George King began his engineering career as soon as he could walk and take things apart. Saturday was trash day in Okmulgee, Okla.—his hometown south of Tulsa. “I would get up early and roam the alleys, looking for toasters, alarm clocks, fans, anything. I’d bring it back home, tear it apart and put it back together again.
King, who is currently distinguished engineering advisor at Apache Corp., believes he inherited his interest in science from his mother, who held an advanced degree in biology, and his knack for problem solving from her father, an Italian immigrant, coal miner and natural mechanic. Among the work King, 65, has done over the years is finding the solution for oil-saturated chalk “that flowed like toothpaste” from Valhall Field in the North Sea in the 1980s, finding solutions for effective workovers in the 1990s, and establishing reliability factors and causes of deepwater sand-control failures in the 2000s.
He got his start with a summer job in Amoco’s production-research center in 1971 while working on a bachelor’s in chemical engineering at Oklahoma State University. While still with Amoco, he received his master’s in petroleum engineering from the University of Tulsa. Upon Amoco’s merger with BP Plc, he worked there until 2008 and joined Apache in 2009.
Awards include Engineer of the Year by the Houston-region Texas Society of Professional Engineers in 2012, SPE Distinguished Lecturer in 1985, the Amoco Vice President’s Award for Technology in 1997 and the SPE Production Operations Award in 2004.
Oil and Gas Investor visited with King recently on problem solving—past and present.
Investor George, what’s captivating you these days?
King This is one that confronts the whole industry and that’s kind of how I pick my problems—maximum-impact problems. One I’m working on now is trying to optimize production from the multifracture horizontal wells the industry is placing in the shales, of course, but some of the other low-permeability formations that, up to this time, have not been productive. We’ve been having some very nice success in those but we feel it can be optimized. They’re yielding their secrets a small bit at a time.
Investor Formations even more challenging than, say, the Eagle Ford?
King In the Wolfcamp, we have used a couple of different technologies that are starting to work. One is recycling the produced water. Almost 100% of our frack water is produced [saline] water. We’ve been able to leave freshwater supply alone in that area.
Investor You solved for high-pressure gas in the 1970s with the underbalanced perforation. How does that work?
King That was a big issue in the 1970s when industry was looking for a lot of gas. We reduced the pressure inside the casing so, when we perforated it, the fluid would surge inward, clean these perfs out and, in many cases, eliminate the need to stimulate the well further. We had the flow lines connected and were ready to take it right to the facilities, so we weren’t venting or leaking gas. We were able to bring the gas on at a very high rate. It became an industry standard that has evolved into the dynamic, underbalanced perforating we do today.
Investor You’ve said that field foremen are often the best innovators.King Before you invent something, you need to have experience with how things work or don’t work. Field foremen are the ones who see the problem. I have seen some tremendous inventions come out of the field. Oftentimes, they didn’t realize how important it was; they just got the thing running again.
Investor You were an Eagle Scout. How has that played a role in your career?
King It's been very important. It’s what really got me my start in the industry. My grades weren’t that good in college. Bob Fast [at Amoco and a co-inventor of hydraulic fracturing] said he looked at 100 or so resumes. He said, “You’re an Eagle Scout and you worked your way through college.” I got that summer job and they offered me a permanent post. No one was hiring then so I was very grateful for it.
Investor Who are some industry members you admire?
King Bob Fast, Larry Behrman at Schlumberger [Ltd.] in perforating, George Mitchell for his determination in the Barnett shale and my first supervisor, George Holman. He taught me that you can talk from the sidelines or you can help play the game. There is no doubt in my mind which is more effective.
Investor What can industry do better?
King Sometimes we get into a rut or a very deep groove where we do things like we’ve always done them and, if you do that, you’ll always get pretty much the same result. What I’ve always looked for—and I have 43 years in the oil business now—are jobs that offer an opportunity to really push the envelope on technology. I was able to do that at Amoco and Apache offered me the opportunity to do that here. They will turn you loose to do that.
Any person can be inventive; a few are fairly good at it. But it’s not just the person; it’s about having the platform on which you’re able to work. I do not know the technology we will need to go forward, but I know we have the people in this industry to find a solution.