About the Interviewee
Carl T. Montgomery is a Senior Engineer with NSI Technologies located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is recognized within the industry as one of the leaders, and most active professionals, in well stimulation and completions. He has extensive experience in the techniques, products and engineering practices of hydrocarbon well stimulation, sand control and completion practices. He also has considerable experience in cementing, conformance control, perforating strategy, and formation damage. Carl has helped set the standard for well stimulation within the industry and worked with others to pioneer non-conventional techniques for the design and implementation of stimulation of oil and gas wells.
Carl served as the first SPE Technical Director for Drilling and Completions. His lengthy involvement with SPE includes Director of the SPE Mid-Continent Section, SPE Distinguished Lecturer, and chairman of the Distinguished Lecturer Selection Committee. He is currently on the technical steering committee for both the Formation Damage and Hydraulic Fracturing conferences, chaired the first SPE Applied Technology Workshop, the first joint SPE/AAPG/SEG workshop and served as Executive Editor of SPE Production & Facilities. He received the SPE Engineer of the Year Award for Drilling and Completions, is on the US DOE advisory board for the International Partnership for Geothermal Technology (IPGT) and was awarded the 2009 ConocoPhillips Lifetime Achievement Award.
He has a BS degree in BioChemistry from Colorado State University and a MS in the same discipline from Ball State University.
About the Interview
Carl Montgomery: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, September 30, 2015.
Interview SPEOH000137 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.
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INTERVIEWEE: Carl Montgomery
INTERVIEWER: Amy Esdorn
DATE: September 30, 2015
PLACE: Houston, Texas
My name is Amy Esdorn, and I’m here at the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. Today is September 30, 2015 and I’m speaking with Carl Montgomery. Carl, thank you for participating in this interview.
Okay, well, let’s begin. My first question is: how did you get involved in the industry?
My goodness, yeah. It kind of started back I had a citizenship class when I was in the seventh grade and I had a citizenship teacher. They gave us an assignment of what we would be interested in for a career. I did some work at that time in the area of petroleum engineering. I lived in Wyoming, and Wyoming had a lot of petroleum going on. That was kind of the first time I became aware what a petroleum engineer was and what they did. Then the thing that kind of really got me into it was between my senior year when I graduated from high school until I went to college, my grandfather had a farm in the Panhandle of Nebraska and I went over to visit him. There was a rig running upon the hill on the sand hills there. My dad came over and said, “Come on, Carl. Let’s go.” I said, “Where are we going?” “We’re going up this rig.” He put me in the car and we drove up on top of the sand hill. He says, “Go down and ask the driller for a job.” So I walked down the hill and walked in the doghouse, and there was this big old driller down there. I said, “I want a job. I’m out of high school, and I need a job.” He says, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
That’s the first job I had in the oil field. I worked that summer as a roughneck on the Exeter Number 17, up on top of the sand hills in Nebraska. Then I went on to college. I did that. And actually I got my degree at that time in secondary education. I was a teacher. [00:02:00] At that time, there was this National Science Foundation. The Sputnik had gone up and there was a lot of money available for going back, for science PE, but it had -- any interest of all in engineering or science or anything. They had these big scholarships, so I went back to college and I was working on my master’s degree. And then I was working on my PhD at Colorado School of Mines, and a professor had a field trip. He took us on a well site, and they were doing a cement job at Dowell. They were doing a cement job at that time, and a guy named Burt Scheibel was his name—I’ll never forget him, big beard, and he had tobacco juice running off his chin—I was watching the drillograph, trying to figure how this thing worked in the drilling rig. He came up to me and put his hand around me, says, “Son, why don’t you come to work for a good company?” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “Well, you come and interview with me tomorrow,” and he gave me a business card. At that time, I was married and had two kids and we were broke. Next day, I went to see him, and the next thing I knew, I was a junior engineer for Dowell.
At that time, they had an engineering program that I went through. It was about a year program, and you had to learn how to run all of their equipment and run different kinds of jobs. And at the end of that termination, that time, that year, I could run every piece of equipment that Dowell had, and I was fracking wells. They asked me what I want to do then, and I said, “Well, I would like to go work in the lab.” They had a research laboratory in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I went down and had the interview for that. Then next thing I knew, I was in a research organization, and that’s where my career really took off. I worked there for probably 13 years. Before I was done, I was a department manager. I had 65 people working for me. Then Schlumberger took over and shipped us all to the fields. So I went to the field and worked for Schlumberger for a while. That’s how I got started. That’s how it worked.
What did you get your undergraduate degree in?
My undergraduate degree was actually in biochemistry. [00:04:00] I went back and I was working on my master’s degree, and then they had this grant to go back in petroleum engineering at Colorado School of Mines and I was doing my research at that time on foam cement. And a guy named Professor Kohlhouse, Cal Kohlhouse was his name, and I was doing work on foam cement at that time. And that’s when this thing happened with Burt Schneibel. Teaching school does not pay very well. I went to work driving a truck for Dowell making $800 a month more than I was teaching school. You kind of feel sorry for the teachers. They have such a huge impact on our children and yet they are some of the poorest paid people in the world. I don’t know. That’s how that happened.
Why did you want to go into the research lab?
Well, I’ve always been curious about things, and I wanted to be involved in innovation rather than just going out and executing the jobs and engineering the jobs. I wanted to have some influence on the future, the technology, and I thought the best place to do that would be in some kind of a research organization. So that’s why I went in there. And it was a great experience for me because the mentors, the people I had at that time, most of those guys had come out of the Second World War, and a lot of the technology they were using had been developed during the Second World War—napalm, frac fluids, and the engines that we used for the frac trucks were all Allison aircraft engines that came out of P30 fighter engines from the World War II. And these guys had all been through the World War.
So they had these stories and I learned so much from those guys about technology and how to use technology and how you had to be very innovative to be able to stick to leadership role of things. That’s what I did. And I had a lot of fun doing that. I did that when I was at Dowell. And then when I left Dowell, which was Schlumberger, when I went to ARCO, I worked in their--basically I was a staff engineer. [00:06:00] The same thing when I went to Phillips, I was working in their research labs. Because when you work in the centralized unit like that, you’re a staff engineer. My main job was to start up fields. So if ARCO or Phillips or ConocoPhillips had a new field, if they want to start up, they sent me there as a completion engineer to do that because -- and each field takes some innovation, some new learning, and some different ways to do things. That’s what I enjoy doing. During my career, because I was working in research there, I’ve got about 32 patents and I have numerous awards and things I’ve got because of that.
At that time, that was a great decision. I didn’t know whether it was going to be all right or not, but working in research really allowed me to advance my career and be able to get the technology development. That has really made a big influence on the industry, I think.
Speaking of some of those innovations, what were some of those innovations that you worked on?
Well, there’s a lot of different things. For example, electromagnetic energy. We did a lot of work on electromagnetic energy, on heating -- like geothermal wells. In fact, I stayed on the President’s Council for Geothermal Energy now, because geothermal energy, it comes out of a well, just like petroleum does, and all the completion techniques and the technique for stimulation are applicable to geothermal wells. I have several patents on that, on how to utilize energy other than just petroleum energy to power our society.
So that was important. I think the other thing is I hold the original patent on horizontal well fracturing. And one of the big things that’s changed with horizontal well is -- the first horizontal well was drilled by the Russians back in 1932, sometime. And for years and years, we’ve always been taught that horizontal well is infinitely conductive and you don’t need to fracture a horizontal well. [00:08:00] The thing that really has changed in recent years and all this shale play that we see going on these days and the huge amount of fracturing that takes place, it’s all because of the marriage between horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Interestingly enough, I hold the original patent on that kind of thing from years ago. That patent expired and was gone. Mitchell Energy did their work up around Dallas. They kind of kicked it off. And then today, all this shale work that we’re doing in unconventional sands all has to do with the marriage of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal well technology.
Tell me, how did that come about? What were you working on that you sort of filed that patent for horizontal well fracturing?
Well, in my career, where I had Dowell, I started off -- this is an interesting story, too, because I was working in mining chemicals, because my background was basically in the chemistry aspects, so I was working in mining chemicals. And I was pretty successful with that. They finally, after a while, they put me in charge of the fracturing lab and they were just getting interesting geomechanics and they’d hired this guy out of MIT to come in and set up a geomechanics lab. The doggone guy quit. They had bought something like $2 million worth of rock mechanics equipment. The stuff was showing up on the doorstep of the laboratory, and the guy that had bought this equipment who was a PhD in geomechanics up at MIT had been hired by the Hanford site up in Washington to come up and figure out how to get rid of radioactive waste.
All of a sudden, we had this big hole, so the manager came to me, the vice president guy named Compelli came to me. He says, “Carl, go figure out what all this stuff’s for.” That’s what I did. I went to the meetings. I met a couple of three guys, recruited them into Dowell, and we built this big rock mechanics facility. [00:10:00] Between doing that and then also doing research on fracturing fluids, I became very interested on how to optimize well productivity and the marriage between the horizontal wells just seemed like a logical marriage to me because a horizontal well is nothing more than a subservice manifold. These fracture treatments you’ve put in is basically substituting a vertical well for the horizontal is in a manifold that connects these many, many vertical wells together. That seemed like a logical thing to do. In fact, it is. That’s why we’ve been so successful today. The people that really first did that work was Maersk in the North Sea, where they started -- they had long horizontal wells and they were fracturing those wells in the Danian chalk, and they were getting very successful results with that. Then Mitchell picked up their work that they say started up in the unconventional shales around Dallas there. And today, I don’t know. Back when I first started, we were probably doing something like 1,500 frac jobs a month worldwide, and now, probably there’s 15,000 frac stages per month that are being completed in these wells, and it’s all because of this huge change in technology. It’s had a major impact on the industry, for sure.
What year was that around that you…
That patent issued in about 1988, ’89, something like that. Of course, those things had a 17-year life, so today, that patent is all expired. And people didn’t really take advantage of it like I thought they should have. A lot of times when you get a patent -- I got a lot of patents from ARCO, which basically it’s a defensive thing. They do that so that they don’t have to pay anybody else a royalty. Some companies take advantage of patents. [00:12:00] They go out and they really enforce their patent. But a lot of companies basically get their patents in place as a defense so that they don’t have to pay somebody else. That’s what most of my patents really -- how they ended up was as a defense where they didn’t have to pay anybody else on that. I’d say that this horizontal well business and this electromagnetic stuff, I did a lot of work in very heavy oils. I had a patent at that time on being able to put electromagnetic heating elements in horizontal wells to heat up the oil and be able to drain it.
Then there was some work that we did for gas hydrates. I was working in Alaska, and there are big gas hydrates up there where you would take a proppant, the proppant that we use in fracturing, and make it electric conductive, put some carbon fibers in it, make it electrically conductive, and then use an induction heater to be able to melt the hydrates. It’s interesting to me because we were looking at hydrates at that time, and now people are looking at it for oil shale, same kind of things doing in situ heating of oil shale, using that same kind of idea of being able to heat things in situ like that. I guess that’s the major things, I would say. It’s kind of hard to say -- there was a lot of them. I had a lot of fun doing it. It was a great time.
What was your favorite project that you worked on?
Golly, that’s hard. The thing that I’ve -- I was working as a staff engineer both at ARCO and at ConocoPhillips and what a staff engineer does, the position, I was a chief completion engineer, kind of, for those companies. What I did is when we had new fields developed, new fields coming on, then I would just go to those fields and work on them. I remember one of them was at THUMS Long Beach. THUMS Long Beach was developed years and years ago. Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobil, Shell, that’s what THUMS stands for. They built these islands offshore for the Wilmington Field. And the Wilmington Field, they had been producing those wells for many years. But the production decline was pretty rapid on them. [00:14:00] So they asked me to come out and we started a frac program. We saved that field, basically, because they were down to about 25,000 barrels a day, and ARCO got involved in that. And when we started fracking those wells, we were able to get that production back up to about 70,000 barrels a day just by introducing the fracturing technology into that field. That was a very rewarding thing. We saved that field. In fact, it’s still going on today after we started that. That field is still in production today because we were able to introduce that technology into it.
I think the other one I had a lot of fun with was Russia. They sent me to Western Siberia. I spent about six months in Western Siberia with Lukoil. ConocoPhillips and Lukoil had a joint venture. ConocoPhillips had 10 percent of Lukoil. They have four oil fields in that area at their place called Kogalym. Each of their oil fields has got more reserves in it than Prudhoe Bay does, 26 billion barrel oil reserves. And there’s four of them. There within probably 150 km of each other. They had been fracking those wells, and it’s a long story about how that happens, but they weren’t doing them very well. They were just basically just pumping and fracking them. The great thing about fracturing is that you can do a very lousy job and it still works. So they ask me to come over, and I took those wells. The first well, I took it from-- the average production rate was 50 cubes a day, cubic meters like six barrels, times 50, that’s about 300 barrels a day. I fracked the first well, and it came in at 215 cubes a day. That means I took four times their production for that one well. They thought that was a fluke.
So they gave me another one. It was the hardest well. They couldn’t get it to frac, so I did that one, and at the end of the day, I did 15 wells, about three to four wells in each of those four fields, and the average production rate was about 250 cubes a day. [00:16:00] Before that time, they’d been only making 50 cubes a day and they were making five times the production after we did those 15 wells. That was a very rewarding thing. We kind of turned that whole thing around for them. The Russians are very analytical. They’re very, very smart mathematically, but when it comes to actually going out in the field and doing it, their technology and the way they do it is somewhat left over from a long time ago, I would say. I don’t know. I don’t want to be critical about that, but I just know that the way that the way they were doing their work, there was a lot of it as we called it, low-hanging fruit to be picked. It was really easy to do it.
Those are a couple of projects. I’ve worked all over the world. I’ve worked actually and fracked wells in 57 countries. It was kind of hard to pick out which ones are my favorites. They’re all interesting. Every project is interesting, but rock is the same. If I’m in Western Siberia or I’m working in Dubai, the rock’s rock. It’s just the good Lord, he put the oil in the worst places in the world, in the desert, in the coldest places in the world. Except for THUMS. THUMS was pretty nice. That was a beautiful island. Like working in Hawaii or something.
That’s great. You mentioned Mitchell Energy, and I’m just curious. Did you ever work with them? Or when Bob Mitchell was out there working the shale and everything and when everybody was kind of, I think, hesitant to think that anything was going to happen, what were you thinking? You’d done the horizontal fracturing, and…
Well, actually I put the patent in it, but nobody ever did it. Mitchell, he got the idea. He says, “This is a good idea,” and he went and did it. I never worked for him or anything, but he had the idea, and he had the resource to be able to go out and do it. There was nobody there to stop him. When you’re working for a big company, you come out with these ideas, but unless you’re the guy out there -- that’s one disadvantage of being a staff engineer. [00:18:00] When you’re working in the fields, sometimes you can do things that maybe they’re a little bit counterculture is what I would say, and he did. He did that. He went kind of against the rules. The reservoir engineers said you never need to frac a horizontal well, never. You read the books. Joshi’s book says that. You don’t need to frac a horizontal well. Guess what? Mitchell did it.
He changed the industry when he did it. The marriage between hydraulic fracturing and horizontal wells has just made a huge impact on the industry. I don’t want to get into the politics or anything, but I don’t -- the United States does not really have a real strong energy -- they don’t have energy policy. There is not one. Most people don’t recognize this, but there’s enough natural gas in the United States to last us for 300 years. Prudhoe Bay, Alaska has got a gas cap. They produce nine BCF every day and re-inject it in the gas cap, but there’s no way to get it out. Nine BCF a day is enough gas to be able to supply half the consumption of the United States in one oil field. One oil field does that. There’s so much natural gas in the United States. It just boggles the mind. And yet, everything is focused on other kinds of energy. I think renewable energy is great, but until -- the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow. Mother Earth is always there. Geothermal energy will always be there, which I think is the answer. But fossil fields are going to be around for a long time.
Why the United States doesn’t take advantage of that? For me, all they got to do is they got to pass a law that says we’re going to put a methane or a natural gas, fuel spiggot in every gas station in the United States. If you did that, the infrastructure’s in place, it would take care of that. The CO2 footprint would go down. We’d increase the job market. We could become completely energy independent. We wouldn’t have to worry about the Middle East anymore. Let those guys get in their fights or whatever they want to do. Just forget them. [00:20:00] Anyway, I’m preaching here, I’m sorry.
You were giving some advice there, but… [laughter]
I sure was, I’m sorry.
That’s all right. My next question is what was the best advice that you’ve been given about working in the industry?
I was working for a guy named Jim Eastlack. He’s vice president of Oxy out in California. I think he might be retired by now. He said, “Carl, you know, you work for two reasons.” He says, “You work to make money,” which we all do that, “and to have fun. If you’re not doing both, you need to change jobs.” That’s the best advice I ever got. And so that’s what I try to base my life on. If I’m not having fun doing a job, I need to do something different. Money is important, of course, to make a living and everything to support your family. It was really important for when I first went to work for the industry because I was so broke. But after a while, having fun with your job is the most important thing. Having fun and making money, so that’s -- Eastlack told me that and I think that was great advice. I try to follow that.
Well, we have a lot of students who are coming up and -- young professionals coming up in the industry. Other than that advice, what advice would you give them?
Well, my dad, he was a philosopher also. He always told me, he says, “Carl,” he says, “they hire you to solve problems, not to make problems.” My advice to young people to be successful is that when you come in to an organization, you take all the responsibilities they will give you, every ounce of responsibility. Anything they ask you to do, you take it and you do it. Even if you think that you ought to be paid more for it, don’t say a thing about that. You just take the responsibility. Go do the job, make your boss’s job easier for him and don’t make any problems, and you’ll be successful. My dad told me that. He says, “They hire you to solve problems, not to make problems.” [00:22:00] A lot of times, I see young people, “Well, why did he get a promotion and I didn’t? Why’s he got a bigger cubicle than I’ve got?” That’s what they think about, that kind of thing. That’s not why a company hires you. They hire you to make problems go away, not to make the problems, if you understand what I mean.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, my last question here is: how has being an SPE member affected your career?
Oh, man. Tremendously. I joined the SPE when I first went to work for Dowell in the lab. I had a boss at that time, and they pay for the SPE membership and they say you need to be an SPE member. I did. I signed up. And so that was a long, long time ago. The SPE is really -- it’s the knowledge sharing community for the oil industry. If you want to know something, you go on OnePetro and you look and you see what’s been done in the past. Then also from a career development standpoint, because I became a director for the local section there in Tulsa when I was working—that happened real quickly—getting involved from the management to make sure that the SPE is -- trying to be active in the SPE organization has been great. I’ll tell you, the Distinguished Lecturer, they asked me to be a Distinguished Lecturer one year. That experience was one of the highlights of my career. The SPE did that. That experience, when I did that, they sent me all over the world. I got to go places and meet people I’ve never met before. It all had to do because of the SPE. I have to say that the SPE has provided the knowledge. Anytime I need anything, they’ve given me career opportunities, allowed me to interface. My whole network that I have is basically, they’re all SPE members. The whole career and your knowledge sharing business is due to the SPE. That’s I would say about that.
[00:24:00] Well, thank you so much, and thank you for coming by and giving us this great interview.