I met Jim at Ricky’ in the early 2000’s during K-State’s first football heyday. He has recounted stories over the years regarding his exploits in the oil industry. As the number of K-State oilmen, especially Bay Area K-Stater’s is limited; a more in-depth conversation seemed to be ideal for our fourth CatChat. Enjoy.

Dennis Schmidt – Is it safe to presume that you grew up in Kansas?
Jim Siefkin – The reason I was interested in Kansas State, I suppose are several. My mother grew up in the area and her parents lived just north of Manhattan in Leonardville. Up where Jordy Nelson (former K-State and current Green Bay Packer football player) came from. She was a cheerleader and my dad played football for Kansas State back when it was the Big Six. They had a perfect season – they lost every game (laughs).

DS – What position did your father play?
JS – Center, if the family stories are correct, he was one of the captains of the football team and my mom was the head cheerleader.

DS – What years were you at K-State and what was your major?
JS - Started at K-State in 1972 and majored in chemical engineering. I had a very good adviser who talked me out of nuclear engineering, saying it was too limited, too focused in one area where chemical would be a broader subject and will allow me to practice nuclear engineering if I wanted to as well as other fields. I did five years in undergraduate work because I worked with a co-op program part time where I would work a semester and then come back to school for semester and worked for a semester. I worked at Black & Veach engineering consulting in Kansas City. After I graduated, I guess it must've been 1976, I went to work for Exxon for a summer and came back and went to grad school at K-State to study chemical engineering.

DS – What did you do after grad school?
JS – I actually grew tired of graduate school after a year. I had eighteen hours of credit and looked at my wife and said I need a job (laughs), stop playing around in school. I was looking for a position in research and tried the Solar Energy Research Institute in Colorado and other places and finally found a position with the Phillips Petroleum in their research group in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

DS – What were your job responsibilities at Phillips?
JS – I was in the refining and separations group at the research center. We dealt with developing processes for separations of sour gas streams, (e.g. taking out the sour gas components like hydrogen sulfide). We also dabbled in extractive distillation, which was a new way of distilling to produce purer or different products for the petroleum industry. Another one of my projects was dealing with trying to recover oil from tar sands. They were doing it quite successfully in Alberta, recovering very heavy oil, but Phillips had an opportunity to get into the tar sands here in California. The tar sand was what we would call an oil-wet sand and it was almost impossible to get the oil to separate from the sand. This was unlike Canada where it was water-wet sand and the oil floated away from the sand when you put it in hot water.

DS –Today, there is a burgeoning market of ‘fracking’ where some scientists are asking questions about the safety of this method. These scientists are saying fracking may contribute to the recent earthquakes in Oklahoma. Do you have any experience with fracking?
JS – Although I dealt with the upstream almost my entire career, upstream being oil and gas well production, I was never associated with the actual drilling aspect of it. I have some knowledge, but it might be knowledge that is dangerous (laughs).

Yes, there are difficulties; there have always been difficulties with wells. The current national debate I believe you're referring to is Fracking shale to produce natural gas. Just as British Petroleum (BP) proved with the Macondo well or anything else if you don't do your business correctly,

• if you try to cut corners to save time
• if you don’t have the expertise, which is especially true for small operators who probably don't have the number of experts around you as you have in larger companies

• where you try to save money , then you are likely to have errors..

During fracking, the operator uses high pressure pumps to pressurize the reservoir to the point the rock cracks (fractures). If the wellbore is improperly sealed or the pressure gets too high then the well can be damaged. The Fracking errors I have heard of reportedly result in gas seepage outside the wellbore into other formations like a fresh water reservoir, which may be the drinking or irrigation water for the area.

DS - Tell me about the process of oil production.
JS - Let me back up a little bit Dennis. The oil industry is basically broken up into two main segments -upstream and downstream. The upstream is getting the oil out of the ground, separating it from the contaminants that come up with it, the gas and the water, stabilizing it and getting it into a pipeline or into a ship to be sent to a refinery.

The downstream is the refinery where they take the oil, separate and process it into products such as gasoline, diesel, lube oil, etc. They can crack it and break it up into smaller molecules and change its characteristic. They can take something like asphalt and make it into lube oil, or take lube oil and break it and make it into kerosene, kerosene into gasoline.

Oils that come out of the ground are all different. They can be very heavy or light, paraffinic or aromatic, sweet or sour, have heavy metals. For example, there’s oil out there that will sink in water. You always think that oil floats on water. Well it doesn't. The light, easy to refine, easy to produce crude is running out fast, compared to the heavy crude.

I was involved with the upstream or the production area and basically I would work with the reservoir engineers. I would be involved with developing conceptual designs which we would use to help determine if we should go ahead. Sometimes at this point we would calculate that there wasn’t enough oil or the plant was to expensive and we would just walk away. On the other hand, if the conceptual concept looked good, then we would drill an exploratory well to find out what was really down there and go into a preliminary design. If the project still looked good, we then would go into a detailed design and followed by construction. All in all, it seemed to take about 10 years to bring a new filed on-line from lease sale through construction.

The plant design would separate the oil from the water and gas to stabilize the oil for transport. For example, we had to make the oil srable enough to be put into a tanker so that it didn’t evaporate on the way to the refinery! The design also treated the water and gas streams. The water could be discharged or reinjected into the reservoir and the gas could be sold or re-injected. When you say gas in the upstream you are talking about what would come out of your stove if you turned it on - natural gas.

DS – Who did you work for in California?
JS – I left Phillips and came to California to work for Standard Oil whose headquarters was based in San Francisco. Basically I was involved with designs for expansion or upgrading SOHIO’s Prudhoe Bay facilities on the Alaskan North Slope.

As an oilfield matures things change. You need more gas handling and more water handling. You need to change the way the system operates as the reservoir pressure declines. We accomplished this for the North Slope by designing and building new modules of equipment down here and then barging them up to Alaska. It was a great time to be an engineer in this area as we had mega projects worth several hundred million dollars each year.

In the early 80’s we had hope that the ice would break up so we could get the barges to the Slope. When I started we were lucky if we got two weeks open water and we had icebreakers helping. Now with global climatic change, Prudhoe Bay is ice-free for several months a year now.

DS - How long did you work at Standard Oil?
JS – I lasted about seven years into the mid-to late 1980’s with Standard Oil. By the way, SOHIO was taken over by BP America and thus I can claim I worked for BP. I should say I thought they were a much better company than what BP has shown lately with the huge disasters in Texas City and the Gulf.

DS - What did you do after you have worked with BP?
JS - Another friend from BP left at the same time. Our families were quite close and we took a year and a half off to build them a house in Mill Valley. We more than doubled the sized by adding a second story and expanding the footprint. It was quite a bit of fun being outside the big company grind.

However after a year and a half, my wife looked at me and said it was time to get a real job. Chevron was about seventeen minutes away, so I got hired in their research group that was basically a technical engineering department for their upstream division, in Richmond, California.

DS - Were your job responsibilities similar at BP and Chevron?
JS - I was a senior processing engineer at BP and Chevron and ultimately became a capabilities manager at Chevron. Thus I designed or consulted on designs for new and existing plants. I participated in start-ups of new plants. I would help troubleshoot operational problems and would lead HAZOPS; Hazard and Operability Studies.

DS – How many years were you at Chevron?
JS – Twenty years.

DS – Did you retire after Chevron?
JS – Yes. There was lots of travel and things to see at Chevron which was nice but very tiresome. Every company has it’s own personality. You would think an oil company is an oil company, but they are quite different in the way they are run and what they believe. In my mind Chevron wasn’t the best business-run oil company, but it’s certainly had the highest morality and integrity of the five companies that I worked for.

DS – What are some of the more interesting situations you found yourself in at Chevron?
JS -– There were several that were interesting that pop to mind. I was in Kuwait working in the partition neutral zone for several weeks between the two Gulf wars. While I was there a couple of our service guys were attacked in Kuwait. I had very little access to the outside and my wife kept wondering if I was in danger. You didn’t go wandering around outside the plant fence because the ground was still mined from the first Iraqi invasion. There were bullet holes still in tanks and some of the equipment was pretty much shot up.

DS – When you were in Kuwait were the oil fields on fire from the first Gulf War?
JS - The oil well fires had been put out. I was there in the early 2000’s.

I found it interesting that the country was a sandbox and yet it did not need to be so. There was this beautiful lush ground cover inside the plant’s fence. It's not what you think a desert should look like but it was, I guess, environmentally sound. But outside the fence line they had over grazed the land to the point it was a sandbox. I was told that it was a point of prestige for a Kuwaiti to have herd of camels, goats, or whatever. So many had one and with a Bangladeshi or Solmalian herder. Since there wasn’t even a root left, they had to truck in feed for the animals.

DS – Considering that Kuwait is in the desert, how can you equate environmentalism to a nice green ground cover coming up to the desert at the plant’s fence? It seems like you were using a lot of water.
JS - No we weren’t. It wasn't being watered inside on the plant’s side of the fence, it was just natural, whatever grows in that environment was growing and it was allowed to grow. When you overgraze pasture here in the United States, for example, you put too many cows on a pasture you will kill it. That’s basically what I could see that they have done to most of their country. I don't know why it grew inside the fence because we certainly weren’t irrigating it. It was just how they treated their country.

JimSiefkin02 JimSiefkin03

DS – Did the experience in Kuwait result in additional foreign business travel?
JS – Kuwait was more towards the end. When I worked at Chevron I had projects in seventeen different countries. My travels took me to twelve of them including the US, Canada, Venezuela, Indonesia, UK, Scotland, Norway, France, Australia, Nigeria, Angola and Kuwait. My job was basically a consulting engineer for the company in the world-wide upstream area. So gas and well production units were what I dealt with.

DS – Do you have any particularly interesting stories or encounters with local authorities?
JS - I flew into Lagos, Nigeria, which I think is a little town of about 9 million people. Nigeria is a big country with a population of one hundred fifty million. After you land you watch the Sears catalog get off the plane with you, because everybody is bringing back everything that they can get from anywhere else; kitchen sinks, tires; everything was coming out before my bag. Finally I get my bag and I find a guy with a sign with my name on it. We get in the car with the guy in the front seat-riding shotgun. He really doesn't have a shotgun he has an M16 and we buzz through town. If you're going down the highway and they did have a highway through town, people were on their bicycles; pulling carts, ox carts and the little buses you see on the travel program with people hanging out the windows and hanging on outside the bus God knows how.

I was there before they built a compound outside of Lagos, so everybody was scattered through these little compounds within Lagos. We went through big metal gates, which slammed shut behind us. There was a guard at the gate and you go to the building and they open up to the big iron bars that looks like you're going to penitentiary and that slams behind you. All concrete, you get to the rooms and you start to notice that there are red buttons in every room on the walls. It's like, “what the hell is that red button for?” I was told, “if you have any difficulty just press one of those red buttons and somebody will come.” I said, “Well where they're coming from?” They said “from across town where our security forces are located.” I replied “If I'm having trouble here in this building, which means somebody is trying to break in, or firing into the building (there were a few bullet holes in the building) you are going to send somebody from across town to rescue us?” Fortunately we didn’t have any trouble. The next morning in the middle of the breakfast table was this big bottle of pills. It turned out they were for malaria. Everyone reached in and took take out a pill each morning because you will get malaria if you're there for any length of time and the pill should allow you to survive that eventuality.

DS – How long were you in Lagos?
JS - Fortunately I only had to stay in Lagos for that one night. The next morning I went back to the airport and caught a small plane that took me out to the production facility, which was in Escravos down along the coast. Escravos is kind of neat because it's something that's really out of history. The slave traders use to pull in there. The tribe that is based in Escravos use to raid inland tribes, capture them and sell them to the Brits for gin. So you can find these old square glass gin bottles. I brought a couple of bottles home.

As you could imagine the tribe there was not very well liked by other tribes in the area, which then made it a personnel issue for management. Talking with the fire department manager he said he had two different tribes that worked for the fire department, and he had to keep them separate. In fact there was a time of day when there was no fire department because one tribe left before the other one arrived. They would fight and actually try to kill each other if they crossed paths.

DS – Where did you stay in Escravos?

JS - I got sent to a little port-a-cabin that was about a quarter mile away from the main camp. It didn't bother me too much, except that when I started to look around I noticed all the fence was torn down and they said “oh yeah that happened in the last riot”. So the fence was down. I’m a quarter of a mile away and I was right next to the village.

The cause of the riot was a unfortunate accident when the villagers were going home. A crew boat pulled in as the villagers were crossing the river in their dugout and swamped and sank the dugout drowning thirteen people. They don't know how to swim although they live on the water. I never asked but maybe that's because there's something dangerous in the water that you don’t want to swim with. As a result, the company built a swimming pool and now teaches the employees how to swim.

Anyway, back to my visit, so I'm in a place where the fence has been torn down. There are hatchet marks on the doors where they tried to go to through the metal doors during the riot in the barracks. I have no radio and no phone and I’m isolated, so I locked myself in. Everything is going great until about 10:00 or 11:00 PM when the drums start. It is just like one of those movies in the Congo. I’m down by myself and the drums are playing. I finally got to sleep around 1:00 AM when there was this WHUMP! I just about fly out of bed and thought what blew up or happened. I sit there and I'm in this little ten foot by twelve-foot cabin and all of a sudden somebody is beating the hell out of the side of the port-a-cabin with an iron pipe.

DS – Your cabin?
JS - My cabin. I am the only one there. The drums are playing; someone is beating the side of the cabin. It's dark out. Where I am at there are no outside lights. I have no way to contact people. That continues on for an hour or so and finally stops. Eventually I get to sleep.

DS - Did you find out what the thump was?
JS – O yea. When I finally got enough courage to open the door, I peeked and looked outside. I have a window that is 8x10 inches. I can't see more than just out one side of the cabin from this little tiny window. So I open the door and I'm looking around and there's this guy in a folding chair sitting in front of the port-a-cabin. I say, “Who are you” and he said, “I’m the guard” I asked, “Where the hell were you last night when someone was beating the hell out of this trailer?” He said, “You were in there all night?” Yeah. He said, “That was me I was just trying to keep myself awake”? So the Escravos stay was quite stressful in a lot of ways. I guess for the first three or four days I couldn’t even contact home.

Robin (Jim's wife) had no clue where I was at the time.

DS – When did this occur?
JS – This was early with Chevron, probably in 1992.

DS – Where did you hire people?
JS - We did a lot of hiring from around the world. Lately, we hired a lot of people from China but also had several Aussies, Brits and Indians. Our group was spread around the world with offices in Aberdeen Scotland, Perth, Australia, Houston and here in California. We had a lot of growing pains when you go from a small organization to a large organization. How do you manage it? How do you treat people fairly? How do you promote and give them the job experience and exposure that they need. How do yo maintain quality and establish risk standards. All that comes down to the capability area which was my last assignment.

I am more of an engineer I like numbers. You know people are messy (laughs). I was like a square peg in a round hole. I think I did adequately in my job and I grew our group. We had a lot of capabilities that the company needed and we were successful. By successful I mean we met our budgets and brought enough in to cover our expenses and we supported the world operations of Chevron and did it safely. We were designated by the overseas Chevron petroleum (COPIA at the time) to be the group from which they would hire their future process engineers. So we brought people in, trained them and then lent or transferred them out to the overseas companies. We were quite successful, but I always missed engineering. I could have gone back into engineering, however, that would have meant that I’d continued my travels.

DS – After all these years working in the oil industry what led you to retire?
JS - I never looked at work as being what was defining my life. I looked at work as something I had to do to survive. I had it in my mind from the moment I started work was that I wanted to retire when I hit fifty-five. So way back when I started with Phillips I began saving. People always say, “Start early and save as much as you can”. I followed that religiously for all the companies I worked for with the goal of probably retiring when I was fifty-five.

DS – What were your advancements like at Chevron?
JS - This probably happens to a lot of people. You start to move around in a company and you may move up. You go from being an engineer, to a process engineer, to a senior engineer or staff engineer or whatever, you are moving up the ladder and then all of a sudden someone says, “Hey we want you to be a capability manager for our process group”.

It sounded like a good idea at the time which meant I could stop traveling. When I joined our group it had about 16 people in it. When I left our group we were up to 230 people. When I took over as capability manager we were sitting I think on the order of 36. My job was to grow us from 36 to 230. We needed to pull in a lot of experience. We needed to do a lot of interviewing. We needed to do a lot of capability build. Engineers do not all have the same strengths, interests or experiences. Do you want somebody who is working in LNG (liquefied natural gas)? Do you want somebody who has a lot of experience in oil? Do you want somebody who has actual operating experience or design experience? People, who run or have project experience and can deal with contractors. Process engineering has a lot of different sub specialties but we primarily hired BS or PhD chemical engineers.

DS – What are the responsibilities of a capability manager?
JS - As the capability manager my job entailed trying to grow the unit, bring in the specialties that we needed. Bring in a cross-section of age and experience levels. You need the age/experience cross-section in order to provide mentoring for new graduates. You hired some youth because you don't want to hire everybody to retire in five years.

DS – So you finally decided to retire?
JS – Yes, but every once in a while I still get a call from Chevron. The last was to say, “Hey do you want handle the rehab of twenty-eight platform compressors systems offshore Angola?” I have been to Angola twice, once would have been enough (laughs). I don't need to go to back to Angola. I don't need to go to Nigeria. I don't need to go back to some of the places that oil comes out. It's a stressful situation, stressful trips. It's fun work, but could not see getting myself getting on a jet plane again to do it.

I said (to myself) I'm tired. I thought it was time. I saved, why did I save? Because I wanted to retire at fifty-five, so I got to fifty-five and I retired.

DS – Last Question – It’s early December and this chat will be posted around January 1st. Since you are a numbers guy . . .
JS – 37-33 (laughs)

DS – That is your forecast for the Cotton Bowl game?
JS - Isn’t that the question you were going to ask? (laughs)

DS – Well part two of the question is who is 37 and who is 33?
JS – I have high hopes that #8 (Kansas State) will beat #6 (Arkansas).


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