Oral-History:Bill Rehm

About Interviewee

World renowned for his work in well control, Bill Rehm developed well control and pressure measurements from electric logs. He wrote the first manual accepted by the US Minerals Management Service (MMS) on well control for drillers and supervisors and also wrote five manuals on well control for drilling contractors that were accepted by the US Geological Survey. In addition, he taught well control courses for many operators and drilling contractors and conducted the first introductory well control school for the MMS. Contributing to some of the most technologically significant advancements in the industry in recent years, Rehm has worked in the area of high-pressure operations and directional drilling, developed slimhole and slick horizontal drilling tools, and developed math models for the turning radius and performance of the tools. A recognized expert in underbalanced drilling, Rehm developed some of the original plans for underbalanced drilling in the Austin Chalk, and created new drilling motors as well as other mechanical equipment and software.

About the Interview

Bill Rehm: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, May 29, 2014.

Interview SPEOH000113 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.

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Interview Video


Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Bill Rehm
INTERVIEWER: Amy Esdorn
OTHERS PRESENT: Andrew Bennett
DATE: May 29, 2014
PLACE: Austin, Texas


ESDORN:

Perfect. Thanks. Today is Thursday, May 29th 2014. My name is Amy Esdorn and I’m here with Bill Rehm, for an Oral History for the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Bill, could you please state your name and spell your last name.

REHM:

R-E-H-M.

ESDORN:

And that’s Bill or William Rehm?

REHM:

Well, Bill, let’s go with Bill.

ESDORN:

Okay, sure, sure. Great, well, we are going to just start out at the beginning. If you could just give me a little bit of your background, how did you grow up, where did you grow up, that sort of thing?

REHM:

Well, I grew up in the Chicago area, and while I’ve lived in the suburbs, it was perfectly nice. Chicago was just an awful large city. Now we didn’t care for big cities, so I started at the University of Illinois and I really didn’t care for the courses I was getting and I transferred to Missouri School of Mines, and when I got my degree in Geological Engineering – well I decided I’ve seen all of Chicago that I really wanted, so I packed up everything and left. Of course, the real truth there is that when I got out of college, the army drafted me and sent me to Korea where I spent a year or so as a photo interpreter. But when I got back to the United States, this was in ‘55, there was a little depression going on, everybody was depressed, and so I had to take whatever kind of job I could get which was rodman on a survey crew. I tried it for a year and I tried a number of other things for a year or so till I finally bounced around into the oil field. But when I got out of school, the only thing I was really sure about, and not what I wanted to do but I was sure about what I didn’t want to do, I didn’t want to work 8 to 5 in a big office. So while I was not really happy to be a rodman on a survey crew, it was certainly better than doing nothing.

Now as far as I got into the oil field, it was sort of by mistake. After I left the survey crew, I went to work for a year as a mud logger just because it was the only job available, and it brought me from the Rocky Mountains down into Texas. And after a year of mud logging I really didn’t want to stay with that and I was offered a chance to go to work for Magcobar which was a drilling mud company. And since I had a minor in chemistry, drilling mud made a lot of sense to me, I was happy with the freedom and stayed with the company for some 20 years.

ESDORN:

And when you were at school at the University of Illinois, what were you studying?

REHM:

I started out in pre-med then I transferred to geology. I left the University of Illinois just simply because I wasn’t getting enough physical science in the geology department, so I went to a mining school where it was all math and physical science.

ESDORN:

And what sort of precipitated the change to go from medical school to geology?

REHM:

My grades weren’t good enough. [Laughs] Typical reason.

ESDORN:

And so what made you to choose the Missouri School of Mines?

REHM:

Well, I wrote to several mining schools and they answered first and it was closest, all of which seemed to be very good reasons at that time.

ESDORN:

And why did you choose geology?

REHM:

My dad was an engineer and my mother was interested in geology and just sort of the two of them sort of melted together. It wasn’t really a positive choice that as a small boy I wanted to be a geological engineer or anything like that. When I went to college, I went to college because that’s what my family did and there never was a question that I wouldn’t or something. And what would I do? Well, I had no idea. I knew what I didn’t like. The whole story of my background as I drifted from one place to another till I finally fit in the hole of the little pegged hole that was there. So it wasn’t a planned operation at all.

ESDORN:

Wonderful. So you were saying that you came down to Texas doing mud logging and then you sort of got into the petroleum engineering industry that way, working for Magcobar. Can you kind of elaborate on that process?

REHM:

Well, this was a period where jobs were hard to find, good jobs were hard to find. I didn’t want to work in an office. I wanted to work out on the open and have a lot of freedom, and this job was very much that way, wherein all the little oil towns in the world and you had all sorts of freedom. You had to get your job done but the time was your own to do it. And it just suited what I like to do.

ESDORN:

We have a lot of different technical disciplines, what would you say is the discipline that you work in and how did you sort of get into that field?

REHM:

Well, I really ended up inadvertently in petroleum engineering just because of the nature of the work I was doing. I didn’t have much background in petroleum but as I got into the work itself, out on the drilling rigs, you had to learn what you were doing and questions came up and it sort of was a post-graduate course and trying to figure out what in the world was going on out there and why, why it was. I don’t know if I could be more specific about that, and it was really sort of a drifting nature of things. I first found out that I could make a difference in things when I was working in Colorado with some air drilling operations and I wrote an article for one of the national oil field magazines about this subject of aerated mud, mostly because the editor had come to me and said, “Why don’t you write this thing?” And so with his help we did and I found out a couple of things that really amazed me. First, that the article was accepted in the industry and it did make a difference; it pushed an industry technique that had been falling into disuse and had not been followed up very well. I found out that, yes, I could write technical articles and derive equations and do all sorts of things like that [00:08:00] from a service company that at that time we didn’t see. So this first article in 1960 was a real revelation to me that I could do something that really made a difference in the industry.

ESDORN:

And when did you go back to school?

REHM:

I had finished my degree before I got drafted.

ESDORN:

Okay. Was that just undergraduate degree or did you – because you’ve had masters as well, correct?

REHM:

No, no.

ESDORN:

So you’re undergraduate, wonderful.

REHM:

I’m just a… compared to Bill Maurer who’s coming this afternoon, I just quit in grammar school.

ESDORN:

Not it all.

[OFF-MIC CONVERSATION]

REHM:

Well, let me go back to this 1960 article, again this was a real crossroads for me. As I said, I learned I could do something that made a difference in the industry. I learned that I could be accepted in the industry the things I did. I learned that really I was standing on the shoulder of giants. In an earlier talk with the SPE, I quoted Isaac Newton that said, “If I see further than other men it’s because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” Well, that was true with me. When I did this first work, and I really did the first real research that I’d never done, I realized that there was a lot of really brilliant information out there from some really brilliant people, and all I had to do was take it and make it work, so this was again the real hallelujah moment in my life. I went in a year or so [00:10:00] from being a guy that was drawing a salary to do a job that he liked doing to somebody that said, “Wow I can really do something here; I can make a difference in all of these things.” And looking back now some 50 years later, I still feel the same thrill I felt at the time, that, gosh, I can really make a difference.

So I followed that subject which happened to be aerated mud for a couple of years and then I transferred down at the request of the company to South Louisiana and was a district engineer down there, again, for drilling mud. And there was a problem. In your request you asked about, what about motivation and what about problems? At this time there were two or three sort of strange problems in the drilling industry.

One of them was that if you were a university graduate, don’t admit it, and the second part was if you had an advanced degree, certainly don’t admit it, a very anti-intellectual bias. Another one was that all of the forward work was being done by the major oil companies. When I first got to the oil field they were just getting rid of their company drilling rigs and the company towns and all of these and going to some service companies, but basically the major oil company was integrated and all of the new research wrote and all of the new ideas came from the major oil companies, and people that worked in service companies were just sort of second rate citizens. [00:12:00]

I don’t say this as a criticism; this is just the way the industry was at the time. And we didn’t have any computers either; we had six-inch slide rules. But to go back to the main narration, when I got to South Louisiana, my management called me in one day and said, “Hey, we are having this problem out in the field there and you are the guy, you are the technical guy that’s supposed to solve it, so just go do it.” And it had to do with some of the properties of our drilling mud that weren’t being reported properly. To put it very crudely, some of the boys were doing some boiler housing. Nobody had ever caught it but up to this point there was a group that was starting to check behind.

So I looked at the subject and went back and did some research work and found out that the solution was already there. The giants I talked about: Collins and O’Brien with Gulf Oil Company and some people with City Service. I had already worked the solutions out and all I had to take them -- take the problem and make a practical solution. So I wrote a series of correspondence courses for our engineers down there; we had 50 of them working in my district. And I went to the manger and said, “Okay I’m going to give these guys these lessons once a month which they won’t do unless you promise that you won’t sign their expense account unless they turn their test in.” This is a pretty radical plan at the time.

And he had a sense of humor, so he says, “Okay.” And so when we’ve put out the first test, none of them came back and nobody got his expense account signed. Well, this is disaster, I mean absolute disaster [00:14:00]. So from there on for the next year, I got the tests done and sent back into me, all worked out with all the math worked out with our little six-inch slide rules. But I remember very clearly, and it was day before Christmas, the 23rd of December, we had an engineer out on a rig called me and said, “Hey, this well is trying to blow out and we have a well kick.” My wife has told me that I need to be in on Christmas Eve and the tool pusher there said that his wife said he was going to divorce him if he stayed out over Christmas because he stayed out over Christmas for the last several years. And with the techniques we were using at the time, it would take a week or so to kill one of these wells. Long story but the engineer asked me, “This technique you were teaching us, will it work?” And I said, “Well, of course it will work.”

So it was a classic case and instead of taking a week to kill it, it just took three hours to finish the thing. And any resistance I had from the other engineers in the area disappeared that next week, when the word got around that all of this thing worked. So it was a really big ego ride for me that we had done something and it really worked. On a commercial end we picked up a lot of extra business because all of a sudden we were people that could do this. But again it was a technical application of something that other people had worked out. And from there we went on to a lot of work on reading well pressures from logs; again [00:16:00] the major oil companies had done a lot of work. At that time we had no idea how well pressures developed in the earth, but at a meeting, a fellow by the name of Harold Hamm with Schlumberger in a meeting of the World Oil Association had said just casually that the major oil companies had molded this relationship between what they called the short normal curve on an electric log and pressures but that was an interesting relationship. As soon as I got out of the meeting I raced down to the log library and bought some electric logs and hang them up over a door.

And we had like in this building we had eight-foot doors. And I looked at this log and that relationship was there, that was really clear, why didn’t anybody else see it? So I quickly got our old blue mimeograph machine, if you remember those things, and mimeographed off some of these logs and wrote out a little test and sent it out to all of our engineers and said, “Look here guys, look what we can do.” And I was just as excited about it then as I am now. “Look at what we can do; we can actually take these little wiggly, wiggly lines on a piece of paper and tell what the pressure is down at 10,000 feet in the earth.” And the guys all said, “Well, you know, he was right on the other one, so maybe he’s right on this one.”

And it wasn’t a month later that somebody called in from offshore and said, “Well, I’m out here and we are not drilling very fast and the electric log says our mud weight is too heavy, and can I cut it back?” This in this case for the technical and only three pounds [00:18:00] and so when the mud weight is way too heavy it drills slowly, so on and on. I said, “Look I’m in bed, I’m onshore Louisiana, you’re 10 miles offshore, and there is a wind blowing and there is big waves. Now if you think you can do that without blowing this well out, well just go have at it.” Well, he said, “I’m pretty desperate.” So he did, and it worked just like the book said it did, but it was again this early technology was so obvious, and we weren’t working on the fine decimal point ends of it. We were working on the really gross end.

And so that worked great, and again another great ego ride, but it was all work done by other people. All I did was to hang the log over the door and say, “Wow, look at that thing,” and draw a red line on it. And then later some shale researchers, Jim Jorden and Shirley, wrote a paper about drilling rig they called “The Exponent.” And they said this is an interesting concept that we sure can measure formation pressure by how fast you drill but it doesn’t work. Well, I read the paper and said, “Well, yeah, the reason it didn’t work is because the data they took wasn’t any good.” So we went out on the drilling rig and took some data and lo and behold it worked, I mean, it was wonderful. So now all of a sudden we knew how to kill wells when they blew out, we knew how to measure what the pressures ought to be from previous electric logs, [00:20:00] and now in real time, while we were doing it, we could read these pressures. And we were all the broken fingernail guys out on the rig that were doing the work. But this was a period of real satisfaction, and all of this was accepted by the industry. Other people had unvarying degrees of work on it. Certainly the basic research had all been done by other people. And one of my compatriots, a doctor Louden, explained to us all, based again on the research done originally at the University of Delft in Holland, about how these pressures developed in the earth.

And as we did research on this—this was one of our great lessons, as the giants were there, go read their papers—we had found out there’s some from the United Stated geological survey had come to the same conclusions, that these pressures developed but they never took it down -- took it under the point that says, “Well, let’s do something about it.” It was just an academic thing so. We were again standing on the shoulders of giants and just sort of taking what had fallen off their table and made it work. So that was about a decade of my life in South Louisiana, where we did this kind of work. It was fun, it was exciting, it was the very essence of drilling in the oil field, and that is exciting and it is enthusiastic, and you’re not stuck in an office every day, you’re out there really doing things.

I left that company after about 10 years and did a little of that, did a little of that. I was fortunate enough to be [00:22:00] head of a horizontal drilling group doing a research on how to drill horizontally in the early 90’s. That’s was about another decade of work. And now the latest Exxon work they have gone horizontally seven miles horizontally off the Russian coast in the Pacific. But at that time in 1990, when we got down, not horizontally but just down to turn it to 60 degrees, we were, “Wow! We really can do this!” Now none of our survey instruments would work, none of our instruments worked but we worked with the developers and engineers to get equipment that do this, and other people were working on it also. So all through the decade of the 90’s, we learned how a drill horizontally, and then in the late 90’s the Austin Chalk in Texas here was a wonderful training ground because we drilled two or 3,000 wells but basically it was drilling the same well over and over. So we learned how to do that. I left that part of the industry about 2000. It had passed beyond what I was doing, and -- I what would I say, well, the bigger company has taken over the horizontally drilling and the little company I was in wasn’t really competitive with it anymore.

But again it was another one of the sort of, well, I was just wondering along and here it was. The basic work had all been done by other people; it was just a matter of trying to make it work.

ESDORN:

So what you were talking about in South Louisiana, in Lafayette, that was at Dresser Industries. Is that right? [00:24:00]

REHM:

Mm-hmm.

ESDORN:

Okay.

REHM:

The SPE is very touchy about naming companies.

ESDORN:

Well, not for this. For these purposes, we can.


REHM:

Sitting here now 56 years later, I can still feel some of the excitement we had at the time. I feel sorry for people in this world that never really, really understand what intellectual excitement is. It’s one thing about being excited about riding a bicycle or riding a soft board or something, the other is looking at something and saying “Gosh, you know, this formula really works. This thing does it.” And I can still feel that excitement about those things, and it was well it was not something I planned, it was just I was there and the thing had to be done.

ESDORN:

I’m going to kind of ask you a little bit more to sort of elaborate about your work in well control and the pressure measurements and the well logging and everything that you did. You explained it very well but I don’t want you to feel like you can’t get too technical, so can you maybe discuss maybe the significance of what it was that of working with developing the well control and pressure measurements with electrical logs and what the significance of that was for the industry. I know that it had already been done, the research had been done, and then you were applying it, but it really changed the way people did it. Like you said, it had been before taking a week to kill a well and you were able to do it in three hours on Christmas Eve, something along those lines if you can [00:26:00].

REHM:

Well, the problem was as we drilled, well, it started with the first oil fields that wells blew out. When you run in to high pressure zones, wells blew out. So the industry developed drilling muds, which were very heavy fluids, twice as heavy as water, sometimes three times as heavy as water, to hold these pressures in the earth. And for the most part, it worked out okay. The problem was that the heavier the fluid was, the more expensive it was, the more the chance was that it would be lost circulation, and it slowed the drilling process by 100% or more. Instead of drilling 100 feet an hour, you might be drilling two feet an hour, you know, because the drilling fluid was too heavy. But the penalty of the well blowing out and burning up was also very high. And for some reason after the war, in the late 40’s and early 50’s, this was just sort of accepted, but when I came into the industry in the late 50’s, everybody was getting very concerned about it.

And all the clues were there, but nobody had put it together. Fortunately in South Louisiana, there’s a large area across Louisiana coast that is pretty much the same, same geology and the same rules, so once we – as I say I inadvertently got in to it because my area manager had said, “Fix this problem.” Well, I fixed the problem by going backwards around the problem. But anyhow it changed everybody’s attitude about how you should drill a well. And it was a real revelation, and once [00:28:00] it was demonstrated in the field, then the resistance which – any resistance you always get to new ideas in the office, and the administrator, the boss, said, “Well, I never did this all my life so, you know, what are these guys doing?”

Well, once it had been demonstrated in the field, and the field people accepted it and they were doing it, well then the administrative office had to follow this, and once they got their teeth in to it, well then of course it became more of a standardized procedure. It’s a big business now; I’d be a rich man if I had stayed as a well control expert. Actually I thought it was pretty simple and I got out of it and got to more interesting things. But it was a real revelation; it was nothing that I invented. Goins and O'Brien had laid it out in a couple of papers. A fellow by the name of Frank Priebe who was with city service had added it to the technology.

And I simply read the paper and I happened to know Mr. Priebe and talked with him, and so I took all of these together, with my old blue mimeograph machine, and wrote out a bunch of correspondence lessons because there were no lesson, there were no literature on this that I could teach but I had 50 people down there, all with college degrees, all working out in these wells, all with their six-inch slide rules, that could work these very simple problems, and all we had to do is to explain to them that “this is how it works, guys,” and they understood that. And then once somebody did it, and we were very fortunate it was a classic case with a little salt water cake, not much gas, and it followed all the rules just exactly to the penny, so to speak, which is wonderful, you know [00:30:00], when your first attempt at something works not only well but just unbelievably well, then of course the first thing this guy did when he got ashore was called all his other friends and said, “Wow, guess what I did?” And so then once it was taken up by the mud engineers in the field and we did it all the time and people started saying, “Well, we’ll give you the drilling fluid on this well if you will look after this thing,” this lasted a period of a year or so before other people started to catch on. It took a while for other people to realize what was really being done, and then once they realized what was being done, they work it around their own way. So we tried to stay ahead of everybody, and once the well control became more common, we picked up a new thing, measured these pressures ahead of time with electric drills, which again gave us a big jump on everybody.

And again our good little correspondence courses and you had to do it or you didn’t get your, didn’t get your expense account paid. But the guys outsmarted me. They would all get together about two days before the lesson was due and they would all get together and have a big barbecue and all worked the lessons together. And then they would complain to me, “Well, you gave this guy an 85 but you only gave me an 80, and here the answers are the same.” Well, yeah, probably so, I wasn’t a very good teacher sometimes. And then when we went on to this drilling rate exponent that would give it to us in real-time so this was sort of a progression of ideas that I couldn’t have done in the present oil field. I could only do it there because I had a manager that said, “Just as long [00:32:00] as it works, go do it.”

There weren’t any lawyers saying, “Oh, look at the liability you guys are undertaking.” And we were undertaking tremendous liability from a legal point but there wasn’t anybody saying that. There also wasn’t any communication. We had some long range radios, fair legal frequency that we could talk back and forth, but as far as offshore, offshore from straight up from O’clock to half past the hour, the production people could talk in on the radios and then from half past the hour to the hour, the drilling people could talk in on the radio. And it varied with different companies. But the communications were very, very poor so at this period, which was the early 60s; well, through the 1960s, there wasn’t very good communication, so the man on the job did the job and then he told the people in Houston or New Orleans later on, what he’d done. And if it wasn’t very good why that was it, but if it was very good why that was fine, it was done and by the time it got to the legal department why it was way down the line and nobody thought anything more about it.

So probably in the present US, we can’t do that this way. Actually they’re doing that this way in South East Asia and making great progress. But back to your discussion of this, this was a real revelation, this was a real major change in the whole thing, and what it needed, it needed a champion to kick it off and enforce it. And once it was kicked off, once the people in the field were reporting this works, then it had to be accepted [00:34:00] and of course it’s going on to be a major industry of its own now.

ESDORN:

That’s great. That was really good. Thank you so much.

REHM:

Still as much fun as it ever was.

ESDORN:

I’m excited.

Let’s see, so you kind of touched on this a little bit back, but if you could please discuss your work in the area of high pressure drilling operations and directional drilling, and I know that you worked in long rich marine operation so if you could kind of…

REHM:

Well, starting in the 90s, we started working at trying to drill horizontally, and it was about ‘95 or ‘96 before we really got enough equipment together and ideas together, and it was a lot of interesting things. There’s an old saying, “It’s not what you know that hurts you; it’s what you know that ain’t,” so. Well, we knew a lot of things about directional drilling that weren’t so and it took five years of work out in the field and failures to really say, “Oh, well, this isn’t so.” When we first started out directional drilling, one of the big problems was that an early -- one of the early, very brilliant engineers had discussed drill pipe with us and had said that you had to keep this drill pipe in tension and you couldn’t turn it around too big a corner when you rotate it or else it would break, which it did,, and so we started out with the fact that this drill pipe was straight and if we rotated it around the corner it would break. Well, if you take a piece of pipe and bend it and then try to rotate it, it breaks; what we didn’t realize that he was writing about pipe in tension [00:36:00], when you put pipe in compression, steel in compression is totally different than steel in tension. And so then we could rotate it.

And we started out originally not rotating our pipe when we tried to drill our wells, or I mean it didn’t work very well. And finally the guys in the field just started rotating the pipe; I was against it. They did it anyhow and, well, that worked. So we looked back at the original equations and said, “That’s right, we’re talking about different things.” But there were a lot of things like that, there was the drill pipe, there were the survey tools, there were the bits; we had the wrong impression about all of them. In fact some of the impressions we’re just starting to get rid of now, some 20 years later.

ESDORN:

For instance?

REHM:

So it was just a lot of trial and error, trial and error, trial and error, and once we finally hit the right thing, why, the major directional companies came into it and grasped hold of all of these equations and all of these things which turned out a lot of them weren’t all that precise and really made it go. So then on the little research end and all, you know, we finally came on economics, but it was an exciting time trying to do things like that. Gosh, we made a lot of mistakes; I mean, our math was bad, our concepts were bad. It was just terrible; it was very terrible. But finally with trial and error, and again going back to what we learned earlier, if you would just go and research the files, research the Society of Petroleum Engineer papers, the answers were all there. Sometimes the guy that wrote the answer didn’t understand [00:38:00] what it was the answer to or he wrote an answer to no question, but we had the question. And so if we went back and we worked at it long enough, we said, “Oh, that’s what the guy was saying. Yeah, wow, wow, how come we didn’t understand that to begin with?”

But it took us close to 10 years to understand horizontal drilling, and just lately we’ve understood some new things about it. So it’s a progress that goes on. I got out of it 15 years ago, 14 years ago. It’s an interesting progress that still goes on, and it ran into the subject that I’d been working on, pressures and drilling rates and all of the stuff. The stuff it was came together and developed a whole new technology and a whole new outlook on things. And it was the result of just different people coming together and trying and being ready and able to fail. One of the big advantages we’ve always had in the American oil field is that since there are so many little companies out there, if you fail and you’re fired because you fail, and sometimes you do, you could always go to work for another company. On the other hand if you worked for Pemex, if you got fired from Pemex, tough luck, buddy; not only could you not get another oil field job, there just weren’t jobs for you to get and you were disgraced. And this is true with almost all of the national oil companies, you can’t fail, or at least you can’t fail spectacularly. Where in the US oil field, you could always fail spectacularly, and to their credit most of the big companies, if you had a good reason for doing what you did, [00:40:00] didn’t penalize you for it. They just said, “Try not to do that again.” And so this is what led to a lot of these interesting things. But later on in the 90s I had got into my 60s and they were always reluctant to let me out on the drilling rigs. “That old man over there, I don’t know if he’s safe on the rig.” So I turned to writing and tried to resolve the problem in a book or in writing materials. I first wrote a little book for petroleum and Pemex petroleum extension in the University of Texas about horizontal drilling because the tool pushers and drilling people out on the rig actually didn’t know what they were doing. A guy came out and said, “Do this.” So I wrote a book for them and I guessed I had proposed it to them and they said okay.

That said, okay, this is what you are doing and this is how you are doing it, but since I wrote it for tool pushers and drillers and these were by and large people that maybe quit high school because they didn’t like it to begin with, so I didn’t put any math in it, and that was a whole book so thick about technical drilling that didn’t have any math in it. And interestingly enough it was revealed by the Shell engineers in the Hague and they said, “Yeah, you are right, this is all correct, but you don’t have any math in it.” And I told him, “I didn’t write it for you guys.” And they said, “Well it still doesn’t have any math in it.” They had done a very good review of it, I had learnt a great deal from their review, so later on when we formed a group sort of an [00:42:00] ad hoc group to write our tech, present technology and try to get some of the things that old folks like I do down on paper so people wouldn’t repeat that error too many times.

Well, I wrote another book on that same general subject and I looked at some of the math from directional drilling and I said, “Wow, how many years has it been since I studied math in college?” I wasn’t very good at it anyhow, so I went to Texas A&M, I knew a professor there, and I said, “Hey, I’ve got a problem, I need a couple of PhD level grad students in petroleum engineering to help me with the math in this horizontal drilling which is a brand new technology, and in return I will teach them about horizontal drilling.” So I got two young men that were really brilliant in math, and one of them had actually been on a drilling rig, so we had this workout but they did all the math. When the book got done and it got reviewed again by Shell, they said, “Well, yeah, I didn’t agree with all the math but the math is correct,” so we passed the test that time. Why I was so concerned about the Shell and The Hague was simply because when they do a book review, an engineering book review, they do a very good book review and they simply listen to what the people say when they are on the inside, your own errors of omission and that sort of thing.

ESDORN:

So is what you are talking about right now was that you developing the math models for the turning radius and et cetera, so…?

REHM:

Yeah,– well, the math models, actually I’m not so much determining the math models as explaining how the math models got developed, [00:44:00] so one of the problems we have is you’ve got a little black box you call a computer and you punch some numbers in it and out comes an answer. Well, most of the time the answer is pretty good. Every once in a while though you really wonder, now wait a minute, what assumptions did the man that made this mathematical model, what assumptions did he make and are they the same assumptions that I’ve got to make? And so this is what we did in a series of two books on that subject. We discussed what we did and how we did it and the state of the art, but the mathematics which I really couldn’t handle was not just the math of running the numbers too, but what was the assumptions made in this math that affect the answer? Because the model is just a model and if you put the wrong assumption in it, you get a different answer out of the whole thing. But these guys are modern; the newly admitted engineers, their math is superb, just really great – way, way beyond what I could have done.

ESDORN:

So can you discuss with me now, is it kind of a big leap between working in the 60s in Lafayette, Louisiana, on the rig and then working in the 90s in directional drilling and all the rest? Can you tell us kind of what you did in between?

REHM:

Well, you know, the oil field has really changed since the 50s. I think actually the change came somewhere around 2000 when we got the first of the laptop computers that were really pretty good, and we got cell phones. Those two really changed the oil fields [00:46:00]. In the early days, well, back in the 50s in the late 1900s, we didn’t have good communication, and later on starting with the 80s, we had the big IBMs and all those computers. They weren’t available to the man on the job; the man on the job still had this little slide rule and later on he had a little hand calculator, but he didn’t have good communication so basically he had to make the decision. And the other part that led to the change was the drilling engineers working for major oil companies up until about 1980, went through courses, they went through years of training and they could do everything on the rig themselves, they had done it all, they had worked on rough necks, they had worked as drillers, they’d worked as mud loggers, they’d worked as logging engineers, they’d done all of these things. And so, the man that was in charge of the operation, the onsite leader, was really well versed in all of this, which was a good thing because he didn’t have much communication; it all depended on his decisions.

Starting in the 80s, the drilling engineer didn’t get that training; he went in the office. And we had better communications and better and better until now they are superb. And the mathematics, anybody can run then on the computers. So we went from a period where the man on the job made the decision and lived with it, however it worked out he lived with it, and where liability and all of these was just part of the job, to where these are all now liability and safety and you know orders from headquarters, so to speak, [00:48:00] are very, very tightly controlled and it’s an entirely different approach. Of course now the other thing that happened in this same period, you went from drilling rigs that were manually operated with clutches and like gear shifts like cars and all of that sort of thing – gear shifts and clutches, you know, how many of you can run a gear shift and clutch these days? Well, now they went to all automatic systems where you use a little joystick.

The driller used to stand out in the rain, in the snow and everything alongside the rig and where all the noise was and now he’s in a nice little air-conditioned cabin sitting in the chair like this and with a little joystick and television screens all around, so he’s a different man than he was. And the supervisor is a different man than he was with different training. And so it has been a whole apple cart upside down. And when I talk about some of these early ideas we came in, this is almost incomprehensible to some of the young fellows coming out. “How could you do that? How could you just go out and do that? I mean, who let you do that?” Well, nobody let us do it; we just, we just did it. Is it better now? Well, we are drilling better and more economically, yes. Is it more fun now? I don’t know. It’s just not a lot of fun to stand out in the rain and the snow and the freezing weather like in North Dakota up now. So, yeah, it’s different. You still work 12-hour shifts; you still work overseas, 28 days on and 28 days off for 12-hour days. It’s still exciting, things get almost too exciting sometimes, it’s just different, it’s just different. [0:50:00]

ESDORN:

Very good. So can you discuss your work developing plans for underbalanced drilling in the Austin Chalk?

REHM:

The what?

ESDORN:

Your work developing plans for underbalanced drilling in the Austin Chalk.

REHM:

Oh well. Here’s what my plans were. When we started to drill in the Austin Chalk, it was an ideal thing to drill it. It didn’t do any bad things to you and if you could drill a hole, the hole would stand open. Everything was fine, so we started to develop some little rules of thumb as we went. But when I was in the early development part of it, it was really very primitive, I mean we were just trying to get horizontally and we’d made the first hundred feet horizontally. We were really happy. We really didn’t understand the geology of why that chalk worked like it did, because there were just a couple little research companies working on it and the company I had was with very limited. I was the only one with an engineering training and then I had a couple of directional drillers working for me. I think one time we had five directional drillers, and a very, very limited budget. A good deal of our research was done in the library and then we’d go to the manufacturer and say, “Hey, can we do this, this way?” And he said, “Well, I never did it that way but we’ll give it a try.” We would talk about bits and we made all sorts of wrong decisions and these sort of things. I called it research but really it was an awful [00:52:00] example of research.

But we finally persisted enough to where some of the other bigger companies came in with more resources and they started to take some of these basic ideas and say, “Oh, well, this equation you developed for how the bit would turn, if we did build this sort of little bend in the drill pipe, how would the bit turn and at what angle would it turn? How would we do it and how much weight would you put on it?” That works but it’s not correct. Well, they were right, it worked but it wasn’t correct, so they made a correction to it based on, you know, a lot of people, a lot of better resources and all. And so that’s really sort of how it started out. We started out with some ideas. We were moderately successful. Others came in with probably better ideas and better resources. And we made a basic error. In the beginning we thought that small diameter pipes and small holes were the way to go. It turned out that, that wasn’t the case at all, and up to a certain point, bigger was better. So it was not something I would jump up and down and say, “Wow,” beat my chest, “I have hallelujah solved all these problems.” It was one of those things that you produced something that other people took on and made it successful There were a couple of companies working at this area, and as we got more and more successful, more and more people started to work into this with more and more resources, and so that’s how it came – because another things that’s changed in the oil field is with so many of the newer people, they’re much more open to change and to difference and the attitude [00:54:00]. Along with all of these computers and communication, their attitude towards change is a lot different, so people accept these things. It’s turned out to be more a matter of trying to explain to people out in the field why these things came to pass and the theory of it—yeah, but don’t get too heavy into theory—but basically why does this really work this way and if you do it the other why doesn’t that work at all? And other people will carry those ideas on, carry them to the point they need to do. Exxon has done some fantastic new work on this long reach wells off of Russia. It completely changed some of our thinking about some of this, but this is going on all the long time.–

Now the early well control thing was a progression of ideas and this horizontal drilling has been a progression of ideas, and everybody adds a little bit to it here and adds a little bit to it there and adds a little bit to it. A lot of it is bureaucratic nonsense but there’s little germs of truth in all of this that propel you forward.

ESDORN:

So are you okay right now, do you need to take a sip of water? [Audio break] -- where, you know, the progression of your career and moving along from maybe your work in the 60s and then what did you do in the 70s and how did you get there?

REHM:

Well, the way I got it was an interesting sort of progression I ran through personally going from the Louisiana Gulf Coast and that work in well control, the horizontal drilling and [00:56:00] some of the things. I realized after some 15 or 20 years in the oil field that I didn’t work in big companies very well. I’m not sure exactly why; it’s just my personality doesn’t mesh with a large organization very well. So I when I left big companies I didn’t work for them anymore and I started working either with small research companies or on my own, and from time to time we just fell into lucky points. I worked for Dr. Bower and his research engineering company for a year or so for two years actually, because when I went to work for him, I said I would work for him for two years and then decide whether I want to stay or not, and at the end of that time I went “Well, he’s a little too researchy for me. I’d get out and do a little more.” But I was fortunate to be offered a chance to lead a development group in this horizontal drilling. I’m not too sure it was a great career advancement thing because it didn’t work out in the end. The company was basically sold out and because we weren’t competitive. But it was fun while we were doing it; it was an interesting sort of thing. I think I did a lot of things because I enjoyed doing them rather than looking for career advancement. I’m not too sure I ever looked for career advancement. But since I didn’t work for big companies I mean what was so sensible looking for career advancement? I was just “Do what you like to do and enjoy it.”

But the work in the Austin Chalk was just sort of a trial-and-error pickup thing. The chalk was good to work in because it was pretty consistent, but we really didn’t understand [00:58:00] so much of what they understood now, and later. As I said, you know, the development work we did was really pretty bad. We finally made it work, but other people made it work a whole lot better. I probably got out fortunately when I did because there were just people that were a lot better directional drillers than I was. And it was interesting; it led to a lot of interesting thoughts about how things should work, and I spent close to a decade in it. But, you know, not everything you do turns out love and roses. It didn’t turn out bad. I made a living at it, I had fun doing it, learned something from it, but could I say [did it] inspire new people? Hey, you’re not always successful. You got to sometimes fail, and sometimes you’re really lucky you don’t really fail, you just sort of partly messed things up and it ain’t as good as it should be.

ESDORN:

So you were developing techniques and tools for horizontal and underbalanced drilling. Can you talk about some of those techniques and some of those tools that you developed?

REHM:

Well, when I left the horizontal drilling, I left the directional drilling part of it but I was still interested in pressures. In Europe that’s what I had started out dealing with. And so, I started writing and consulting on how to deal with some of these pressures and how to deal with some of these problems, how to drill through reservoirs without completely messing them up. It was sort of a little trial-and-error period. I wrote a couple of books on the subject which gave me entry into some consulting work. I’m not [01:00:00] too sure that what I did in the last 14-15 years was so much research as it was sort of compiling what people were doing and trying to put it in clear logical language so folks could understand what was going on. I was doing this for my benefit; a book is a great calling card, it gets you into offices where otherwise you would not, and a hard cover book is always better than a soft cover book. But then on the other hand, as far as writing the books I’m sure that I’m up to making at least 15 cents an hour for the time I spent in them. But you learn a lot by doing it and it gave me a chance entry into other work for people and I continued to compile these ideas. And now of course, the drilling contractors have picked up this book group we were with and they’re carrying that work forward and into trying to explain these techniques. But not only explain the techniques that we’re using, but trying to explain to the people doing them why we did it and the progression we went through and for God’s sake don’t do it this way because here is the problem. This is basically what I’ve done the last 10 years; it doesn’t sound very glamorous or sort of fun. As I say, as you get older they’re reluctant to let you out in drilling operations, and so you’ll do what best you can on that sort of thing. But still it’s enjoyable to do things and see good results from them.

ESDORN:

And what were some of the techniques and the tools that you developed?

REHM:

Oh, gosh. Well, [01:02:00] I have a hard time thinking about some of that stuff. Well, you know I developed a well control technique, but basically I didn’t – yeah, it was a technique I developed, a technique from reading pressures from logs. In a simplified form, all is gone much beyond that now. From drilling rates, we made some of the early equations for how to turn mathematically what a directional assembly would turn. It turns out that math was entirely wrong but it worked. I developed a few equations for some of the things that we’re doing now about pressures and drilling rates. They’re all pretty much straight from the research articles and just taken down into language that people can understand and that they can work with. You know, I sort of forget some of this stuff. Math is just a tool you use as you go along. I guess some people never learn that, but it’s just another screw driver or wrench that you use to try to explain how something works or make something work.

ESDORN:

And so you kind of discussed the some of the techniques of, well, I guess what you were discussing was you were taking a research and you were making it sort of comprehensible for a larger audience so that it could be disseminated to a larger group of people so that this could be advanced so that the technique of underbalanced drilling, of horizontal underbalanced drilling could go forward..

REHM:

Yeah, well, the mathematics of it is an important issue though, because there is a built-in rejection of math from 90% or more of the population, and [01:04:00] so basically what we always tried to do was we said, “Well, if you couldn’t solve this with high school level math—which at the time I went to school was just up through advanced algebra, no calculus—if we can’t solve it on this basis, then you want to be really carefully about taking it any further” – and some of the things we had to take a little further, but nothing further than first year university mathematics. The really far-out stuff is not usable at two o’clock in the morning when it’s raining and everything is going to hell and everybody is standing around behind you, breathing over your shoulder saying, “What are we going to do now?” So that sort of stuff is good for planning but you have to have something that’s simpler that people can work out and can see the answers, and sometimes the answers are not intuitive but, the math has got to be simple and the ideas have got to be simple. You got to do away with the so many of the what-ifs and therefores and so-forths and just get it down to what have you got to do, and within the limits of this big piece of machine where you’re working with, what can you really do? And sometimes that’s a tremendous limitation.

ESDORN:

So, you developed some tools to work in underbalanced horizontal drilling. What were some of the tools that you developed there?

REHM:

Well, I’m not too sure. [Laughs] In tools, you know, I really was never a great tool man. The horizontal drilling thing was interesting because it was started out with bent housing so we had to figure out how you would make a proper bent housing. We started out by just taking a piece of pipe and bending it. [01:06:00] Well, that was not really very satisfactory, so we then cut apiece of pipe in two and welded it together at another angle and, well, that was all right but it wasn’t really a very good way of doing it. It worked with the middle row. And really I didn’t do any of that. I talked with the people about it and I said, “You know, well, we did this but it didn’t work.” And drill bits were very interesting; we started out with a little toothed bit, I’m forgetting what we called it, little diamonds on a bit, TSP bit. It looked like a big reamer with a little diamond teeth all around it. We thought, “Well, this will be just the thing to turn the curve with.” Well, it didn’t drill very fast, and we learned out that when you ran it down the casing, the casing wore the little diamonds down, so when it got down to the bottom, a mile down, they were so wide there weren’t any teeth left on it, that’s why it didn’t drill very fast. It took us a while to figure that out, so then we tried another kind of bit which was coming out in the line, TSP bit, what we use today, the diamond bits. They were just under development then by Dr. Maurer’s group. They worked okay but the diamonds broke off and the teeth broke off, it didn’t work very good. We tried regular drill bits and they wouldn’t turn; they drilled straight but they wouldn’t turn because they were built to drill straight, not to turn and run all through this kind of foolishness. Go back to the manufacture and said, “Well, you know, this isn’t working,” so we tried something else. So, I don’t know if I developed anything there; we just muddled our way through things. Our first survey instruments, for example, would only measure down to 60 degrees [01:08:00], and beyond 60 degrees we used, we had to use a mathematical interpretation of what it meant. Except that wasn’t correct, the math didn’t work. So we had to get them to put a third axis in the little tools; the little tools basically had two gyroscopes and they needed to get a third one. And they had other devices in them. But now, you know, now it’s just a common sort of thing; at the time, it wasn’t.

Well, everything went that way, we all used the wrong drilling bits; we used the wrong bits, we used the wrong drill strings, we used the wrong survey instruments. And we went back to manufacturer and cried on their shoulder and said, “It wouldn’t work,” and they would send a representative out to the well and he’d say, “Well, yeah, it didn’t work but I got this new idea,” and so we’d come out with a new idea. Well, it worked a little better but didn’t work that much better. But as people came in with more resources, and from different views and different disciplines, all of these things sort of worked out. Really I have never been a big tool developer; that has never been my strong point. My strong point was ability to see the pattern of things that we were developing. And so I tried to stay away from things I didn’t do very well. I’m not a good metallurgist; I’m not a good chemist, and a lot of good things.

So, in answer to the point about tools, the manufacturers knew much more about them than I did. We had a lot of fun with trying to develop drilling motors. it’s a long history of drilling motors, very bad history, it didn’t work very good, didn’t work very good. We got them; they didn’t work, very big. We changed their sizes; they worked a little better. We changed the speed; they worked a little better. We changed again; they worked worse. [01:10:00] Finally got enough people with enough resources in, then they started developing better motors, and they are still developing better downhole motors. So all of this stuff is just a progression that went a little step by a little step by a little step by a little step that people tried something, it didn’t work, people tried something, it didn’t work. And as long as you had the freedom to try something that didn’t work very well, you were all right.

ESDORN:

It sounds like what you’re saying is that you were part of the development in that you put those tools and you put those techniques to use and you saw what worked and you saw what didn’t work and then you reported back, and so that’s how you were part of that whole development and seeing patterns. Would you say that’s correct?

REHM:

Well, yeah, my great strength in all of this stuff is not that I am great researcher or studier or mathematician or anything; it’s I see patterns of things. And so as long as I stayed in my position of the guy that was looking at the pattern of how this was developing, trying to get these other people to help me do this, we did pretty well. If I got out and tried to be my own meddler, that’s why I didn’t do very well at all. So I finally learned through the years that this is what I did pretty well: watch the pattern and see how the pattern develop, which when I started to write books really helped me because the book is a pattern of what you’re trying to do.

So everybody does some things well and some things not so well. The story is to try to figure out what you do well at any particular point in your life and try to stay with what you do well [01:12:00] and stay away from what you do very poorly. A lot easier to say than to do, it’s a lot easier to look at in retrospect than it is at the moment. It took me 30 years to figure out what I did well. Even though I was doing it intuitively, it took a long time to figure out why. Doing some of the work for this interview, I went back and looked at some of these things that I had done and said, “Wow, I really was lucky.” I didn’t properly analyze this at all; I just sort of followed my nose. I’ve always admired people that knew what they were going to do from the day they went to school and they have done it. But I haven’t, I just followed my nose wherever it led and I was lucky I made more good decisions than I made bad decisions.

ESDORN:

That’s really great. My last question –well, it’s not my last question but my last question about your contributions particularly specifically—we’ve talked about a few things you [Audio break] that we haven’t touched on that you wanted to talk about?

REHM:

Well, the last two books I wrote were on the subject of underbalanced drilling and managed pressure drilling. Both of them have to do basically with how you handle the pressures in the earth. I guess it was a culmination of everything I’ve done for 50 years and the pattern of how this thing works. So I wrote these two books trying to explain to people and in clear language how these systems worked and why they worked the way [01:14:00] they did. And so this has really occupied me for 10 years now. When I finished off the last of them, I decided, “Well, technology in the oil field is moving so fast I’m starting to get obsolete, I either got to jump in the middle of this thing or just go off and relax for a while.” I think I decided that I’ll just go and relax for a while. You know it’s hard to put a lifetime together. It’s easy enough to beat your chest and say, “Boy, I did this!” Well, I really didn’t do that – I did that, but I did that because these other people had done the basic research because I had managers that said, “Hey, go do it,” or I had somebody that said “We need to go do this” sort of thing. It’s not that I did; it it’s that the whole atmosphere led itself. Now you got to grab the opportunity; I mean the opportunity [would] run away if you don’t grab it. You got to grab the opportunity. The drilling industry and the people you’re talking with are all people that have grabbed the opportunity. But you’ve got to grab it.

But for the most part, with the exception of some very brilliant people, you’re standing on the shoulders of the giants that developed these original ideas. I mean some of the ideas I did, one of them was done back in the late 1800s in the Hague and this guy understood what was going on and wrote a really nice paper on it but it was buried in the annals of Delft University. Fortunately we had a very good library in Magcobar; when I told her what I wanted, she searched all the [01:16:00] European records and came up with this thing and it was another one of these things you said, “Holy smokes, here’s the answer!” The guy had the answer but he didn’t know the question. And so, you know, it’s sort of a joint effort. Some people get lucky their name pops up to the top of the list; some people probably do equally good work and they get buried in the bureaucracy. So I had probably 70% luck and 30% talent at the very best. Some of the people I worked with I thought probably had 70% talent and 30% luck. I know one or two that I think had 90% talent but only 10% luck, and they’re sort of buried and disappeared but they did some really brilliant work.

ESDORN:

So you sort of discussed this a little bit earlier but my next question involves significant milestones in the industry. You’ve been around and you’ve kind of seen things going on, like you said, advanced step by step over the years. Which innovations or milestones do you consider to have had the biggest impact in the industry and why?

REHM:

Well, starting back in the late 1940s, they developed a line mud that let them drill into the Louisiana areas, so drilling mud was a big deal there. And in the ‘60s and ’70s we developed ideas about pressures and how we can drill through them. And now we are just speaking about drilling because [01:18:00] in production there were some parallel stuff at the same time. And in the ’70s, ‘60s and ‘70s, there was a lot of emphasis on really deep high pressure drilling, so there are real differences now. The thing that impacts everybody the most right now and probably is one of the really big changes is not so much the horizontal drilling but the idea that you can produce oil and gas from shale.

Now we’ve known for 150 years that shale was the source of oil and gas, and shale is probably the most dominant formation on land and in the ocean edges that we have. But we know that’s the source of the oil and gas, we’ve known that, and we also know that we found it in the sandstones because they were traps. We knew these things, so we went and found the oil that was in the traps because it was pretty easy. Now nobody really much analyzed all of this except some of the university types and some of the U.S. geological survey types that had written early papers from the early ‘20s on about all of these subjects. But we didn’t grasp it in the oil field until we got to drilling into the shale. I don’t remember his name out of Houston there that started the shale drilling.

ESDORN:

George Mitchell?

REHM:

George Mitchell. George Mitchell was the real hero in this. He [01:20:00] realized that shale was a source of oil and gas and he pushed it. He pushed it just far enough that the horizontal drilling techniques came in which is essential to it. Some of the fracturing techniques all came in. But George Mitchell pushed this idea to where we all had to accept it. Everybody rejected it except Mitchell. He proved a point, and this has been the big probably in the last 50 years a really big impact on this sort of thing.

The big impact in the 50s and 60s and 70s was offshore drilling because that’s where so much oil and gas came from. But the big impact here in this, you know, 2000 has been the shale drilling because it has put us back as an energy producer again, I mean really technically, it’s fantastic; geologically, it’s unbelievable. All of the technologies have come together: the seismic interpretation, the geology, the chemistry, the origins of the shale; all of a sudden all of these theoretical values are important. What did the geologist bring to this before? Well, he thought that there was a trap down there. But now geology explains to you whether when you drill this well you're going to get oil or you're going to get gas or you're going to get a mixture. If gas is selling at a cheap price and oil is selling at a high price, obviously you’d want to drill a well where you’ll get oil instead of where you get gas. So this has been the real, the real game changer in this decade.

In the earlier decade the real game changer was offshore. Before that, right [01:22:00] after the war, the big game changer was South Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast where there were very big productive zones. South Louisiana made Texaco because they had some great places down there. So, you know, the answer to that question is not all that clear, from the drilling three big jumps are only clear in retrospect or “where do we go from here” question. But anyhow, it’s interesting; I gained more from this discussion than you guys do. I got a chance to look at my life and say, you know, “What did I do? What I would have I done different?” And I was really lucky because when I look back at it and say, “What would I have I done different?” Not a lot of things. I would have stayed in well control even though I was bored with it and been an eminent guru now and rich probably beyond belief, but I didn’t.

But, you know, there's people that have planned life. I went to grammar school with a kid that always wanted to be an architect. He was an architect and he was a successful one and had a very good business in it. In all his life, he knew what he wanted to do and he went there and he got it all. On the other hand, I had no clue. All I knew is what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to work in a big office. I didn’t want to work in a big city either. So where did I end up? Working in an office in Houston. So I’m playing a total unplanned chaos, but when I go back and look at the chaos and say, “Well, you know, if I had planned it, it probably wouldn’t [01:24:00] have worked an awful lot better.” I would have probably made more money; on the other hand I made enough money that it doesn’t make any difference. The difference in the money I make is I don’t fly first class on airplanes but, you know, I can still fly tourist. That’s good enough; I have fun doing it.

ESDORN:

So you kind of touched on it just a little bit at the end there, but my next question is what do you consider to be some of the biggest challenges facing the industry in the future going forward?

REHM:

I have a very biased view of what the biggest challenge to the industry is. And this is based on my own background. I think the biggest view, the biggest problem that the industry has right now is the engineers that are writing the plans and signing up the operations have no experience in actual operations. So there's a big disconnect between the operating man on the rig and the man who is paying the bill, so to speak. The engineer who represents the major oil company or the independent, he is the man that’s writing the rules, setting the rules and writing the contract, but he has no real firsthand knowledge of what actually is happening out here. We used to have that. We used to have training periods lasting four and five years for a minimum kind of a college to bring them up through the ranks. So now we had this disconnect that we’ve always had in Europe and we certainly have in Asia that the man making the rules for the game doesn’t know how the game is played. [01:26:00] That’s a rather crude analogy but, you know, you got the coach for the football team has never played football. Well, in some cases it works out okay, but it’s a real challenge because in so many of the wells, we’re pushing the limits. Now the limit may be mechanical about drilling 10 miles out under the ocean, or the limit may just be that we only got $900,000 to drill and complete this well. But the guy that’s making the rules about this has never played the game. And this isn’t the general feeling, I'm sure, because people are doing it again. But basically I think this the big challenge, it’s the big disconnect between the guy that’s making the rules and paying the bill and the guy that’s doing the work.

ESDORN:

That’s great. We had one other narrator one time kind of touched on that as well, so it’s interesting to see.

REHM:

Well, it depends on your background, you know. If you came from that background, you see that; if you came around the other way, you don’t see it. The drilling rig is a strange piece of animal; it’s got a lot of inertia build into it. It’s all very well to say, “Well, we’re going to do this and this and this,” but what people forget is we’ve got five miles of drill pipe hanging down from the top of something and it stretches and it twists and it does all sorts of things that if you go like this at the surface, it doesn’t mean five miles away, it’s going to go like this, that five miles away, it may not move at all, which is probably the case. So [01:28:00] somewhere along the line there has got to be a little experience about what you say you should do about what you are doing. The way we’re resolving that now is inherent in the service companies; there’s all this expertise and the oil company is only the money source. But he’s the guy that’s responsible for the money and basically the liability. But this guy over here is doing it.

I don’t think that's a good sustainable practice. The solution is really difficult. The solution is you’ve got to train this guy over here first. Basically that’s what some of the companies are doing; they are hiring people from the service companies. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the right background and some of this other stuff. It’s a real problem really. You’re floating out on an ocean and this machine is costing you $5 million a day, direct and support cost—and you can figure what that is per minute—and the guy in charge of it has never done any of this. The guy that’s calling the shots is in an air-conditioned Huston office and he works 8 to 5, but this thing off the coast of Sumatra is in 900 feet of water and it’s working 24 hours a day and there's a typhoon coming. What are you going to? Who is going to make the decision? You, of course, do. It’s exciting though, you know, exciting especially if you're out on that rig when the typhoon is coming.

ESDORN:

Absolutely. The way you phrase it makes it sound very exciting.

REHM:

But it is. It’s short of being I think a pilot, a jet pilot [01:30:00]. It’s exciting. I've been a private pilot of small airplanes, C-planes and all that. That’s not very exciting but high speed certainly is, but this is exciting out there. It’s really exciting when you’re hundred miles from shore and there’s a storm coming and then your well is acting up and bubbling gas and… I mean, that’s just interesting.

ESDORN:

So I have a couple of more questions, well actually three more questions for you but what – [Audio break]

REHM:

I think I worked in the petroleum industry just simply because I found something that gave me the freedom. To me, it’s meant freedom to make my own decisions. I say I have this really bad bias about big organizations and big offices, and it’s just a personal thing with me. But where I was working, I had all sorts of freedom, whether I want to work at eight o’clock in the morning or eight o’clock at night or midnight or anything, it didn’t make any difference, nobody cared. It’s just me, I did it. As long as I did it, that was all that was important.

So in my own personal things, it’s a very personal thing. I guess I pursued things that I liked to do and I enjoyed it. I never really retired; I finally got to the point where nobody would hire me anymore, not for money anyhow [laughs] or for not enough money to be worth doing it. But basically my thing in petroleum engineer, I’m not too sure it was so much petroleum engineering as such. It was something that was big challenge every day and something that I enjoyed doing and something where I had a lot of freedom to pick my way and pick my time [01:32:00] and pick my way or process of doing things

As petroleum engineering, I probably could think of four or five other things that would have been just as much, but this is the one that presented itself. When I was following my nose, this is where it landed. It would be nice to say, “Well, this was my plan, you know. I [was] going to change the world by doing this,” well, nah

ESDORN:

What are some of your favorite memories about working in the industry?

REHM:

It was those moments when you had that real ‘hallelujah’ moment. “Damn, this worked; everybody said it wouldn’t go.” It worked, you know; it not only worked, it worked the way it was supposed to do. There were maybe five or six times like that in industry, and these things all came together at that particular moment where you said, “Wow,” you know. It wasn’t Christmas bonuses or anything like that industry-wise; it was sort of like having the birth of a baby. All of a sudden, “Wow!” All of this stuff came together. I could still get excited about it, you know. I still remember how I felt when a guy called in and said, “Okay, now we got it going the way it should go.” It had to do with well control and pressures in the earth and some of this horizontal drilling and directional drilling. All of these had a moment or so like that where it all came together and it all worked the way it was supposed to work. Of course then there were lots of other times when it didn’t work so well, but when you look back, you remember the really good ones – selective memory. [01:34:00]

ESDORN:

You’re giving me chills, the way that you’re describing it; that sounds wonderful. Do you have any specific memories that you particularly recall with fondness or anything that you really were like “Oh, this was something that really spurred me on to something else” or…?

REHM:

Well, yeah. There was this Christmas Eve thing I often remember. The guy called me in and I was in bed, and he said,– “What are we going to do? Can we do this?” And I wasn’t a smart guy; I didn’t tell him I was in bed and you are out there. I just said, “This is the way it’s supposed to work.” But when he called me back and said, “You know, it really worked that way.” Wow! I can’t forget memories like that. “It really worked the way it was supposed to go.” Well, I just don’t have many of those in life where everything works the same, and again I guess, well, here comes the baby.

ESDORN:

Absolutely, absolutely. Well, we’re almost done; this is our last question. How has being an SPE member affected your work and your career?

REHM:

The SPE provided a backdrop of sources I think more than anything else. I never was that actually active in the SPE groups because in the early days up to probably the 1980s most of the SPE was operated entirely by employees of major oil companies; that was just the rules of the game. And that was [01:36:00] a period when I would have gotten really active in it, so I was never active as a chairman of a group or something like that.

What I use the SPE for is a source, in particular this SPE library, as a source of information. Also, the SPE was a wonderful source in that I could pick up the phone and call these people wherever they were in the world and say, “Hey, I’m Bill, I’m working on this thing and I’m looking at your paper 2346 and you said such and such,” and he could give me an answer. Because when you write one of these SPE papers, you got to be pretty sure of the points and you’ve gone over the points again and again and again. So it was the source, really the basic source of my information more than a social affair, more than really even a business sort of thing, a different relationship than a lot of other people had. Now things have completely changed in it, but that’s the way it was when I was there.

ESDORN:

Great. Well I think we’re done. Thank you so much.

REHM:

All righty.

ESDORN:

It was wonderful.

REHM:

You will have a hard time editing that.

ESDORN:

Not at all.

BENNETT:

Those are great stories.

ESDORN:

Yes, they were really, really wonderful and…

REHM:

You know, when you start interviewing people in the drilling industry, you’re going to run into a lot of enthusiasm like that.

ESDORN:

Yeah, absolutely, that has been my experience.

REHM:

When you run into Maurer this afternoon, Maurer lays back pretty cool, but you get him excited, he’ll jump up and down on his chair. You got to be a certain type to get as [01:38:00] excited intellectually over something as you do over physically something. A lot of these people I’ve dealt with have been that way and it’s really interesting to sit down and talk with them, you know. We talk about ideas and “Well, we tried this one, and gosh, that was awful, that was the dumbest idea.” Well, it was but it sounded like a good idea.

ESDORN:

At the time.

REHM:

If we just thought it out a little bit and, you know, what are we going to do on this next sort of thing? I know I’ve talked with some of the guys that are consulting on these Exxon wells out in the Pacific out there—because I just happen to know some of those people—on, you know, ideas of what are they doing and what can you do when you got a really strange project and basically money is no object? You just got to get it done. Because on that coast they could have put a platform out seven miles offshore but it gets ice scours and storms in the North Pacific, and then once you built the island out there, you have to build a pipeline back into shore. So when you sit down and logically think about this, you say, “Well, let’s just build a pipeline out there and produce the oil and the pipeline and not build the platform and draw it out of the ground and then pump it back in. Let’s just do it all in one lick.” Well, can you drill – can you push a piece of pipe horizontally seven miles off? Do you know how far seven miles is? Go out and walk seven miles; I mean that’s four or five hours long. And so what are all the problems you get into in all of this sort of thing? Well, it’s a culmination of 50 years of work by everybody. Those sort of things are still going on today and they are drilling in some of these wells and…

AMY ESDORN:

Sakhalin Island is just –

REHM:

Drilling in water that’s two miles deep before you get to the bottom and then you got to drill down another three miles or four miles, you know. How do you keep this [01:40:00] over this spot of the ocean, you know? And if you have to pull your pipe out of the ground, how can you find the spot to stick it back down again? Then there’s always this clown in the office and someplace that’s telling you how to do this, and he was out on your rig. Once, he brought a helicopter out and he stayed for lunch and went back home again. But it’s an exciting life, you know; I mean, it suits a lot of people.

One of the things that you get addicted to on work and regular stuff is this 28 days on and 28 days off, and they work offshore. Because once you’re used to having three weeks off –

ESDORN:

Yeah.

REHM:

You know, it’s tough to go back to work every day. “Wow, I got a three-day vacation coming up.” Big deal, you know. Now the downside of 28- 28 is when your relief doesn’t show up, so you’ve got to pull his 28, and then you’ve got to pull your 28 again.

ESDORN:

Oh, my Lord, I know.

REHM:

You know, you can get used to things like that. But it’s an exciting life. It’s exciting to be working Borneo or off Sumatra or off Brazil or off the Africa coast or something like that. When we’re on a drilling rig one time off of Yemen, and it was a Dutch rig. Just as we had finished the well, we saw these three dhows coming out, these little native boats, and they were running pretty fast for dhows, which usually had sails or had a little tiny [diesels]. These guys were running pretty fast. Our boat skipper said, ‘I don’t like this.” We watched him for a while and he called everybody up to general quarters and said, “I don’t like this.” The guy standing next to him, [01:42:00] he was a marine, you know—I didn’t know why we had a marine in the ship— finally he says, “Go,” and bam! The deck house up on top, the deck house fell open and there was a 75-mm automatic cannon in it.

ESDORN:

Wow.

REHM:

And he fired off a couple of shots in front of these little dhows, and they turned around and they lifted up just like a speed boat, and they took off. And now you’re thinking about these guys captured these big cruise ships and all that stuff, you know, the stupid nuts. The rules of the sea, they’ve got where you can’t do this, but the Dutch knew better and they had hidden on this big drill ship, and I had wondered while I was on there, why these marines, and they were obviously marines, they didn’t take part in the work. They were doing work and everything, but there was a lot of this “Yes, sir” going on that you just normally don’t hear. Then this…

ESDORN:

Right.

REHM:

This deck house just fell flat, and there was that big cannon up there.

ESDORN:

That’s fabulous.

REHM:

Meanwhile I was, “Gosh, I wish I had a picture of that.” I got some pictures of the North Slope, in places on the DEW Line that you are not supposed to take, but…

BENNETT:

Where is the North Slope?

ESDORN:

Alaska.

REHM:

Alaska. I worked off the Canadian coast in North Alaska, up in the Beaufort Sea when we built up there. And the ice and polar bears and all that – what an exciting life, you know. That’s how you make more money probably doing other things. I think you make money than being a photographer, but I really like doing it, so…

BENNETT:

It was comforting hearing you say that you had no plan in your career. [Laughs]

ESDORN:

Exactly.

REHM:

I never had. It’s just gone from thing to thing, and I look back and say, “Well, I made more right decisions than I made ones that weren’t so good.”

BENNETT:

Right.

ESDORN:

I was going to say the same thing.

REHM:

And the decisions, you know, they sort of came about, but basically—you may be a lot like I do—you do what you do because you like doing it. And the arts are really tough, and you guys are basically in the arts. [01:44:00] It’s really tough to make a living in the arts. I know my wife is a very, very successful photographer, but she’s never made a living at it, absolutely no way at all. I don’t think she made enough money to ever pay for the damn printer she’s got down in the basement. But you’ve got to follow your own stars. It’s the unhappy people you see. When I was working, you know -- I hope you got your cameras off.

ESDORN:

Oh yeah.