Oral-History:Jim Brill

About Interviewee

James Brill's work in mechanistic and unified modeling of multiphase flow led him to found the Tulsa University Fluid Flow Projects in 1973. Additionally, he has served as a consultant to more than 35 international oil and gas companies in a variety of multiphase flow projects around the world and is the author of over 200 technical papers.

About the Interview

Jim Brill: An interview conducted by Fritz Kerr for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, June 28, 2013.

Interview SPEOH000104 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.

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Interview Video


Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Jim Brill
INTERVIEWER: Fritz Kerr
OTHERS PRESENT: Mark Flick, Paige McCown, Anthony Darby
DATE: June 27, 2013
PLACE: Houston, Texas

Background, Education, and Entry into the Petroleum Engineering Profession

KERR:

Hey Jim, tell us your name and how to spell it?

BRILL:

My name is Jim Brill, B-R-I-L-L.

KERR:

And where do you live?

BRILL:

I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

KERR:

And what did you or do you currently do? You’re retired but…?

BRILL:

I’m retired, but I’m also a professor Emeritus of Petroleum Engineering and a research professor at the University of Tulsa, so I work when I want to.

KERR:

So tell us how you became interested in the petroleum engineering industry?

BRILL:

I became interested in the petroleum engineering industry almost by accident. I was a student at the University of Minnesota and I was having difficulty getting an adviser, this was during Sputnik days when there was an unbelievable amount of government money coming into universities, but only to fund research. So the faculty didn’t want anything to do with the students. So I started out in Aerospace Engineering, I couldn’t get an adviser, I switched to Mechanical Engineering I couldn’t get an adviser. And then a friend of mine said “You should come to the School of Mines.” Well they were about five or six programs in the School of Mines, mining engineering, geological engineering, geology, petrological engineering and mining engineering with a petroleum option.

I flipped the coin and I became a petroleum engineering student, that’s how I first became interested in petroleum engineering. And then I became – it’s terribly interesting we had – but it only had one faculty member, so pretty soon I realized that if I wanted to get a real engineering education in petroleum engineering I had to go somewhere else. University of Minnesota was a five year program, they would give you a four year degree, if your grades were high enough and you were going to graduate school. So I applied for graduate school at several places and I made a very wise choice, I went to the University of Texas and this was in 1962 I started. And what a difference, it was a great school, so was the University of Minnesota, but the petroleum engineering program down there was absolutely superb. And I was there for three years and three months and walked out with a Ph.D. and the start of a career.


Changes He Saw in the Industry during His Career

KERR:

So compare a bit over your career what are some of the main things that have changed from when you – say first started you’re career post graduating to kind of time by the time you retired and even though you obviously kept doing – kept in touch with what’s going on. So what are some the things that really dramatically changed over that period of time?

BRILL:

Okay, there are two things that I can – that I believe were significant changes over my career in the industry that really affected the way I functioned. One was the mergers that took place; I had developed some fairly large research consortia whose funding came from large oil and gas companies. And as the mergers took place the number of companies went down. Every time there was a merger, I lost the supporting company. Because whoever survived in the merger they stayed as a member and one that didn’t survive, we lost them as a member and that that took place for a period of 10 to 15 years. So the number of companies that were potential supporters of the research, just became smaller and smaller. And we had no alternative course, but to raise our membership fees in these consortia in order to offset the loss of members. That was a real problem for us throughout the probably the late 70s and all of the 1980s.

And the other change that always seems to take place in the petroleum industry is the cyclical nature of the industry, the ups and downs and the impact that had on the enrollment of students. So our class sizes would go up and the class sizes would go down and universities are very nervous about that, because they don’t want to staff up with faculty members for the peak enrollments, because then when you hit the low spots you have too many faculty.

KERR:

That’s very interesting. Let’s go on with that same thing, it sounds to me that there’s more between those years that you’ve seen as far as changes are concerned. Think about it just for a second about other large changes, you’ve hit on the fact there was a bunch of mergers and acquisitions, obviously you lose a lot of people and funding to the acquiring firm, and then the cyclical nature of the business of oil and gas. Think about something else that might have made you lose – some of the other changes.

BRILL:

Okay, another significant change that took place was simply the move to hostile environments. Offshore first of all in shallow water and then deeper and deeper waters and then also the move into the arctic area like the Pluto Prudhoe Bay Field in Alaska. The move to those hostile environments resulted in companies having to change the way they develop their productions systems, instead of having Wellhead separation like we typically would do onshore, everything changed, you had long distant of tie backs, pipelines and so forth that would have to transport all the fluids that came out of the wells. And this is where the concept of multi-phase flow came, because those multi-phases would be gas, natural gas, oil and quite often water so we considered that perhaps three phases or we call it Multi-Phase Flow.

And those fluids had to be transported over relatively long distances when you get to offshore and in the arctic area to centralize separation facilities and processing facilities. That’s where the need for greater technology and the multi-phased flow pipe area really came from.

KERR:

In your opinion what precipitated the need or the desire to start exploration and such in these hostile environments?

BRILL:

Okay, the move to hostile environments was precipitated primarily by oil and gas companies wanting to expand their asset base. There were no more large fields being found onshore, in the United States anyway, and the were some large fields that were discovered in the shallow waters and then deeper and deeper waters and then of course in the last giant field discovered in the United States was probably the Prudhoe Bay Field in Alaska, with recoverable reserves and the order of 12, 13 billion barrels. So, it was all about finding more oil and gas to feed a worldwide demand for hydrocarbon energies.


Discusses His Work in Production and Overcoming Obstacles

KERR:

So your focus or your discipline within petroleum engineering, is production and operation? Correct?

BRILL:

Mostly production.

KERR:

Okay, production; so talk to us about your expertise in production and why, that focus is so important to the industry.

BRILL:

Okay my background in production started at the University of Texas. Actually working with one faculty member, Kermit Brown, who was a legend in the production area. The move to offshore and Arctic area as I mentioned required a significant expansion of the technology in these areas, compared to what we had in the past. This included things like prediction of pressure drop in wells and in pipelines, prediction of temperature behavior also when the fluids would flow along let’s say a tieback in the deep water, where the temperatures maybe 40 degrees Fahrenheit. So there’s a significant cooling of the fluids that take place when after they enter into a flow line or a tieback line or a pipeline and those temperatures, as they reduce, cause significant problems. You can have paraffin deposition take place, you can have hydrates form and this led to the whole concept of flow assurance. So these are the kinds of production problems that I dealt with in my career and they are just terribly exciting and very, very difficult.

KERR:

That was good. Tell me how or give a few examples of how you overcame some of those challenges that you just were mentioning. One of the ways we overcame something like that?

BRILL:

Okay, one of the ways we overcame these challenges was first of all to recognize that probably no single company was willing to spend the kind of money that it would take to address the expansion of the technology. So we overcame this by forming research consortia, where we would develop a proposal to do research in a specific area and my particular area had to do with multiphase flowing pipes early on, this was 1973, when I formed the Tulsa University Fluid Flow Projects and then again in 1992 when we came back and formed a similar consortium to investigate paraffin deposition in pipes.

So if one company can’t fund all of that why not form a research consortia where you have expertise in an area, and you write a proposal and you send it out worldwide and ask companies to step to the plate and join and pay an annual membership fee, share the costs in the development of the research and that was so successful that the Fluid Flow projects I formed in 1973 continues today. So it’s been going on for some 40 years and the Paraffin Deposition projects formed in 1992 continues today. So we haven’t solved the problems but we’re just... continue to work on them and develop predictive techniques that companies can use and if we didn’t do a good job, they would quit their membership and I think the success that we have had is obvious; we've retained members for many, many years.

We have probably 12 research consortia at the University of Tulsa right now. And perhaps three or four of them are in the production area, two of them… maybe five or six in the production area, three or four are in the reservoir engineering area, a couple of them in the drilling area. But this whole concept of research consortia has been a – we’ve pioneered that and it’s been copied by many other Universities, but it just makes sense that you do that and let the companies band together and share in the costs of developing the technology.

Discusses His Crowning Achievements in His Career

KERR:

What do you believe are some of your most significant contributions and or say crowning achievements or two in your career?

BRILL:

I think there is no question to what my crowning achievement in my career has been: the education of a large number of very gifted students who have been successful in their graduate – as graduate students and then have joined the industry either with major oil companies, or service companies or consulting companies and have been very successful and we have almost maintained a fraternity of our students that have graduated. I mean, at the SPE annual technical conference and exhibition we have an alumni function on Tuesday night and for a small University – and the University of Tulsa is the smallest divisional one University in the United States. That division one I mean from an athletic stand point, but we probably have the largest – one of the largest alumni functions on Tuesdays, so these guys all come back. Guys and girls and they love to come back and see us and talk to us and describe how successful their careers have been. And of course we follow that also because we see them advancing within their companies, we see them publishing in journals and that just makes us feel good because we – that’s our product. Our main product is maybe not even the technology but the students who have the knowledge in their heads and can go into the industry and make an impact.

KERR:

That’s good. I can see the emotion that brings out in you.

BRILL:

Oh yeah, it’s all about the students.


Discusses the Multiphase Flow Phenomenon

KERR:

Tell us about the pursuit of mechanistic and unified modeling of the multiphase flow phenomenon and then you were going to also bring us back a little bit historically.

BRILL:

Okay I would like to say a few things about multiphase flow in pipes and where it started and how it's advanced, and what we have done to make some of these advancements. I first took a graduate course in production at the University of Texas from Kermit Brown that may have been the first graduate course ever taught in the university in petroleum engineering that addressed multiphase flow in pipes, and of course back then in the early, this was 1963, most of the wells were vertical and they are very short pipelines, they had float lines at the surface because we had wellhead separation. But it was fascinating and the technology was pretty crude at that time. Everything was empirical. We would – we would write equations, but there were always, we had to make so many simplifications because we didn’t understand it very well. And it became obvious what improvements had to be made, but it took money, you have to do studies in the laboratory and not typical laboratories because you can’t learn very much on multiphase flow in pipes in a half inch diameter pipe that’s five feet long.

You just can’t capture the problem, so that’s one of the reasons why in the fruitful projects, we started developing very large industry scale experimental floor loops so that we could... we could obtain data measurements of multiphase flow in pipes. Some at low pressure, some at high pressure, some with air and water, some with natural gas and natural crude oils, as we became more and more adept at this and had more money, we could do things closer to the field. But this clearly showed that there were some missing technologies. The real breakthrough in this came when, and I’m really talking here about moving from what we call empirical which is the approach you take when you don’t really understand the problem very well to more what we call modeling, which is when you can start adding more and more physics to the problem. The breakthrough came through in 1976, when some investigators, two in particular, one is at the University of Houston in chemical engineering and the other one was a mechanical engineering professor from the University of Tel Aviv in Israel. And they collaborated, these are Tytell and Dukler. They published a paper in 1976 on prediction of what we call flow patterns in multiphase flow. And the flow pattern is just physically how the gas and liquid separate from each other as they flow through the pipe because they have different densities, different viscosities and they have inclination angle effects, and over a period of years starting, they published several papers on this and it just opened the door to what we call mechanistic modeling.

You're trying to capture the mechanisms that take place within the fluids that make them flow the way they do, so that’s where mechanistic modeling came from. We at the University of Tulsa were doing empirical studies at that time and we immediately changed our entire approach to look at this from a mechanistic modeling view point, so this was probably about 1977, 76, from that point on we pursued the mechanistic modeling and our prediction capabilities of pressure drop and flow pattern became better and better and better, and the industry had an insatiable appetite for this kind of technology as they tried to develop fields and deeper and deeper water, and in the Arctic.

This gave them the ability to predict the flow behavior and design their production systems with greater competence. Now that raises another point though and that – what is unified modeling which is the next generation of multiphase flow. All of these mechanistic models had discontinuities in them. We would have a different model for a vertical pipe than we did for an inclined pipe and so there were like five or six models that we ended up developing and it was... that was ridiculous because it has to be a smooth transition. So the unification or the unified model went back to the physics one more time and we improved our ability to predict the behavior through more experimental work, more physics, more expensive test facilities, more and more people from all over the world were involved in the activity and we collaborated. We had our own meetings in fact on multiphase flow that some of them were within the SPE, and some of them were through an organization called The British Hydro-Mechanic Research Group. They began meeting every other year in Europe, not very nice places, Con France, you know and in North America we would meet on the opposite years in Banff Springs and this one has gone on for 25 years, where we get a 100 people together every year, to talk about what's happened in the past year, or what’s going on, what are you going to do next. So it has been a wonderful collaborative effort to bring us to this level of technology.


Discusses His Involvement with SPE

KERR:

So, tell us Jim then, about your participation with, how you benefited by, and then subsequently how SPE has benefited by your participation and volunteerism.


BRILL:

I have had a very interesting relationship with the SPE for 50 years; in fact I just got a letter from SPE that I will be a member of the legion of honors so, I joined SPE as a graduate student at the University of Texas in 1963, so here we are in 2013, 50 years later. An interesting person I met at an SPE student chapter meeting in Austin, Texas in 1963. This young man had just joined SPE and his first assignment was to work with the SPE student chapters, this was Dan Adamson, who later became the executive director of SPE.

Dan and I have been close friend for many years but this started me in the SPE and when I came to the University of Tulsa, as a young professor, actually I followed Kermit Brown because when I walked out of the door at University of Texas, he walked out at the same time to become chairman of petroleum engineering at University of Tulsa. I had gone to work for Chevron research in La Habra California for – I was there for only ten months, I knew I wanted to teach someday but I wanted maybe five years of industry experience before I did that, well Kermit arrived at Tulsa and three months later I got a call and he said, I need you, and so I reluctantly left Chevron, and went to the University of Tulsa, without my five years’ experience I had 10 months’ experience with them, and one of the first things Kermit did was, he said, “I want you to start an SPE student chapter here.” And we did.

We really started a chapter and we also started a scholarship program that resulted in a massive increase of really good undergraduate students into the program. So that almost guaranteed the success of our SPE student chapter. This was about 1967, ‘8, ‘9 and, they gave award... SPE gave awards out for the outstanding student chapter every year. We won it three years in a row and I still remember one particular event, I don’t know how we pulled this off but I don’t think you could it to today because it would be too many liability issues but we got like 25 or 30 undergraduate students put them on a bus and we went to the east Texas field, then went to Long View and then we went to Lufkin camp at the Lufkin foundry and north of Houston and then we visited Cameron Ironworks and in Houston and went back to Tulsa. I know these guys partied pretty hard during the whole trip but, they still talk about that and two – two of the people that were on that trip I think really stand out, one was a guy named Mike Wiley who later went on to become president of ARCO and Vastar and then president of Baker Hughes and he is now retired now, but he was on that Lufkin foundry trip and then Bill Scoggins, who is now the sitting president of the Colorado School of Mines and every time we get together they talk about the about the Lufkin foundry trip.

There are some other interesting aspects of this, this SPE student chapter. It was especially meaningful for me and perhaps for the students and that I was not that much older than them. I was 28-29 years old and we had... especially so the graduate students were probably not a whole lot younger than I was and man I was in some of their weddings and so I think some of the successes we had there were just because of their similarities of age too in addition to interest that, that we drew on quite heavily those were fun times for us. I had a good career.


Discusses His Experience Writing His Textbook

KERR:

So, one of the questions that you might remember that they work for you was, what type of content do you plan to write in undergraduate text book you’re developing? And why is that content important, so the content, that you are trying to draft in your textbooks.

BRILL:

It becomes obvious, as we developed this technology for unified and mechanistic modeling that, that there were no text books available for undergraduate production engineering students in petroleum engineering. The undergraduate students do not have the background to be able to really understand all the intricacies of multiphase flow in pipes. So there was a – there was a hole in the written material available for professors to teach production engineering classes. You couldn’t teach them and have a text book that was really designed for masters and PhD level petroleum engineers. So we decided that we, we meaning Essa Al-Safran one of my former PhD students who is now a professor at the University of Kuwait really proposed this textbook and asked if I would collaborate with him and then I reluctantly, reluctantly because I’m retired you know and I had just completed the SPE monograph in 2000 and swore to God I would never write another book because it was, it just took 10 years to do that one and then here I am in another eight year venture I think, we're five years into it and we've, we have written probably finished about two thirds of it and really it's looking exciting, I think we are going to have a text book that will be very, very popular for petroleum engineering students around the world when we're, when we're finished and this is what we published by the society of petroleum engineers.

FLICK:

What’s it like writing a text book?

BRILL:

Writing a text book is extremely difficult; you know it’s much different than writing a technical paper, because in a technical article you are presenting new technology. You write a textbook you have to make that judgment of which of the old technologies are good and are permanent are – deserve to be archived in a text book and it's technology that undergraduate students really need to be exposed to so there is a decision processer that has to take place and it has to be done in a logical fashion. You start with an outline of the book and then you revise the outline and then you revise it again and then you start inserting ideas into the different chapters and then you start writing and in the case of text books for SPE you have an editorial committee that you have to work with, so you have other people that are very, in some cases, too much expertise because they would like to really have all the technology in there and, and we know that some of that technology is too advanced for an undergraduate student. So there are some tough decisions to make. I hope that we are making the right decisions but we won’t know until the text book comes out and people begin to adapt it in their courses.

[OFF MIC CONVERSATION]

BRILL:

You know that’s interesting though because text books are – text books are changing tremendously, first of all they have become very expensive because the publishers want all these, these fancy graphics in them and there is a real cost and first thing you know, you have got textbooks that are 2-300 dollars apiece and that’s almost making it unaffordable for a lot of our students so the trend now is all digital. You do it online. This one will not be digital, it will be a hands on book we hope.

KERR:

Trust me I know how expensive text books are; I have been buying them a lot.

BRILL:

Yeah I know.

Discusses Extracting Gas Hydrates from Marine Settlements

KERR:

Can you talk to us and elaborate about your planned extracting gas hydrates from marine settlements.

BRILL:

There are enormous reserves of natural gas all over the world on the sea floor. They are trapped in hydrates or clathrates we sometimes call them. It's a cage of water and natural gas, not all natural, its methane, ethane, propane, but it’s the methane we're really most interested in. Now these settlements might be right on the sea floor or they may be a few hundred feet below the sea floor, deep water, but they are there, and they are significant in their magnitude. And we have no technology at the present time to produce them. I don’t think there is any question about where that sometime in the future, perhaps 50 years or 100 years from now that those hydrates on the sea floor, the natural gas that's trapped in hydrates will become economical, and will become a significant source of energy for many countries, for example Japan. Japan has a lot of natural gas hydrates on the sea floor around there but Japan has virtually no natural resources in house so they have to import everything, their electoral power generation for – was primarily nuclear, but that is changing because of the – the accident that occurred over there as a result of the earthquakes. So sometime in the future, but Japan might be one the leading forces in developing techniques for producing this hydrates. Our patent was just as result of a few faculty members, I was one of them that scratched our heads and try to think how could; you design a production system that would let you extract hydrates, natural gas, hydrates from the sea floor. We threw out a lot of ideas and the ones that we ended up with, we thought, okay, it’s not going to make any money now, but I might make some money down the road. But if it doesn’t make money that’s okay, but we wanted people to think about how you could possibly produce these hydrates. It’s coming but we don’t know when.

KERR:

So talk to us about your patent exchange – extracting gas hydrates from marine sediments, so go.

BRILL:

A few years ago some colleagues of mine and I – we began to think seriously about how do you extract natural gas from hydrates on the sea floor. We scratched our heads, we thought about various ways to do it and finally we concluded that the only successful way was through a very unusual approach almost like putting parachutes, in the water and then providing a source of heat to try and disassociate the hydrates. So that the natural gas would be free from the water and the gas would flow up and be stuck underneath the parachute and then somehow produce that to the surface and to shore. And we ultimately wrote a plight for a patent and received the patent for doing that. Now why would you do something like that? Well the reason why, is because there are enormous reserves of hydrates all over the world sitting on the sea floor, with no techniques available to produce the natural gas. And someday we are going to need those assets, those resources as we run out of natural gas and in reservoirs that are being produced the way we do it today.

[OFF MIC CONVERSATION]

BRILL:

That’s just an example they are all over the world, I mean they have mapped, the – I don’t know who “they” is – national science foundation and other people they really – we know pretty much where the significant hydrate natural gas reserves are around the world. One of the nice things is that in many cases these hydrates are located at countries that have no natural resources, no oil, no gas and they will desperately need those at some time in the future.


Discusses Interesting People He has Met through His Career

KERR:

One of the questions Jim that we asked some of your colleagues in the last four days with – but I thought it was good – your dialog was, tell us about some of the interesting, intriguing people that you’ve come across, you mentioned a couple earlier today, one of them the president of Colorado School of Mines. You can certainly mention him again in some of those same area tape quotes, but tell us about some of the impactful people in your career? You’re going to be – because you were coming up in cover in 60s and 70s and such and then people that perhaps that they were students that you impacted and such?

BRILL:

You know I’d like to say a little bit about the Brazilian students when we do this. Okay, a very interesting source of students became available throughout the country for petroleum engineering back in the – oh probably the 1980s, Brazil. Brazil is an interesting country. They had a state owned company Petrobras that was given the desire or maybe the not even the desire, they were expected from the Brazilian government to find and produce oil and gas within Brazil, to provide all of Brazils’ energy needs. But they weren’t doing enough and Brazil was in terrible economic condition, because of having to import oil.

And so Petrobras was sending students to the United States to get Master degrees and then they would go back, actually different from that Petrobras was probably paid the best salaries in Brazil. And as a result they could hire the best engineering graduates in Brazil; they had no petroleum engineering programs there at that time. So Petrobras would hire the best 10 – top 10 percent of the entering graduates in Brazil and then they would take the best of those after they’d hired them and send them to a training program in Salvador Bahia in Brazil and produce equivalent of Petroleum – bachelor of petroleum engineering degree without a degree.

And then they would take those students and send them the best of those students and send them to United States or to Europe to get master’s degrees. Well they were so bright, but they didn’t have enough tools in their tool bag, they dint have any PhDs for example. They had a research lab, but they were not doing the kind of research that would let them go that next step further to develop their resources. So they began a master’s degree program in Brazil and many of our petroleum engineering faculty in United States were invited down there and they would teach for a week or two weeks or three weeks graduate courses, it started out in a place called Ouro Preto in the mining state of Minas Gerais in Brazil of why they ever picked that place I will never know, they didn’t even have a computer at the university. Now I do know of that, I think the president of Petrobras at the time as a graduate from that university yeah.

And – so they became very good master’s degree program in petroleum engineering and that freed money for them to send master degree students to universities around the world to get PhDs. And over a period of years and some really gifted PhD students came back to Brazil to Simpson... that’s their research laboratory and Brazil became a major player and developer of technology in the Petroleum industry. In fact this lead to their ability to become perhaps the leaders in the ultra-deep water production of oil and gas and now Brazil is an expert of oil and gas and their – that has helped their economy just tremendously.

There’s particular people that I dealt with in that program that many petroleum engineers in the United States know people like Kazuyoshi Minami, Elisio Caetano, [unintelligible] Alves and many, many more some of them have actually... are in the United States now or in Canada and many of them are still back in Brazil but Brazil has become a major player in the petroleum engineering field, as result of this development.


Discusses His Experience in Prudhoe Bay

KERR:

So go ahead Jim and talk to us about this experience in Prudhoe Bay that you’re interested in [balking] to us about?

BRILL:

Okay. Prudhoe Bay is an especially interesting area for multiphase flowing pipes. Because of the tremendously cold environment up there they had to develop the field different from what you would – it’s somewhere between what you would do in the lower 48 states and what you would do in the deep water off shore. They would have – they would drill the wells and close to each other, and directionally drill them into the field in order to cover the entire field area. But then the processing of the fluids, it was so expensive that they had centralized processing facilities. The field was really operated by two different companies. Half was operated by Arco and the other half was operated by Sohio. And how that happened, I don’t recall the details, but they had a different philosophy up there.

And we are talking about co-mingling the fluids from many wells, putting them into a large diameter, basically a pipeline they called them flow line and flowing those all the fluids, the gas, the oil, the water, whatever came out of the ground through the 12 inch, 16 inch and ultimately 24 inch diameter pipes, three miles long at the maybe five miles long, maybe 10 miles long depending upon where the well sites were, in an environment where the temperature would vary from, 60º above zero to 60º below zero, throughout the field. So, it was insulated and the problem – the big problem was, how big are your separators? At the point time nobody had built a separator to receive fluids from a 24 inch diameter pipeline in a cold environment like that. And we had an opportunity to go up there and take data and we took a lot of data up there as consultants, then brought it back to the University of Tulsa and analyzed it and discovered some really, really interesting things.

One was, and this is called the scaling up problem. One was based on the test we had been doing, at the University of Tulsa, in two inch, three inch diameter pipes. We thought these, we call them liquid slugs, which is when multiphase flow you, you have slug flow, but the slugs themselves are periods of maybe 20, 30 foot long liquid slugs that have a lot of gas in them and then they are followed by a trailing bubble look, like a bullet, and then may be another slug behind that and they had different links. Well we anticipated slug links of something like 30 pipe diameters in these pipelines up there and if that were the case and there was a two foot diameter pipe we should have seen slugs that were roughly 50 or 60 feet long. Men we thought the average slug we saw was over 500 feet long, so clearly he test we had conducted and what we thought they were pretty large scale laboratory facilities, didn’t scale up to the field. That was an incredibly important discovery because it resulted in them having to put much larger separation facilities up there than what they had originally thought they could get by with.

KERR:

That’s cool.

BRILL:

Now if you think cold is cold, the first I got off a plane was in January of 1979. I knew I was in trouble because the name of the airport was Dead Horse, Alaska. My wife knew I was in trouble because I got on the plane and while I was flying, they called and asked for my size. Because the first thing they have to do is to put you in is Arctic survival gear. We landed at Dead Horse Alaska the back of the airplane dropped down, there were no jet ways, it was 60 below zero with the 60 an hour mile wind, minus 105; chill factor and you can’t breathe and that’s the environment in which they had to develop that field.

MCCOWN:

That’s hazard pay right?

BRILL:

24 hours of day light in summer time and 24 hours of darkness in the winter time. It’s above the Arctic Circle. That’s interesting stuff.

KERR:

That is interesting. During your time there, this is all new stuff…?

BRILL:

Oh yeah, everyday…

KERR:

All new stuff, so these things like gas bullets and slugs in these – you had to identify what it was and then give it a name, I mean , that’s how if you were pioneering what you were doing was, don’t you agree?

BRILL:

In part, but we knew a lot about multiphase flowing pipes already, because we had done test in transparent pipes we knew what they looked like. Then you have to extrapolate and think about what they – you think they look like in a large diameter opaque pipe, steel covered by insulation you can’t see a thing. And we had to develop new instrumentation to do that and this required using a nuclear source, a nuclear densitometers which – these gamma rays go through everything, but they are absorbed more by high density liquids than low density gas. So if you can just simply mount them on the pipe, you can tell how much of what’s passing of densitometers is liquid and how much it is gas so you can identify slugs without having to see them and that’s how we determined the links and the velocities and things of the nature. A lot of what we saw was what we think we saw was very similar to what we were measuring in our laboratory test at the University of Tulsa; it’s just that the slugs were a lot longer.

KERR:

Do you remember who gave it the name slug?

BRILL:

No that goes way back…

KERR:

Before your time?

BRILL:

Oh yeah before my time.

KERR:

I’m going to ask you one of the questions that I asked you before and I want you to kind of extrapolate on, is the challenges of the industry and what do you see or named your challenges moving forward?

BRILL:

The petroleum – drilling industry? I don’t have a good answer for that I wish I knew what the challenges were; the cyclic nature of the industry is…

KERR:

That’s a historical challenge certainly and it would be a challenge actually it will be a challenge as well I assume right?

BRILL:

Yeah, okay, I can…

KERR:

Some other things that the other gentlemen mentioned that might just jog your memory or you had said the same thing that somebody else said about you know training of petroleum engineers, because universities don’t want to stuff up, because of the cyclical nature and so the cyclical nature includes the price of oil and gas, right? And so the price of oil goes up the higher more people want – more students want to rush into that, they’ve got to stuff up. What about just some other things like just the change in energy in not just American society but worldwide?

BRILL:

Oh that’s an interesting one.

KERR:

I mean obviously the push in a lot in our country and certainly in a lot of other countries, western societies tends to be about renewables and how will that effect the petroleum engineering?

BRILL:

You are asking about four questions you know?

KERR:

I’m just trying to jog your memory, I can actually frame it into one question and then we can go from there, I’m just trying to…

BRILL:

I think the challenges facing petroleum engineering is different from the energy issue. I’d like to talk about the challenges for petroleum engineering a little go first.

Discusses the Challenges in the Industry and the Future of Petroleum Engineering

BRILL:

The cyclic nature of the industry has a massive impact on petroleum engineering education. When the price of oil goes up and the companies are hiring, men we can’t turn out enough students. And of course what happens is, supply and demand sets in and first thing you know the companies are having to their jerk up their salary offers to the engineers and it has gotten to the point on this one where petroleum engineering graduates are receiving all salaries probably $100,000 a year or even more with maybe two years or two summers of experience. And the next closest engineering field is probably in the order of $75,000, so there are; tremendous discrepancy in starting salaries. And this gets into the press and the high school students see there and they realize men I will make a lot of money if I go on petroleum engineering and here they come in droves.

And we can’t handle that number of students effectively and this is – we are in about the third or fourth cycle of that right now and I dread to think what will happen if the price of oil goes down to $50 a barrel, because then the companies are going to tighten up the first strings and students aren’t going to get jobs and therefore we will be right back at the bottom end of the cycle. That is a very difficult thing for petroleum engineering educators to deal with; very difficult it is maybe our biggest problem as an engineering field and it’s not one that you see in any other engineering fields at all. We are unique from that aspect.

KERR:

So then why don’t you go ahead and share with us a few minutes’ worth of your thoughts on the history just give me the future of petroleum engineering.

BRILL:

The future of petroleum engineering is something that is very difficult to predict, in part because we have two or three conflicting areas that we are going to have to deal with. One is dealing with environmental problems associated with not just producing oil and gas you know the fucking problems that we see now. But also the hydrocarbons as a source of energy are considered to be a dirty source of energy. Even though there’s quite a difference there between natural gas and heavy oils like the [Tuscan] and so forth from Canada and then of course we have coal which is a hydrocarbon and this maybe the dirtiest of all of the energy resources.

We – I’m reminded of something I saw that came out of the National Academy of Engineering not too long ago that listed the top the most important 20 or the 10 or 20 most important technologies in the 20th century. And you know everybody will come up with a little different thing, but think about it, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, television, hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons were very much near the top of that list of the role that they played in the world in the 20th century was unbelievable. But, yes it caused pollution problems. I don’t have a crystal ball on that and I’m not prepared to say that hydrocarbons are responsible for the ice melting in the world and the rise of the seas, because we also know that there are some natural temperature fluctuations that have taken place over geologic time. And there’s no question but we are in a region, the time period where the temperature are increasing.

Whether they are increasing more than the normal because of hydrocarbons remains to be seen and now, what this has done of course has made renewable energy sources very, very popular politically and maybe economically to look into. Solar, wind you name it, we might see the wind farms, everywhere and I initially thought that this is ridiculous, there’s no way that you can – that they will ever make more than a small percentage of our energy needs. But I’m surprised that some of the technologies that have developed and maybe it’s going to be, maybe they can – renewable can provide more energy than we think with appropriate government subsidies, which is the other problem.

I personally think that the hydrocarbon age will continue for another 100-150 years and maybe more. It’s going to change, it’s going to change and we don’t have control of those changes. The developing countries, India and China have enormous energy needs and they don’t necessarily have the resources to subsidies this – the renewable, so they are going to be continuing to use the hydrocarbons energies for a long time. And if you’ve been to China you know how polluted the atmosphere is over there and they are going to deal with that on themselves. And I also think that nuclear is going to have to play a major role, but see the environmentalist don’t like that either but, it is a significant sources for energy, but then we have also to face the fact that we don’t use oil gas just for energy. We make pharmaceuticals, all the plastics and I think eventually there would be a phase out of the use of hydrocarbons for fuel purposes and kind of energy, we’ve had before, but we still have to have that source of oil and gas for these other purposes that we use them for. So the petroleum industry is going to be around for a long time in my opinion.


Discusses Challenges He Experienced During His Career

KERR:

Well you – so you talked a bit – just a minute ago about the future of the petroleum engineering industry. But what, a lot of those same issues if you will, brought up the environmentalist were kind of railing against petroleum and hydrocarbon and such. And that impacted the petroleum engineering field, way back when I mean back in production 60s, 50s perhaps even. Can you give us a little perspective of some other things that you had to deal with from your – in your particular line?

BRILL:

Well as far as environmentalists are concerned?

KERR:

Just environmentalist, some of the – you said…?

MCCOWN:

Challenges, just your challenges.

KERR:

Yeah, more in more challenge, you’ve done challenges that, respective of the reciprocal nature. But there were some other challenges that were occurring you know back in the 60s and 70s. Some of the other gentlemen hit on to the disasters that unfortunately occurred back in the – early 60s, late 60s, 70s and such like that kind of precipitated water environment and major changes that occurred in the petroleum engineering field.

BRILL:

We’ve had a lot of – not a lot. But we had some very difficult political accidents occur, not just in the petroleum industry either but Piper Alpha, Macondo, where we’ve had serious spills, we’ve had people killed in offshore platforms and this was tragic but, look at Chernobyl I mean or the earthquake in Japan and I mean these things happen, but you know it brings out the – I won’t say just the environmentalist, but the more – the kinds of people that are always questioning and they want to take us back to the dark ages almost. And that’s not going to happen, but when you really put in prospective the kinds – those kinds of accidents that – especially the loss of life and so forth. This is absolutely trivial compared to driving a car, boarding accidents, cigarettes. I mean when you look at it from that standpoint, it’s – and plus we have all over the world; we have these natural oil sips on the seafloor that the man had nothing to do with.

And the environmentalists aren’t going to be able to shut those down. And so why don’t we be a little bit more practical. I’m reminded of a book that I read recently and I don’t know the author, but I know people that know him quite well and this is a book called ‘Fossil Fools’, not Fossil fields but Fossil Fools. And this guy, he is from Minnesota and he makes some interesting points, but I think he draw some absolutely incorrect conclusions. He says, ‘We must stop burning hydrocarbons – all hydro carbons right now today. But that’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen but interesting enough what he proposes is, let’s replace all over our electrical power generation from coal and fuel oil with nuclear. That’s not going to make the environmentalist very happy either. But I really think that nuclear is going to play a significant role in electrical power generation in the future regardless of the Chernobyl and the others, I mean it’s one of the few possible replacements that can provide the magnitude of energy that this world is going to demand.


Discusses the Advantages of Being Involved with SPE

FLICK:

Jim you are obviously a futurist, you are always looking ahead. Just in relationship to SPE, what do those belonging to SPE as undergraduates, what’s an advantage of being an SPE member?

BRILL:

SPE has served an incredible role in my life. It’s an organization that – I belong to other technical societies in addition to SPE but there’s nothing like SPE. They put on the best technical programs, they have excellent journals. I used to participate in the SPE form series and the educator colloquiums and they are just absolutely fantastic. The exhibits, I mean – I think the other societies could probably – they should come and visit our meetings and see how they should run their meetings. It’s just truly a marvel in my opinion.

I actually ever regret after I went to the University of Tulsa and I got so involved in research and in other SPE activities that I never had a chance to be involved in the local mid comments section there. I did for a few years, but then I just I didn’t have time. Actually I found some other things that I was incredibly interested in and that was; accreditation of engineering programs. I got involved in ABET Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology which basically credits or denies accreditation for all engineering programs in the United States; in fact they are actually moving into international accreditation now. I mentioned earlier. Issa Al-Safran, one of my former students is a, one at the University of Kuwait is a vice dean over there and he is the one in charge of the – an accreditation visit at the University of Kuwait next fall, from ABET [Accreditation Board For Engineering And Technology], the United States as accreditation program.

So they’ve gotten involved in that a lot, so I spent 11 years working – representing SPE on ABET activities chairing teams that would go to various universities on accreditation visits for five years and then six years serving an ABET board of directors for SPE. And this was a very important work and very motivating work. I was involved in that and time when ABET moved from, but we called bin counting, counting how many hours you had in this area and that area and your curriculum to outcome assessment work. And I questioned it at the time breather, you know this is really good stuff, you don’t – you judge how good an engineering program is by how their students do after they leave. Okay, and so I was very much involved in that, but I just didn’t leave enough time to get involved in the local SPE section like I probably should have and now when I’m older I wish I had done.

KERR:

What, I’m going to follow up just short answer, why should you belong to SPE?

BRILL:

Membership in SPE is very important for all, not just petroleum engineers, but people that work in petroleum industry because its – it will be their source of continuing education in the future, it will be – if they change – there’s networking that’s takes place if it doesn’t, will not take place in any other way. Maybe future employers, sharing of technology that, maybe they are in the management – like they have because they think that there’s giving away intellectual property, but there’s a sharing that takes place automatically within a technical society like SPE that I think is very helpful – healthy and of vital importance to the industry.


Shares More Stories of Interesting People He has Met

KERR:

So go ahead and share with us this young engineering student that’s no longer young and…?

BRILL:

I’d like to tell you a story about a real neat guy who had his entire career with some British petroleum. This is Trevor Hill. I met Trevor first when he attended the short course that I taught probably back in late 70s or early 80s. I ended up having a lot of involvement with Trevor or BP belonged to my research program. He was their advisory board representative for over the years. I used to go and teach – every June I would – I would teach for BP in their training program in Aberdeen, which they don’t have anymore now. All the companies kind of shut their – their training programs down as an economy thing back, probably about 1990. But for at least 10 years, I went to Aberdeen, it was wonderful.

People think well Aberdeen is just a – the big grey city that rains everyday but not in June. And I always wanted to go in June too because I’m a tennis player. And I could watch Wimbledon. And Wimbledon at that time winning gave much coverage in the United States, but they had almost 24 hour coverage on Wimbledon. So I would go over there and teach and Trevor was always a key contact person. So we stayed in contact for many years and then not too long well a couple of years ago when this – the terrible blow out occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Trevor called me and asked if I would be one of several consultants that would look at all of the data. The ROV movies and things like that that became available from Macondo and – and that apply some of our latest technology to estimate what the true magnitude of the oil spill was. What was the flow rate coming out of Macondo?

And I told – Trevor had a big job on that and that was – that was fun work. It was exciting. It was latest technology and interesting enough, the federal government had all of the national labs making similar calculations with the caveat that they couldn’t talk to each other. So they wanted independent technical estimates of what these flow rates were. And they all agreed pretty much. And I thought that – that’s an indication that the industry really knows what it’s doing from a prediction standpoint. Now it’s too bad that the Macondo happened and those mistakes. I think that BP has paid dearly for them and probably deserve to be penalized for what happened. But, nevertheless, the technology that we were able to put forth in estimating the flow rate and the magnum through the spill was – was right on. BP might not – they may not like it that I said that they needed to be penalized but…

KERR:

Okay you know what? That‘s what the editors are for.

MCCOWN:

Yep.

BRILL:

Yeah. So that’s Trevor Hill. He’s a neat guy.

KERR:

And do you have others that might be – kind of human interest stories like that? There was another gentleman perhaps or perhaps a woman and – in you…?

BRILL:

I didn’t have a chance to work with the women that much. There’s – I had an interesting – not an individual, but doing some work with – This – I’ll have to get better to do that one. This was a Saudi Aramco because they would bring Ali Naimi the oil minister into it. And I don’t want to do that.


KERR:

Good. That’s – who else of this – this consulting project and the humans you met there?

BRILL:

One of our producing areas in the United States is really unique. That’s California. They – environmentally they really don’t want oil and gas production to take place within the state of California, but they like the money that they get from it anyway. I got involved in a project for Chevron near Santa Barbara California, where the state of California had given permission to – for Chevron to develop a field that was in their – their within the three mile limit of the Chevron. And they spent a lot of money developing the field and then – and then the environmentalist got a hold of it. And they didn’t give them permission to – they didn’t give the final permit to do – to operate the field. So the question was – it was a sour gas. There was a lot of sour gas there and they were bringing the fluids to shore and the gas was being transported in the pipeline and the question arose, what if there’s a pipeline leak? How many people are going to be killed?

I made a lot of calculations about the leak detection and multiphase flow and leak detection doesn’t work very good on the multiphase flow, especially in the hill drain pipeline, because – because you have a lot of pressure fluctuations that mask any pressure changes as a result of a leak. And they had – they went to the county of – for Santa Barbara was and they had these hearings and environmentalists would show up. Because Chevron couldn’t operate the pipeline until they – until the county of Santa Barbara approved it. And I’m told – I wasn’t here at this particular county hearing but – but the mothers showed up with their – with their babies and had gas masks on. And they would – and they would punched the babies with needles to make them cry stimulating well this is – these are the terrible kind of things that are going to happen if people are going to die when the pipeline bursts.

[OFF MIC CONVERSATION]


Further Discusses His Experience in the Industry

BRILL:

Okay, about the same time as this issue was – was being addressed by the county commissioners in Santa Barbara. Exxon was producing an oil field offshore that was beyond. There were three point one miles or something like that from the shore. So it was not in the California waters. And they were not transporting the fluids from pipeline. They were tanker loading it and they were just kind of going like this to the state of California. And – so they were able to produce it independent of the environmentalist because the environmentalists, because they couldn’t do anything about it. They were in the – I guess we call it international waters or the – or it was still in part of US but it was not within jurisdiction of California. So interesting things like that that take place political issues or dealing with petroleum industry.

KERR:

My guess is you have you have a lot of fun stories about that.

BRILL:

Oh yes.

[OFF MIC CONVERSATION]

BRILL:

Another change, an interesting change that took place in the petroleum industry probably in the 90s in addition to the merger mania that took place, is the major oil companies all shut their research laboratories down. You know this was a major expense for them and the one that they – by and large, not different from company to company, but they just didn’t feel like they could afford to maintain these standalone research laboratories any longer. Now that opened up the opportunities for like universities – and I think that’s one of the reasons these research consortia were so successful because we were – one of the ways we were able to continue to develop technology that perhaps might have been developed by these research labs, if they hadn’t stopped existing.

That had its good side and bad side, the bad side was that there is a concern among a lot of the major technology officers in this oil, big oil companies, but where is the strategic research going to come from? After them strategic research will be defined as high risk, low probability of success. But if it’s successful it could have a significant impact in the long run on the bottom-line, and virtually no research of that type being done anymore the – what was being done was being done on the research labs and then there wasn’t very much of that going on. So Chevron, the Chevron’s chief technology officer Dan Paul and one of his key people Kevin Leecy decided that they were going to start forming some centers of research excellence that they would fund by themselves.

And this would – became a very interesting model, University of Tulsa was one place, because of these research consortia that we had that they decided they would want to create a center of research excellence there. This was in 2002 it was formed; it continues today in fact Chevron is funding that to a tune of a million dollars a year in research at the university of Tulsa.

So we have 18 projects going on all the time, graduate students working on them, funded totally by Chevron. But it’s an interesting model, because they would start out with a seed project maybe an idea that would come from either one of our faculty members or from a Chevron expert for a possible research project. And they would fund that for a year, and if it’s successful they might go second year, then they might move it to a full scale research project that they would fund by themselves and then depending on the intellectual property aspect of it, they might decide to spin it off in to a JIP, Joint Industry Project.

Which is kind of like a research consortia, so then all of sudden they say, okay we’ve got something here that we think is going to be a really important for the industry. We no longer want to fund it all by ourselves we want to bring in some partners and we’ve had some success taking it all the way from a seed project to a full scale project to a JIP, now this is, a lot of that work falls in to that strategic research area. And they are funding some projects like that in other universities too and I think some of the other major oil companies are doing similar things. That’s another aspect of technology development that’s going on in the industry right now.

KERR:

You have a lot of inside knowledge and that’s the thing that’s really, I think you know fascinating to me and as a viewer of this, it’s just expansive of what’s your awareness of what’s going on in the oil and gas companies.

BRILL:

Yeah, nobody talks about the strategic research anymore, the higher risk, low probability of success, but you know you don’t have to have too many of those. It’s kind of like hydraulic fracturing, you know? This was an invention by Unicore I don’t know when it happened but it was probably in the early 60s and Unicore had that patent and hydraulic fracturing what is it, 17 years for a patent. It paid for all of the Unicore research laboratory for 17 years that was one of the really successful ones and that’s actually the concept – it’s no longer a patent that generate, I think it’s run out but without hydraulic fracturing, we wouldn’t be producing all of these oil shells, the type shell things today. That combination of fracking or hydraulic fracturing and the tremendous technologies and the directional drilling that have taken place have opened up that source of production in the United States to the extent that there are people that think that in within two or three or four years, the United States might again become energy independent with all of the additional oil production coming from the tight shell place all over the country.

KERR:

Is there something you could expand on further?

BRILL:

I don’t want to get in to the environmental stuff, because I think there are a bunch of ‘wackos’ out there. And there are going to be cases where we have methane showing up in the fresh water zones that may or may not be due to the fracking. And those things can be fixed, so it doesn’t happen or happens much less frequently, but this was not a low risk industry, but it’s a high risk industry one that is incredibly important to the United States of America. And I really don’t like it, when these environmentalists go on, go off the deep end and if it wasn’t us they would be picking on somebody else.

KERR:

And they are speculating they are doing – they might have been doing it without having the depth…

BRILL:

They have no background whatsoever. No, no.

KERR:

The knowledge that your industry has.

BRILL:

No. I wish our industry did – had, maybe does, did a better job of, in the political region arena we probably have made a lot of enemies in Washington. It would have been better if we had not done that, but I’m not an expert on that, but I know we don’t have a lot of friends there.

[OFF MIC CONVERSATION]