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Petroleum Engineering

Questions with pertroleum engineers

By Joe Schall and Nancy J. Mellem

Name: J. Todd Wise

Company: Chevron Corporation
Job Title: Reservoir Engineer
Education & University: B.S., Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering, Minor in Economics, Penn State University

J. Todd Wise always knows how to close an interview. Before accepting his current position with Chevron in Bakersfield, Calif., Todd completed three internships with oil companies. Whenever he went to job interviews, he carried a secret weapon in his pocket: a deck of cards. When interviewers saw the “Magician” section on his resume, Todd would eagerly accept the inevitable invitation to perform a card trick at close range. Just as inevitably he received a job offer. As a professional performing magician since high school, Todd has given over 100 performances for a wide variety of clients.

J. Todd Wise

J. Todd Wise

1) How did you get started in magic?

JTW: I got interested in the third grade. My pastor was a magician. (I always tell the joke that that’s how he started our church.) He organized a magic youth group and even typed up scripts for us, and I began by doing close-up magic with simple card tricks. Eventually I moved up to stage magic and started doing shows. The script became very important. As a magician you learn that the biggest misdirection is what you say.

2) How long do you practice and plan before a show?

JTW: For a stage performance I formally practice for about five hours, but there’s also a lot of planning involved beyond that. I spend a lot of time thinking about the theatrical and entertaining component. You want to control the highs and lows and take the audience on a roller coaster ride. I like to open with a trick called “The Impossible Opener,” which I learned from Doc Eason, who’s a bar magician out of Colorado. He’s been performing magic in bars for almost 30 years. In this trick, I have a blue deck of cards on a table, and I have someone pull out a card and show the audience. Say it is a three of hearts. In my hand the whole time during the trick I also have a card from a red deck that I hold up to show them, and it’s also a three of hearts. So I show the audience that I picked the same card from a different deck, and a few of them are amazed, but inevitably someone shouts out, “I know how you did that! The deck is all threes!” Then comes the most important part of the trick.

I say, “Aw, no, you got me,” and the audience thinks the secret to the trick has been exposed. Then I show them the whole blue deck that the three of hearts came from, and yes, it’s all threes, but the rest of the deck is all a three of clubs—every single card.

J. Todd Wise

J. Todd Wise

3) What if a trick goes bad? How do you cover up a mistake?

JTW: Sometimes my head is onto a different trick than the one I’m performing, so [mistakes do] happen. You learn to think on your feet, and that’s part of what makes a good magician. A lot of magic is psychology. I’ve learned how to manage an audience from people like Harry Allen, who writes books about magic and jokes and how to deal with skeptics or even put down hecklers. But I’ve never really had much trouble with audience members, because my philosophy is that I’m there to entertain, and I make sure the audience knows that. I’m not there to pull the wool over their eyes, but to provide entertainment and make them puzzle over how a trick was done. That’s part of how I chose the slogan for my magic business, which is “Beyond All Reason.” You want the audience to believe in magic and maybe lose a bit of sleep that night over trying to figure a trick out.

4) In what sense have magic and engineering been linked in your life, and how did you get into engineering as a career?

JTW: Beyond the fact that I used magic tricks to impress recruiters and interviewers, I think there have been some interesting connections. I was actually the president of the Penn State Performing Magicians, a club that was originally formed in 1996. Amazingly, a number of the founding members of the club were also engineers. Several of them are now doing magic as their full-time careers, even though they went to school for engineering. As different as they are, both fields require a lot of attention to detail and design.

When I was a senior in high school, I went to a career fair at Penn State and Dr. Bob Watson, a gentleman who eventually became my advisor, came up and asked me what I wanted to do for a career.

I told him I was thinking of aerospace engineering because I had a friend who was in it, and he cleverly said, “Oh, so you want to sit in front of a computer all day?” And I said “no,” and he started talking to me about the variety of opportunities in petroleum engineering. “In my field,” he told me, “you’re not locked into one repetitive task. You can be out in the field, you can be a numbers guy, or work with reservoir simulators on the computer, you can design, you get to travel a lot, you can do drilling, production, or reservoir engineering.” Dr. Watson put me on the right path for me.

5) What’s the difference between reservoir engineering and production engineering?

JTW: Reservoir engineering is more traditionally based in computational work. You use simulation tools to solve real-world problems involving active reservoir operations, but where you don’t necessarily have exact numbers to deal with. Last summer I worked on a problem where we were looking at a reservoir that had been producing since the 1920s, but was dropping off in its output, and we had to estimate what we could expect from it. Reservoir engineers deal more with approximations on a large scale. When you’re 10,000 feet into the ground, you have to consider three different phases—oil, water and gas—and very tiny pore spaces in the rock. Your goal isn’t so much to come up with exact numbers, but to reduce estimation errors. In contrast, instead of thinking in terms of an entire reservoir of oil, production engineers think more on the level of well-by-well. They also design the well’s completion, pumping unit, and surface facilities in order to optimize oil production.

6) What about the issue of teamwork and working with engineers from other fields?

JTW: We work in teams constantly. With all this oil coming out of the ground and the fact that in California we inject steam into the reservoir as well, the amount of pipes and pumps is enormous. So we get used to working with civil engineers, mechanical engineers and even lawyers.

7) Speaking of lawyers, what about safety training and environmental consciousness?

JTW: That’s a question I get asked a lot. Immediately the public tends to think of oil spills and the idea that oil must be a “dirty” industry. But I can’t believe the amount of focus on safety and safety training I experienced even as an intern, especially compared to the small amount I received as a student. Ergonomics is a big issue, and there’s someone whose job it is to come into your workspace, take measurements, and make adjustments to your office space so that it’s ergonomically favorable to you. Two companies I did internships with—both Chevron and Schlumberger—had me take full-day courses in safe driver’s training, both related to driving on the job and driving to and from work. Every few months you’re required to do a “commentary drive,” where you have to take a monitored drive with someone else from the company and be evaluated. At Chevron, there’s also lots of environmental training, so in Bakersfield we receive training about the species of animals involved in the field environments where we’ll be working and our potential impact on them. We’re shown pictures of endangered species in the area and given someone to notify in case we see one. I feel that I work in a very safe, environmentally conscious industry.

petroleum engineering

8) How did you get started working with computers, and how important are they in the industry?

JTW: Again, it began with magic. To market my magic business in high school, I needed to learn to design brochures, so I started to get into graphic design. When I got to Penn State I got involved right away in the e-portfolio program, which helped me start thinking about web design, and I became good at working with Photoshop and Dreamweaver. I ended up designing not only my own business Web site, but a Web site for my church, for a greenhouse, and a business Web site for my dad. Both my dad and me have won world archery championships, and my dad has even coached Olympic archery teams. My dad has written five books on archery, and I designed my first Web site,, to help advertise his books. I also did archery demonstrations at schools, where I would put a candy Lifesaver on a stable target and shoot an arrow through it from 25 yards away, making it explode with a nice, dramatic “pop.”

Computers are obviously important in the oil industry as well. This industry has a great deal of data to manage, so especially as faster computers evolve we have to be sophisticated with various computer tools to process the data. Computer simulation grows more sophisticated as well and we build up the simulation in pieces. We simulate an entire reservoir on the computer, breaking the reservoir into a three-dimensional grid-block system. Then we plug wells into the system, then the actual production and pressure histories for each well. This way we can isolate or combine variables as needed, and we can solve systems of equations simultaneously.

9) What are some of the advantages to working for a major oil company?

JTW: The most obvious one is the high starting salaries. I even got a signing bonus, which is common in the industry right now. Also, at the age of 22 I had the opportunity to start a retirement account, and with Chevron, if you invest two percent of your check into retirement, they’ll match that amount and invest an additional eight percent.

10) What career advice have you gotten since starting your job?

JTW: A lot of people within the industry have encouraged me to get a master’s degree. Chevron reimburses you for 75% of your tuition for a master’s program, so they’re highly supportive. I may pursue the master’s degree eventually, but the perks of starting in the industry full-time upon graduation were too attractive to pass up.

Name: Will Lehmann

Company: Hess Corporation
Job Title: Chief Production Engineer
Education & University: B.S., Petroleum Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Will Lehmann is chief production engineer at Hess Corporation, a Fortune 100 leading global independent energy company. He has held a number of increasingly responsible management positions with Hess since joining in 1994, encompassing outside operated production in the U.S., production technology, and business development and planning.

Will Lehmann, petroleum engineer

Will Lehmann

Lehmann began his career as a production engineer with Tenneco Oil Company in the Williston Basin in North Dakota. He later became a development engineer for the company’s international operations.

Prior to that, Lehmann served as the general manager of Tunisian British Services, a joint-venture operating company of British Gas and the Tunisian state oil company.
Lehmann holds a bachelor’s degree in Petroleum Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and is a registered professional engineer in Colorado. He and his wife have three grown sons and reside in Houston.

1) How long have you been at your job and what do you do there?

WL: I have been chief production engineer for Hess for about a year now. The “chief” role provides production engineering technical and personnel support to the global Exploration and Production division of our company. On the technical side, we ensure that Hess has state-of-the-art technical capability in our operations, and has access to the best technical resources whether they are within or outside of the company. Personnel support centers around people and career development, and ensures that we have the right people in the right jobs and equipped with the right tools. Hess has a sincere commitment to employees. In fact, ‘People’ is one of six core values that underpin our business. I also help manage the university recruiting effort for engineers in the U.S., as well as coordinate the new engineer development program.

2) What’s the best aspect of your job?

WL: That has to be the opportunity to work with staff from around the world to address the daunting challenge of making sure Hess has the technical people and capability it needs now and in the future.

3) What’s more important: salary or job satisfaction?

WL: Job satisfaction. I’m a believer in the old adage that “the money gets you there, but the work keeps you there.” Companies are successful because of the combined efforts of their employees. Individuals in the professional world perform based on the level of challenge and satisfaction in their job.

4) What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

WL: I had a summer engineering job during college, and a supervisor there came from a sports background. He firmly believed that personal success is dependent on the success of those around you—whether they work with you, for you, or you for them. He used to say, “the better your people do, the better you will do.” I think that advice is especially pertinent today where we operate as part of asset and interdisciplinary teams.

5) What’s the best way a fresh-out-of-college employee can impress you during the first week on the job?

WL: What I am most impressed with is enthusiasm, energy, friendliness, patience, and, most important, the willingness to listen, learn and improve. These basic attributes will serve you well in building a successful career in the energy industry.

 6) How did you learn to work with staff outside of your department?

WL: I basically treated colleagues with respect, the way you’d like to be treated. The rest is fundamental.

7) What trait do you admire in co-workers?

WL: In addition to hard work and integrity, I admire a positive, friendly and supportive outlook.

8) How do you relieve job frustration?

WL: Much of the frustration we feel in today’s environment comes from “too many things to do and not enough time to do them.” Basic time management seems to be the best approach. What works for me is taking the time to prioritize responsibilities and itemizing tasks early in the day when my mind is fresh. Another way I alleviate job frustration is by treating each frustration as a challenge. The objective then becomes “what can I do” to mitigate the frustration, either by removing a process bottleneck, improving efficiency of a lengthy or difficult assignment, or by rearranging or reprioritizing tasks.

9) What one thing do you know now that you wish you could have known when you first started your job?

WL: The value of thinking creatively so that you can take a risk and not be afraid to fail. Successful companies are built on “out-of-the-box” ideas that create competitive advantage. Every individual, whether they have worked for three or 30 years, can contribute. Companies really do value initiative and open thinking. It can take new engineers a while to reach a point where they are comfortable with going out on a limb. In the eyes of the company, though, the sooner the better.

Name: Sean Marchetti

Company: Hess Corporation
Job Title: Programming Consultant
Education & University: University of Vermont, B.A., Computer Science, Minor in Political Science

Sean Marchetti has been at Hess from the start of his career. He was an intern between his junior and senior years in college and worked on small projects and development assignments. Marchetti worked part time his senior year and started full time in August 2004—a month after he graduated. His first position was as a systems analyst, which was a little bit of programming and a lot of systems analyst work. He then moved onto the project management side of the business, and was promoted to programming consultant.

1) How long have you been at your job and what do you do there?

SM: I have been in my current position for five months. I work with HR, treasury, and all the corporate groups as a project manager. As development needs are identified, I put together a team that can draw resources from within our company or turn to external resources. I help coordinate all the team’s efforts to deliver an effective solution.

Sean Marchetti, programming consultant

Sean Marchetti, programming consultant

2) What’s the best aspect of your job?

SM: Definitely being exposed to the oil business and learning about it by working with various business units. My internship drew me into Hess, and once I saw what it was all about, I was hooked, and I wanted to stay.

3) What’s more important: salary or job satisfaction?

SM: Definitely job satisfaction. While salary is important, you have to be motivated to get up and go to work every day. Success can only be accomplished if you’re interested and invested in what you do.

4) What's the best career advice you've ever received?

SM: Nothing is free. You need to work hard and smart to succeed.

5) What's the best way a fresh-out-of-college employee can impress you during the first week on the job?

SM: I think the thing that impresses me the most is the willingness to figure things out on your own, and the willingness to try without being afraid to fail. It’s discouraging when people have a lot of questions when given an assignment, and they don’t make an attempt to solve the puzzle because they’re afraid. It’s important to be bold, aggressive, and dedicated to doing your best.

6) How did you learn to work with staff outside of your department?

SM: My entire job is about working with staff outside my department. At first, I needed to understand the nature of the businesses I was working with, and to develop a reputation for delivering. Now I’ve been exposed to almost everything, and the challenge is delivering a good solution.

7) What trait do you admire in co-workers?

SM: Teamwork. Having a professional relationship with your team members allows a free exchange of ideas, and makes for an open and productive work environment.

8) What one thing do you know now that you wish you could have known when you first started your job?

SM: The importance of being able to present your ideas clearly and effectively. Having a great idea is only part of the solution. Being able to convey your idea to any audience is essential.

Compiled by Joe Schall and Nancy J. Mellem.

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