Oral-History:Jim Jorden

About the Interviewee

Jim Jorden

Jim received a B.S. degree (with honors) in petroleum engineering from the University of Tulsa in 1957. He joined Shell upon graduation before entering the U.S. Air Force to fulfill his ROTC obligation. Upon his return to Shell from military service, Jim held petrophysical engineering positions (both technical and supervisory) of increasing responsibility in Shell’s operations and research organizations, culminating in an assignment as chief petrophysical engineer in corporate headquarters. He was then named manager of petroleum engineering research at Shell Development Company. Jim subsequently had successive assignments as manager of technical training and manager of leadership/management training for Shell E&P staff, prior to retiring from Shell in May 1995. He later returned to the industry, working with Quicksilver Resources, Inc. as an occasional consultant in formation evaluation for almost a decade.

Jim joined the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) while still in college. Throughout his career, he held over 40 Society-wide positions on both technical and administrative committees. In the 1970s he was named chair of the Gulf Coast Section (the Society's largest). Jim then served on the SPE Board of Directors for seven years, first representing the Gulf Coast Region and then rotating through the officer positions, concluding as SPE president. He became a life trustee of the SPE Foundation, also capping this service as president. He was an AIME trustee for three separate terms, finishing this work as AIME president. Jim’s work on strategic planning for AIME helped ensure its financial stability and organizational survival into the 21st century. He concluded his contributions to the engineering profession as a trustee of the United Engineering Foundation. He served on industry advisory committees for the petroleum engineering departments at both the University of Tulsa and Colorado School of Mines.

Jim holds two patents, wrote several published articles in the petroleum engineering technology field, and is co-author of Well Logging I and Well Logging II, parts of the SPE monograph series. He received SPE’s Distinguished Service Award, DeGolyer Distinguished Service Medal, AIME/SPE Honorary Membership, and is a member of the University of Tulsa College of Engineering Hall of Fame. Jim is listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in Science and Engineering.


About the Interview

Jim Jorden: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, September 29, 2015.

Interview SPEOH000131 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.


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Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Jim Jorden
INTERVIEWER: Amy Esdorn
DATE: September 29, 2015
PLACE: Houston, Texas

ESDORN:

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 29th, 2015 and I’m speaking with Jim Jorden. Jim, thank you for participating in this interview.

JORDEN:

My pleasure.

ESDORN:

Okay, well let’s begin, my first question for you is, how did you get involved in the industry?

JORDEN:

Well, it’s a long story. When I was in high school and beginning to think about further education and careers, I had an uncle who was in the cotton brokerage business in West Texas. He was very successful. I respected him a lot, so I asked him about that business and he discouraged me. He said “That’s really a dying business, but I think, Jim, that you ought to get into the oil business.” I think I kind of decided on my own that engineering was a good portal into that commercial industry. So, I began to look around. University of Tulsa, which was close to my home and as it happened I also had a scholarship to that University at the time and they had an outstanding, then and now, petroleum engineering department.

So, I ended up enrolling at the University Tulsa studying petroleum engineering. I guess my first exposure to SPE was in my junior year in 1955 when I participated in a student paper contest and they were vastly different then than now. They were just regional, you competed with your region, but with no one else, certainly not anybody overseas, and you had an elimination at your own school and then moved on to the regional contest. [00:02:00] I think, as I remember, I did win a prize. It wasn't the first place, but it was a prize and it was a little pocket slide rule. Youngsters these days don't know what slide rules are, but that was the award that we got then and made good use of it. I guess after graduation and serving in the military with my ROTC obligations, I got really involved in the industry in about 1960 in New Orleans. My first recollection of an annual meeting was in New Orleans in about 1964, just peripherally participated, I think. The first paper I ever gave at an annual meeting was in 1966 when the annual meeting was in Dallas. By the way then, it was called annual meeting not ATCE as now. So I gave a paper there and my first committee work I think began in 1969 at the instigation of Dan Adamson who was then executive – no he was second in command at SPE in those days. He was involved with publications and technical papers. He got me on a technical paper review committee and that was the beginning of a long, long experience with SPE. That's how I got involved in the industry and with the society.

ESDORN:

[00:04:00] So what was your first job out of college?

JORDEN:

Well, I worked all my career for Shell Oil Company starting in 1957, took two and a half years off where as I said my military obligation with ROTC and returned after that to pick up where I left off with Shell. They, in those days, had a yearlong training program. Some of which I had done before military and I completed it after returning and then most engineers went to the field and sat -- the term would be sat wells, you sat on a well and monitored the progress and did the engineering things that had to be done like supervise the well logging, supervise the running of casing, perforating, those sort of things.

ESDORN:

What was your favorite project that you worked on while you were in your career?

JORDEN:

Okay, well in about 1963, I got transferred to what Shell then termed the Marine Division in the offshore Gulf of Mexico. In those days and still I think today, they drilled a lot of wells that penetrated so-called over-pressured formations that have high pressures which can lead to dangerous situations, so some of my colleagues in Shell had earlier determined just a few years earlier that you could identify the presence of these over-pressured formations through the depth plot, plotting depth versus some well logging parameters. In particular, the resistivity of shale and the interval transit time of an acoustic wave through those shales. So these depth plots of shale resistivity and shale transit time indicated when you had left the normal pressured section and entered the over-pressured section, but these were after the fact techniques.

[00:06:00] You had to have already drilled into the high pressures and that exposed you to some element of risk and so we needed a before the fact technique and back in the early 1960s, this was all before the advent of current technology of measuring while drilling, logging while drilling, all of those sorts of things. The only data that was really available in those days was the classic parameters of drilling. The weight on the bit, the rate of penetration, the rotary speed, all of those sorts of things. We needed a technique that would predict ahead of time when we were in over pressures or even when we might be getting close to the over pressures. So my supervisor at the time, and I was working in formation evaluation and well logging, my supervisor at that time whose name was O.J. Shirley gave me an assignment: see if you can relate these drilling parameters which we measure all the time on a rig routinely to the presence of abnormally high formation pore pressures.

Well, Shell had done some earlier work in this and a particular investigator in the research lab had developed a model relating rate of penetration, weight on bit and all these other parameters. [00:08:00] So, I took his work and developed a technique and we called it the D exponent. With manipulation of this other researcher’s model, with focus not on how fast you could drill or that sort of thing, but how you could use these measurements to predict the occurrence of over pressures. Well, I think it worked. We tried it on several shale wells and we’re able to predict [that] we were about to get into overpressures, so this was a great development for us. I’ll take a side trip here. My supervisor and I, O.J. Shirley and I – Shell held all of this technology very secret at the time.

They thought they had a competitive advantage by knowing this and no one else did. So because it was so confidential, they had to send either me or O.J. out to the wells in the Gulf of Mexico to run the logs and make the plots of depth versus resistivity or interval transit time. This meant we were on call 24/7 [laughter] and I don't think either both of us got tired of that, so that was a personal motivation to develop a trick that would keep us at home more and it did. As I said, we tried this on several wells and it worked, so we adopted it. Some outcomes for me personally, there was a patent awarded that I signed over the Shell, of course. There was a paper published in the SPE, that was my, as I mentioned earlier, my first paper presented at an annual meeting in 1966 in Dallas.

[00:10:00] Now subsequently, all of that has been replaced with superior technology. I mean, measuring while drilling is advanced. You have mud pulse telemetry. You have, through the drill pipe, electrical transmission now. The D exponent is a historical artifact, but it was perhaps helpful at the time and it had its era, but it got supplanted by other technology and that's to be expected.

ESDORN:

You also wrote the textbook, Well Logging, Well Logging 1 and Well Logging 2. Can you sort of discuss that process and how you were approached to write that book?

JORDEN:

Well, I don't know exactly how I was approached. Obviously, some people at SPE thought we could do it, so I was approached. In the process, I made friends with a colleague in Chevron, his name was Frank Campbell. He was the Vice President of Exploration in The La Habra Research Laboratory at the time. Frank and I collaborated over a period of several years to write these two volumes. Again, it's interesting how technology has advanced because this was before email. So the way Frank and I would communicate, we would create a tape cassette and just talk into the cassette about our thinking and what we were doing and mail the cassette along with a manuscript perhaps back and forth between Houston and La Habra, California. We had to enlist some outside help. [00:12:00] One of the well logging service companies was very gracious to give us drafting support, but again, with the graphic capabilities on the computer nowadays, we could've done it in half the time as compared to what it did take.

ESDORN:

Do you recall how long it took?

JORDEN:

Oh gosh, I think Well Logging 1 was published in like ‘84 and Well Logging 2 in ’86. We could check those numbers, but we probably worked on it five years ahead of that.

ESDORN:

That is incredible [laughter]. Well, sort of speaking of the way things have changed over time, which technological innovations do you think have had the most important impact on the industry in the last 60 years?

JORDEN:

I think there’s one that stands head and shoulders above everything else, and it's digitization or electronics. I don’t know what label one might want to put on it, but clearly, digitization. In that summer of 1983, I was incoming SPE President, and as such, was interviewed by both the Journal of Petroleum Technology and the Oil and Gas Journal about well, here somebody that’s going to be in a leadership role, so what's your view on this, that, and the other thing. One of the questions was technology, and I predicted then and I think events have born it out, that digitization has incredibly changed the way that we can do things, increased our efficiency.

I got my first personal computer PC in 1984 and that was just about the beginning of PCs. [00:14:00] Each time you had to download your software from a floppy disk into the memory and then erase it at the end because we just didn't have any storage or any processing capabilities. It has been incredible progress in that particular aspect and it has enabled. It’s been a great enabling technology. It has enabled the petroleum engineering profession to do a lot of things quickly and efficiently as I'm sure it has done in every other field of technology.

ESDORN:

What specifically impacted you and your working career when you began working with the computers and the personal desktop computers in your career?

JORDEN:

I took typing in the eighth grade. I think at the time, I was one of two males in the class, the rest were young girls headed towards a career in secretarial work and that sort of thing in that era. So, I didn’t use the typewriter skills or keyboard until the ‘80s, from the 1950s to the 1980s. But I think the PC and the attendant technology has enabled each person to become their own output source. It’s just that you don't have to depend on others, and with all those interfaces and delays and that sort of thing, it has really enabled each one of us to be much more productive.

ESDORN:

That’s an interesting perspective to look at because you would think “Oh, I can I just write this up and give it to somebody and they can do it,” but you still have to write it up and then you have to get it back and so it’s out of your hands for a while. Yeah, I never thought of it like that, that’s interesting.

JORDEN:

[00:16:00] The preparation of – one reason that maybe the monographs took so long is the preparation was before PCs and so I enlisted my wife to help me and she’d type out a draft and I’d make pencil corrections and she’d retype it, reiterate that process time and time again, but all of that not necessary nowadays.

ESDORN:

Well, my next question for you is, how has being a member of SPE affected your career?

JORDEN:

Well, I think two things jump out. One is personal satisfaction in that I’ve had an opportunity to do a lot of work for SPE and I have been blessed with some leadership opportunities that helped me in my self-image, my self assurance that sort of thing. So that's one aspect of it, and then I think also the fact that I was able to contribute through SPE increased my stature with my company. They appreciated the recognition that they got through me or through one of their employees. So I think those two things, the personal satisfaction and then the enhanced stature in my company.

ESDORN:

That’s great. Well, we are almost done, but I just wanted to ask you one more thing before we went and to see if there was anything else you wanted to talk about.

JORDEN:

[00:18:00] I don’t think so. It has been a great run for a long, long time, but I admire the youngsters coming along. They are able to build on what their predecessors did and they can take it even further and looking forward to great things from them.

ESDORN:

What advice would you have for a young professional just coming into the industry? With all your long experience, what kind of advice would you give to them?

JORDEN:

Keep your life balanced with your family and with your professional society and with your organization, whichever that might be and remember that SPE, as I said, has an opportunity to leverage yourself in many ways. We hear a lot about work life balance these days and it’s usually family work, but I would say, add a third, at least a third dimension to that and that is volunteering in their professional organization that can help a lot and give you a lot of personal satisfaction as well.

ESDORN:

Well, great. Thank you so much for participating in this interview. It was wonderful to speak with you.

JORDEN:

My pleasure.