In Episode 7 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson interviewed the host of The Energy Talk podcast, Olubunmi Olajide, in their Talking Points section. In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester spoke more with Olu about his childhood growing up in Africa and his thoughts on the energy transition and energy access in the developing world.
Imagine, if you would, that you’re a young, soon-to-be mother living in Nigeria in the late 1990s. You live a good life; certainly not without its challenges, but overall, you’re happy. You made the decision to start a family, and you’ve successfully carried to term the miracle of life—a baby boy. One fateful evening, you go into labor and are rushed to the hospital, as one would expect. As the minutes turn into hours, however, you cannot naturally deliver the baby. Frantic, the doctors decide to do an emergency caesarean section to save you and the child’s life. The problem? The hospital doesn’t have power, so the doctors will need to do the operation by candlelight.
Does this sound like something out of a horror film, or perhaps, something from a century ago, before the advent of industrialized power via low-cost, abundant energy resources? Unfortunately, this is the reality for millions of people in what are commonly called “developing countries”—those with a less developed industrial base and a lower Human Development Index—and Nigeria is one such country. The story above has a happy ending, as the mother was able to give birth naturally to a healthy baby boy, Olubunmi Olajide, or Olu, as friends call him. For many others, the ending was far grislier.
The circumstances of his birth, as well as the natural conditions in his home country, informed Olu’s worldview from a young age. Olu recognized that there was something fundamentally broken about the way the system worked, with power outages—or a lack of power altogether—common. Comforts and technologies that are so engrained in Western life, like air conditioning and heat, laptops and cell phones, certainly existed, but they were by no means in every home. This segues nicely into the concept of Western privilege, the fact that most of us enjoy an incredible standard of living without fully comprehending how fortunate we really are. Think about your life: can you walk into your home and turn on the air conditioning and the television without so much as a second thought? Does a robot vacuum keep your floors clean with the press of a button on your cell phone? Do you get in a vehicle and drive wherever you want to go on streets and highways?
The answer is almost surely “yes,” though it wouldn’t be in many places in the world. Seeing the discrepancy and wanting to act, Olu endeavored to be part of the energy conversation. With oil and gas being a critical industry in Nigeria and an enormous driver of the country’s growth, Olu decided he would follow a path of study that would allow him to be more than a spectator. Attending Near East University in 2014 to get his Bachelor of Science degree in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering, he found ways to get involved that would not only allow him to advance his career but to gain knowledge critical to understanding energy politics, economics, and the environment. With ESG concerns on the rise, Olu knew that to stay relevant, simply learning about technical topics wouldn’t be enough, complementing field internships with WorleyParsons (now Worley) and Boaz Integrated Energy with continuing study around climate change and environmental stewardship, including time with the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. The result? A phenomenally well-rounded individual who can articulate the need for different types of energy while acknowledging the fundamental and long-term role that hydrocarbon exploration and production has in powering the world—especially in developing countries where implementing renewable energy at scale is virtually impossible.
A topic Olu speaks on frequently is energy access, the lack of which is all too real for the roughly 789 million people without access to electricity and 2.8 billion people without access to clean cooking. The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that “Modern energy services are crucial to human well-being and to a country’s economic development. Access to modern energy is essential for the provision of clean water, sanitation, and healthcare and for the provision of reliable and efficient lighting, heating, cooking, mechanical power, transport, and telecommunications services.” For many people reading this article, energy access isn’t a topic they’ve ever had to deeply consider, but take a country like Nigeria, for example—would anyone argue that having a child in a hospital room lit only by a candle is having proper access to energy? Of course not. Defining and reinforcing what we would broadly call “modern energy access,” the IEA provides several core criteria for consideration:
- Household access to a minimum level of electricity.
- Household access to safer and more sustainable (i.e. minimum harmful effects on health and the environment as possible) cooking and heating fuels and stoves.
- Access to modern energy that enables productive economic activity, e.g. mechanical power for agriculture, textile, and other industries.
- Access to modern energy for public services, e.g. electricity for health facilities, schools, and street lighting.
The purpose of this article isn’t to call out Nigeria, or any other developing country, for lacking the infrastructure to broadly support modern energy access; rather, it is to focus on the discrepancy between perceived energy access via renewables, particularly as portrayed in the popular media, and what’s really taking place across the world. One thing that Olu notes is that while he is in favor of approaching the energy transition and climate change respectfully and intelligently, there is simply no way that renewables as an energy source can supplant the energy provided by the oil and gas industry in a country like Nigeria. “Renewable energy,” when implemented without scale, might mean a tiny solar panel that could power several household appliances, or a couple of light bulbs. It might mean a solar-powered water pump that helps get water out of a single well in a rural village. The chance for this to change dramatically in the near term is low, as only 12% of an estimated $21.4 billion in international financial flows to developing countries in support of clean and renewable energy reach the least-developed countries. Wanting to do good and drive positive change in the world is noble; denying reality, however, is meaningless.
It is perplexing that the topic of energy access is underdiscussed on both sides of the aisle. Olu seeks, via his work on a podcast that he founded in 2019 called The Energy Talk, to rectify the issue, providing clearer perspective on how the oil and gas and renewable energy industries can work together to effectively meet climate goals while improving the quality of life for people around the world. He tells the stories of the men and women at work across industries, sharing candid interviews about who they are, what they do, and why they do it. He starts dialogues to bring together people in collaboration and knowledge sharing, not confrontation and hostility. Olu often appears as a guest host on another podcast, The Titans of Nuclear, to explore the role of nuclear energy as another viable power source. And, at the end of the day, Olu knows the undeniable criticality of hydrocarbons to life as we know it—and is thankful for the quality-of-life improvements throughout the past century, made possible by the oil and gas industry, that would have been unfathomable to our ancestors.
One might hope that via his podcast Olu will, to borrow a line from Zbigniew Herbert, “cast into the garish light of obviousness” the ongoing need for hydrocarbons, even in a world that regularly takes great pains to demonize them. In the developing world, there is simply no alternative that is even remotely comparable from a cost or scaling perspective, at least with where the world is now—and that’s the thing: it’s where we are now. The possibilities for the future are limitless, and Olu would be the first to tell you that he wholeheartedly believes that renewable energy is an important part of the solution. We are stronger together, and people like Olu are doing their best to make sure that all sides are represented, and viewpoints respected, as we navigate the increasingly complex topics that are ESG and the energy transition.
-  https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/May/Tracking-SDG7-The-Energy-Progress-Report-2020
-  https://www.iea.org/articles/defining-energy-access-2020-methodology
-  https://www.iea.org/articles/defining-energy-access-2020-methodology
-  https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/May/Tracking-SDG7-The-Energy-Progress-Report-2020
-  https://poems.com/poem/five-men/
In a special bonus article for OGGN Perspective, contributing writer Stephen Forrester had a chance to speak with a long-time NOV welder and training instructor, Luis Medrano. In Part II of the article, Luis talks about continuing to grow with Quality Tubing, training people from around the world on welding procedures for different coiled tubing strings, his role assisting new product development with new ideas for better designs, and advice he gives to his son to make sure you’re always happy at your job.
As time went on, Luis stayed at Quality Tubing, continuing to grow personally and professionally. Wanting to better himself, he went back to school and got an associate degree from San Jacinto college in welding. “I really did learn a lot from the program,” he says. “It was really good for me.”
He also got married and had children, and through family life and his schooling, he kept working. Luis’ ability to continue pushing forward during these challenging times was not only due to his innate drive and tenacity, but because he had the support of a company and group of people he worked with that had become a family. The benefits he was getting from Quality Tubing, as well, were better than those usually given to people in his job category. Working for Quality Tubing and later NOV, he fondly notes, had been good for him, had given him chances that most people didn’t get.
“You really can go from the very bottom up to the top here,” he says with a smile. “You can go from a helper to leading an operation, to supervising people. And I’ve always been really proud of that.”
Companies often talk about career mobility, how desire and drive are enough to help you transition from one place to another, so this concept resonates with me. Seeing it put into practice with someone who transformed over such a long time is truly awesome, and it speaks to the culture Quality Tubing has built.
Luis didn’t go back into welding, instead becoming the de facto king of training at Quality Tubing. “I was training not only all of our internal people but also customers and outside welders on welding procedures,” he says, “and they came from all over. If they buy our product, they can come here, and we’ll train them.” Leading a 2-week course, Luis trains even inexperienced welders in Quality Tubing techniques, taking them from zero to hero in record time consistently each time. This way, customers don’t have to keep bringing back strings for repair or don’t have to hire third-party welding companies each time. It’s a value-add that gets baked into everything, starting right at the initial sale.
“It not only helps our internal people get trained up on the best way to do things,” Kevin chimes in, “but it really is a valuable sales tool for us. This isn’t the way things are normally done.”
People from across the world have come to Luis’ training classes, from virtually every continent and more countries than he can remember. “One guy,” Luis says, “came from Indonesia, and he didn’t speak any English. So, communicating was difficult, but we made it happen; we made it work, with sounds and this kind of sign language we developed. And at the end, he could make a really nice weld, and he left the training course happy.”
One thing I haven’t explored is the relationship between Luis and Kevin, so I dig a bit more. Turns out that though Luis functionally reports to Kevin, theirs is very much a relationship of partners, of collaborators. Luis ends up being included in virtually everything related to new product development and new procedures, from concept to final execution, as welding is at the core of all that Quality Tubing does. Having Luis involved also eliminates the need for retraining as procedures are implemented and revised. One great example is the recent development of procedures for NOV’s new advanced thermally processed (ATP) coiled tubing product, commonly referred to as “quench and temper” coiled tubing. While this product was still in the earliest stages, Luis started working on the welding procedures.
“It’s really one of the best things we’ve ever done,” Kevin proclaims, “making up the weld procedures before the materials even arrived.”
Luis adds, “With Kevin being in new product development, he’ll come to me at the beginning, and we’ll talk about it, discuss what we want to do, what we want to accomplish. And then we’ll do the welds, and we’ll test them, and if they work, they work.” The end goals of establishing these kinds of procedures are to achieve greater consistency and repeatability in manufacturing design, and to enable the welders to do their job the same day that Quality Tubing gets the steel in. This is now the gold standard for how products and procedures will be developed moving forward, minimizing downtime between the starting point and shipping something out to a customer as well as the necessary amount of training. Luis is the first stage gate in a very important process.
“The more you do something, the better you become,” Luis offers, “and you have to love what you do. So, we’ve kept getting better and better over the years.” Things have changed a lot since Luis started in 1989, like dramatic improvements in technology. This, combined with better training, has meant that what three people used to do on one bias line, three people can now do on two bias lines—a 100% increase in productivity. “It can be hard to adjust to that change,” Luis admits, “but we had to. And you know what? It benefitted us in the end.” Embracing change made the job more fun, with Luis explaining that the human element has become one of his greatest joys over the years. “Welders can be quite…” he says, looking around as though someone might overhear us, “…characters,” and, grinning, “yeah, quite characters.”
It’s that challenge of figuring people out—what makes them tick, how to motivate and inspire them—that’s helped Luis come to love training with the same passion that he originally loved welding all those years ago. That’s why he takes a selfie with his students at the end of every 2-week training session, making them feel human, valued. That’s why he started working on training manuals for Spanish speakers, helping those in his native language with technical translations. “It really is remarkable,” Kevin says proudly, “to have a technical translator that’s also a welder and a trainer. It’s unheard of.” Luis, humble, looks away in a bit of embarrassment. He deserves the praise, but he eschews it. “It’s a team effort,” he says, “it really is everyone coming together.”
After celebrating his 32-year milestone with the company this year, Luis ends the interview with a very poignant reflection.
“This is what I tell my son: that you need to go work every day like it’s your first day at work. If you can do that, if you can honestly do that, you’ll last a long time.”
It was so simple, yet so profound. I simply fell silent.
We must capture that nervous excitement, that joy, that positive energy and motivation and desire to succeed, and remember it, and make every day like our first. We can all get burned out in our jobs, feel underappreciated, become overburdened with too much or not challenged enough. But if we take Luis’ advice, we push past it all. We’re better than that. We’re thankful for what we have, the opportunities we’ve been given, and the chance to do more, to be more. I’m so grateful to have met Luis and been reminded of this very important fact.
All images are copyright of NOV and used with permission.
In a special bonus article for OGGN Perspective, contributing writer Stephen Forrester had a chance to speak with a long-time NOV welder and training instructor, Luis Medrano. In Part I of the article, Luis recalls his earliest days at the company, his excitement at striking his first arc, and how writing the company’s training manual for welding processes led him down an entirely new path.
On the journey along U.S. Route 90, the landscape begins to flatten out, and yards with tubulars from various manufacturing companies seem to be the only businesses. I’m going to visit NOV’s Quality Tubing facility on Sheldon Road, where the company manufactures coiled tubing strings and puts them on giant reels to ship out to customers. Today, I’ll have the pleasure of talking with a long-time welder, Luis Medrano.
Kevin Elliott, Product Line Director for Quality Tubing, greets me at the reception desk, and Luis, the Welding Specialist, is close behind. We set up shop in a conference room after navigating through the halls of the building and start chatting. I explain to Luis why I want to do this, why it’s important—that manufacturing people are the backbone of the business, and without them NOV would have no products to sell to customers, no innovation to discuss in papers and articles. For a company like NOV, such people really are at the very heart and soul of what the company does. It’s imperative that the industry captures that and remind these folks that what they do matters, that they’re critical to our success. Luis is on board, and he’s eager to tell his story.
“It was 1989,” Luis begins, “and I was 20 years old. I was already working, but a friend of mine told me about this company, talking about this shop that was opening soon. My brother, at the time he didn’t have a job. So, I got the address and decided to go over there and get him an application.”
It turned out that Luis got a little more than he bargained for when a passionate receptionist saw something in him and basically forced him to apply, as well. After some persuading, Luis ended up filling out an application—and no sooner than he got home, the phone rang with an interview request. “I came in the same day,” he continued, “and had an interview, and it went really well. And it turned out, I graduated from North Shore High School in 1987, and the guy that did the interview was also a North Shore graduate. He wanted to know who I was, and we had that connection.” No physical, no paperwork; Luis was hired on the spot. His brother, you might ask? Never even filled out the application.
Luis admits that when he started, he knew nothing.
“Before that, I’d been working at the Port of Houston,” he says, “working on heavy equipment, stuff like that—a stevedore. But I didn’t know anything about coiled tubing.”
The first job Luis had at Quality Tubing actually wasn’t as a welder, but as a hydrotester. “The way we used to do it, there was no bias weld like now with continuous tubing—so we would run a strip into tube form, put it in a warehouse on the back side of the building. And whenever we had to do a string, we’d do the tube-to-tube welds until we completed the footage we wanted at the time.” Luis’ job: hydrotest the strings. “It was easy,” he laughs, “put the pressure, put the time, and if it doesn’t blow up, it’s good, and you go to the next one.” After transferring to a new building, he moved into the service department, where they were spooling and respooling the strings. He was fascinated by the mill, by welding, by all the processes, and eventually convinced George Adams, the plant supervisor, to bring him on to the welding team.
“I’d never struck an arc before in my life,” he chuckles, “and then, I ended up working as a splice welder, which is just a stick weld, putting two pieces together enough to hold. And with a little bit of training, I was able to do it pretty well.”
The bias line, though, which involved plasma arc welding, was something that really caught Luis’ eye. It was a big secret at the time, tucked away behind a huge fence, only authorized personnel allowed anywhere near it, as there was a pending patent on the process. Through his recognized skill and a stroke of luck with that welding line needing help, Luis ended up moving over to plasma arc welding. “After I went over there, I ended up staying. And then, I ended up learning more and more, because we were developing new things, working on automatic processing plasma welds.”
Luis was always driven by his passion, by a desire to do more and be more, and he was always genuinely interested in the work being done, the advancements in welding and coiled tubing. “I was hungry,” he says, proudly, “I was ready to do more. I wanted to keep learning, and I had so many opportunities on the job to do that. They took the time to train me—to help me learn while working, more like an apprenticeship.” In addition to welding, he also got some time to do nondestructive test inspections on welds, something Quality Tubing trained him in. Being an inspector might not have been his goal, but it helped him build up an already impressive skill set and knowledge base. To keep advancing in his career, that trust in him and desire to support him was what set Quality Tubing apart. But after a short time as an inspector, he went back to his original passion—welding—until he hit almost 17 years of experience with the craft.
One day, then-manager Danny Garcia came to Luis with a new proposition: help him create a training manual for all the welding processes from the ground up. “Danny came to me and said, ‘Luis, I’m gonna get you off the lines,’” Luis recalls, “‘and I’m gonna set you up in a new office, and I want you to write down everything you know, from A to Z, about the bias line. And then we’ll use that for training.” The task was daunting; given 8 months and little other direction, Luis had barely even used a computer in his previous job, much less taken the time to ever write down how he did what he did.
“My deal was that I worked with my hands all the time,” he notes, somewhat bashfully, “but not on a computer! I was a welder, and I wondered why he was having me do all this.”
One course on Microsoft Office later, Luis was blazing through the training manual at breakneck speed, and the result was a chronicle of every single step in the process: making a bias weld, loading the strip, and everything that came before, after, and in the middle. Each item was laid out in painstaking detail—“why we did this, why we did that,” Luis notes with a sigh, almost as though back in time, the monumental task before him—so that anyone could take the training document and use it to become something of an expert on the topic. Luis did all this with virtually no training himself, operating on instinct and memory to make sure everything was captured and correct. The final product was a resounding success, with training times being reduced by up to 66%.
Luis thought his creation of the training procedures was a one-off thing, that he was soon headed back to the line to continue welding. What he really wanted to do, however, was run the mill, learn yet another new process, another type of welding, the high-frequency induction weld. Danny had other plans for him, though. “Danny said he wanted me to train his people,” Luis remembers, “and I told him I didn’t want to do that.” Kevin bursts into laughter. “I wanted to run the mill.” A few conversations later, the training job stuck, and Luis saw a new path open before him. “I didn’t even know how to do tube-to-tube welds,” he notes, “so I insisted that I get training on them. How could I train people to do that type of weld when I couldn’t even do it myself?” A week later, Luis was certified on QT-900, NOV’s conventional coiled tubing with a minimum yield strength of 90,000 psi. He feared the worst; that being forced to do what he didn’t really want to do was the precursor to him being let go for some reason. A conversation with Dan Dennis, then the Quality Tubing Vice President of Manufacturing, changed his mind, with Dan telling him that this gift of teaching others was meant to be shared.
“Dan told me, ‘Luis, if you know the subject, you can teach it. You don’t have to be an expert—you become an expert. You’re the person I need for this.’ And I thought, thank God I had this opportunity.”
Be sure to check out Part II of the article, where Luis talks about continuing to grow with Quality Tubing, training people from around the world on welding procedures for different coiled tubing strings, his role assisting new product development with new ideas for better designs, and advice he gives to his son to make sure you’re always happy at your job.
All images are copyright of NOV and used with permission.
In Episode 5 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson interviewed Brady Neal, President and CEO of CORROSOURCE, on the company’s innovative WellSiteSentry solution. In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester got a chance to talk with Brady about his career and life. In Part II, Brady discusses how his passion for people and protecting human life led him to creating WellSiteSentry, a fundamental reimagining of wellsite safety, as well as his thoughts on co-founding a commercial insurance agency and piloting a full risk intelligence program.
Brady’s passion for safety and desire to do something truly different led to a deep dive into what such a service might look like and how to execute on full integration. It ended up being a combination of technology, emergency response systems, and professional first responders. Branded “WellSiteSentry,” the idea was that with this offering, you always had a vigilant third party watching over your site, keeping your people and assets safe. Brady and his partner got this idea off the ground while continuing to manage the other aspects of the business and while Brady was still working his full-time job in law enforcement.
Stretched thin, Brady hit his 10-year anniversary on the police force, resigned, and dedicated himself full time to CORROSOURCE and the mission of WellSiteSentry. He and his partner ended up deciding to divest the well servicing division to streamline their services and focus more closely on their truly differentiated offerings. Revenue increased significantly from one year to the next as interest in what they were doing peaked. Then, 2020 happened, and with commodity prices stagnating and the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changing short-term oil consumption and operator drilling and completion patterns, activity slowed to a crawl. There were times when Brady wanted to give up, when things seemed like they were on the brink of failure.
“But what we have is different,” he says, “because it’s not just a piece of equipment we send downhole to collect data. It’s about people. It’s about protecting those people. It’s rewarding to provide a service that has the potential to save someone’s life, to prevent a catastrophic incident.”
Brady’s seen enough instances of the value of what he’s doing to keep him going, even through the challenges and constant ups and downs of running a small business. In one instance, Brady left a wellsite and came across a car wreck on the side of the road. His law enforcement gene kicking in, he pulled over to help, but the driver was unconscious. A second driver pulled over to call 911. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Twelve minutes. The woman was coming around and bleeding profusely from her head. And finally, the ambulance came—but what if it had been too late? In remote areas, the possibility is all too real.
“Let’s say there’s an incident on the wellsite, and this guy or gal is bleeding out,” Brady comments, “well, to know that we have an EMT onsite who’s trained in tourniquets, trained in triage and first aid, trained to save lives—that always affirms for me that we’re going down the right path. We’ll have someone right there, not having to wait for someone to arrive. Imagine if that was a family member. Wouldn’t you want that for them?”
It just makes so much sense that one doesn’t really know what to say in response. Of course you’d want that for a family member. Shouldn’t companies invest in their people in the same way? Why isn’t this solution on every single wellsite in America?
The most impactful story Brady tells was of a consultant working on a KLX Energy Services frac site. When this burly gentleman made his way into the WellSiteSentry command center, Brady thought for sure that he’d be skeptical of what they were doing there. “I thought he’d get mad about having this thing out on his site, ask us what we were doing there, you know, try and run us off,” he laughs, “but then, I started showing him the thermal imaging, the triage unit back in the back, everything we had there. And he was taking it all in.” This man had worked across the world in practically every environment you can imagine, and he admitted that he’d never seen such a forward-thinking approach to first aid and emergency response on the wellsite. He sat down, and a pensive look came across his face. Those in the command center knew he was contemplating telling a story.
“And then he said,” Brady remembers, ‘Boy, I would have given anything to have had this on the site where my friend died.’”
It turned out that the man had been at an extremely remote site working a project when one of his best friends—also working on the site—went into cardiac arrest. Rushing to him, the consultant did compressions and CPR. Due to the location, the quickest help that could come would be an airlift via helicopter. It was already too late, however; he quite literally held his friend in his arms as he died. “I would have given anything,” he says, again, somber, “anything, to have had a service like this on that site.” It’s moments like that where it all just makes sense for Brady.
“If one life is saved because we’re on a site—and of course, we pray we don’t have to do that—but if we save one life, it’s all worth it,” he reflects. “How can you put a value on human life? You can’t. If one of our guys can step in and save someone’s life, all the heartache, all the sweat, blood, and tears we’ve put into this thing…it’s all worth it.”
At WellSiteSentry, people are at the core of everything. Minutes and seconds matter when human life is involved, and on land, the people on the site just aren’t trained in the same way as legitimate medical personnel. Furthermore, they don’t have the time or resources to do full pre-operational checks for local and regional emergency response options. Why force our people to shoulder a significant emotional burden and liability when there’s a solution waiting to be implemented?
The future for Brady is taking all of this and bringing it together with full risk intelligence. He has a vision to take the data from surface and turn it into an algorithm for underwriting and risk mitigation. Starting a commercial insurance agency with a friend, he’s seen impressive ways to use data and data analytics as part of a national pilot program with 13 agencies chosen to implement a new platform. The program informed his desire to build something that extends even further beyond what WellSiteSentry currently offers to fundamentally change how this part of the industry operates. “I get excited when I think about transforming what was once fire suppression and medical response to an ecosystem of risk intelligence feeding back to an underwriter or a stakeholder, an investor. It also has direct ESG implications.”
Think about your car insurance plan, for example, and the way the premium can change based on driving patterns and usage habits. Why couldn’t we theoretically do the same thing for the oil and gas industry? Risk intelligence brings together all that data in real time, so someone always knows how many people are on a site, what they’re doing, what equipment they’re operating, and so on, taking a holistic view of risk based on those changing factors. Then, this could directly impact a risk score—calculated by the algorithm continuously crunching the real-time data—which could cause certain premiums to go up or down based on the level of risk. It’s about being proactive, about understanding what’s going on with your site and your people at all times, and Brady thinks companies should be incentivized to implement such a program, with drilling contractors, operators, and service companies somehow working together to build a new model. “Should, say, a completions company that’s 10 times safer than another one be paying the same premium? Is that right?”
Brady admits it’s a kind of pie-in-the-sky idea at this point, as it requires a paradigm shift in how we think about safety. Still, he hopes we get there in the future, and he hopes he can continue to play a part in the journey. It is, after all, all about people.
In Episode 5 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson interviewed Brady Neal, President and CEO of CORROSOURCE, on the company’s innovative WellSiteSentry solution, which addresses the need for greater safety at the wellsite. In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester got a chance to talk with Brady about his career and life. In Part I, Brady talks about his early career revitalizing two failing franchises, how a servant mentality drove him to pursue a lengthy career in law enforcement, and how an itch to do more inspired him to co-found an oilfield service company focusing on corrosion control.
From a young age, CEO of CORROSOURCE, Brady Neal, had a mind for what he jokingly called “tinkering,” an entrepreneurial spirit that drove him to want to create. He liked building things as a child, working with electronics in his spare time. Brady always had a feeling that his career trajectory wouldn’t end up with him at a desk job, as he found that his passions always shifted when he was bored, an itch to do more. After graduating college with a finance degree, Brady thought that he’d take the normal path of working in the banking system and moving his way up into an investment banker position with a large company. Wanting to help others invest their money responsibly so that they could build a future and provide for their families, Brady started as a teller and quickly made his way into corporate banking. About 2 years in, Brady realized that he needed more.
“I didn’t want to be the guy,” he recalls, “sitting on the other side of the desk, listening to peoples’ dreams, and letting them live out that opportunity without going after my own dreams.”
He’d gotten married in 2006, and his wife’s mother and sister had franchises in the area that sold window coverings called Budget Blinds. When his mother-in-law recognized that two of the stores were failing, Brady was presented with a unique opportunity to take equity in the franchise to turn those faltering stores around. In a twist that any married person can likely chuckle at, Brady’s first venture with his wife, a year into their marriage, was to start a business with her, her mother, and her sister. Fortunately, the innate drive of both Brady and his wife—“She could sell anything,” he laughs—and their entrepreneurial spirits helped them transform the failing franchises into some of the top performing franchises in the nation, learning all the while about what it took to run and grow a business. It was near the end of 2007, however, and the writing was on the wall for the looming financial crisis. “We were getting worried about the crisis,” he admits, “so we put the franchises on the market, and we were blessed enough to sell them and get out from underneath them.”
The sale injected fresh capital into the family’s bank account, but it came with its own problem: Brady was back to square one. What to do with his passion now that he was effectively unemployed? Drawing on a servant mentality that he recognized manifested in his teenage years—“I wasn’t a party kid,” he declares, “I was a storm spotter, for crying out loud!”—Brady took a step no one saw coming: he decided to join law enforcement.
“I always had that desire to serve,” he says, “to serve my community, to give back.”
With the job market relatively slow, Brady confided in his wife his desire, and she was admittedly a bit taken aback by the sudden change. Applying for the role with the promise of getting back into banking should his application be rejected, Brady ultimately succeeded in joining the police force. After 3 years working standard duty on the streets, he transferred into the financial crime unit, building a reputation locally. A lot of incredible opportunities followed: chances to work with the United States Secret Service, FBI, and IRS in Oklahoma City on large cases, as well as a special protective detail for George W. Bush when he was in Norman, Oklahoma. The years as a detective in financial crime informed Brady’s next path.
“It was in those years,” he remembers, “where I noticed that companies’ approach to risk, their lack of due diligence, had them taking on an incredible amount of risk. While I enjoyed the investigative part of the job, what I really loved was understanding how they could prevent these things from happening in the first place.”
In the end, Brady felt that itch again, unsure if he would be happy doing what he was doing for 20 or more years, getting a pension, and retiring. It was 2014, and an interest in oil and gas, formed from long exposure to the sector in the state, had Brady trying to find a way into the industry. He and a friend went into business together to start a company with a single corrosion-control product line for pipelines in the midstream and downstream industries—coupon holders, low-, mid-, and high-pressure atomizers, and so forth. It wasn’t easy; Brady put a lot of his savings into the venture to get it off the ground and help it succeed.
“I didn’t even know what this tool really did,” he admits, “so I started doing all this research, and I found a machine shop in Oklahoma City that would machine the tools for us. And luckily, the owner of the shop agreed to spot us the money to use the shop, giving us 90 days. He took a chance on me.”
Brady was still in full-time law enforcement, working on this project as a side gig—late hours on the weekends and Mondays, which he had off. Working out of his garage, he fondly remembers listening to Mark LaCour’s earliest OGGN podcast while he planned out the company’s strategy. At this stage, all revenue flowed right back into the company, necessitating Brady’s continued double life as detective and entrepreneur.
In 2017, Brady wanted to expand into other parts of the industry, buying two swab rigs for well servicing. Swabbing, which is broadly considered part of well control, involves taking the rig and equipment and removing the pressurized fluids necessary to fracture the well from the production zone. As business improved, Brady started to think about his exit plan. “I needed something else,” he says, “but the business couldn’t quite support me fully at that point. So, I wondered what was next.” His partner came to him after visiting a completions site where he’d seen a company providing fire suppression response on the wellsite, asking Brady if he thought they should get into that business as an expanded service offering.
“As soon as he said that, a light went off,” Brady notes, “because I had that passion for risk mitigation, and being a first responder, and I wanted to bring that experience to the industry, to the wellsite. But I didn’t want to do it the same way—I wanted to take it to the next level.”
Be sure to check out Part II of the article, where Brady discusses how his passion for people and protecting human life led him to creating WellSiteSentry, a fundamental reimagining of wellsite safety, as well as his thoughts on founding a commercial insurance agency and piloting a full risk intelligence program.
In Episode 3 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson interviewed Niel Rootare, CEO of Silver Wolf Midstream, on how the new company is repurposing the Michigan Express Pipeline to transport propane to the Michigan upper peninsula. In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester got a chance to talk with Niel about his vision for the project, his thoughts on how those with an entrepreneurial spirit wanting to make a difference should follow their passions, and his plans for the future.
When we sat down for lunch on a balmy autumn day—which, I’d add, isn’t an oxymoron when you live in Houston, TX—the first thing that I felt from Niel Rootare, CEO of Silver Wolf Midstream, was overwhelming charisma. He offered a quick smile and a strong handshake. A serious conversation gave way to sharing stories, exploring the challenges of working in the oil and gas industry in the era of COVID-19 and a bitterly polarized political climate. How do we overcome these difficulties and, in Niel’s case, do something that can potentially change the world for the better?
Challenges have always been an accepted and welcomed part of Niel’s career. After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Eastern Michigan University, his first job was working on Wall Street in investment banking. It was during this time that Neil realized his passion was creation—how do you build up something from an idea into a profitable enterprise? How can we, in our professional journeys, do more than the expected? Niel held a series of roles in energy industry leadership, including as a VP of Business Development of E2 Energy Services and Director of Midstream Business Development for DTE Midstream, before he decided to found Silver Wolf Midstream.
Advice Niel gives to those who ask him how to achieve similar success: Be your own advocate, and be bold and fearless in pursuit of what you want. No one is going to do it for you.
High commodity prices in 2007 and 2008 prompted Niel to explore ways to help more effectively move products around, which he did by building small connecting lines to oil and gas companies. Thereafter, he would market their supply to alleviate some of the logistical burden giant corporations faced with complicated transport issues. Silver Wolf Midstream is a different kind of energy company, one founded on that same principle of doing something better. With that in mind, Niel saw an opportunity to repurpose an existing NGL pipeline, the Michigan Express Pipeline, for use in transporting propane.
When we talk about “clean energy,” there’s often a tendency to fall into the wind/solar conversation. This discounts the role that sustainable, safe infrastructure elements play in reducing environmental harm throughout the energy supply chain. With Silver Wolf Midstream, Niel saw two opportunities. First, he saw a way to deliver clean energy and renewable resources in a way that reduces our environmental footprint by reimagining and repurposing existing energy infrastructure. Second, he saw a viable business opportunity, a commercially sound solution that could provide value to shareholders while driving a positive impact in the world.
When envisioning what Silver Wolf Midstream would do, Niel wanted to ensure was that the project was low risk from an HSE and investment perspective and highly reliable for distributors. To accomplish these goals, Niel decided that propane transportation with the to-be-repurposed Michigan Express Pipeline was the way to go.
Built in 1973 by Shell, the pipeline’s perfect safety record and legacy of operational excellence—which Niel aims to maintain through state-of-the-art inspection and maintenance procedures—were clear indicators of what was to come when it was repurposed. Environmentally, the benefit is clear right from the get-go: no costly, complicated construction and all the associated damage during development.
The 225-mile pipeline runs from the state’s largest propane storage facility in Marysville to its terminal in Kalkasa, addressing the high demand for critical propane delivery infrastructure in central and northern Michigan. The pipeline also eliminates the need for propane suppliers to turn to out-of-state markets, which typically necessitates long-distance product transport via truck or rail. Think, if you will, about reducing the mileage driven by giant 18-wheelers by thousands of miles—there will certainly be a massive decrease in emissions, but also lowered diesel usage and damage to roads from the 40-ton behemoths making their way through state highways. There will be fewer drivers on the road and less risk transporting the propane long distances once the pipeline comes online, and with another source, available supply increases and consumers have more options. Enbridge argues that there is no need to rely on anything other than its long-serving pipeline, Line 5, to get propane to the Michigan upper peninsula; Niel says otherwise.
Without expanding on the reasons for Niel’s passion for this project ad infinitum, I think something worth mentioning is his love of community. For Niel, “community relations” or “governance” isn’t a box to be checked on a quarterly report with an offhand mention of a monetary donation; he wants to make a difference, and a big one. One thing he envisions is planting trees in underserved neighborhoods in Detroit, a dream based on the knowledge that community beautification/revitalization projects can dramatically impact property values and citizen quality of life. Look at the difference, Niel argues, between the affluent and less-so neighborhoods in urban metropolises; a staggering realization is that the former lacks trees. Voicu and Been even noted, through a comprehensive research project, that public gardens have a positive impact on surrounding property values.
While Niel doesn’t know how it will all work yet, his intentions are some of the most genuine and pure that I’ve come across—he wants to drive long-term change. This isn’t a one-time check, vanishing into the void; it’s a 10- to 20-year project.
There’s absolutely a future in pipeline repurposing; in fact, this isn’t new, though the projects have varied in their scope and ambition over the past several years. E.ON, for example, last year announced plans to repurpose a natural gas pipeline in Germany for green hydrogen transport. That’s an entirely different conversation, but my takeaway from my conversation with Niel was that amazing things are coming our way. I’d have you end thinking about this: Niel successfully founded and secured funding for Silver Wolf Midstream during an ongoing global pandemic in a sector that’s facing intense investor scrutiny as companies fail to produce acceptable financial returns. If that doesn’t give you confidence in the future of this enterprise, I don’t know what will.
This article was written by Stephen Forrester.
On Episode 2 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson talked to Halliburton Labs Executive Director Scott Gale about the company and its mission. In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester got a chance to talk in more depth with Scott about his incredible life and career journey. In Part II, Scott details how he charted a path from Dow Chemical to Halliburton, nurtured his passion for entrepreneurship, and transitioned from managing Halliburton’s hydraulic fracturing strategy to overseeing the company’s clean energy technology accelerator, Halliburton Labs.
This is a continuation of a former post. For Part 1 of this blog post, click here.After the missionary work, Scott returned to Brigham Young, finished his chemical engineering degree, and went to work an internship at a co-op in West Virginia. By that time, he’d already met his wife, whom he’d married at the end of his sophomore year. The internship, which was for Dow Chemical at an aging Union Carbide plant, brought him to a revelation.
“As a chemical engineer,” he jokes, “you’re really just a glorified plumber. It’s complicated plumbing, but you never really see what you’re making or doing. It was kind of boring.”
A connection to a recruiter at Dow led to an opportunity to do what was basically a bootcamp that rotated promising young graduates through a series of functional disciplines—business, marketing, sales, and so on. You were committed to going anywhere in the Lower 48 and for them to place you in any business unit they wanted. Scott’s placement? You guessed it: in Dow’s newly formed oil and gas business unit, with Schlumberger as his first major account.
Moving to Houston, Texas thereafter, Scott admits that working in oil and gas was never the goal.
“I really just kind of lucked into oil and gas,” he says, “and after starting in midsize manufacturing, being around pulp and paper and all these things, I found my way to Texas, and really fell in love with it.”
Despite Dow’s desire to continue shuffling him into other business units, Scott was quite content with the oil and gas business, so he quit and went to work for a Belgian chemical company that was Halliburton’s largest frac chemical supplier for a couple years before hiring into Halliburton through Multi-Chem in 2014. The job saw Scott managing Halliburton’s global frac strategy. “I joked,” he says with a chuckle, “that I was managing everything that we don’t drive away with after a job: downhole diagnostics, fluid systems, proppant systems, all these things.”
He ended up pursuing an Executive MBA from Rice University as well, graduating in 2019 to add another accomplishment to a rapidly growing list. Oh, and did I mention that the smooth baritone of Scott’s perfect-for-radio voice also led him to found an independent voiceover company?
Now, Scott is the Executive Director of Halliburton Labs, and given his entrepreneurial bent—or as he says, “parachuting into new territory with lots of people interface and building bridges and finding ways to achieve the right outcome”—Scott feels that it’s a perfect fit. He enjoys building something from the ground up, experience bolstered by his studies at Rice as well as a venture mentorship program he supports at MD Anderson. He likes to know why things came about and why decisions are made the way they are.
And so, as the strategy was being developed to launch Halliburton Labs, Scott’s visibility in the local entrepreneurial community caught the eye of the Halliburton diligence team and CEO Jeff Miller, who asked Scott to lead the new venture. The challenge, and the joy, for Scott is the chance to make the magic happen on his own, executing his vision to build something tangible.
“Halliburton Labs didn’t exist,” he notes. “It was a slide deck. So, how do you move forward? Who do you call? How do you drive that? What are the key strategic elements that are going to make this a differentiated, interconnected, unique thing?”
Scott cautions against overreaching when it comes to working with startups, which he wants to ensure doesn’t happen at Halliburton Labs.
What exactly is Halliburton Labs, you might ask? Halliburton Labs is wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton, located primarily in the Technology Center of the company’s beautiful North Belt campus in Houston. Halliburton Labs seeks to accelerate innovation done by early-stage companies, each one individually vetted to make sure that their mission aligns with what Halliburton Labs is trying to achieve. Dedicated to advancing clean energy technology, this is far more than an empty lab with a few pieces of equipment where companies rent space; it’s jumping into an entire ecosystem.
“Working with us, sure, you get the space and the equipment,” Scott says, “but what we’re really offering is so much more. We provide access to our facilities and campus, the technical expertise of some of the industry’s brightest, most accomplished minds, and a robust, well-connected network of like-minded individuals and companies.”
If you’re a startup working on disruptive, tangible-tech solutions in Halliburton Labs’ targeted challenge areas, Scott would encourage you to visit the site and apply for the program.
Scott offers a bit of wisdom to both clean energy and oil and gas advocates, encouraging collaboration, partnership, and knowledge-sharing.
“We’re on a change trajectory,” he comments, “and sometimes, sure, it’s easy to change for change’s sake without being clear on why or your role. But the future energy mosaic is going to be made up of a bunch of different things. And the challenge is, how do you participate in that? With Halliburton Labs, we’re investing in an environment where early stage companies can come and be successful. We want to have the reputation to be the go-to place for companies advancing cleaner, affordable energy. We want to bring people together.”
For the right companies at the right stage, applying to work with Halliburton Labs is a no-brainer, but Scott admits that neither he nor Halliburton Labs has all the answers; they want to be another voice in the choir, an advocate of change. Scott knows all too well that there are skeptics on both sides of the table: those who believe that the energy transition isn’t happening, and those who don’t believe that oil and gas has an important role to play for decades to come.
“What we’ll see,” Scott offers, “is that all these different energy sources, how all of them are brought to market, and how energy consumption is managed and thought about—they all play an integrated role, and we’re positioning ourselves as agnostic to those things and focused on building an environment where entrepreneurs can be successful.”
At the end of the day, what’s clear is that all energy will be important in continuing to drive change and progress in human civilization. This is about a lot more than capital; it’s about a fundamental desire and mission as human beings to do good in the world. When asked how many technology incubators like Halliburton are necessary to achieve more innovation, Paul Holland of Mach49 said, “Well, how much innovation do you want?” It’s important to achieve scale, which Scott echoes near the end of the conversation.
“Some people ask, how much investment is it going to take, overall? And my comment is, how much change do you want?”
Halliburton Labs is in it for the long game, and Scott is leading the charge.
This article was written by Stephen Forrester.
On Episode 2 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson interviewed Halliburton Labs Executive Director Scott Gale about the company and its mission. In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester got a chance to talk in more depth with Scott about his incredible life and career journey. In Part I, Scott explores a childhood growing up among eight siblings, the influence of his father on his personal development, early career interests and college studies, and an amazing 2 years as a missionary in Brazil.
Scott Gale was the first of eight siblings, born in the city of Provo, Utah. At around 6 months old, his parents graduated college, packed their bags, and headed to Camas, Washington, a small city of roughly 6,500 people about 30 miles outside of Portland, Oregon. His father was something of a rags-to-riches story. One of the first in his family to get a college degree—a double major in finance and accounting from Brigham Young University, and later an MBA from Washington State University—he worked at a small, family-owned pressure washer manufacturer before eventually becoming the company’s CEO.
The family transitioned from living in a double-wide mobile home to a nice house as his father achieved more and more success, and it was this early example that paved much of the way for Scott’s own journey.
“I got my first corporate paycheck,” he recalls, “before my thirteenth birthday. I would spend every summer at work with my dad; I’d leave at 5:30 in the morning and go to the office each day. I worked in the mailroom, I did small projects, whatever needed to be done.”
An interesting early project was Scott’s “digitization” of instruction manuals for how to use the pressure washers.
Of course, at this point, there was no such thing as truly digital media, so Scott spent a painstaking amount of time faxing each individual page before stitching them together into a single file, which he could then put on a disc. “That fax ringtone,” he says, laughing, “yeah, that’s forever embedded in my head.”
Making minimum wage—at the time, somewhere in the range of $5 an hour—Scott learned early on the value of hard work and being rewarded for your efforts. Looking back on these projects, Scott also realized that they taught him the importance of efficiency, and he’s all too thankful for how far we’ve come with technology.
“I often reflect back on how it took me the entire summer to take these bound instruction manuals, cut the binding, and scan each page in,” he notes, “which would eventually result in a compact disc that we could send out to customers. That would take me an afternoon today instead of an entire summer.”
Through several summers, Scott did it all, working in customer service, helping sales with orders, and even spending time on the assembly line making pressure washer accessories. He also worked in shipping and drove a forklift for logistics. By the time Scott was 15, his father was the CEO, and he later sold the company to a private equity firm. In a twist, Scott had no interest whatsoever in following in his father’s footsteps. “I decided early on that I didn’t want to do what my dad did,” he admits, “but he instilled in me a work ethic that’s always been there.”
In a paper mill town like Camas, the career options were limited—you were either a lumberjack, or you worked as a chemical engineer in one of the mills. In a rural area, the former wasn’t as uncommon as you might think, but the paper mills dominated local employment and economy. With these mills touching many aspects of the peoples’ lives, Scott remembers a few early figures who got him interested in engineering: a neighbor who came over to do a simple repair on the door and then made high-quality paper airplanes out of the construction paper, and a high-school teacher who taught chemistry and trigonometry that happened to be a retired mill worker.
Scott appreciated the act of creation and understanding how the world worked, and he realized that chemical engineering was the glue holding it all together. Scott admits that the path to being an engineer wasn’t particularly clear, as he had many other passions. One was cooking, which he was fond of because of its repeatable nature: follow a recipe, use the right ingredients, and get a result.
“We had a trade school day at the local high school,” he says, “and there were chefs there talking about culinary school. So, I told my dad I wanted to go to the Portland Culinary Arts School. His response always stuck with me: ‘How about you do something that doesn’t end up with you living in my basement?’”
Being a chef, in his father’s eyes, wasn’t a career but a hobby, and he wanted more for his son, which Scott understands now. Scott had an idyllic childhood, growing up playing sports, studying, visiting family in Washington and Utah, and overall, just being a happy kid.
He also visited the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, as his mother had grown up around and eventually graduated high school from the Navajo Nation. The confluence of all the factors affecting his life and personality led to Scott pursuing chemical engineering at Brigham Young University, promising his father that he’d spend at least a semester trying it out before he considered jumping ship to another university, where most of his friends were. He ended up loving Brigham Young, and stayed there for the full degree.
Of course, the high-energy Scott wasn’t content to sit still for too long. After completing his freshman year, he decided to become a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 2 years. Fortunately, it wasn’t a terribly difficult process.
“After determining if you’re fit enough, they really only asked you two questions,” Scott recalls. “‘Do you speak another language, and if so, what is it; and, would you be willing to learn another language?’”
Not too long later, Scott wound up in São Paulo, Brazil, to begin a journey that would inform his character in ways he couldn’t have ever foreseen. “It was absolutely formative,” he says confidently, “and as a 19-year-old kid, showing up in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, you hit the street and find people to teach and help and serve. And you do that every day, 7 days a week, for 2 years straight. You focus on the work. There’re no breaks, there’s no vacation; it’s 6:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night, working, doing something, all day every day.” Oh, and Scott could email his family once a week and call home on Mother’s Day and Christmas. How generous of them, right?
The rigor and regime meshed nicely with Scott’s personality, as he appreciated structure and organization. The missionary work also taught him incredible lessons in humility and perseverance, as rejection was the norm. “You’re in the living rooms of strangers,” he says, “talking about religion, talking about their lives, and you really learn to read the room; you don’t understand every word that’s coming out of their mouths, but you can read their faces.” More times than not, you needed to know when to make an exit instead of continuing to pursue the discussion.
Through the 2 years, Scott not only became fluent in Portuguese, but also gained a set of intangible skills that he admits he could never have picked up any other way. Scott was with a companion missionary all day, every day, which though challenging at first, really helped him understand the purpose of such organizational rigidity, of working more closely with someone to achieve a narrow, focused goal.
Brazil was broken up into zones and districts, much like those that sales and operations personnel in oil and gas businesses oversee, with different missionaries offered the opportunity to rise up and effectively manage people in other areas. Scott, during the last 6 months of his mission, was managing 28 missionaries covering an area with roughly 8 million inhabitants. “And at 21 years old,” Scott says, “that was an incredible leadership opportunity.” Another interesting aspect was that the metrics for success were almost entirely personal, an encouragement to pursue meditation and reflection on purpose.
There was, of course, some measurement of success—people met, lessons taught, baptisms—but for Scott, success was self-discovery.
“It’s super hard to walk around in a shirt and tie in the Brazilian heat and stay motivated, engaged, and mentally healthy,” Scott recalls, “especially when you could go weeks and weeks of getting told ‘no’ 12 hours a day. And so, for me, a big part of the success was maintaining my morale, learning about myself, and making it to the end of the journey.”
In an environment where staying is entirely voluntary and you’re paying for all your own expenses, this stands as a testament to Scott’s strength of character and will.
Be sure to check out Part II of the article, where Scott details how he charted a path from Dow Chemical to Halliburton, nurtured his passion for entrepreneurship and networking, and transitioned from managing Halliburton’s hydraulic fracturing strategy to overseeing the company’s clean energy technology accelerator, Halliburton Labs.
This article was written by Stephen Forrester.
In Episode 1 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson interviewed experts from Texmark, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and CBT about the evolution of Texmark’s “Refinery of the Future.” In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester got a chance to talk with CBT CEO Kelly Ireland about her life and career. In Part I, Kelly explains the challenges of being a female in a tech in the 1970s, the early stages of her career, and how focus on people helped her build a company culture of purpose and innovation.
When Kelly Ireland graduated high school, going to college just seemed like the thing to do; with a father who was a football coach and a mother who was a teacher, education—and respect for it—ran deeply in the family’s blood. With six siblings all interested in sports, Kelly originally planned to be an athlete, but she found that after 2 years in college, it just wasn’t for her. One thing she always likes to highlight is that leadership and talent don’t require a college education.
“Everyone talks about their degrees, and that’s wonderful,” she notes, “and there are definitely places where you need that; but I think that especially in [informational technology] IT and [operational technology] OT, there are a lot who don’t need that.”
With preference for math and science, the general education required by a degree bored Kelly to death, which drove her to work for a local company as a programmer. This was the 1970s, and Kelly was an IBM RPG II and III programmer—quite early to be a female in that profession.
Moving to California, she started a lifelong journey in the tech industry. Working for General Electric, she laughs about what is now antiquated technology: “I actually worked for them when there were 300-baud modems and phone couplers where you’d take the phone and put it on the cups, and that’s how it transmitted.” As a member of the instrumentation and communication group, Kelly was part of a team that was trying to break into a brand-new market—renting out modems, the first IBM personal computers, and so forth, which was truly cutting-edge at the time.
From there, she moved away from the developer side and into working for resellers like CompuCom, ComputerLand, MicroAge, and many others who were part of the original microcomputer revolution.
“I focused mostly on aerospace,” she recalls, “and I remember, 30 years ago, I was asked why I was working with aerospace. I was told they were impossible to work with and that I’d never get anywhere. Well, about a billion dollars later, I can tell you that’s just not true.”
An early relationship with Boeing, which now spans multiple decades, ignited her passion and carried her forward, even as a later client for CBT.
When founding CBT in 2001, Kelly saw that the culture inherent in tech companies—male-dominated, insane hours, no work-life balance—wasn’t ideal for building and nurturing successful relationships, much less a successful business enterprise. This, combined with an appreciation for the value of teams that stemmed from her father and time in sports, informed a vision for a different kind of company.
“So, when I founded CBT, I believed it was very important that work-life balance be something we fostered,” Kelly says, “not necessarily for me, but for my team. It’s not rocket science: take care of your employees, they take care of your customers, and your customers buy more. And I can tell you that’s extremely true; we have really happy employees, and really happy customers.”
Originally a standard value-added IT reseller, Kelly saw in the mid-2000s that Boeing was venturing into high-performance computing, and she felt that CBT needed to do the same thing. Bringing in resources that could support high-performance computing and all that goes with it, they added a new facet to the business, which paid off big time in the end.
“This helped really build out what CBT is all about,” Kelly explains,” which is doing what the customer needs and being proactive about it.”
With one of the longest-standing groups in high-performance computing, Kelly is confident about her team’s experience and what they bring to the market. Continuing to ask what more they could do brought new accounts to the fold, including Ford in 2011, which needed a B2B portal that was entirely customized.
Built upon Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) platform as a foundation, the two companies partnered to build a portal covering 40 foreign countries with trade block adjustors, currency exchange calculators, and a myriad of other bells and whistles. For Kelly, it also afforded her and the company a new way to manage a business, to ensure that the right service level was consistently delivered. Today, they keep expanding the portal, and the relationship is stronger than ever.
Kelly knew that CBT needed to get into the cloud computing market, but she wanted to take a different approach. Early on, she tried to find a unique group ecosystem where all the pieces could fit together without depending on Google, Amazon Web Services, or Microsoft Azure. “This was at the time when the big, public clouds were skyrocketing, but as much as we proved that we were half the price of everyone else with better offerings, it fell on deaf ears,” she comments, “because we were a small company, and even though we had big ecosystem partners, it wasn’t really an ecosystem environment back then. Fast forward to today, and working on the Refinery of the Future, I saw something that made a ton of sense, and decided to double down.”
Investing $4 million in the project to bring on experts in OT instead of effectively borrowing talent, Kelly hired control systems engineers, design engineers, and mechanical engineers to be full-time staff members—possibly the only such team employed by a value-added reseller in the world.
Be sure to check out Part II of the article, where Kelly takes a closer look at the remarkable partnership between Hewlett Packard Enterprise, CBT, Intel, RealWear, and many other tech companies at Texmark’s “Refinery of the Future,” where the entire plant is connected via IIoT technologies and platforms. Kelly ends with her thoughts on what’s next for her and CBT in 2021 and beyond.
This article was written by Stephen Forrester.
In Episode 2 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson interviewed Witting Partners Founder and Executive Coach Joe Sinnott in their Talking Points section. In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester spoke more with Joe about his passion for coaching and unique career path. In Part I, Joe explores his early career with Schlumberger working offshore, how he came to value writing and communication as he started a long-distance relationship, and moving across the country to start a role with EQT.
Growing up in New Jersey, the oil and gas industry wasn’t exactly the first place that Joe Sinnott thought his career would take him; despite the presence of a few refineries and petrochemical companies in the state, he was largely removed from the world of drilling rigs and hydrocarbon extraction. In an interesting anecdote, Joe shares just how far away—literally, in a sense—the concept of exploring and producing oil and gas was:
“The state of New Jersey is currently the only state in America where it’s against the law to pump your own gas—so, underscoring the fact that I had little idea what I was getting into, I went from a world where I didn’t pump gasoline in my own car to a world where I’m on an offshore rig drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. It was quite a shift into an environment I was completely unfamiliar with.”
Going to college at Notre Dame, Joe had a math and science bent typical of technical professionals in the oil and gas industry; always trying to take things apart and put them back together, he was drawn to engineering as a degree path. Chemical engineering, as it were, made the most sense to Joe. “It was the broadest,” he remembers, “and it seemed to overlap with many different industries and with many of the other engineering disciplines; and, of course, it seemed to have the highest earning potential, as well.” He also knew that it would be challenging, but he figured if he could survive chemical engineering, he could survive anything. Despite the degree path, Joe often overperformed with classes on the other side of the spectrum: English, philosophy, history. This informed much of his later development and passion.
Early on in his college career, Joe assumed he might wind up at a pharmaceutical company back home, but several months after Schlumberger was on campus doing interviews during his senior year, he ended up moving to southern Louisiana and working for them as an offshore field engineer.
“With the interviews,” he notes, “it was less about your academic abilities and achievements and much more about whether or not you could stay up for 36 straight hours; and they really want to make sure you understood that you’d be working for a company where you might not have a set schedule, and where you might have to high tail it to some remote location at the drop of a hat.”
This sounded perfect to “college Joe,” who had zero geographical restrictions and no significant other to consider. He also remembers—speaking again to his lack of familiarity with the industry—landing in Houston for his second interview, getting in the car from the airport, and ignorantly asking the driver in which part of the state Houston was located. As Schlumberger vetted the group of roughly 20 candidates Joe interviewed with on that multi-day trip, he realized that what the company wanted were primarily “hard-working thinkers” that they could send around the world to do these challenging jobs—a far cry from many service companies today as they place a higher value on PhDs to fill the increasingly technical roles that today’s industry demands.
As a newly minted Schlumberger hand, Joe provided MWD and LWD services offshore, splitting time between mostly deepwater rigs and his home in Lafayette. He recalls that working offshore at this time in his life was perfect, commenting,
“You could focus not just on the operations but on building relationships, while seeing and appreciating how critical those relationships were to get the job done. Forming those relationships and communicating effectively with everyone that was out there—from the roustabouts and the roughnecks all the way up to the company man and the toolpusher—really carried forward throughout the rest of my career and even into my personal life.”
As for that personal life, Joe knew that being in the middle of the ocean wasn’t the best place to meet a future life partner, so he joined eHarmony in hopes of finding the future Mrs. Sinnott. With a potential match in Pittsburgh, the only tool Joe really had at his disposal to learn about this match was long-form, written communication, which affirmed for him the value of writing and its ability to more meaningfully connect people. “You could have 20 dates at a restaurant, chatting back and forth, and not cover some of the things that the process of writing reveals. To this day, I really value the power of writing because of that experience; and, more broadly, I recognize how the power of communicating in as transparent and as clear a way possible translates into end results, whether that’s in a personal or a professional environment.” For Joe, the results in this case are 10 years of marriage and four children; all of which occurred after he packed his bags and moved up to Pittsburgh in 2008 to start a career with what was then Equitable Resources, now EQT.
The time with EQT was a period of immense personal and professional growth for Joe. Starting off as a rotational engineer, he benefitted from having worked for 3 years on the OFS side, which provided diversity of experience and perspective that helped him thrive and helped EQT continue to evolve through the years. Many of his new colleagues had also spent their first few years in oil and gas working for service companies, experiences that Joe feels contributed to the intensity and productivity permeating the office environment, while also helping to build sustainable relationships with their service providers.
“Starting at EQT was definitely an adjustment,” he remarks, “because I went from working offshore on operations that could cost upwards of a million dollars a day to sitting in an office working on wells whose total cost might only be around a million dollars. But even though the size and cost of individual projects was smaller, the quantity of wells being developed each year was impressive.”
Joe’s first rotational role was in reserves development—coordinating logistics, working on AFEs, doing reservoir engineering analysis, supporting the annual reserves audit—primarily for assets in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Those horizontal Lower Huron wells that EQT was drilling in the late 2000s were the bread and butter of what the company was doing at the time; and the horizontal drilling expertise EQT established while drilling hundreds of those wells gave it a huge advantage as it transitioned its focus to the Marcellus Shale, which was only just taking off when Joe arrived.
And as he looks back on those early days of Marcellus development, Joe counts himself—along with a litany of talented and dedicated former co-workers—as extremely fortunate to have experienced something that’s shaped much of the leadership perspective he carries with him today: continuity.
After moving from his reserves development role into a drilling engineering position, Joe began the fairly typical duties of well planning, field coordination, monitoring well costs, and so forth; but about 6 months into the role, he got an added challenge: helping the company replace an antiquated operations reporting system with new, more effective technology. A combination of research and project management duties, as well as the logistical planning required to roll out the product to the field, meant that Joe would need to interface with multiple internal groups and onsite personnel to make the magic happen.
This need helped Joe build deeper relationships across the organization within departments like IT and Accounting who he wouldn’t have otherwise worked so closely with as part of a more traditional drilling engineering role. Collaborating with such a diverse array of people brought home Joe’s original thoughts on the power of communication and the need for transparent and authentic dialogue to build rapport and trust; without it, he knew that the project would fail. By working together to foster meaningful conversation among the groups, Joe was ultimately successful, as evidenced by the fact that the system is still in place over a decade later.
Be sure to check out Part II of the article, where Joe dives deeper into his time at EQT in drilling engineering, completions, and asset development, his founding of Witting Partners and the Energy Detox podcast, and how his appreciation for building sustainable careers drives him to coach others to be more effective leaders, communicators, and decision makers.
This article was written by Stephen Forrester.