Oral-History:Steve Poston

About the Interviewee

Steve Poston

Steven W. Poston is a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University with over 45 years’ experience in the petroleum industry. His vast career includes reservoir engineering and decline curve analysis, teaching, and consulting in the US, Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Russia.

Poston is a member of SPE and has served on numerous committees including the committee on rewriting the seven-volume Petroleum Engineering Handbook. He co-authored many technical papers and presented over 41 at various university and technical meetings. He is also co-author of Overpressured Gas Reservoirs with Robert R. Berg and Analysis of Production Decline Curves with Bobby D. Poe Jr.

Poston received his BSc and ME degrees in geological engineering and his PhD in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University.

About the Interview

Steve Poston: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, September 27, 2015.

Interview SPEOH000120 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.


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Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Steve Poston
INTERVIEWER: Amy Esdorn
DATE: September 27, 2015
PLACE: Houston, Texas

ESDORN:

Today is September 27, 2015 and I’m here with Steve Poston. My name is Amy Esdorn. I’m with the Society of Petroleum Engineers, and we are interviewing Steve Poston at ATCE in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.

Hello, Steve. How are you?

POSTON:

Fine, thank you.

ESDORN:

Great, wonderful. Well, why don’t we just get started?

POSTON:

Okay.

ESDORN:

So the first question I have for you is: how did you get involved in the industry?

POSTON:

I always wanted to be in the industry. I don’t know why. Like I said, I’m kind of a romantic at heart. The oil industry is everywhere all over, and there’s a wide variety of jobs and professions. And it was just always something I wanted to do.

My father was -- my parents were not even -- they didn’t even know anybody in the industry, but I went to high school in Texas, in Dallas. And I don’t know, I just always wanted to do it.

ESDORN:

That’s great. And so, were you good at science and math, or was there something in high school?

POSTON:

No. I’m one of the atypical people. I never did make good grades. In those days, I have some peculiar mental lapse that when I take a course, a lot of it I don’t assimilate, and then three months after I take the course, then I say, “Oh, yeah. I understand all that.” But I always had many outside interests. My grades, even though I did get a PhD, were never more than just getting by. I hate to say that.

[00:02:00] But I was mainly interested in geology and English and things like that, while most engineers really are into mathematics and equations. I’m less so. So I always had a problem with that.

But I like my particular facet of the petroleum industry because I like to marry geology and petroleum engineering together. And very few people -- engineers think like engineers, and geologists think on the left end, and they don’t meet very well. But I think that’s crucial because that’s the basic of what we do in the oil industry is to try and characterize what’s down there and then produce it so we can predict into the future.

ESDORN:

And so, where did you go to college?

POSTON:

Texas A&M. My parents moved to California and I went out there for a couple of years, but I came back to Texas A&M, and I majored in geological engineering. I graduated finally, and at that time it was about in the late ‘50s. There were no jobs. We go through cycles. There was a drilling, there was mud logging, or I could get into geophysics. And I decided I’d mud log. And that’s where I learned about the drilling industry.

I worked there for two years and went back to graduate school at A&M. I again got a masters degree in geological engineering then switched over to petroleum. [00:04:00] But during that two years, I really learned about drilling. I never did get back into it, but it was a basic foundation for me to learn about the industry.

I learned about the people that work out there, which generally, when you have a PhD or you work in an office, you don’t get to experience these people who are -- generally have minor education level but are good people and very proficient at what they do. So you can’t underestimate them. They also have a terrific sense of humor, which is somewhat rough, but they lead a hard life too.

So I got my PhD and went to -- as usual, everything was backwards with me. I wanted to go to work as a production geologist. Well, if on one hand they pay a production geologist x and they -- whether he’s got a masters or PhD, then a petroleum engineer, they pay x plus y. And so, I like what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t in love with it.

So, Gulf Oil said, “We’ll tell you what we’ll do, Steve. We’ll send you to Nigeria.” And I didn’t even know where Nigeria was. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to get out of Central Texas. I’d had enough of that, and I wanted to expand my horizons. And this is one of the reasons why the oil industry is so good, because you can do a wide variety of things.

Like I tell all the younger ones, you know, if you think the space industry is really where all the action is, you ought to look a bit closer at the oil and gas industry, because we do everything they do plus, as far as I’m concerned. [00:06:00] But I went to Nigeria as a production geologist in time for the civil war, and I remember it went bad for the federal side, initially. And here I was with two suitcases to my name and, the civil war started. It looked like we were going to have to leave. I was still broke, for God’s sake.

But anyway, that worked its way through, and I wanted to switch over to engineering. And I did that. Gulf was a very good company. From there I went to their place in Pittsburg, and did reservoir simulation, which I hated. And so, I was unhappy there. And due to the capacity of Gulf, they said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “I want to get in the oil and gas industry. I want to get into engineering. I want to get in production.”

So they shipped me to Houma, Louisiana. I was the reservoir engineer in charge of Timbalier Bay and Bully Camp fields. I was in charge of three workover rigs, which meant that you had to keep on top of everything all of the time. I just loved it. I hated Houma. My wife did too.

[00:08:00] So I was there for a couple of years. We moved to New Orleans, and I got into water floods and all of that kind of stuff. This was at the time when production was really dropping off. These fields had been discovered in the ‘50s, the early ‘50s, and they had reached their maximum. We actually had fields which were equivalent to the Nigerian fields, which I had seen but had been found several years before, and they were dropping off.

So from there, I went to -- and I got in EOR, which was meaningless. I went to transfer back to Houston in planning, and this was one of the biggest eye openers I ever had, because having a PhD, even though I’m not impressed with it, I was an engineer’s engineer.

And I found out that in planning, the drilling people, the production people, the geophysicists, the secretaries, everybody has basically as much input as you do to have a plan and to drill and complete and all the planning and all the travelling and logistics and all of that are just as important as what you do. This was a big eye opener to me.

And also, even though I knew it, the economics of the situation are pretty bloody important. It really showed me why a company runs and the decisions that they make. And sometimes you don’t like the decisions, but you’re in there to make money also and have a positive cash flow.

[00:10:00] So from there, I went back to Nigeria as a planning manager. I had changed and I lived kind of like a Nigerian. I realize that when you’re overseas, no matter where it is, you don’t live like an American. It’s a different culture. And whether you like it or not, it’s their bloody culture, and that’s the way they’re used to living. And you’re a foreigner and you kind of need to open your mind to what they do. There’s a reason for most everything.

To tell a little story, we were working out on a platform taking bottom hole fluid samples, and there was a -- I was a company man, and then there was a man in charge of the fluid sampling process come over from the States, and the wire line guy and three Nigerians. So we were on this little bloody platform, and it started to rain. We were doing something that really had to be done now. The Nigerians ran not to be wet.

And so we laughed at them, you know, and then come to find out that if they got sick, they got sick. And there wasn’t anybody cared, no matter what is told, because they were contract labors. So if I got sick, well maybe the witch doctor would -- the juju doctor would fix them up. But that was about it. We had health insurance or we had doctors that we could go to if we got sick. [00:12:00] I didn’t realize that till later, but this is an example of the difference in cultures, and you’ve got to kind of look at the other man’s viewpoint.

ESDORN:

Well, I was just going to cut in on you there for a minute and ask you, what was your favorite project that you worked on while you were in your career?

POSTON:

In retrospect, my favorite project was Timbalier Bay doing workovers. This is a process where the company contracts a rig to be out there. So you’ve got to keep it busy all the time. And then, you go down there and you have a well that’s off for some reason, and your job is to get that well back on production. And so, you have to go in and the drilling or the remedial engineer pulls everything out of the hole, you have to recommend, and they don’t do it until you have a recommendation. We’re going to complete at a different sand. Well, because it costs money to work over a well, and the management expects some kind of return on their investment.

So then, when you make that, you can’t mess about because the rig is out there 24 hours a day. So you have to make a recommendation, and then you can’t be transferred away because they’re going to perforate or whatever they’re going to do, and you’re going to see whether your recommendation is correct or not.

So a lot of people felt uneasy. Once I learned what was going on, I kind of enjoyed it. But sometimes I was really good, and sometimes I was a goat. It was for a person that liked to make decisions, this was really a good job. [00:14:00] I didn’t like Houma, but that was one of the things when I went back to teach at A&M and I’d go to those incredible faculty meetings and it was just talk, talk, talk all the time. I’d say, “You guys could not run a workover rig because everything is waiting out there and you’ve got to say perforate so and so, and they’re waiting on you.” Nobody else--can’t talk about it.

That I guess was my favorite because I really learned the oil industry or petroleum engineering, I guess, and this is why I love it, because it was a mixture of what the field people said with the production records, what the production geologist said about the sand and its continuity, and of course me, then the drilling people have to pull stuff out of the well. That costs money. So all of these pieces come together, and that’s -- and so, doing this kind of work, you have to know a little bit about all these different professions.

ESDORN:

That’s great. So I’m just wondering, in all of the years of your career, what technical innovations do you think you’ve had the most important impact on industry?

POSTON:

Well, that’s hard to say. I went to teach at Texas A&M, and I wrote a book on over-pressured gas reservoirs with Bob Berg, who’s a geologist. We developed, in concert with the GRI, I think. We developed a new way to look at studying over-pressured gas reservoirs. [00:16:00] And then lately, a few years ago, after I left A&M, me and Bobby Poe, Dr. Poe, I guess, with Schlumberger, we wrote a book on production decline curves.

The reason why I did that is that 90 percent of all reservoir analysis is done with production decline curves. Why is that? It’s because that’s something everybody has. But nobody had ever written a book about it. It was always what you thought and what I thought and all that others. We wrote that book, and it’s been quite successful.

So I wrote two books, and we did a big project with the government on studying the Austin Chalk, which is a very tight, dirty reservoir. But we included geologists and we did studies with CAT scans and MRIs, and we did a wide variety of things to try and characterize that particular producing trend. And then lately, I’ve been retired for the last 20 years or so.

ESDORN:

That must be nice.

POSTON: It is.

ESDORN:

So here’s my last question for you, and that question is: how has being a member of SPE affected your career?

POSTON:

I’d say not that much, but that’s not quite true either because this is where all the technology comes from. And right now, I’m doing a lot of work on these horizontal wells down there in Eagle Ford. Well, where do you start when you get interested? Where do you start? [00:18:00] You go back through the SPE and get all their technical papers that pertain to this subject so you can read up on that particular subject.

So, I think besides publishing those books with the SPE and giving papers, which is a real growing up type process to look out at that sea of people that actually want to listen to something you say – and to have these meetings. And I recently went out to Bakersfield to put on a school on declining curves for the SPE. So their continuing education, I think, is really good. And SPE is generally a good organization. But it’s the fount of all our technical achievements. That’s where you start.

ESDORN:

Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming out and talking with us today.

POSTON:

Okay.

ESDORN:

And I hope you have a really great ATCE.

POSTON:

Okay. Thank you.