Oral-History:Martin Chenevert

About Interviewee

Internationally recognized for his work in the area of wellbore stability and drilling fluids, Dr. Chenevert has devoted his career to researching the petrophysical properties of shales, wellbore stability in shale formations, the dynamic filtration of drilling muds, and properties of synthetic muds. Chenevert has also developed software applications for use in petroleum engineering and holds nine US patents, including several for drilling with low water content in oil emulsion fluids; a method for determining clay reactivity; water-based well fluids for shale stability; and treating subsurface water-sensitive shale formations. In 2014, Dr. Chenevert retired as senior lecturer for UT’s petroleum engineering program and director of the drilling research program at the university’s Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department, and has taught at both the University of Houston and Oklahoma University. He was inducted into the Drilling Fluid Hall of Fame by the American Association of Drilling Engineers in 2006 and has received recognition for his work and teaching from API, SPE, and the University of Texas.

About the Interview

Martin Chenevert: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, May 28, 2014.

Interview SPEOH000112 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.

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Interview Video


Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Martin Chenevert
INTERVIEWER: Amy Esdorn
OTHERS PRESENT: Andrew Bennett
DATE: May 28, 2014
PLACE: Austin, Texas


ESDORN:

Okay, great. Today is May 28, 2014, my name is Amy Esdorn, and I’m here interviewing Martin Chenevert. Dr. Chenevert, could you please state your name, and also spell it out for us, please?

CHENEVERT:

My name is Martin Chenevert, and that’s spelled C-H-E-N-E-V-E-R-T.

ESDORN:

Great, thank you. We’re just going to start at the beginning. My first question for you is where did you grow up, and what’s your growing up years like?

Discusses His Childhood and Education

CHENEVERT:

You are interested in where and how I grew up, yes. I was born in a very small town in central Louisiana, a French-speaking town. I lived there until the age of four, at which time, my family, my dad, moved to New Orleans because things had really gone heck, as they say, due to the -- after the Big Depression. That was 1940, we moved to New Orleans. It was a big shock to me because here I was, a young boy with grandparents a half a block away in each direction and a little bitty country town, population 300 on a bayou, and next thing you know, I’m in the ghettos of New Orleans speaking French. That doesn’t go over well, especially when you go to school and they are all speaking English. So that’s where I learned English is in school, and I caught on pretty fast because kids tend to discriminate. I lived through it.

So then, when I moved to New Orleans, I went to a parochial school, and then, interestingly, I went to a four-year all-boys school, high school. Again, it was a parochial, we call it, which is a Catholic school. So that was interesting years, and looking, it’s probably good that I just went to an all-boys school. There were very few distractions, so to speak. And I found out about the distractions when I went to LSU. That really shocked me to be sitting in a room with perfume all over the place. It’s a very new experience. However, I would like to add that the school I went to in New Orleans, called Aloysius, prepared me very well for the type of work I wound up doing. There were two types of studies. You would be business student or you would be college prep student, and my mother chose that for me, which I’m happy she did. You know, lots of math, lots of physics and all this, so that was very helpful to me.

Then, my senior year, I was asked to take a -- we call it a Kuda Preference Test, where they would see what you might want to do with your career, because I had no singular interest. I had a lot of interests. And the test confirmed, yes, I show a lot of interest in mechanical things and outdoors and things of that nature, sports. So, based on that, I decided that I wanted engineering. And then after looking at the different disciplines, I noticed petroleum engineering has a lot of geology, which interests me, plus it’s an outdoors of type of engineering. I really like outdoors. So I chose petroleum engineering, and the only school at that time that offered that degree in Louisiana was LSU in Baton Rouge.

So I packed up, left home, and went to Baton Rouge to start my engineering career and stayed there for four years. Back then, you started in one September and you ended it four years later in June. There was no such thing as a five-year college degree, at least not back then. So that worked out. So that was my early years, and I would like to add one other item that happened. The little town I grew up in is called Plaucheville. It’s on a bayou, Bayou Choupique. And I would visit my grandmother in the summers. I was about eight years old. And what do you do in a little country town on -- you know? During the day, you crawfish in the bayou. And I was doing that, and what pulled up was an oil company vacuum truck. I don’t know which oil company it was, but the manner in which the companies who drill wells get water for their drilling operation is they have a truck that has a -- it’s called a vacuum truck -- and they put this big tube, big pipe, in the bayou and suck it dry. Fish, everything was gone. I couldn’t believe it. What were they going to do with it? And I was told, “Well, we use it in drilling,” and that kind of set my mind in thinking in terms of an interesting profession where you use water right out the bayou. I guess today we’re a little more refined, we filter things more. But, in any event, that was my first direct experience with the oil and gas industry. My mother later told me that she had seen it before years ago; however, she had also seen lots of drilling in the area. And that -- it set in her mind pretty definitely that that’s a good profession. And when I realized they would pay my college tuition, I agreed with them, yes, that’s a very good profession.

So that started me off with the thought of petroleum engineering, and when I got to LSU, sure enough, it was what I expected it to be, or it was much more than that because I had very little knowledge of geology and even less of the mechanics of drilling. So that’s a brief review of my earlier careers from a young child to the age of 1958, when I finished Louisiana State University.

Discusses How He Entered the Petroleum Industry

ESDORN:

So, earlier, you discussed going to LSU and getting involved in studying petroleum engineering because you liked the geology aspect of it, being outside. But how did you -- after you graduated or were there any professors or anybody after you graduated who -- how did you get into the petroleum engineering industry after you graduated?

CHENEVERT:

Okay. After I graduated, the next thing that happened was to be told that my job that I had selected back in December had evaporated. I was out in New Orleans with the wife to be shopping, and I got a phone call—my mother knew where I was—and this was the manager of Gulf Oil who I was supposed to work with, one of the managers who informed me that my job had evaporated. This was the summer of 1958. It was happening to everyone, all the new hires, some of their long-time engineers.

This was the event whereby oil -- the United States was being flooded by foreign oil. The boats could now travel through the Suez Canal. Before that, it had been bombed. Well, now the canal was clear, the boats were coming in with lots of oil, there is a glut on the market, and all oil companies were told they had to shut down. So, I said, well, I am still a petroleum engineer and there’s got to be a job. So I thought, and I hit the streets and went to New Orleans, went to different cities, I went to Shreveport, every oil company that was in the phone book, I visited. And that was interesting because the people, when I would talk to them, they’d say, “Oh, you think it’s bad now? Let me tell you about the Depression.” I could have written a book about the Depression. But, again, I came back home with nothing, and it was still a very difficult time.

Today, when we have students who can’t find a job—and I say “we,” the University of Texas students—I can sympathize with them and I can tell them my story, which I hope helps. But in Baton Rouge—I remember this distinctly—I had my Journal of Petroleum Technology with me and I looked in the want ads, and the University of Texas had a position open for an outfit called TPRC, Texas Petroleum Research Committee, for a half-time appointment with the opportunity to get a master’s degree. I visited the chairman of the LSU Department of Petroleum Engineering, Dr. Benny Craft and he said, “Oh, that’s a great opportunity.” So he got on the phone and called the chairman at the University of Texas, and they got me over there. So that was a great start for me, and I arrived and sure enough, I could get by on half-time pay—I’m still single. But that was the biggest surprise I had was that they had me doing research, which was a dream come true. I had no idea how interested I would be in doing research, and to this day, I still do research.

So it was kind of falling into a good deal after missing another one. So that’s how I started my career doing -- at the age of -- well, at the time of 1958. And then I stayed at Texas, I got a masters, and then they said, “Hey, you’ve got good grades. Go for a PhD.” I said, “Well, what would I do with it?” “Well, you’ll teach school or do research.” I said, “Good, I want to do both of those.” So I stayed on, and in 1964, I was hired by Exxon—back then it was a humble company—to do research in Houston. The name eventually became Texas -- became -- let’s see. It became Exxon Research. Exxon Production Research, I’ll get it right. They changed the names three times to SO et cetera, but -- so I spent my 12-year career with Exxon, and I’ll come back to that.

However, one benefit I had at Texas while doing my PhD, a certain professor came by, and his interest was drilling. And up to before that, there were no drilling professors. And this immediately interested me because I would be able to pursue outdoors work. I wanted to avoid reservoir engineering, where you sit in a desk all day. And he was very helpful in directing me into studying a particular drilling method, drilling shale rocks, which at the time no one had investigated. So I took off in that direction, and my PhD was on the properties of shale, drilling the properties of shale. Carl Gatlin was his name, and to this day, I have to think about him when I do work because he was every instrumental.

Discusses Working on a Shale Drilling Project for Exxon

And then when Exxon hired me—I call them Exxon because that’s what they’re called today—they put me on this project of shale drilling because -- that had been a very difficult type of drilling in the oil and gas industry. The shale rock which we hear of today consists of every fine particles containing -- these particles can contain clay and other minerals which cause the rock to become hydrated and collapse into the well bore. So if you’re drilling a well and the holes fall in and the sides fall in, you’re out of luck. And this was a major problem in certain areas, and they wanted me to work on it. So that was fine with me because the company was very generous with equipment and whatever else we needed, and I was able to begin my career in what we call rock mechanics, study the mechanical properties of rocks—primarily shale, in my case.

Then, another event happened which opened the door for me to pursue this degree even further. We were preparing to test some rocks. We had received the core as a piece of rock they get when they put a special bit in the hole, and they wind up taking it out and you have the rock, just as it comes out of the well. They wanted me to study it, and I agreed to. So I followed the normal procedure. I cut little samples, and then I would put it in the machine and I would break the rocks. And it dawned on me after a few weeks that what’s going on here? I couldn’t reproduce my results. The rocks were getting harder and harder. And that’s not good when you do research. If you can’t do the same test three times in a row and get the same results, something’s crazy. And after much thought, I noticed I had stored these samples on my windowsill, where the sun was shining. And on further inspection, I noticed that yes, the rocks were losing moisture. They were drying out, and that opened my eyes to the fact that this particular shale, a very hard shale called the Wolfcamp Shale, it’s about as hard as the concrete right outside your door. You can hit it with a hammer and it won’t break. You can do what you wish. I had to put it in a very special strength machine or a compression loading machine to break it. And it kept getting harder. I was just at about the limits of my machine, so I said, “Why is it that hard shale can get harder, and then later I would put it in water and it would get softer?”

Now, to some people in the industry, they later said, “Oh, we all knew that,” they all knew the soft shale -- we call them sometimes Gumbo, yes they’re water sensitive. Gumbo was the shale that you get on your shoes when you -- in Houston, when I would leave my house, I had to be careful. That was Gumbo Shale, sticky stuff. We knew that, but they would not believe that this shale could absorb water and change properties. And that was one of the battles I had to fight. I had to prove not to the industry but I had to prove to Exxon. It’s a wonderful company to work for, but you have to understand there were people who had been there 20 years, and they had never known this and it was an uphill battle all the way. But finally, with enough tests, enough data, they accepted the fact that, yes, these hard shales are water sensitive. Then their next question is why. So that opened another big challenge for me.

And I then pursued those studies, so it led to other areas as soon as -- we wanted to know two things—why did it react—but they really wanted to know how to drill that well. The wells they use are normally water-based muds, and you have a shale that you’re putting water down the hole, water that it wanted, as I would tell my class, it will suck it up and swell and break and fall into the well bore. So, what was the driving mechanism? I fortunately had built some transducers of my own, which would measure the properties of the shale as it absorbed water. No one had this in existence, and I found that yes, it does swell, but very little. It’s enough to cause problems though. And I was able to monitor these reactions very accurately, and thereby, I could select a mud. I would -- had the mud companies—these are service companies who would send me samples of mud and I would put them in this machine with the shale—no, still swells. Then, I try different fluids. I’d would have people at Exxon walk down the hall and give me a jar of liquid, “This will do it,” you know, and I’d try and I’d say, “I’m sorry.” It got to the point where I felt like I was doing their research, so I said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll bet you $1 it won’t do it.” I picked up a few dollars and I made a few enemies, but really, it’s all in fun when you do these things. And this went on and on, and it was really frustrating because people said, “Well, it has --” saltwater, we tried saltwater. No.

Now, they all would react differently, but nothing would stop the water from going into the shale. However, one day, I got a mud sample from a mud company—back then, it was called IMC—and I ran my normal test and I came in the next day and it worked. Nothing became swollen. They had brought me an oil-based mud. Now, what was so surprising about it, I had other oil-based muds that also failed the test. This one passed the test. And I ran it over and over, and I was completely convinced that this mud would not cause a problem. And at the very same time, I was invited to go to West Texas, the jumping metropolis of Monahans, and I met with the field engineers because they had to drill a well and they had been plagued with this Wolfcamp Shale. And I brought my equipment with me—I had it in my suitcase—and I put out and I ran a little test on a sample, and that convinced them that it’s worth a try.

So I told that company, mix me up the mud exactly the same as what you brought me, don’t change anything. And they did, and it was a complete success. They drilled the well, no shale fell in, a record drilling time, and what really capped it all off -- well, first of all, no one wanted to believe it. The engineers looked at the caliper and now -- after you drill a well, you measure the hole’s dimensions. It’s a device that has two arms that go up and down, and it tells you what the hole looks like. And the hole was extremely straight. It looked like they call railroad tracks. The field engineer says, “I don’t believe it.” He said, “The caliper got stuck,” I didn’t argue with him, because you know -- I was ahead of the game and I didn’t want to stretch my bets. So he ordered the normal amount of cement that you use for an enlarged hole, and that was a disaster. All that extra cement came over the top, and I didn’t -- I was gone by then, but I’ll never forget this. I got a phone call and he identified himself, “Martin,” he says, “I believe.” It’s almost like a spiritual belief the way he put it. So that got people’s attention, and it was interesting. I still had to take these logs and show them to people, and they didn’t want to believe. So it was uphill. When you’re trying to change people’s thinking, it’s very, very hard. If this had never ever happened before, that is, the whole -- well, I don’t know where to go with that, but basically, it was difficult. Then the lawyers come in and say, “We have an invention here. Now we have to patent it. How does it work?” And there we go again; they wanted to know how it worked. And I told them, “You order a mud, and you put it in the hole after you test it.”

They said, “No, that won’t do. That will not do. Compositionally, we have to know how it works,” and I didn’t like that too much because I was used to doing my own research and now I’m working for a bunch of lawyers, which I’m pleased today they prodded me. I had to go back and break that mud into all its components, study every component. And sure enough, one day, all of a sudden I saw what was happening. The company who gave me that sample had put salt in the mud. When we talk salt, we are talking about osmotic pressures. Now, what do we have? We have a mud that is chemically active. We are fighting a problem shale that is chemically active.

And again, there was a battle ahead to fight, because no one believed the hard shale was chemically active, even though I could run my little test. You could put it in water and the shale wouldn’t melt, it wouldn’t break, like they expected. So, I had to put up with them, which is fine. I was comfortable with what I was doing, and certain people were really excited. Then I got to understand the role that salt would play in oil mud and its osmotic pressures is what we are developing. But I was very fortunate that time -- well, I was fortunate the whole time I was with Exxon because they had consultants come in and talk to us from different universities. There is a particular consultant, Dr. Philip Low. He was with Purdue University. He’s since passed away, but he was a clay chemist, and he just happened to know about these osmotic pressures in clays. He’s an agronomist of all things who deals with soils—can you plant plants here, is the ground too salty or not. So he put me on to some papers that I could read and understand how rocks can actually absorb moisture.

So then, the next step was someone might say obvious—that’s what people will always say when something works, “Oh, that was obvious,”—we would describe the shale by measuring something called its activity, which is the same as its osmotic suction. It’s another word. I use activity because it’s chemical. It makes it much more sophisticated than “osmotic.” Well, that’s chemical, but when you say “water activity,” they have to think twice. So, the shale has a certain water activity, and we build an oil-based mud with the same activity. And we published a paper called [Balanced Activity and Oil-Based Muds]. It’s that simple.

So today, when they drill a well, if they can get a core, they can measure its activity. I have devices that I’d -- I guess I was the first one to use them to measure the activity of a rock. They do that, then they mix the mud at that activity, and they drill these wonderful holes. So that was my biggest contribution to the oil industry. I might add further that all critical wells today cannot afford to have the well bore collapse, like offshore. As a matter of fact, the well we heard so much about recently, the BP blowout, they use an oil-based mud with this salt activity additive in it. The hole was perfect; it’s just that some other things went wrong.

So again, today, this is old hat. If you use an oil mud, you put the salt in it. Like I said, that was one of the contributions that I did make, and I still hear from people today. They need to be re-educated. They don’t read the papers. People write, but that’s not completely unusual. So that covers most of my career. I can go on and on about my time at Exxon if you would like.

ESDORN:

Well, I have lots of questions for you, so -- I’m sure you will in the next couple of questions, but…

[OFF MIC CONVERSATION]

ESDORN:

I’m just going to ask real quick questions just for my own benefit. But when you were just talking about putting salt in to the oil-based mud, is that basically when you’re talking about drilling with little water content in oil emulsion fluids? Is that the same, or is that different?

CHENEVERT:

It’s different.

ESDORN:

Okay, then I’m going to ask you about that then. I just want to make sure that it’s different.

CHENEVERT:

Tell me again. Tell me, because I want to prepare my brain.

ESDORN:

So what I’m going to be asking you is about your contributions to the industry, particularly, and your work with well bore stability.

CHENEVERT:

I know that, but that particular question.

ESDORN:

Yeah, so…

CHENEVERT:

Low water content…?

ESDORN:

The low water…

CHENEVERT:

Those are very interesting parts.

ESDORN:

Okay, so that’s different from what you were just talking about.

CHENEVERT:

But they are two completely separate questions.

ESDORN:

Perfect, perfect. Okay, so it’s drilling with well water content and oil emulsion fluids is different from what we were just talking about.

CHENEVERT:

I would say low water content is different than emulsion fluids. We were just talking about oil mud, which was an emulsion. We’ve talked about that, and that’s a very critical part of this whole development, which I can go on -- so we can follow up what I’ve been doing and explain further the characteristics of these oil-based mud. They are emulsions. And then we’ll talk about low water content, if you want to do it that way.

Discusses His Work with Oil Emulsion Fluids

ESDORN:

I do. I would love to talk about that. So my question then is can you please discuss your work with oil emulsion fluids?

CHENEVERT:

Yes. The idea that these oil based muds that we had to use had water in them -- the mud consists of oil as the primary phase—it might be 80 percent oil—with 20 percent water in it. Now, why the water? Well, you can’t keep it out, plus it helps build viscosity. So we have this, and then you add emulsifiers. The emulsifiers take the water that’s free and force it into very small droplets. The emulsifiers that would add a unique contribution to the mechanism of this oil-based mud. That is, the emulsifiers would keep the salt from leaving the mud. The salt ions cannot go through the emulsion wall. The water can move, but the ions cannot move, and that’s a very critical part that you have this emulsion—by that, I mean little water droplets with salt in them—that give this mud a unique characteristic whereby it works. And emulsion, again, to repeat, is a -- and we call this, by the way, an oil emulsion. That’s all I wanted to talk about now because that’s what we’re dealing with drilling muds that are water and oil emulsions.

So today, we’ve tried to draw wells with just oil, but after one or two days, it rains in the pits or we pick up water from the formation, then we have to add chemical emulsifiers, surface activations to make these little droplets. If not, the mud is unbearable. So, most oil muds are emulsion, oil or water and oil emulsions. So that’s the characteristic that -- the way I like to explain it often is that it’s the salt that holds the water back from going to the formation, and it’s the surface of the droplets, the emulsifiers that keep the salt from moving. Now, we can go on and talk about salt muds, which is the similar thing. Salt muds—that is a mud with just salt in it, no oil or very little oil—does not stop the ions [00:30:00] from moving. I’m getting rather technical now.

ESDORN:

That’s fine.

CHENEVERT:

But, basically, people tried that same thing years ago. They said, “We’ll just put a lot of salt in the mud, and we will stop the water from going in.” They were correct. They can stop the water, but they can’t stop the ions. They have an ionic imbalance, just like we have a water imbalance. Everything that we put in the mud has an activity, and if any activities are imbalanced and they touch each other, they move. So that’s why today people still try to draw wells with just plain old salt water muds and it doesn’t work, because the ions go in -- the ions go into the shale, carrying the water with them, which causes the swelling.

Now, it’s delayed swelling, which might work—because in drilling, you just want to get the well down. You don’t want perfection. I hate to say that. A matter of fact, there are some shale that they’ll say, “Oh, be careful. That’s a seven-day shale.” Now, what are they saying? If you don’t get that well down at seven days, all hell will break loose, all the wall falls. So nothing really happens immediately in these hard shales. It takes awhile for that water to go in.

And I’m deviating a little bit, but I just thought it would be interesting to know what they mean by four-day shale or five-day shale. You have so much time to get steel casing in the hole, and if you don’t, you’ll lose the hole. So, this is basically what I wanted to bring out as far as emulsions go. If you emulsify that salt water in oil, then the emulsifiers will not allow the ions to go through. That was another battle I had to fight. Why would it be? Well, they shipped me off to New Jersey. Exxon has a fancy research facility there. And sure enough, the people there confirmed, “Oh, yes. Sure. We do that in separations all the time. We do this emulsion.” So they got me off the hook there. I had an expert in-house that I could use to help me prove my case. So again, I learned a lot, and I’m very, very thankful for the years where I had the time and the funding to go in different directions and learn these things. So that would cover the subject of emulsion muds.

Now, you asked another question, what about low water content muds? Well, that’s another approach you can take. Just don’t put any water in the mud. Drill just with pure oil, or try to -- then you don’t have the problem because the water is the culprit. And wellbore stability—that’s the word they use—or I should say wellbore instability is caused by the water, primarily. It can be caused by ions, but water is the main culprit. So if you keep the water out, you don’t have the problem. But as I mentioned a second ago, it is very difficult to keep the water out of the mud. There is an adage in the oil business that there’s nothing more dangerous than the cage in with a water hose, and that’s very true. They always want to hose everything down. They love water hoses. So even if you have this perfect all-oil drilling mud that you want to use, the next thing you know, they water dump -- accidentally put in water. I just wanted to mention that. And as soon as the water goes in, you have to add chemicals; otherwise, the mud is completely unmanageable. And then you have an emulsion mud. You have a water and oil emulsion. You’re back where you started. So a lot of people don’t try this other mud I mentioned, low water content. Very often -- they use it, but it only can be used in certain places. So that’s that type of mud.

Discusses Developing the Method for Determining Clay Activity

ESDORN:

Thank you. Please discuss for us how you developed the method for determining clay activity and what the significance of that was.

CHENEVERT:

Yes, the -- when I was observing these changes in strength, it occurred to me that eventually, the moisture changed, the water was going in, but visually, you can’t see that. You can’t just take a regular micrometer and measure it. I developed the device, which is like the letter C with string gauges in the throat. I had used string gauges at Texas, so I knew how to use them. This device would measure changes in the micro range. We are talking about extremely small movement. So you take the C, where they call it a string gauge C clamp is what they called it, and you attach it to the shale and you put this unit, not the gauges, you put the shale in the fluid to be tested, and you can watch it over a period of time. It usually takes 24 hours for it to quit moving. You’ll measure whether it swells or shrinks.

So I had a device that I could measure the properties of the shale actually reacting with the liquids. I wound up building a whole family of them. I had five of them going on at one time, and it was very labor-intensive because that -- way back in the ‘60s, you didn’t have all these automated recording devices. You had to write the numbers down in books, and it got rather tedious. And fortunately, they assigned a technician to help me, which was tremendous, because I could do a lot more work when I had a technician. So today, this device is being sold by mud companies. It’s another interesting story. I tried to patent it, no one was interested. I tried to sell it to the -- no one was interested. And all of a sudden, I’m looking in the sales brochure, “Hey, there’s my device.” And you don’t get upset over it. At least I don’t. It’s an honor when someone copies what you’ve done. So again, they sell them today, and they are much more sophisticated in the recording and everything. So that is a tool that is used in the research labs today to measure shale radioactivity.

ESDORN:

So, you said to measure shale radioactivity?

CHENEVERT:

No, no, not radio. I should say sensitivity to water, not…

ESDORN: Okay, sensitivity…

CHENEVERT:

I call it -- it’s activity -- let me just back up. A better way to put it is to measure the reaction, the swelling or shrinking of a shale when placed in a liquid. That’s more specific.

Discusses the Use of Nanotechnology to Improve Wellbore Stability

ESDORN:

Okay. So let’s see. My next question for you is could you please discuss your work using nanotechnology to improve wellbore stability in shales?

CHENEVERT:

That’s an interesting subject which we began working on seriously.

ESDORN:

I’m going to interrupt you right there. Can you say, “My work using nanotechnology…”?

CHENEVERT:

Okay. In other words, you want a better introduction?

ESDORN:

Yes, please.

CHENEVERT:

My work using nanotechnology began when I had an idea that if there’s only some way we could stop the water mechanically rather than chemically, we would achieve the same purpose. I knew at that time that shale have very low permeability. We are talking about in the Nano-Darcy Range. And I said if I can only find a particle that is small enough to plug the hole -- it’s just like I tell my students. By putting the stopper in a bathtub, you have to have the right size stopper. If it’s too big, it won’t work, if it’s too small, it won’t work. So we started researching different particles. I would just look in the books. One day, I was in discussion with one of the other professors at the university and I was telling them what I was doing, and we came up with a subject of Nanoparticles.

They can be fabricated in just about any size you wish. They simply take some sort of silica, and they precipitate these little particles. If they wait a long time, they get big particles. And if they do it for a short period of time, they get small ones. And we’re talking one times 10 to the ninth meters. We’re talking about minus nine, very, very small particles. So what we did was we matched the pore-throat size of the shale. Now, that’s another subject. We had graduate students studying shale properties, and one of the properties is how big are the pores in a shale. And it turned out there were somewhere between five and 10 nanometers—very, very small holes. And we said, let’s just get some 10 nanometer silica particles, and lo and behold, it worked. And I’ll never forget, it was another one of those situations where the student comes in and says, “Hey, it didn’t work--it didn’t swell. It worked,” and you really don’t want to believe it because you’ve struggled for so long doing what we call Edisonian research. When he wanted a film -- Edison wanted to film it for the light bulb, he destroyed everything. And that’s what we were doing. And I like that term because it more or less explains what we were doing. And then all of a sudden, we saw that we could stop water from going in by simply plugging the holes in the shale.

So that led to several studies—different shale, different particle sizes—and we’ve went ahead and filed a patent on it. There is a service company who has taken a license out on this patent, and that’s the good news. The bad news is these little particles can be rather expensive, especially if you want them coded. Today, they sell these Nanoparticles, these silicon Nanoparticles either coded so that they can tolerate say different pHs or different conditions, or they sell them not coded. The ones that are coded are somewhat out of our reach right now. It’s easier to use an oil -- one of these balance activity, oil-based muds, than it is to use the coded particles. However, we believe, myself and Dr. Sharma, who is the co-patent inventor, Dr. Mukul Sharma, we think someone should really try in the field to use a non-coded silicon particle. Unfortunately, nobody wants to try anything for the first time. Everybody will be second if the first is a success, but nobody wants to be first. And we really can’t blame them. When you’re looking at multibillion dollars a well and many engineers worry about their career -- because there are experiments that people have run that destroy a well, and we don’t want that. So I’m just saying that maybe one day, we’ll get this to happen, and then we won’t need to use oil-based muds, we won’t need to use these emulsifiers or anything.

So I think the future is there if we can get the right combination of price and particle. So that’s where we are today on it. Matter of fact, just yesterday, of all things -- or was it Monday? Monday, which was a holiday, I was working on a Department of Energy report -- which I will mention at this time, I’ve been very thankful for the financial support I’ve gotten from the federal government, but mostly from oil companies. They’ve supported me the whole 30 years that I worked with Exxon. Different companies would give me funds to do what I was doing, and that made all the difference in the world.

ESDORN:

That’s great. I just want to stop here and say I understand so much more. You can tell that you have taught because you’ve made things very easy for me to understand. So it’s very -- I could read some of this stuff until the cows come home, but it’s really wonderful to be able to hear you talk about it.

CHENEVERT:

Well, I’ve learned that you have to get to the level of experience…

ESDORN:

Yeah, absolutely.

CHENEVERT:

No, it’s what I like to do.

ESDORN:

Well, you can tell.

CHENEVERT:

Okay, thank you.

Discusses His Contribution in Co-Developing a Production Software Application for the Industry

ESDORN:

My next question for you is can you please discuss the software application that you developed for Humble Drilling?

CHENEVERT:

Yes. I will be talking about some software that I co-developed with several engineers. It all started when I was back in Houston as a consultant. Now, let me take a moment to review my career in more detail. In 1964, I went with Exxon--Humble, whatever we call it, Research. I stayed there 12 years, and then I had an invitation from the University of Oklahoma to teach petroleum engineering and also help them develop a blowout school. This is one where we would train rig hands who had to be certified to go work offshore. And I had had experience in these areas. You see, when you work for a big oil company like Exxon and you’re the only petroleum engineer in the research facility, every time there is something in the oil field, they look me up and send me to the field, which I loved. Of course, it didn’t help my technical career. But as part of it, I had gone -- Exxon had a blowout school, and I went to it and I learned how to work. Well, the University of Oklahoma wanted to build a blowout school exactly like Exxon’s, and I had the experience. So they hired me. I left Exxon with the idea of several things.

First, working in the blowout area, which is extremely interesting and in demand, plus teach school. I would teach petroleum engineering and I taught drilling and some production courses and whatever you do at a university to keep it going. I did that for two years, and then I decided that this is okay but I wanted back to Texas. And I had another opportunity to open a consulting office in Houston, and that is what I did for seven years. I was manager of my own company, I had half a dozen people working for me, and we did all kinds of things. As a consultant, you do what the customer wants. But I also found time to teach petroleum engineering at night. At the University of Houston, they had a masters—I think they still have it—a master’s program in petroleum engineering. Different professors like myself would go there and teach different courses where a student, over a period of time, even though he’s working for an oil company, he can get a master’s degree in petroleum engineering. And I taught drilling, and I’ve had -- I’ll never forget this.

One of the students after class walked up to me and said, “Hey, why don’t we take these equations you’ve been talking all about and let’s put them in a program?” I said well, I said, “Yes. When you say we are, you do that.” I said, “I know how to turn a computer on.” And back then you have to understand we -- well, when I went to work, there were no computers. So the TI-59 had come out, a little handheld calculator. I think it’s the ones they use when they went to the moon. But again, he said, “I can program it, and we’ll do that,” and I said fine. He said, “But I’m working for a company.” And I won’t give you his name, but I said, “Well, that’s a problem.” He said, “Oh, no. It’s not. I’ll do it at night, but you have to --” I had to do all the writing work. He said, “This isn’t company stuff. This is your equations, your book, et cetera,” and that’s something else that skipped, a book that I’m associated with. I will come back to that.

But first of all, I just want to say that that was the arrangement we made, and we selected the programs that we thought people would really be interested in. He did the software and I would test them, and I had my secretaries do all the paperwork. I was very fortunate because I was one of the first people to approach Gulf Publishing with a computer program for oil and gas industry, and they grabbed it up and they gave tremendous royalties. Matter of fact -- when was that? That had to be in the ‘70s. I’m still getting royalties from that drilling book thing. So that was the drilling programs. Then later on, another student comes forward, another class—keep in mind, I was teaching this every semester, just about—wanting to do the same thing, production engineering.

So we worked together, and I made sure nothing was confidential using these programs. And it’s just equations and [00:48:00] so -- but software is tricky. You have to make sure it works right. We had some challenges. Then someone overseas wanted the programs -- I have to mention this because I thought this was interesting. They wanted the programs in the SI units, the international units. They didn’t want inches and feet and pounds . So we said, “Oh, I know what we’ll do. We’ll write a little program that just changes the units, and we’ll go to the same English program, calculate it in English, and we’ll put a converter in it,” and it worked beautifully. It was a very, very simple solution. And I mention that because that’s how things really work. You don’t rewrite the whole program. You just change the entrance and the exit, and it all works. So that’s another little way we got around more work.

And, I still get these checks three times a year from Gulf Publishing. Little checks, but it’s always a surprise because I forgot about it. It’s been over at least 40 years that I’ve been getting these little checks in the mail. I say little checks. It might be $25, it might be $125, but it’s always nice. So again, that’s how that developed. It was another thing you do when you’re at (unintelligible). It was during the 12 years when I was -- the seven years when I was doing consulting, it happened. So that’s how it happened. That’s how it goes.

ESDORN:

So what kind of -- you discussed that it was -- you developed the software that was basically plugging in these equations. But what sort of challenges were they solving? What sort of problems were they solving for the industry?

CHENEVERT:

Well, for drilling they would want to calculate the pressure drops in a circulating system. You had to put different variables in. You had to know the size of the dimensions of the pipe, you had to know the viscosity of the fluid, you had to know the pump rate, you had to know the various parameters to calculate this. And surely, someone can do this with a handheld calculator, but what if you say, “Let’s see. What if we pump faster?” Then it’s a simple deal with a computer, handheld calculator. Just change the flow rate, you get an instant answer. So you’re able to do the same type of work, and that’s true about all computers. You can do it by hand in most cases, but a computer or a calculator allows you to do it much faster. So that was one example is to calculate the pressure drop.

I wish I had reviewed them before today because it’s real fuzzy, 40 years ago. I do know we dealt with the weight on the bit. We had to calculate what role does buoyancy play. If you change your mud weight, that changes your weight on bit. So these things are little variations that help the student, shall we say, understand what variables are involved and to check them out, see how important they are, and make changes to his study very quickly. So we’re saving time and we’re also making sure that it’s done correctly. It’s so easy to leave something out or to do a wrong handheld calculation.

Gosh, now, if we go to production engineering, those are a lot of different problems. You have a beam pumping well that moves up and down, and you have to know about its frequency and you have to know the variables involved with that.

And begin with production engineering, we might have something like gas flow. We have to calculate pressure drops. So, what it does, it takes complicated equations, and we put it -- we always gave them -- I learned this when I was at LSU. I was taught never give a problem that you can’t give an example. So the book has that. We give a definite problem, a typical oil field problem, and then below it, there’s -- in it, there are constants that you put into it and do the calculation.

Now, I guess I want to -- well, let me see. I wanted to talk about the book, but let’s not go there. Let’s keep talking about these programs. Now, we then -- everything was fine with the TIA 59 until Hewlett Packard came along. They wanted to amend a different format. And then IBM came along. So we had some conversions to do with different languages. And it wasn’t any problem to find students who would do that because there are a lot of students who love computers. I like them but I want them to work for me. I don’t like working for a computer. And if I try to do too much, I wind up working for it because I’m just not used -- I grew up where, when I did my PhD, if you had to take a logarithm -- I mean, if you had to raise something to an unusual exponent -- say you had the number five raised to the 3.2 power. Now, if it’s three, you can do that on -- but it’s 3.2. I had to use log tables. I had to go to these books that had these seven-digit numbers that were developed by mathematicians during the war when they didn’t have anything to do and use log tables. And that is so slow. That was not until I got a machine right when I went to work in 1965—or it wasn’t immediately—that would do it for me, and I really didn’t believe it. I really had to check it because it’s -- anyway, I don’t know how it worked, but again, that’s how far I go back. We’d use slide rules. I used to carry it around and -- today, at UT, I sometimes take advantage of that. I always bring my slide rule to an exam because the student’s calculator runs out [00:54:00] of batteries, it goes bad and, “Oh, my calculator.” So I say, “Here you can use my slide rule.” And then they get the biggest question mark on their face. One of them said, “What, you want me to scratch my back or something?”

So again, I’ll go back to that era where we had -- as a matter of fact I learned that in high school, slide rules. I was very fortunate because when I went to college, I was often running. Keep in mind, every time at LSU, I had to use a slide rule, not a calculator. So many eras of time have gone by since 1954 rather, when I got out of high school. Any question?

Discusses Contributing to a Drilling Engineering Textbook

ESDORN:

So you mentioned your book and that you wanted to discuss your book a little bit more. What was the name of the book, and can you please discuss it?

CHENEVERT:

Okay, yes. During my consulting years, I had moved back to Houston. As I mentioned, this was after OU. I became a consultant for seven years, and I was sitting in my office and I got a phone call from a cohort of mine, Ted Burgoyne, who was the professor at the university at LSU. And I had known Ted over the years, and he told me that he’s been trying to complete a drilling engineering book. He called it Applied Drilling Engineering, which is important because “applied” meant they had to use it, not just read about it. And he needed some help because he was way over deadline. The SPE was -- he didn’t say bugging him, but it was something like that, and he was wondering if I would help with the chapter on drilling fluids.

Now, I got in -- well, let me back up a step. When I went to work for Exxon, I was a rock mechanicist in the lab. But then I got into drilling fluids because of well bore stability, and I became a mud man, so to speak. So I wound up with a new profession, which is drilling mud, and I’m glad I did because every well drilled in the world uses mud of some sort. It’s a very stable profession, very challenging. So he knew I had been with Exxon from work in the mud area, and he wanted me to take over chapter two in the drilling book, plus help with the rest of the book. It had, as I remember, I think eight chapters. I only worked diligently on two, but I read all the rest. So we have chapters on introduction that is -- well, it has different things, but drilling fluids is what I worked on.

And from this book -- and I lifted some equations that we put in these handheld calculators. In addition, chapter four in Dr. Burgoyne’s book is the one he wrote, I’m almost certain, and he had very complicated equations to do with all kinds of things like for blowout control you, for monitoring the bubble in a well bore. He has that in the book, which is very complicated. So we could do that because we had all the equations worked out. I took some of that and put it into the calculations.

So that book -- and it’s still in existence today. The year would have been -- I forget. It’s gone through many, many -- not revisions, re-printings, because they tried to revise it, and then committee made it so -- added stuff, new chapters, and now it’s a different book. But that book is still used by the students at many universities. Main reason why we followed what I call the LSU model, which we were taught at LSU when I was there, that you had to have an example of a real problem in the book before you taught anything. We would have that with a solution, and then, at the end of each chapter, we had many, many problems for the -- so we followed the model, which was hard to do. It took a lot of time, but it worked out, and today, I’m very proud that that book has been used because I meet people today and they still brag about it because they can go to it and get an example that helps them out.

ESDORN:

Great, thank you. You are doing a great job. Go ahead and take a break.

[OFF MIC CONVERSATION]

ESDORN:

So let’s see. I have one more. I don’t think we covered this in your talking yet. Please let me know if we did. Discuss your work treating subsurface water sensitive shale formations.

CHENEVERT:

Would you just read the question again?

ESDORN:

Sure. Discuss your work treating sub surface water sensitive shale formations.

CHENEVERT:

Well, off the record, if there is such a thing, we did talk about how you drill through these formations. Is that what you wanted?

ESDORN:

Well, that’s what I’m asking is -- you know, we kind of already covered it pretty much to the -- do you feel like you’ve talked enough about it that there is not anything that you want to add?

CHENEVERT:

Well, I can add, but I would you -- how would you treat sub surface formations? I can add some things, yes.

ESDORN:

I guess my question is -- okay. And mostly with a view of what was sort of revolutionarily about this, what was innovative about it, how did it advance the drilling industry.

CHENEVERT:

Okay, okay. What…

ESDORN:

Do you want me to rephrase that question or anything for you?

CHENEVERT:

Yes. Please rephrase it.

Discusses His Work Treating Subsurface Water-Sensitive Shale Formations

ESDORN:

Please discuss your work treating subsurface water sensitive shale formations and how that affected the industry.

CHENEVERT:

Well, we’ll start of by talking about the manner of handling the cores which we dealt with that we had to run experiments on. I have already mentioned that we say these cores are water sensitive, that they react with water. I had learned in the laboratory that they will literally suck water out of the air. If you have a core in a humid atmosphere, like in Houston, and you had left it on your table a certain time, you come back the next day and it’s a pile of dirt. It will suck water out of the air. Why? Because the activity of the water in the air is different, is higher than the activity of the water in the shale. As an example, the water in the shale can be an activity of 70 percent, and the atmosphere in Houston can be 100 percent. Now, when I say activity, by definition, that’s the same as relative humidity, which we know about, divided by 100. So air, if you have 100 percent relative humidity, it would have an activity of 1.0. So anyway, I’m trying to tie in activity, which is a slippery number with relative humidity. We all know what it is.

Now, inside buildings it’s usually 50 percent humidity because people work better that way. They want to make sure you work hard. So again, that was very obvious to me that these things are critical. And when I would go to the rig myself to get the cores -- because they would set it -- originally they would send me a core, and it would either be all broken up or it was of unknown activity. So I would go to the rig site, and soon as it come out the barrel, I was prepared. I would have -- we call them ice cream boxes. We put the core in and we’d pour wax over them. Or I would in some way or another preserve them immediately because I wanted to know the activity of the shale. And that is when I took it back to the lab, I wanted to open it up and measure the activity of the shale with the device. It’s called an activity meter. That’s something else I developed with the help -- I will admit a technician helped me, but I was looking in a catalogue and I saw relative humidity gauges, and I bought one and I got a jar in and I put the shale in the jar. Anyway, today they’re doing that too with activity meters. They sell them in the mud catalogues, through the mud catalogues.

So that was one of the biggest changes I made, and I -- today, we -- because of the new -- shale gas [plays] all over the world, if they want us to study shale gas, this core, we insist that they have a reputable company to preserve the shale. If they are not preserved, we don’t use them. We just leave them on the shelf till they self-disintegrate. We throw them away. So that was one of the biggest changes I made was to explain to people that even though it’s a hard shale -- and like I told you earlier, hard as concrete. And you put it there and (unintelligible) not disintegrate visually. They -- internally they’re being corrupted. But you can’t see it without a device. So we just make it a blanket request that they be highly -- they be preserved. So that that’s one big change that’s has been made, and we’ve insisted on it.

Then, when the cores come to the lab, we open them -- we have to open them. In doing so, we expose them to the air very briefly. We immediately immerse them in an oil. That stops the reaction. And then, when we cut them on a saw, it’s a saw that has oil (unintelligible) they go back in the oil. So we make big efforts in the research labs, and I think many of them have taken up that procedure to keep it away from the air, because it’s very -- the shale are very thirsty. They will either suck it out or they’ll give up their moisture. Both of them are bad. You want to keep it at the same activity. Any time you’re changing the moisture content of the shale, you are changing its properties completely to the extent that it can break and break in two. So that’s another big change. I finally feel that industry is aware of the problem that shales react with atmospheres.

And of course, in the testing region, I’ve already mentioned several things. I’ve mentioned the swelling devices that I’ve developed. I have mentioned just a second ago the activity meters. And an activity meter is no more than a thermostat you would see on your wall, where -- it gives the humidity. So if you can take that little device and attach it to the top of a jar, and in the jar you put shale you want to study and you screw it in, then what happens, the shale reaches equilibrium with the air in the jar, and the meter measures the air humidity. So that’s how it works. Today, that’s really standard to buy these activity meters for shale studies. So that’s another big advantage that these people of today have. They have equipment to use that shows them what’s going on.

Discusses His First Patent Relating to Cementing Wells

ESDORN:

Are there any other contributions to the industry that we may not have covered that you would like to discuss?

CHENEVERT:

Well, I -- my first patent was one relating to the cementing of wells. I was behaving myself, so to speak—that’s what I say when I’m in my lab working—and someone came by and says, “Look,” he says, “we’re running these completions,” where you run two pipe in the hole at the same time, and then the pipes get stuck and we are -- we’re afraid to pull too hard because if both of them are stuck, we can pull hard. But if only one of them is stuck then we pull hard, we break the pipe in two. We need to know which pipe is stuck. Is there some way we could put strain gauges? I had really understood strain gages in the development of these little devices I mentioned for shale, and strain gauges is just something you glue on the surface of the material and you measure its resistivity. If the material stretches, the resistance changes. That’s all it this. But you have to put them on. You have to know how to do all that. I said, “Sure, we could do that,” I said. So we got a piece of pipe and we put some on it, and the next thing I know, we’re going out offshore Louisiana. And we hooked it up to the well and we had two of them, and we would measure the strains and we knew how it worked. We got back and someone says, “You know, we really ought to file a patent on that. No one else has done that.” To me, that was my fist introduction to patents, and it surprised me because I said, “This is so simple, but yet it’s unique, and it’s useful. You do it.” And sure enough, the patent was issued. [01:10:00] And I’ll never forget this. I was -- at Exxon, every week, you had -- no, every month, you had a seminar speaker, and I was introduced next month with the unique situation that I had a patent on a device that was not approved—I had not been assigned to do this. I mean, I did it just because. Anyway, I thought that was funny. They noticed that I wasn’t approved to do this, but I did. And I don’t know if that was good or bad, to tell you the truth, because sometimes Exxon can be very particular with what you do. Because everybody would love to sue Exxon, so you have to be really careful. We came out well, and today, I think the device is being used. The company builds them. So that was one that I thought was unique, and it gives me a chance to go offshore, which is what I really wanted to do. I love to go into the ocean. If it’s an offshore floating vessel, I like to watch the sun come up. There’s just nothing like it to see this big, vast body of water and the sun comes up. Now, that’s when there’s go weather. When there’s bad weather, those crew boats make it upset, stomach upset.

But there have been just many field cases I can think about. Most of them are humorous, but they’re not as far as contributions go. Exxon was buying up land one time over a coal mine. They were going to get into the coal business. And we had to go there and get samples, and we did it incognito. We had registered in the hotel under false names. I thought that was excellent. I had never done anything like that. So I could tell you all these jokes and stories about that, but that was one thing that [01:12:00] we were asked to be -- not a lot of people know that Exxon was interested in the land.

I can’t think of any other things now that -- you know I have 11 patents. Most of them have to do with the balanced activity concept. And those patents, each one would apply to different areas of production, petroleum engineering, whereas this concept could be applied. Actually, the little device I made was patented, and also the balanced activity mud concept. Not the concept but the application thereof is patent. The parts have all run out, so people do it like they want to. But I was following -- yeah, when you file a patent, you get $50. And if it made the patent, you got another $100. So it was really moneymaker at that time. But no, you’re doing it because it’s part of your job. That’s just how it is.

Discusses the Overall Significance of His Contributions to the Industry

ESDORN:

What would you say the overall significance of your contributions working in the shale has been today? I mean, particularly today but over the past few years?

CHENEVERT:

I think the biggest contribution is that we’re now able to drill these holes that don’t collapse, and we’re able to drill these long reach holes—through shale, no less—and they don’t collapse. Now, in the past, we didn’t even think of drilling horizontal if the hole collapses. Now, that’s just a standard practice. As you know, it can take a well, goes down 5,000, 8,000 feet, and then they go horizontal another 10-, 15,000 feet. I mean, these are long wells and holes around, and that has made the biggest difference. And they’re slick. They ease -- the friction is very, very low. So the fact that this is done today is a major improvement. We would not be doing shale gas today if we couldn’t control the wells. So that is something. Now, I must admit that there are many other pieces to these developments. There are people who have come up with these new bits that last very long. There are many developments. I don’t claim all of them. All I know is that if they have shale and you balance the activity, we can stop the hydration and we can drill a gauge hole.

So to me, that’s the biggest contribution, and I am very hopeful that the nanoparticle development will be another one, because then we can use water-based muds and do the same thing. And as you know, oil-based muds are more expensive than water-based, plus, they have a pollution component or a possible pollution component. They’ve had to develop special oil-based muds that do not pollute, and I tell my students, I said, you know, “What’s normally used offshore is canola oil.” And then I tell them a joke on the side. I said, you know, “If the fish eat that oil and you catch one, you can just fry it like it is. You got the oil in it and everything.” And of course, they laugh, but that’s not at all true.

So anyway, those were contributions that some of the mud companies made. They came up with many different oil muds based on regulations. As soon as they had one that worked, they’d say wait a minute, “That has too much of this thing,” so they change it. And I did know mud -- I didn’t do those developments. Someone else does that, and then they make sure if they would like to have well bore stability that they can tolerate the salts. And this was one thing I did not mention. When we drill that first well, with the oil-based mud that worked, the salt they used in the mud was sodium chloride. That’s a very inexpensive salt. It’s readily available.

Sodium chloride, I noticed immediately, is limited. You can only lower the activity of that mud to 0.75. But some shales go way below that. To drill a deep shale, we had to go to calcium chloride. And these mud companies got busy and built muds with calcium chloride acceptance. So that’s another change. Now they have at least two kinds of -- they just changed the emulsifiers, but that’s a very critical part. We have a better selection of these special muds because of the fact that I pointed out the importance of going to lower activities. And these are some other things that happened along the way.

ESDORN:

Great, thank you. Okay. So those were some of your personal contributions when you worked with other people. So we’re going to kind of talk in grander sort of schemes. Do you want to have a drink first?

CHENEVERT:

Yes, I would like some.

ESDORN:

Go ahead and do that.

CHENEVERT:

Okay.

Discusses Milestones He Considers to Have Had the Biggest Impact on the Industry

ESDORN:

You were kind of discussing just the large-scale contributions to the industry, but generally speaking, which innovations or milestones in petroleum engineering do you consider to have had the biggest impact on the industry during the time of your career?

CHENEVERT:

The ones that I think of specifically, I call them the insert bits that allow us to drill a hole well with one drill bit. Earlier on in my career with Exxon, we were drilling wells like on the King Ranch and all over, and it was unheard of that you could drill a hole well with one bit, which meant you change the bit and then time is going on, and this always aggravates your problems if you wait too long. These new drill bits have made a tremendous difference. So that’s one.

The other one is instrumentation. Today, we really know what’s happening on a well—that is, we measure the weight on bit more accurately, we’re measuring flow rates more accurately, and the computerization, to me, is a tremendous improvement, where the data now can be sent to an office somewhere, where people don’t have to go to the well and sit on the well, so to speak. During my early career, that was the only way. If a well had a problem you went to the well, because that’s the only way you could get the information you really needed. The people who work on the well cannot tell you. I mean, what they tell you may not be exactly what you need to know. They try hard, they work very hard, but they don’t have the data.

Today, in the office, we have the data—reams and reams of it. And because of that, you can have experts in an office somewhere that are handling many, many wells. Well, anyway, they've become more efficient, so they really need less petroleum engineers in drilling now. Because back in the days when we were working on them, if a guy had more than three wells he would go ragged. Now you can handle many more, plus you do a better job. And I’m not -- I’m kind of leaving out geophysical. All these measurements you know have come about that I don’t -- what’s not involved in, but I hear that now they can pretty well pinpoint not only where the oil might be, but they can pinpoint the pore pressures of that formation, which gives them a leg up. That is, they know when they’ll hit it, and they can prepare themselves, whereas early on, I mean, you were -- I don’t know, drilling by the seat of you pants just hoping that nothing would happen, and sometimes things did happen, and that’s not good.

So instrumentation, computerization is critical, the bit. And I don’t want to leave out a lot of the other fluids. I don’t know them right off the top of my head, but they’re tailor-made now. Drilling fluids offshore have to -- the oil-based mud have to be very specific. As an example, say you’re in 5,000 feet of water, the mud goes in at atmospheric temperature, pretty much. But then, by the time it gets to the bottom of the hole, it’s frozen, almost frozen, three degrees centigrade. Then it goes into the earth, and the earth gets hotter and hotter the deeper you drill. So now you have a mud that has to perform early on at very cold conditions and then very hot conditions.

And that’s asking an awful a lot because -- I haven’t mentioned this, but the viscosity of a fluid is extremely temperature-dependent. So here you have to have a fluid that can do all these things, and then, after it gets to the bottom of hole, cool off the bit, grab the cuttings, and bring them to the surface and not drop them. You want the mud thick enough—we call that gel strength—so you can get the cuttings out of the well. But you don’t want it so thick you can’t pump the well. If something gets thick like mayonnaise, you’ve seen how it won’t come out of the jar. You can’t hardly pump it. So these muds have to be tailor-made for different areas and different chemicals.

And then the other things we worry about in drilling are contamination. You can build a perfect mud, but then you drill into a -- like in the middle of the North Sea, there’s something called the Zechstein Salt. It’s a mixture of magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium salts, and that would drive the mud crazy and the engineer’s crazy too. So, we tailor-make these. So today, we have -- and I certainly don’t claim the authorship of all of this, but we have people, petroleum engineers working in these areas also. And to give a plug for petroleum engineering in general, I don’t care what you like to do, there’s a place for you. Electrical engineers can do a lot with the logging and the instrumentation, with the computerization; chemical engineers are certainly needed with the chemistry aspects of muds; mechanical engineers build these -- anyway, I can go on and on just touting petroleum engineering to say that there’s a place for anybody. And speaking of that, I have to give one more plug for Exxon. If you ever let them know that you weren’t too happy with your assignment, you’re gone. Not out of the company, you go to another assignment. You would go find somebody that’s doing what you like to do, and they would request you move. It’s a very known fact that you want people to like what they do.

And I can truthfully say in my career, I jumped around a little bit, but I’ve got it all out of my system. I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do plus more. And I don’t have any big curiosities in the sense of maybe I ought to do this. But no, I like what I do, and I’m still in research. So I’m very fortunate. I could that -- I could have probably made more money if I had just stayed in an oil company. But that may not be true, because I was able to work much longer than my cohorts. They reach 65 and they’d kiss them goodbye. And I’m over 65, so it’s worked out very well.

ESDORN:

That’s great. So let’s see. This is a long question, and so I kind of want to try and shorten it just a little bit, but -- and I think we might have sort of gone over it a little bit. So just answer this question if you feel like you have anything to add. But you’ve just recently retired from UT, the University of Texas in Austin, as senior lecturer for the petroleum engineering program and the director of the drilling research program, where you conducted research on the petrophysical properties of shales, well bore stability in shale formations, the dynamic filtration of drilling muds and the properties of synthetic muds. So in the future, going forward, how do you see this research meeting the challenges that are facing the industry?

CHENEVERT:

Well, you mentioned so many topics.

ESDORN:

Yeah [laughter]. It’s very general, so if you just want to pick one or…

CHENEVERT:

Yeah. Would you read them again, please?

ESDORN:

Sure, sure, sure. Just kind of covering some four aspects of the research that I was able to come up with, but your research in petrophysical properties of shales; the well bore stability in shale formations, which we’ve talked about; the dynamic filtration of drilling muds; and the properties of synthetic muds. So we’ve talked about how you’ve developed those in the past and how that’s changed the industry thus far. How do you see that going forward, your research affecting the future?

Discusses His Research at the University of Texas

CHENEVERT:

Yes, my research that I’ve done over the years can hopefully affect what is done in the future in various areas, various ways. One of the first ways would be the Nanoparticles concept, that if we could get that to work, I think people would be able to make their wells much more cost-effective and minimize any pollution potential. So that’s one area.

You talked about dynamic filtration, which I haven’t touched on, what we did for -- during that period, what we -- drilling fluids have many characteristics, and one of them is the mud cake associated with the drilling fluid. When the fluid goes into the formation it leaves the particles on the well bore, and this can cause pipe sticking, et cetera, et cetera. And people want to know something about this cake we call it that’s left on the well bore, and we documented exactly how thick it is and what happens when you circulate faster. So we’re able to log the well better. If you know the properties of the cake when they do an electrical log, they can account for that interruption, shall we say, for that resistance that it offers, whereas in the past, they couldn’t do that. So this improves electric logs. Some companies -- well, one major company overseas sent students to the university and worked with me to copy what we had done. We built a special machine where we bought a filtration device and we modified it so we could do dynamic filtration. It only did static, but -- well, I have to be careful because we made it so we could use it to measure this cake thickness. I’ll be more specific.

And they monitored and they built it, and they went back to Brazil. And I won’t mention the name of the company, but it’s Brazilian. And they’re doing tests there. So I can see that improving that area of geophysical measurements, I can see improvements -- well, I worked on cement for a while, and that’s one thing I really didn’t touch on today is the fact that I brought it to the forefront, the fact that when cement hardens, it shrinks. It’s a chemical reaction that it shrinks, and they argued with me continuously because they don’t like to hear that. And we even had two occasions with them, where the two major cementing companies would come to the lab with their new chemicals that didn’t shrink—so they said—in a box, and they wouldn’t let me see him or -- and then after they finished with my test, which proved they did shrink, they put everything in the box and tipped paper out of the trash can and went back to places like Duncan, Oklahoma. And that is now -- they’re working today on trying to make cements that don’t shrink. Because when they shrink, it can create cracks along the well bore because the pipe you put in the well, you encase it with cement and it hardens. And then during hardening, if it shrinks in size, you leave what’s called micro cracks. That had plagued the industry for many, many years. Why were the gas wells leaking?

And I contributed in that area, which I didn’t even think of mentioning, because these are things that would come up on the side. And I would do these things -- like I said, I never could figure out if it really helped my career, but it really helped me. But I always had to have a major project to report on. So yeah, I know this is a side issue, but when I presented the paper on cement shrinking, I will never forget this. It was an SPE meeting in Houston, and the time element, it was 11:30 to 12:00, and it ended at 12:00. But the discussions went on afterwards, and not with me, -- the people in the audience. The service companies and the major mud companies start really discussing the topic, and here I was up there kind of like an arbitrator. It went all the way to one o’clock, and I just had -- I mean, they needed the room for the other people, and that was really impressive to me that I felt like I’d brought something to the attention of industry. The service companies who sold cement hated me for it because they don’t like that. And if they have -- today, they still are working on that problem. There is no cement today that doesn’t shrink. And they don’t like me to say that, but it’s a fact of life.

But, again, I’ve taken the heat before, and that’s -- they’d say in drilling you have to have alligator’s skin in order to work. But I feel like if I’m right and I’m contributing, that’s fine. I’ll listen to their side. So that was another area that we didn’t talk about, but I think one day, we will have a cement -- there’s a professor at the University of Texas who’s working on that subject, trying to come up with a cement that doesn’t shrink. So, again, that’s something that I could see in the future happening. And certainly, with well control, we have more safeguards today, but mainly because -- well, the big people really brought to our eyes -- you cannot have just one backup. You’ve got to have all systems backup. And there are other things we learnt from that that are very important.

So, I think that in the future -- we’re getting better in most areas, because it’s our financial advantage to get better. But also, from a pollution viewpoint, we know it’s much better for the planet not to do this. So I think I’ve seen many changes, like I say, and the fact that I had to use a slide rule and students don’t even know what they are. That’s a typical example, and fortunately, I don’t have to use those log tables anymore.

ESDORN:

So we kind of touched on that just a little bit, but I just want to give you the opportunity right now again just to say what -- you specifically talked about your contributions in the future, but what do you see as the technical challenges that are facing the industry in the future? Are you ready? Okay. Okay, so yeah.

Discusses Challenges Facing the Industry in the Future

CHENEVERT:

Regarding future challenges, let’s say technical challenges, the best way I can explain it is to just talk about the different ones, and getting back to drilling, I think I’ve pretty well talked about those. We would like to have cheaper drilling fluids. I know that for a fact. The fact that it’s always a hazard to drill a well because of the unknowns, I think we’re getting much better at detecting these invasions, these problems earlier on. And we’ll always have those. And maybe the thing that’s really -- I want to emphasize this to people. It is so important that they be properly trained. And many people that work on rigs—because a lot of people are not educated to work on rigs—they really could be upgraded better, just better, because they would be more aware of what’s going on. Keep in mind, we drill 24 hours a day, and something in the middle of the night happens, and people there will be the first line of defense.

So I think there is better training coming out, and certainly, any type of computerized devices that would alert them, bells going off or stuff like that, would be extremely helpful. And they are developing them. So I see that as an improvement. So then, moving on to other areas, well, I just hear of these things, like just disposing of water, oil field water is one thing. They have to clean it up and find places of how do you dispose of it. Also, how do you find the water now to drill these shale gas wells? But now I’m getting at the political realm, where you have people who want the oil and the gas but not on their property. So that’s a different question, but it must be answered. We have to have the opportunity in our business to drill where it’s at. We have to bring it in and use it. Otherwise, we’ll be talking about imports, and we know what imports do to us. We’re reliant, on to some other outfit to control the price. And that could be devastated -- it has been devastating in the past.

I hear about reservoir engineering, and I know people have these big supercomputers that do all kind of monitoring and modeling, and that’s where it’s at today, where you could check many ideas out. So that’s still going on, and it’s still getting better and I just hear about those things over lunch because I don’t do that stuff. I’m a hands-on guy. And cementing, I’ve talked about that. There has to be a way to cement a well and not get shrinkage. There has to be. So, well, I haven’t solved that problem. That’s a very difficult problem because as soon as you mix it, everything starts changing, you’re growing crystals and everything’s changing.

It can be worked on, but that was not my interest. Let’s see, we’ve talked about production. And of course, this is an area that is not really technical, but it is in a way, is the cost of these, of all materials. You know, you can drill a well and find it, but if it’s not cost-effective, you’ve lost everything. And that’s major need is to be able to properly drill the right wells in the right places for the right cost. So it all comes back to cost. So I think these are some of the areas that I’ve seen happen and some of the areas where we’re going in the future. I try to keep up with him, but it’s so much material that some days I’d rather stay home and cut my grass than reading these magazines, because there are so many that comes out. So that’s -- about from the top of my head, that’s what I could say.

ESDORN:

Great. Okay, great, well we’re going to switch gears just a little bit here and -- so my next question for you is what has made working in the petroleum engineering industry meaningful to you?

Discusses What Has Made Working in the Petroleum Industry Meaningful to Him

CHENEVERT:

What was -- as I mentioned earlier, what’s meaningful to me, as far as working in petroleum engineering -- and I mentioned many -- I said several times, the curiosity element I’ve always had, it was there, and I was allowed to look at it or work on it. And the people that I work with, they are just a super bunch of people, and they’re all interested pretty much in the same thing, advancing technology and doing a good job. So that’s always been a wonderful attribute. But to be able to pursue a very complex material like a shale, which is chemical and mechanical, that no one else had done, and -- well, they have looked at it, but not in the areas I went. That has been extremely rewarding to me, to learn things and write a paper that other people want to read.

And I’ve written many papers, some of them I’m really proud of and some of them that are just supposed to be written, that’s all. I mean, you know, the student finishes the work, and we try to publish it because someone can use it. So these things I think are -- I’m happy that I’ve done that. I’ve mentioned pretty much all the areas that I’ve seen come and go, and with improvements. So, I don’t have anything else to add in that regard, unless you can think of one.

ESDORN:

Oh no, no. I’m just wondering, when you went into work, what were the things that made you excited about going into work? What was is it that -- you talked about your curiosity and being able to pursue sort of problem solving and advancing technology and that sort of thing. Along that vein, were there any other ways that that kind of brought meaning to your work?

CHENEVERT:

I can remember days when I went to work first with Exxon; I can tell you that it’s a happy bunch of people. They even have an Exxon Club, and we’d have picnics every year and the people were high caliber. That is very interesting people. As a matter of fact, we still meet once a year. It’s an organization that was put together by a friend of mine. Well, he and I worked together for many years. It’s LAM, Life After Mud, and we meet near Giddings, Texas every year, and anybody who wants to can go to it. We have usually barbeque or Mexican food or something and have music, a guy plays guitar. And the only requirement for new members, they have to be able to pass a test at the gate. They have to be able to spell “mud.” So anyway we’re picking up -- we, the individual, that’s his party, and I go -- I made every one of them and I’m happy to go to these. So this is the type of gentleman who’s on his own, he’s retired, and he holds this party every year on his ranch. I will say that fortunately, they found oil on his ranch. That helped him a lot. He was happy to see that. Last time I was there, I heard a noise in the background, and I said, “What’s that noise?” He says, “That’s Senor Dinero.” His pump was making noise, you know. So I’m just talking to you about the kind of people they are.

I used to travel with the same individual. We travelled for Exxon. I didn’t talk about that. I had a career with Exxon teaching. We’d go to Japan, we’d go to Venezuela, we’d go here and we’d go there, the three of us, and it was a team. And wonderful people. You just had a really good time. So those things mean a lot to me when I’d go to work.

And then I had the tools, when I went to work, that I needed. You just could go downstairs -- it’s so different than the university. Down at the university, you just go downstairs, there was a guy who would order everything, and he’d gather books out and about the next day, it was there. I don’t know how he did it. So that was extremely useful that you could -- you know, you’d have the tools immediately.

With the university, you have to plan ahead. You can get it, but you have to go through channels, and they have to low-bid it and all that kind of stuff. So each job I had had different qualities and different contributions and different interests. And then when I went to Oklahoma, I had to learn how to become a Oaky, which is a challenge because it’s different. And I don’t tell everybody I’ve been there because they rib me a lot. It was a wonderful two years just simply because it is a smaller place, Norman, Oklahoma. My kids loved it there, and I liked it because I had a lot to do, building that well. And it was the same thing. There were some wonderful people there, and I had my same old teaching assignments, which I loved, and then consulting was different because the whole industry was my client. And I had many different things. I met people in many different areas because I did a lot of reserve evaluation work. The question asked is, what is my oil well worth, you know, what can I sell it for?

So that was something that is a new branch. There is a society of petroleum evaluation engineers, which I joined, and I enjoy that group. It’s always good people. I don’t know why that is, but I seem to get along with them, and we always have a good joke, a good lunchtime. I’m continuously learning every step of the way. So that was then. And then, when I went to the University of Texas, I finally realized my rambling days were over. I was going to stay right there, and -- they would not appoint me as associate professor, which is what I had before—their reasoning, “You’re too old.” They didn’t want anybody going home to roost. And I said, “I’m not going to do that, but I’ll take it. And I’ll prove it to you,” and I have. I’ve published and I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve been there 30 years. And the people are nice. There is the roadblock of working for the state. It’s a different organization, and you learn how to get by by long-term planning. So that is -- again, what I’m saying is that there’s always the technology there. I’ve never had a problem trying to think of things to do. I could go to a lecture, and sure enough I can think of things to do about that. Just how I am, and I like to that. I like to solve problems. I don’t solve all of them, but I like to work on them.

And I’ve contributed enough in my lifetime that I’m happy with it. When you do something, you have to publish it, you have to write it up, and I don’t like that. I didn’t go to school to learn how to publish, but I can do it. Exxon taught me how to do it, believe it or not. They took my first report, and they sent me to report writing school. It’s an in-house school. And the next year, they sent me again. It took me two times for me to pass it -- and I learned the trick. There is a little book. A lady there by the name of Melba Murray who put out a book, it’s called Engineered Report Writing, and -- fantastic book. It puts it into a form that an engineer can use. We’re not talking about writing love stories. It’s nothing like that. It’s strictly how do you get out a technical report. So that really helped me all through my career and even today, and I still help at the university. The student comes to me with something that’s crazy, all mixed up, I give them a copy of that book and say, “Hey, read this,” and then it gives (unintelligible) anyway, I’m talking about the big thing I learned in industry that really helped me.

So I’m rambling a little bit, but these things just come to me. That’s been extremely helpful to have that training. And like I said, I had to take it twice, and everybody laughed about it. I wasn’t criticized. So again, I do the writing, and like I said, I worked all day Memorial Day on this big Department of Energy report, very big report, and it’s off my desk. And another thing I learned at Exxon -- and I’m telling you all these things because they’re in my mind and it’s important. My first report I turned in to Exxon, and a guy just destroyed it with a red pencil. He sat me down, he says, “Martin,” he says—and I’ll never forget this—“when you put a report on my desk, you are saying this is the very best job I can do.” And boy, that set me back. Because if you really think about that, you go back over and over and over, and that’s when I decided -- I heard about this school. It’s just a one-week school. I went and saw the guys -- I’ve got to take that school. And it worked. And from then on, boy, no red marks, just went right through to the top. No one’s too old to learn, I can tell you that. But I learnt a lot of little things. I learnt that -- well, I knew I wasn’t perfect, but they sure proved it in industry and all over, because the real world is out there, and especially in experimental research. It will correct you if you’re wrong. I told a student sometime, “Hey, when you run a test, you’re dealing with God. He has set up all the physics, and He’s right. Don’t argue with Him. It’s just we’re too dumb to interpret the results.” I don’t mean to be religious. Don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying that that’s real. That’s life.

So, all these little bits and pieces have fit together and I have no regrets for my whole career. Now that I’m retired, I’m hoping to do what my financial advisor told me. I finally went to one, and he says, “Hey, you’re crazy if you’re still working.” He says, “Travel, travel.” So we’re doing that, the wife and I are traveling now. So we’re seeing a lot of the world. But he’s right. It’s not as much fun when you’re getting older and you got to walk down the aisle of an airplane just to keep mobile. But we’re doing that. So this is just a lot of reminiscence, and I guess I mentioned to you earlier, I had a lot of little rewards and some big rewards and some acknowledgements which mean a lot to me, and that’s part of what I have to look at daily is the fact that I have accomplished some things that I can hang on the wall, and that’s nice.

ESDORN:

Great. I just have two more questions for you, and one of them you’ve kind of covered. I was going to kind of going to ask you about your favorite memories of working in the industry.

CHENEVERT:

Yeah.

ESDORN:

And we kind of talk about your awards at that point if you’d like to. And then just one more question after that, and we’ll be done. So do you want to grab your awards and talk about them or…?

CHENEVERT:

I’m going to get my cheat notes first.

ESDORN:

Sure, sure.

CHENEVERT:

I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted myself here. About -- it’s about 250 miles to Paris, Texas.

ESDORN:

You weren’t working for Schlumberger.

CHENEVERT:

Boy, did they burst my bubble in a hurry. That was interesting, East Texas. But then, when the activity mud took off, I did get a request from an SO rep, they call it in France, and I spent two weeks in Southern France just driving around in a Porsche, visiting the well. Everything went fine. So that really interested me. So I did that too and got up in all of the North Slope. There’s not many places I want to go…

ESDORN:

The North Slope, well that’s pretty inhospitable.

CHENEVERT:

Oh, it is. But this was during the wintertime, and I’ll never forget this. They have the main camp. This was ARCO and Exxon, and -- but then, when you were drilling, you had these little outposts, these rig trailers, where the people would stay. And it was in the middle of the winter, and all of a sudden, everybody’s taking showers getting all dressed up putting their clothes on. I said, “What’s going on?” “Oh, it’s Saturday night. Didn’t you know that? We’re going to the main camp. There’s going to be movies.” This is way back. And I always thought that was funny because I didn’t know what time of the day it was because it’s always dark. And they’d all gone to camp to go watch a movie, and you know, there’s no women, no whisky, no nothing. Ice cream, ice cream. Lots of ice cream there. But…

ESDORN:

Well you know, I’m going to ask you your fondest memories of the industry. I want you to kind of -- maybe you could talk -- you’re telling us all and we’re off camera right now. We need to get you to do that. But first, let me go ahead -- and I guess…

CHENEVERT:

Well let me -- I’m going to step down the hall. I know where the bathroom is, and I’ll be thinking about my fondest memories. Again, what -- you want me to…

ESDORN:

Sure, sure.

CHENEVERT:

So, my fondest memories?

ESDORN:

Fondest memories. Are you ready?

[OFF MIC CONVERSATION]

ESDORN:

So just tell me what some of your fondest memories of working in the industry are.

Discusses His Fondest Memories of Working in the Industry

CHENEVERT:

First off, the people. I’ve been very privileged to work with wonderful people who are seriously interested in what I was interested in. Second of all was the opportunity to do basic research. And I actually feel as though I was discovering something brand new. Maybe I wasn’t -- I’m sure somewhere in an old publication, you can find that… I was talking about cement shrinking. Sure enough, I found that many, many years ago, people had done test tube work and it was there. But for me to come across it to say that yes, this applies to the oil field -- and it applied to a specific problem. I tied the event to the problem. That was the a-ha, as we call it. So that was good. And of course, the shale, the well bore stability thing that even today is still being used is very heartwarming to me to know that I will leave the business with having left an imprint that -- not that I need my name on it. It’s just that I’ve done some good -- because I was paid the whole time I was working, and I was paid well.

So I feel like I’ve carried the load I was asked to do. However, I did it just out of fun and enjoyment because it was something that I just would -- I will admit that I would often go home and I couldn’t help but think about what I was doing. So, that is part of it. The places I’ve visited in the world, I would always use up some of my vacation to hang around and go see what I wanted to see. And that -- I can think of -- just to give an example of how these people were good to work for, when they were sending me up to the North Slope, they said, “Well, now you’ll get up there, and you’ll probably have some time to spare,” because you’re in the oil business, the drilling business it’s always hurry up and wait. And he says, “I want to introduce you to the Naval Research Facility at Point Barrow,” that’s top of the world, most northern part of the United States. I wanted either to go to the navy research facility, here’s the name, here’s a card, this is the guy in charge, he’ll give you a view of this facility. And I couldn’t believe what I saw. They had these wolves, white wolves. I mean they go up to the cage, they were at least six, seven feet tall, big, big things. They were doing research with them. And they had owls, and they had all kinds of animals, Arctic animals that they study their ability. Like the wolves, their feet never get frostbite, and yet they’re in that ice all the time. It’s just -- that, to me, is an expression of the people and the opportunities I had to go to parts of the world that normal people would never go to.

It’s definitely not a tourist location. So that’s one of the things that I enjoyed tremendously is being able to do that. Of course, I still tour, and I learn a lot of things that I didn’t know, but it’s different. The highlights, simple things, just like I said, just to be on an offshore platform watching the sun come up. Also, a well I was drilling in South Louisiana in the [boat marshes] right next to the Rockefeller Wildlife Preserve. In the evening, to watch all the birds come in. And you’re just right there. You’re almost -- you can’t touch them, but they’re right there. You’re as close as you’re allowed to get to these reserves. And so, again, one part of my career I skipped was just during college, I got a job working on a barge rig in Louisiana in the summer, and I get the night shift, which meant you showed up at 6:00 at night, and then you left 6:00 in the morning. And that was the first time in my life I realized you could stay up all night and watch the sun come up. I mean, it was just a unique -- but to do that, to work in these really remote locations, if you had any food left over, you’d feed the alligators, something like that, just a lot of little things that you would never have experienced if it hadn’t been in some remote location somewhere. And there was a humorous one I remember. This was in, I think, Illinois. It was the coal mines. We certainly didn’t have cell phones back then, so the idea was one of the guys would stay in a hotel and one guy would stay at the rig in case something came up. We were waiting for them to be getting ready to do cementing, and that was my job. You had to drive five miles into town, there was one payphone booth. That was it, this little town.

So sure enough, I got to being to stay there tonight—we took turns—but that night, I go in and I open this phone booth, and what’s in it but a dead raccoon? Or no, sorry, a dead possum. He had been dead dead for a long time. So you had to make this phone call, and I wasn’t sure how long I could hold my breath. I mean, that’s just really (unintelligible) do that. So anyway, these things stick in my mind. And then another time, on the King Ranch, you’re at the rig and you’re having to do things, and these big Santa Gertrudis cows or a bull walking around the rig. And I just don’t trust them, that’s all there is to it. So you see that. But it’s all beautiful, when you really think about it. You go up on the rig floor and you could look around and go up on the top of the derrick. It’s 100 feet tall. You could see the whole countryside. So there’s a lot of beauty in our country, and I got to see a lot of it.

When I was in consulting one time—this was in Montana—and there was a legal case I was working on and the fellow asked me, “Have you visited our wells? Have you -- which wells have you been on in Montana?” I’ve said none. He goes, “Oh. Well, tomorrow you’re going to visit all the wells we have drilling.” So I got in a SUV with a driver, and he took me to every rig drill all over Montana. Gorgeous state. Badlands, and we’d pull up to the rig and I’d go up to the rig floor, talk to the guy, look at the mud, get back into the car, and go to the next one. This is legal stuff. If you ever work with lawyers, they want to be sure that gets down, “Oh yeah, I’ve been on these wells.” That’s what they do, I don’t like -- I was never -- there are some lawyers I don’t like to work with, but some of them are wonderful. It’s just like everything else.

But that was beautiful. Where else would you get somebody to drive you all over the state just looking? So that’s another beautiful event. What I’m emphasizing now is I had a rich career seeing the United States, working with wonderful people, and, to top it all off, getting paid to do what I like to do. So I cannot think of a better opportunity. There were hard times. There were things that would interrupt family vacations, you get a phone call in the middle of the night and you had to see about it. Sometimes you can’t find the drilling rigs because they don’t ever have maps or anything, but all these little things, just -- you forget about, them and you just think about the fact that you’re blessed to have been the opportunity to do all this. And so, for some unusual reason, I was at the right place at the right time and enjoyed it. And I can’t say much more than that about it. And of course, most of the time, I spent in the labs doing research, which I enjoyed, which is very slow. Because as you know, time, you can’t speed up time, usually. You had to let nature takes its course. But if I found that -- and I tell students this: Be very observant, because sometime the best thing that can happen is the experiment fails, because in it is a key, in it is the truth. So you just have to be always observant. And I like that. To me, that’s the secret is to try to understand nature, what’s going on. So I had all that happen, and I’m glad I did it all. So I can’t think of any other things, but I’m sure when I walk out of here I’ll think of some more. But that’s a bucketful right there. That was my bucket. Was that a wish bucket or something? So I can answer any more questions you have.

Discusses How Being a Member of SPE has Affected His Career

ESDORN:

Sure, sure. Just one more question. This has to do with SPE. How has being an SPE member affected your work or your career?

CHENEVERT:

Yes. I joined SPE very early, when I was at LSU, which was in 1957. I now go -- I go to meetings and I get that 50-year award pen, and I could go to that special room they have where you have not only snacks but you have liquid snacks. So anyway, I can do that now. I don’t have to go to all the technical sessions—or any of that the technical sessions. But I do that. However, lets back up. Being able to present your work to a technical society that is meaningful is very important to a researcher. And SPE has been extremely helpful in that regard. The work I did on my PhD thesis, which was studying rock behavior shale but—no water, just plain old shale—we called it laminated rocks, I presented that as my first paper. I had just gone to work for Exxon, and then they sent me to Houston, if I remember right – well, I was already in Houston, but they sent me to the meeting and paid my way, the tuition. But anyway. So it’s a forum that I had found that is very necessary to get us engineers together because you meet people at these meeting who work for other companies.

So, those SPE annual meetings—and now there are more than one. The one coming up is in Holland. I made that one several times because it comes up, I think, every four years or three years, I don’t know. It’s very important. The other thing that SPE has provided me with over the years are the forums. This is where you spend a week somewhere in a beautiful -- usually a ski location in the summer -- no snow, but you have a beautiful location in the mountains, [veil], something like this -- well, Colorado, with your cohorts from all other companies. And you’re not supposed to take notes so people can express themselves exactly what they learned at the companies. If it’s confidential, of course we sit on that. But being able to do that, you’ve read about this particular guy in all this publication and you go meet him, and then you go park somewhere and go down your rapids in a boat or something and talk, it’s just -- then it’s meaningful for -- every time there’s a publication, you know who it is. So that is an extremely important part. And I can’t tell you how many places I have been to with the forums.

I qualified for so many, and I was drilling for well bores. But I always did that intention -- I’ve been to Scotland for an SPE forum, which, between meetings we had the chance to go check out the distilleries, which I don’t recommend to everybody. But it was quite an event. So that’s another very wonderful opportunity that is provided by the organization. And then, when I was doing my own consulting company, I taught courses. But I had to set the course up, and I had to do the manual and I had to make arrangements. And that’s a lot of work, which SPE does automatically. You all have the people, SPE does, to do that. And I’ve been very impressed with the people. Everything was always smooth. I was going to say the time I forgot the slides -- no, that’s the time the other guy forgot the slides. Back then, you had these glass slides, where -- you didn’t have these, nice little old zip discs or whatever they call them, flash drives, to bring with you. You didn’t have that. You had to pack these big, heavy slides. So, again that goes way, way back.

The time that Exxon guy thought he’d fix me up, he gave me one of my slides, and he made it so -- I don’t care how you turned it, it was wrong. He would print it, he made a copy and then he would turn it backwards and upside down. You can do it eight ways, and it’s always wrong, and that always made a good laugh in the audience. Of course, I was using up my time, which I didn’t appreciate. This is the problem with the Exxon people. I was teaching a course in Japan, and we call that salt in your slides. I’m showing my slides [02:06:00] going for a lecture, and all of a sudden, there’s this picture of nudely clad young lady, and it pops up. And you talk about blowing your mind when you’re trying to lecture. And they loved it, but I didn’t. You can do that in a closed society. So, there are little things like that, just the people, the people just really enjoyed a good time. I think I can go on and on about some of the people that I remember today. Unfortunately, many of them are deceased. And that’s why I like this organization, the annual meeting of the Life After Mud people, because I see some of the original -- I see a lot of new people coming in. So this is really nice to have a connection. And that’s something that happened which I’m appreciative of. So I think that’s what we were talking about. Is that correct?

ESDORN: Just how SPE has -- being a member has affected your career.

CHENEVERT:

Well, getting back to SPE -- again, they provided the format upon which you present your technical information. Without that, if nobody was presenting anything, it would be almost impossible to do your work. Because you learn at every meeting, you pick up from what other people had done, you’re building on their back, so to speak. And without that, I would not have any -- I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did do. I’m positive of that, or for any publication thereabouts. And to do all that leg work and all that preliminary work -- I only went to Las Vegas one time. That was interesting, and then the next time, I told the whole group, if they ever offer another SPE meeting in Las Vegas, we’re going to cancel the society. Because nobody went to the meetings. I mean, other people did go, of course. I was at all the meetings. Not the research meetings, the other meetings.

So again, I don’t think they hold those -- SPE holds meetings there anymore in Las Vegas. I don’t think they do. Well, the reason -- there’s a lot of room there to hold meetings. That’s what they said. But again, many cities have now meeting rooms that you can use. But I’ve enjoyed them all, and just the camaraderie is there that brings people together, it brings technology together. And plus, the demand for excellence in the publications. You can’t do a sloppy publication. Maybe the first one, but not any after that. They, again, give you technical help whenever you need it. So again, I don’t have any complaints about SPE at all. I think it’s just been the right arm of our industry.

It has provided the method for us to connect with the rest of the industry in a very technical fashion, and without it, it would have been very impossible to proceed at the rate we did. The industry can proceed because it motivates you. You get a free trip to go to these exotic locations if you do a paper. That’s how Exxon was; you had to write a paper. This friend of mine said, “Oh, you’re doing a transportation paper.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says you get a free trip. I said, “I guess you can call it transportation paper.” It was really a well bore stability paper, but you can call it that. So, again, I wouldn’t have seen these beautiful parts of the United States if it weren’t for SPE having this. I know I’m not talking about -- I’m talking about the fun part of it all, but it’s true. This is there, and I’m happy it was there, very happy. It’s so different than a lot of the other organizations, because I would go to meetings for civil engineers and mechanical, that’s about it, those plus petroleum. Petroleum was always the best, because it looks like they -- I don’t know if they had the people or the money to do it, I’m not sure, but it was very first-class.

So again, that’s something that I’m sure you’ll keep it up, because everybody realizes the importance of having this forum, this platform upon which to look forward to, to see your friends and to talk about research, to talk about technology and families. Over the years, you meet people at forums and all and you -- I saw a fellow the other day that we used to meet him often. He was, “How are you kids?” you know. That’s important to life, that you have a connection to real people. And so, that is -- the key in my mind is you get a paper and it has a name on it, it becomes a real person once you’ve been to the meetings and you’ve seen them, and you talked to them. Then it’s really easy to pick the phone and call them, and I’ve done that very often. Just call them on the phone. And they love to hear you, they love to help you. So, as you can see, I’m here today, this wonderful opportunity that all you have provide for me to kind of tie things together. And I thank you and I thank the SPE in a major way for all these things. So I know it’ll keep on, and I’ll be looking forward to maybe going to another one. I get invitations, but I’m really -- if they’re local, I go. If they’re distant, I try not to go. I’m not going to Holland, this trip. So again, I think I’ve summed it up. I can’t think of any other areas to talk about.

ESDORN:

Well, thank you. Thank you very much for your history. It’s very valuable to the society, and we appreciate you coming out and doing this for us.

CHENEVERT:

Yeah. Well, thank you. All this philosophical stuff I’m talking about applies to everybody. Follow your dream, you know, someone said that. And I’ve had things happen in my life that I would have never believed could happen, just accidentally, all of a sudden, you meet somebody or you do something and things fit together. I could tell you all stuff that -- and I haven’t gone into that today. I spend time every morning just thinking before I do anything. You can call it meditation if you want to. But sure just not doing anything. Even Einstein said that. He said he knows not where these ideas come from. And I get ideas like that, I really do. Sometimes it’s wonderful, it’s easy, but sometimes I want to know what they mean. But I’m just saying that I’ve used that method to find out what I really want to do, and I’ve changed careers because I thought that was what I should do. And sometimes it was really hard. Moving my kids to Oklahoma, at first, all of them rebelled. But then they got used to it. So again, these are just a lot of things that you learn through life. You just have to follow your bliss, but you got to be very cautious of everybody else’s needs. So again, I’m thankful to be here, and…

ESDORN:

Well, let me ask you a real quick question. It’s nothing. Just you kind of compiled some notes and whatever, and I was hoping, could you email this to me? And then that way, I can have them.

CHENEVERT:

You want them on an email format, okay.

ESDORN:

I mean, whatever. You can just…

CHENEVERT:

You can even have this, because in here I spell the name of the bayou.

ESDORN:

Yeah, I was going to say I’m going to need that.

CHENEVERT:

I know that.

ESDORN:

I’m like -- my family might be from Louisiana, but I’m not. But, if you can email it to me, and then that way I have it.

CHENEVERT:

I was going to do that. You know, I spent this morning typing all this up.

ESDORN:

Yeah? Thank you.

CHENEVERT:

And some of it will make some sense, and some of it won’t, but I look at this, like you say, as a first step to putting the thing together.

ESDORN:

Yeah, absolutely.

CHENEVERT:

You will be sending me things and I’ll do it. And again, I’ve been told I ramble, so if I chopped something out of you, you won’t hurt my feelings at all.

ESDORN:

Great. And what’s great about it is that we’re doing a lot of things for our archive. Some of it is firsthand histories, some of it’s topic articles, and some things maybe if we didn’t touch on.

CHENEVERT:

Yes, I’ve been asked to say a few words about awards I’ve received. And I’ve always appreciated…

BENNETT:

Start that again.

CHENEVERT:

Okay, we’ll start from the beginning.

ESDORN:

Can you take your glasses off?

CHENEVERT:

Yes.

ESDORN:

Okay.

Discusses Awards He's Earned During His Career

CHENEVERT:

Over the many years I spent as a petroleum engineer in the industry, I was very fortunate to be recognized on various occasions and receive awards that I can refer to in the future. The first one I want to talk about was back in 2006, wherein the AADE, the American Association of Drilling Engineers, handed me this plaque and recognized me for the following, which I will read to you: development of chemical and mechanical concepts of well bore stability and innovative fluids. That is the balanced activity oil-based muds. So this is the drawing fluids hall of fame, which I was very privileged to be in this group.

ESDORN:

Excellent.

BENNETT:

Real quick before you move on. Take that and just hold it up to the camera like this. Yeah, thank you. Okay, got it. And you can move on.

CHENEVERT:

A couple of years later in 2008, I received notification from SPE that I had been nominated and elected into the Drilling Fluids Hall of Fame, and I received this gorgeous implement the 23rd of September 2008, the Legend of Drilling for pioneering work in the exploration and production industry. So I was both pleased with this one. It looks very significant.

BENNETT:

Great, okay.

CHENEVERT:

You got the picture?

BENNETT:

I got it.

CHENEVERT:

Okay.

ESDORN:

Wonderful.

BENNETT:

It’s excellent.

ESDORN:

Thank you.

CHENEVERT:

I can take my pyramid home now.

ESDORN:

Yup, yeah.