Fred Wehr: A career in oil & gas, defining moments, luck and a great ride. (Page 1 of 4) By Brian Wickins, 30 Jan 2014

Fred Wehr was born and raised in Baltimore, a blue-collar town on the east coast of the US, which is a long way from the oil patch in the US. As a result, he had no knowledge or interest in the industry or in geology until university. Many of Fred's colleagues, across the various regions of the oil and gas industry that he has worked, would agree that the industry has benefited from him being part of it. And his career in oil and gas was the consequence of a chance event.

He was an English major for his first 1-½ years at University and took a year of introductory geology to satisfy a science requirement. It was to be one of those defining moments, which resulted in Fred changing majors after realising that English probably wasn’t his best career choice.

“Once I switched majors and began to do some real fieldwork there was no turning back. Field mapping and deciphering the puzzle of complex 3D relationships is addictive, and I loved stumping around in the woods,” recalled Fred.

“Since then, I have been extraordinarily lucky at key points in my career, especially with the individuals who have helped me along.

“I went onto graduate school in 1978 in part through the support of a wonderful professor named David Wones, who took me under his wing after I spent a summer carrying large chunks of granite through the fly-infested north woods of Maine with his field team.

“Nearing the end of my PhD in 1982 I had pretty much decided to go into an academic role, when Exxon came recruiting and I had an opportunity to visit their research lab in Houston. At that time the staff there were an extraordinary mix of top-flight scientists - some big names in industry and academia - and the job was just too good to turn down.”

At his interview dinner, the first night in Houston, was a young, rather scruffy geologist recently recruited from NASA named Dave Phelps. For the next 15 years Dave and Fred followed one another around the world in various technical assignments. When he was ready to leave Exxon in 2001, Dave helped him get a job at Apache and currently is working in the E&D group in Perth.

Fred's advice to those new to the industry: “Be nice to people in this industry. It’s a small world!”

When I asked Fred what he felt it takes for an individual to succeed in the industry today, he was certain that first and foremost you need to have some real passion for the work. “You’ve got to be a bit of a geo-geek to build up the expertise and technical credibility that is necessary for success.

“Good communication skills and the ability to work effectively in teams are essential these days. The industry is a lot more culturally diverse than it was when I was starting out - which is a great thing - and I think working across cultures, being willing to relocate internationally, etc. will become even more important than it is today. Nothing opens your eyes like living in another culture for a while, and this industry offers some pretty unique opportunities for relocation.

Career

Fred's career includes 17 years with energy major ExxonMobil before joining Apache, who he has been with for more than 12 years. While they are very different companies, both have provided him with challenging career prospects. So what was the reason for him to change direction?

“I had a good run at ExxonMobil, purely in a technical and technical/team lead role in a variety of disciplines: stratigraphy, clastic sedimentology, fault seal, visualisation, geological modelling. Like other major IOCs the depth of talent there is extraordinary, and the hardest part about leaving was the people. My best years with EM were working in foreign affiliates where the challenge was to use technology to solve asset-specific problems. With the increased centralisation within ExxonMobil during the 90s I didn't see these opportunities in my future, particularly combined with an expat assignment.”

The opportunity for Fred to join Apache was too good to turn down: they had just acquired the Khalda concessions in the Western Desert from Repsol in 2001 and were building a technical team to drive exploration and development. A big draw for him was to work for a decentralised, asset-based company. He was hired as the sedimentologist/stratigrapher assigned to work through the mature fields and identify infill opportunities in the KPC Joint Venture with the Egyptian government.

“It was the best job I have ever had – very active drilling with tremendous upside. I got to use all of the skills I had developed over the years in ExxonMobil in a very practical, rig-driven environment. I loved it. In nine years we were able to double production - twice - while continuing to grow the reserve base.