A Chemist, a Cow, and Metallica Enter The All-Valley Karate Championship
After a long night on Bourbon Street
There’s probably not too many people reading this who would raise their hand if asked who has experienced a lock down with an active shooter. Probably fewer would be able to keep your hand raised if the follow-up was “while at a balcony party in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.” And yet, that is where I found myself the evening I met Tommy, who also happened to be introducing his two, brand-new, Canadian interns to the oilfield. One even became my colleague eventually when we were both at AFS. The lesson, as always, expect the unexpected…
Let me rewind.
I like problem solving. I like fire. Chemistry seemed like a good career choice.
I learned early on in graduate school I didn’t want a career in drug discovery grinding through infinity-plus-2-step reactions to produce 2.5 micrograms of a medicinal drug. I wanted to do something with what I created. I wanted to solve bigger problems and provide solutions. But going into the oilfield?! I really wasn’t sure about that at first. But I found myself sitting across the desk from my soon-to-be-boss talking about articulate scientists. His vision was to build a team of scientists capable of developing novel production chemicals AND have his team integrate within internal and external teams – namely O&G operators. We needed to be able to stand in front of everyone and defend product selections, qualification processes, assess risks, and interpret field behavior. In other words ensure we were going to solve a problem and not create 20 more. THAT sounded like something I could sink my teeth into. I jumped. Headfirst…and things started out as one might expect.
I’m not bragging when I say I’ve developed A LOT of hydrate inhibitors that have worked amazingly well…in the lab. Now, ask me how many I could get through an umbilical certification process with the formulation remaining intact. That’s a smaller list. And ask if everything still looks good when it gets put through the paces of a plant trial and the platform isn’t turned upside down because it created a sheen you could walk on across the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans? That list is even smaller.
The details were always different as projects shifted to other flow assurance disciplines, whether it was paraffin, scale, asphaltenes; or asset integrity or fluids separation. Sometimes we developed novel products and we patented them. Sometimes, it was an operational change, such as moving injection points or changing dose rates (or turning a chemical off…gasp!). It wasn’t lather, rinse, repeat per se, but the process was the same. And it translated globally. I have worked projects in the Middle East, North Sea, Eastern Med, West Africa, Western Australia, and in Unconventional Onshore. I have been part or many successful teams that have started up new fields and remediated flow line restrictions in brownfield operations. My teams have improved environmental footprints through reduced emissions, greener products, and productivity gains. I’ve made contributions to the industry that I am proud of and grateful to have been able to work with outstanding people.
You might be thinking, “So what?!” It isn’t what I and my team achieved or failed at. It is the process we developed that matters. I bring that problem solving skillset to Pontem. The experiences dealing with secondary and tertiary impacts created data I used and applied to ultimately reach a successful outcome. One must think holistically when thinking how to help solve a problem.
I met Tommy again (and Andrew) in 2014 when AFS invited me to speak at their inaugural “Thinking Beyond” event in Denver. While I felt I walked into a Punk’d episode when I saw my name on a Broncos locker nametag (cough Go Chiefs! cough), I was excited to speak at their event because I admired the AFS approach to industry challenges and overall problem solving. Their holistic approach and problem solving resonated with me. A year later they approached me about joining AFS. I was elbows deep in product development, laboratory tests, and field trials. AFS, at the time, was an engineering consultancy. How could I contribute? But they were going to build a lab. And in our world 1 + 1 = 3, so an engineering consultancy should definitely build a lab.
There was no talk of staying in our lane. Within 5 months we had a new vertical and we weren’t looking back. Our models were better because we put our hands on the fluids. Our lab tests were more applicable because we could build a model to represent what was happening in the field. I was learning flow assurance was a buzzword. We were dealing with the life cycle of wells, fields, platforms, and gathering systems.
My exposure to real world problem solving grew exponentially, and the industry was pivoting. The evolution of Deepwater projects was morphing from mammoth production platforms to subsea tiebacks. Companies were becoming leaner and were no longer taking 7 years to develop a project. This shift meant companies were no longer designing out a risk regardless of probability to “here’s our base plan for all Deepwater projects. Tell me why I should change it this time.” Neither approach is wrong. But the latter’s thought process became one of risk assessment: how likely will this happen and how bad will it be. And the value-add was to present options for everything, which ultimately helps our clients make intelligent decisions.
I was evolving, too. We weren’t isolating individual risks to address them in a vacuum, but were looking at multiple levels of challenges simultaneously. The amount of data we asked for was impressive, and the more data we were provided the better our solutions became. I enjoyed the challenges and the complexity.
Tommy and I took a call 14,200 ft above sea-level to discuss a well start-up located 2,000 ft below sea-level. That’s got to be some sort of record!
There’s something to be said for experience and applying known approaches to solving problems. When I think about that, I’m reminded of a Metallica concert I went to in Vegas a couple years ago. We had floor tickets and I distinctly remember the vibe was very different than Metallica concerts of the early 90’s. Apart from Lars’ mother being in attendance (also had floor tickets!!), people were taking in the show differently now: mostly bobbing their heads. There was a difference now compared to what it was like “back then.” I didn’t see any mosh pits. It crystallized for me while waiting in line I heard someone belt out their best Rick Flair “Whoooo! This is my FIRST METALLICA CONCERT!!” The guy behind me, who had an early 90’s concert shirt, replied, “Congratulations. This is my 52nd Metallica show. You still gotta wait in line.” Experience counts. Many of us had been to (multiple) Metallica shows. They’re so good! But now…there’s no need to get so rowdy that I can’t get off the couch for a week!
You may have read some articles from Pontem about our approach to problem solving, data analytics, and risk assessments. We are taking the process we developed in our previous lives and feel strongly it translates well in other arenas.
Some of the teasers released by Pontem have hinted we’re stepping out in other fields. We’ve talked about athletics and health. There’s nothing front page worthy when I say there’s a role for analytics in developing elite-level programs. You only need to look at any of the professional leagues to know this. But what about youth sports or yours truly participating in a life sport activity? Could a stroke analysis program on my daughter’s training regimen have kept her from being side-lined for most of her Freshman year? Maybe. Probably. I’m can’t wait to pull on this thread and see where it goes!
What about agriculture?! We’ve started talking to ranchers and we’re getting involved in life cycle challenges on the farm. Even smaller ranches can have several thousand head of cattle and decisions on feed, milking, reproduction, and many other aspects can have massive implications on their success. We want to apply our processes to their data.
We are ready to take our approach to any arena where data exists. And we’re unabashedly confident our success in the oilfield translates to many other fields. I’ll close with words of wisdom from the immortal Mr. Miyagi, “If do right, no can defense.” The crane…yes, you can defense. But not our process. Why’d you charge headfirst, Johnny?!