cant publications were “Differences in Behavior of Fresh and Aged East Texas Woodbine Cores” (1955), “A Laboratory Investigation of the Effect of Rate on Recovery of Oil by Water Flooding” (1957), and “Theory and Application of Imbibition Phenomena in Recovery of Oil” (1959), all published by SPE. These three papers laid the foundation for understanding how oil recovery from water fl oods in large reservoirs is impacted by interactions of reservoir and fl uid properties and fl ooding rate. These early, related publications established Joe as a world-class expert in reservoir engineering.

    Joe is survived by his wife of 36 years, Patricia Richardson, sons Joseph G. Richardson, Jr., Jonathan R. Richardson, Joel G. Richardson, daughter Janet G. Richardson, and brothers William H. Richardson and Charles W. Richardson (wife JoAnn).

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