Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • Curtis H. Whitson
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  • MICHAEL J. FETKOVICH (1933-2020)



    MICHAEL JAMES FETKOVICH passed away February 3, 2020, at the age of 86. He was affiliated with Phillips Petroleum Company (now ConocoPhillips) during his entire career from 1954 to 1992.

    Mike was born March 11, 1933, to Michael and Anna Klacik Fetkovich in West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. He was the middle of three brothers, older Johnny and younger Raymond.

    After high school, Mike went to study petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. As his son Eddie explained in remarks at his father’s funeral,
    He wanted to escape the steel mills of West Aliquippa. That was his motivation. During college, he would walk a mile to the nearby bus station to take a bus five miles to the train station, to take a train 20 miles to Pittsburgh, to walk another mile to the University of Pittsburgh. He worked in the mill over breaks to earn money and lost most of his hearing in his left ear after a summer working too close to a 10-inch mill.

    Mike’s dedication and perseverance paid off, and he graduated at the top of his class with a BSc in 1954—the same year he married Emily Ann Bischak. But when it came to applying for a job, he had a great hurdle to overcome: a strong stutter. Most companies wouldn’t take a chance on him—he kept many of the rejection letters!

    Fortunately, Phillips Petroleum Company saw Mike’s potential and didn’t consider his speech to be a problem without a solution; they sent him to speech courses, and the rest is history. He eventually taught courses, conducted lectures, presented papers, and represented Phillips as a head technologist in some of the world’s largest oil and gas field developments. Meeting rooms had standing room only when Mike spoke, with lively discussions afterward—a far cry from his modest beginnings when he took his young wife to west Texas to work for Phillips, at first living in a company camp in the small town of Dumas.

    All who came in contact with him were struck by his acumen and insights. Mike “saw” equations and expressions as the daily tools of his engineering trade, and he was a master at synthesizing disparate information. Without doing the math he could spot a flaw and tell you where things were off!

    Mike Fetkovich is best known for work and publications in the following four areas: (1) modeling water influx into hydrocarbon reservoirs, (2) inflow performance models for gas and oil wells, (3) generalized decline curve analysis, and (4) commingled behaviors of hydrocarbon systems. The Fetkovich type curve, the linchpin for evaluating hydrocarbon reserves, is his legendary contribution.

    In 1989—35 years after he received his bachelor’s degree—he was awarded a PhD (dr.techn.) from the University of Trondheim (now Norwegian University of Science and Technology), based on 16 papers and publications he wrote during the quarter century from 1964 to 1988. An honorary member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, he was awarded its Reservoir Description and Dynamics Award in 1989, Lester C. Uren Award in 1993, and Anthony F. Lucas Gold Medal in 1999. In 2005 he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

    Mike Fetkovich lived with intensity in all aspects of life he considered important. Beyond technology and engineering, those areas included family, friends, fishing, food, and football, perhaps in that order also. His son Eddie reminisced at Mike’s funeral:
    If I had one wish, which is my fondest memory, it would be to hook up the brown boat behind the old (1964) blue Mercury and go fishing one more time with him, either up the Verdigris or on Grand Lake. It was our thing and we did it for years. He not only taught me how to fish during these outings, but also a lot of geology because of the formations that were exposed along the riverbank or shoreline. I still have that old Mercury and every time I look at it, I remember the years of going fishing, to the hardware store, to baseball practice, to church, to the grocery store, and on vacation.

    Mike is survived by children Michael (Soroush), Eddie (Kelly), and Kit Pouliot (Duane), 13 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by Emily (December 9, 2000) and their daughter Laura Ann Reeder, who died in 2016.

    The name Fetkovich has forever made its way into the annals of petroleum engineering. Mike, the person, made his way into the many lives around him, and he will continue to influence individuals for generations to come. As one admirer remarked, Mike was a national treasure.