Oral-History:Shauna Noonan

About the Interviewee

Shauna Noonan

Shauna Noonan is the Completions Technology Manager for ConocoPhillips in Houston. She has worked on artificial lift projects and technology development worldwide at ConocoPhillips and previously Chevron for 22 years. She has chaired many industry artificial lift forums and authored / co-authored over 20 papers on the subject of artificial lift. She was the chair of the ISO standard committee for PCPs and is the current chair of the ISO standard for ESPs. She is the 2012 – 2015 Technical Director for Production and Operations on SPE’s International Board of Directors and chair of the SPE Artificial Lift Conference and Exhibition for North America. Shauna began her career working for Chevron Canada Resources and holds a B.Sc. in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Alberta.


About the Interview

Shauna Noonan: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, September 28, 2015.

Interview SPEOH000125 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.


Copyright Statement

The content of this oral history transcript, including photographs, audio and audiovisual clips, and biographical information, and are intended for noncommercial educational and personal use only. Copyright restrictions apply. Commercial publication, redistribution, or use of the content is not permitted.

Anyone wishing to use the text, image, or audio or audiovisual files associated with this oral history transcript for publication, commercial use, or any other use not expressly permitted, must contact the SPE Historian.

Society of Petroleum Engineers Historian 10777 Westheimer, #1075
Houston, TX 77042

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

[Interviewee Name], interviewed by [Interviewer Name], SPE Oral History Project, Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive, [Interview Date].


Audio


Audio File
MP3 Audio
Play (Shauna_Noonan_Interview.MP3)


Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Shauna Noonan
INTERVIEWER: Amy Esdorn
DATE: September 28, 2015
PLACE: Houston, Texas

ESDORN:

My name is Amy Esdorn and I am here at the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. Today is September 28th, 2015 and I’m speaking with Shauna Noonan. Shauna, thank you for participating in this project.

NOONAN:

Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

ESDORN:

So, let’s begin. My first question for you is what was the industry like when you started in your career?

NOONAN:

I graduated with my Bachelors of Petroleum Engineering in 1993, and at the time in Canada, we were going through a small industry downturn. A lot of my classmates had trouble getting jobs. Many of the oil and service companies had hiring freezes, and even students who had done internships, they found if they did the internship with the same company year after year, when it came to graduating and that company had a hiring freeze, it was very difficult for them to find a position. I made sure during my internships through college, I work for a different company each time. And it turned out when I graduated, half of those companies had hiring freezes, the other half did not. So due to a wise decision I made early on in college, I was lucky to get hired on with Chevron Canada Resources when I graduated.

ESDORN:

That’s really great because I think a lot of times, students would think, “Oh, it’s better to go with the same company,” and sort of build that sort of relationship there, but you’re saying that your strategy really actually benefited you.

NOONAN:

Yes, and it also allowed me to look at what type of company did I want to work for as well.

ESDORN:

That’s smart. So, and in the end, you went with again, you went…

NOONAN:

Chevron Canada Resources.

ESDORN:

Wonderful. And so, what was your first job?

NOONAN:

It was actual interesting program per se when you’re hired on as an engineer with Chevron Canada. [00:02:00] Whether you eventually wanted to be a production engineer, a drilling engineer, reservoir, you all started out sitting the rigs for the first number of years. They had a huge checklist that you had to do first when you showed up for your first day of work. Of course, you had to go through all the mandatory safety classes. Then they assigned you to a rig consultant, whose job was not only to work at the well site but also to train that young engineer that was there. Usually, about six months, once that rig consultant gave Chevron the go ahead that you were capable of supervising your own workover rig or could have been a completion rig, could have been a drilling rig, then they assigned you to one and gave you this huge checklist. You had to do so many hydraulic fracturing jobs, so many well deepenings, install certain pieces of equipment. So you’d actually all total for maybe about two to three years be a rig consultant. You knew what all the equipment that went in the well looked like. You not only learned to read a workover program, but because you were there hands-on, you knew how to write one.

Working a well site is all about scheduling—timing with equipment in, equipment out, and it also put you right to face with the people that are working the rigs and also the field operators. I will say, you may have been the only person on the well site that had any engineering degree, but I guarantee, most of those people in that well site knew way more than you did, and it was an excellent environment to learn from. I don’t think many companies have that type of program anymore, and that was specifically why I actually chose that job with Chevron to get that amount of training.

I am not a tomboy by any means, so it’s very much out of my comfort zone to go and just work rigs for the first number of years, but it actually helped me get to where I am today.

ESDORN:

[00:04:00] You said that the rig consultant would be in charge of you, sort of training you, on-the-job training. How many, I guess, new engineers would a rig consultant be training at any time?

NOONAN:

Only one at a time.

ESDORN:

Only one at a time. So, that was pretty good one-on-one training then?

NOONAN:

Yes, it was. It was excellent.

ESDORN:

It was for two to three years?

NOONAN:

About two to three years, yeah. Again, you had to complete that checklist. And once you had done that, then you got assigned to a field engineering position.

ESDORN:

So that was the next sort of step in your career?

NOONAN:

That was the next step. I was a field engineer in Fox Creek, Alberta, which is as far away from civilization at the time you could be.

ESDORN:

Trace for me, if you will, the path that your career took, from your training all the way to today.

NOONAN:

Well, for a Canadian engineer, usually, the final stop is Calgary. That’s the oil Mecca but I always felt for me personally that was not where I want to end up. I wanted to get a chance to work international projects, get a chance to work in the United States. Actually, in 1997, I managed to get a job transfer to Houston in a role that actually allowed me to travel around the world and work with people in different countries and cultures.

Now, repeat that question again because I don’t think I quite got there.

ESDORN:

Sure, of course. I was just saying if you could trace the path that your career took from the very beginning ‘till today.

NOONAN:

Okay. Well, again, the first big decision was taking an expat position, and in essence, to grow, to see really what’s out there and kind of carve my own path. One thing I decided to do early on was consult with as many mentors and people on how they did their careers and not necessarily follow what they did but use it to carve out my own path, because that’s one thing I learned early on too is no one is ever going to give you a list or a roadmap as to where you start, where you end up. [00:06:00] I think that with a lot of young engineers today, they don’t realize that. That’s why that first five years is so difficult, because you kind of feel lost, because you’ve just gone through college, where it’s been predetermined: year one, you take this; year two, you take this. And then they’ll get to an oil company or service company, they’ll be in a training program maybe for six months, a year. I was lucky, I was two years, two to three years with the rigs. But after that, you’re on your own.

So I decided I’m going to go to the US. I managed to get that job transfer against the advice of others because they thought that I’d be too young to go, and why would I ever want to leave Canada. When I got to the US, I took a lot of assignments where I could travel a lot, interact with as many people, do as many industry events as I could. I learned early on that I am not the sharpest pencil in the box. I know that. I’m not what your typical engineer would be. But I am the type of person where I will find out who knows that answer. I will network well with them to a point that if I need to contact them, I know in a short timeframe they’re going to answer my call. So I became very resourceful through -- and that’s where SPE has been instrumental, but yeah, through industry work, getting to travel, just got really well networked. And then one of the big things I did was I learned to figure out what my niche was early on, against the advice of many people who feel that engineers should be general—you should know a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

[00:08:00] Early on in the field, I started work with artificial lift. That’s basically with downhole pumping systems. Or they may not be actual mechanical systems because gas lift is an artificial lift system, but basically, when the reservoir does not have enough energy to bring the fluid to surface, that’s what an artificial lift engineer does. I noticed in the industry that many of the artificial lift experts were on the aging precipice of the demographic -- sorry. So, I realized, here is my opportunity to learn as much as I could from those individuals, and when they left the industry, that would position me very well to be the next artificial lift champion. And that’s actually what it had done. But again, I had to fight to remain to be in artificial lift against company’s recommendations to be all general, get as well networked and work on API or other industry standards to do with artificial lift, started to publish early. That was a decision too, to really get myself established, and years later, I’m happy to say that I’ve got 25 publications out there related to artificial lift. I’ve done two digital series for SPE. I’ve been given industry awards for what I’ve done. So my early decisions helped just kind of take its course to getting me where I am today.

ESDORN:

That’s great. It sounds like you really sort of bucked a lot of trends and sort of did the thing that you saw would be in your best interest in that way, instead of just going ahead and following. But you said that you spoke to mentors and you saw what they had done. What sort of -- I guess if you could give advice as for as with the mentorship. A lot of people think when somebody’s mentoring you, the best idea is to follow their advice really, really closely, or their example. [00:10:00] I guess my question is how do you know when not to do that, or when is that just a personal sort of experience for you to say, “Okay. Yeah, this is good so far, but not for me,” or how do you …?

NOONAN:

That’s an excellent question, because a lot -- I’d say about 50-50 percent of the time, I’ve taken the advice of my mentors. Yeah, of course, in this industry, there’s very few females, so a lot of the mentors’ advice were men, who with their own families, most of their wives are staying home. And so, they never had to deal with the issues with children, or working international, there’s a lot of nannies. There’s a lot of different things. So I’ve split them into mentorship and what advice I took on the career side and then also of the personal side.

I knew I wanted to have a family. I did not want to postpone a family per se. I wanted to be with at least have my first child by the time I was 30. I decided early on that I wanted to raise my own children. I did not want it to be done with a nanny. I attended a conference in Canada where a lady, she was the VP of Petro-Canada, and the advice that she gave was, “Pay for the best childcare out there, and you will be much more productive in your job.” I learned that a little bit the hard way, when the first time putting my young daughter in daycare, the only daycare we could get out was maybe not necessarily the best one. And I tell you, I worried at work all day long about my child. But when we could get into the better daycares -- and again, it’s expensive as a conscious decision, “Are you going to be putting a huge amount of money into childcare?” [00:12:00] In the end, it did help me at work be more productive. I knew my child was being taken care of very, very well.

Again, my mentors, my male mentors could never understand why didn’t I get a nanny because there’d be times where the daycare would call me and say, “Your child is running a fever. Can you please get your child?” My husband also works. He used to travel a lot, so that was a little bit hard. And I think I ended up passing on certain job opportunities just to give me that flexibility to raise my children on my own. So that’s the personal side.

On the professional side, some of the advice with the mentors I again had was, “You work long hours.” Again, I’m very family-centric. That’s the way they always -- they would show up at work at 5:00 in the morning and then leave at 8:00 at night. When I watched a lot of these individuals, I could be just as productive, just get as much work done in the regular work hours if I just sat down, put my mind to it. Again, it’s not running, taking coffee breaks and different things like this. So I was able to demonstrate to my management that I could still have good family time, do just the regular hours, not the long overtime in the office, get my job done, and I was still able to get my promotions, get great performance rankings and stuff like this, because again, it’s not the face time in the office. It’s actually what you do with your time when you’re there.

ESDORN:

That’s great. Those were really interesting answers. Thank you for sharing that. So, you kind of touched on it a little bit. [00:14:00] But I guess what challenges have you faced in your career?

NOONAN:

The biggest challenge, of course, is the decision to be family-focused. I have not worked internationally other than the US, but now I’ve lived here long enough. I am a permanent U.S. resident. So I could have been higher up the ladder than I am now. Would that make me any happier? Not really, because I know I’ve developed my children, my family the way I wanted to. That would have been the biggest one. And what’s interesting too is early on in the career -- again, as an engineer, you love data. So, myself and another young drilling engineer, her and I -- this is just before we started to have a family. We wanted to understand within the company how did the women engineers and even the geo-scientists, the ones that were successful working internationally, how did they do it? How did they raise their jobs? We actually created this huge survey, got approval from the HR Department to send it out. We sent it to their VPs, very high level engineers, geo-scientists all over, ones that were doing rotations, working internationally, and even just based in country. And it was a series of questions as to how many children do you have, what sort of childcare being provided. In the end, we end up publishing the paper on it. It was very, very interesting. For example, some ladies who work rotation, they would have almost transitional notes with their nannies, because when they’re on the rotation, some of the nanny would come -- and we could start to see some of these different demographics. Again, it’s all what works for you as an individual. I don’t mean to be slighting anybody who’s decided they’ve gone that route, just for personally that was me. But again, I know it impacted my career in the end. [00:16:00] I could probably be several layers higher up the food chain now, but again, it’s a decision that I made, and I’m not disappointed in it at all.

ESDORN:

What were some of the technical challenges that you faced in your career?

NOONAN:

Well, I alluded to earlier I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box. Also, for me, my learning style is more -- it’s got to be absorbed a little bit over time. You’d be in certain situations or even in learning environments where you’ve got those types of engineers that they dream mathematical equations and they get it right now, and then there are folks like me, where we kind of need to sit, absorb, and then finally, the light goes on. When I’m in some environments where you have to respond quick or observe things quick, personally for me, I’ve struggled. But again, as I’ve aged and got more experience, I’m able to actually raise my hand and say, “Just give me a minute and I’ll get back to you.” But when you’re a young engineer and then you feel that light bulb’s not going on, you’ll have your moments where it’s, “Maybe I should find a new line or a different career to go into, because I’m just not getting it well.” Some people get it instantaneously, and for me, it just takes a bit, but you’ve just got to persevere.

ESDORN:

What’s the best advice that you’ve been given for working in the industry?

NOONAN:

Well, one, I already alluded to from that one lady VP who said get the best childcare that you can afford. Also, there’s two other pieces of advice. One was from an individual that encouraged me to publish my first paper. [00:18:00] Of course, as a young engineer, getting in front of a huge audience—say, here at the Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition—it’s very nerve racking. And I’ll tell you, still to this day—and I’m now coming in 26 years into the business—I’ll get up on a podium and I wonder if people can see my knees shaking, right? But that really helped build my communication skills too because that’s actually another factor in this business where they gave me the advantage, say, over some of the other engineers—again, the ones who dream mathematical equations. You have to have the people skills. You have to be able to communicate your thoughts and ideas in the right manner for -- like for example, you convey something different from management as you would to a technical session audience, for example, right? Even for me and my staff or people I’ve worked with, they can be some of the brightest minds that are out there but their careers are hampered just because they lack those skills, right? So, presenting the paper -- and of course, many followed after. That really helps develop your communication skills and actually helps to network when you get out in front of people.

Then the third piece of advice was a man by the name of Saeed Ali. He’s a very strong volunteer within SPE. He encouraged me to start getting involved in the SPE international programs. Got on some of the early advisory committees and then chaired many conferences and stuff, and that has really not only helped me network, but it also too has opened me to other facets of the industry instead of just my own little niche within my company. Because all the companies, whether service companies or operating companies, to get higher up the technical ladder, at some point you not only need to be considered the internal expert on what you do but also an industry expert. [00:20:00] Well, how do you get in on the industry? It’s through writing papers. It’s through serving on some of these committees. And I actually chaired some of the international standards committees too. Was I the brightest person to be leading that group? No. You get the brightest people on those committees working with you, and for me, that was some of the best training courses I ever had too. It also helped develop the leadership skills. That’s one thing too with SPE and some of these other things. As a young engineer in an oil company, you don’t have a chance to start honing your leadership skills early on. These other venues do. So, those were the three pieces of advice: the best childcare, write industry papers, and then also volunteer. Primarily, I focus on SPE activities in that, but get out there and participate in the industry.

ESDORN:

Well, that’s a great lead-in for my last question, which is how has being an SPE member affected your career?

NOONAN:

I first joined SPE when I was in university in Edmonton, Canada. I remember when the student chapter was first formed. I served as vice president. My best friend served as president. And it’s the first time we actually got to see the DL programs, for example. People that you read about or hear about in the news, they’re actually coming to your campus to talk. Then that just led onto other positions. I wasn’t necessarily as active in SPE when I was in Canada, outside of student chapter, but of course, the encouragement through Saeed Ali when I came to the US just really opened up the doors. And I would have never, ever imagined it in my career that I would have ever served on the board of directors. I’ve just finished my three-year term on the board. [00:22:00] Wonderful, wonderful experience. Again, my SPE activities are not going to stop just ‘cause I’ve rolled off the board, but it is positioned me now--I’ve had the chance to, especially on the board, work with leaders from other companies, and it actually, for some strange reason, it’s honed my business sense, for example, because you’re in rooms with people, they’re worried about the stock prices. As a society, we’re trying to understand how do we get to where we are within the downturn and where do we go, and then you just start absorbing all this and because you’ve got to understand it, it’s just not the engineering side of things. Our industry is so impactful to the economy. They also need to understand that too. And that’s where SPE has really helped me as well. Again, SPE has become my own family. Coming to the main conference and exhibition, it’s almost like a high school reunion now. You can’t walk down the hallway without running into a few people that you’ve run through your career. And it’s a wonderful experience. Again, to be able to see all the influx of young students coming in, I watched some of the Petrobowl and that this morning and seen the enthusiasm. To be honest, some of the questions they are answering, I was -- okay, I’m getting old. I’ve forgotten some of those questions. But yeah, I was very impressed. And even still how much passion they have and excitement that it gets me excited. So, yes. That was probably actually the best decision ever, ever was to get that initial membership with SPE.

ESDORN:

Well, thank you for your service, and also, thank you so much for participating in our project.

NOONAN:

Thank you very much, Amy.