Helping Others Thrive

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.

The man basket that carried Joe to his first assignment offshore for Schlumberger.

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,

The MWD cabin Joe worked on during his first offshore hitch.

“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.

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