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Jamie Robertson and David Nicklin spent a significant portion of their careers at ARCO as heads of large exploration groups. Jamie was at ARCO from 1975-2000, and David from 1981-1999. After ARCO, they both started their own companies. Then, in 2006, Jamie and David started a new company, Salt Creek Petroleum LLC, which takes non-operated working interests in conventional oil and gas exploration projects in onshore Texas. Salt Creek (named by one of David’s sons after a surfing beach in southern California) is the ongoing active company through which the ARCO alums now conduct oil and gas exploration.
What follows is a Q&A with Jamie about how Salt Creek Petroleum was formed, and what each of them brings to the table with this new venture.
Q: What did you and David do after ARCO?
A: David founded a company called Petroleum Development Associates, which pursued exploration opportunities in the UK North Sea, Spain and Indonesia and eventually became a public company (Serica Energy) in the UK and Canada. I founded Rannoch Petroleum LLC (named after the ancestral Scottish home of the Robertson clan), which provides petroleum consulting services to domestic and international companies.
David served in a consulting capacity as Executive Director of Exploration for Matador Resources Company from 2008 – 2015, and both of us are currently Special Advisors to the Matador Board of Directors.
Q: What has your approach been with Salt Creek Petroleum?
A: Our approach since the founding of Salt Creek has been to partner with mostly family-owned companies active in specific areas of onshore Texas where the families have an historic presence (and hence access and expertise particularly in oil and gas leasing in one or a few counties). We bring extra expert geoscience eyes to their prospective exploration projects, so these companies welcome Salt Creek as a partner. We have built these relationships over the past ten years to where virtually all our new projects are being done with past partners with whom we have done multiple exploration ventures.
While not our primary focus since we are mostly active explorers, we do occasional consulting for companies interested in reviews of their exploration portfolios (so long as the consulting does not conflict with Salt Creek’s activities or our advising of Matador Resources Company).
The ubiquity of Internet communications these days makes a partnership like ours easy to manage remotely.
Q: What unique expertise do each of you bring to your partnership?
A: David’s education focused on geology while mine focused on geological engineering and geophysics. These emphases have spilled over into our careers, bringing a complementary perspective to our partnership. That said, as heads of large exploration groups at ARCO, we both had to learn the same diversity of skills required to select and operate multidisciplinary projects.
A very important element of our backgrounds is that we have both been involved in and reviewed hundreds (it might be thousands) of exploration projects from all over the world, and that breadth of experience is invaluable in our most important current task – picking a few great exploration projects for Salt Creek to enter out of the hundreds that are available in onshore Texas.
As heads of large exploration groups at ARCO, we both learned the diversity of skills required to select and operate multidisciplinary projects.
Q: Where does Salt Creek Petroleum operate?
A: Salt Creek Petroleum operates out of Laguna Niguel, California, where David lives and Fort Worth, Texas where I live. The ubiquity of Internet communications these days makes a partnership like ours easy to manage remotely. We do get together face-to-face every month or two, but most of our business can be conducted by phone and email.
We asked David and Jamie what they do outside of their own work with Salt Creek Petroleum.
David still surfs regularly and tours the western U.S. with spouse Patricia and his camera. In fact, David has also had a hobby business since 2003 in fine art photography of the outdoors. His work can be viewed at photogeo.com. He has been a consistent exhibitor at the prestigious Laguna Festival of the Arts and has sold over four hundred pieces.
Our approach has been to partner with mostly family-owned companies active in specific areas of onshore Texas, where the families have a historic presence.
Jamie’s spouse Stella is still active in biomedical research as an advisor and investor in startup companies through an incubator called Tech Fort Worth, so Jamie and Stella travel both for her work and for fun (including a return trip eighteen months ago to Antarctica, where Jamie did his graduate geophysics work, to celebrate the centenary of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance voyage). There are five children in their 20s and 30s between their two families, but no spouses or grandchildren yet in the next generation. Should any grandchildren ever appear, that might be a good reason for them to glide more into retiring from oil and gas exploration, but that hasn’t happened yet.
ARCO talent is abundant and varied. And a number of companies reap the benefits.
Former ARCO employees, Jere Jay and Heiko Mueller, principal owners of INNEX, met in the early 90s while working projects in Turkey and the Middle East for ARCO International based in Plano.
Jere and Heiko joined forces to form INNEX around the time that ARCO was being purchased by BP. As Jere likes to say "It's all Heiko's fault. We had lunch one day and while he talked of ideas in Turkey and I discussed some ideas I had for projects in California, Heiko said "Why not throw our visa cards on the table and see what we can build?" that was the planning session that formed INNEX,” said Jere. He and Heiko are CEO and President of INNEX California. Other former ARCO employees that have worked or are working at INNEX include Jim Holland, Jim Doyle, Tom O’Brien, and Larry Morse. Chuck Vavra often adds his expertise to the ARCO mix. The company develops oil and gas reserves, primarily in California, but also in Oklahoma and Texas, and have also recently worked projects in Ohio, Indiana and Turkey.
“INNEX stands for INNovative EXploration, or INNovative EXploitation depending on the project or group you might be talking with,” explains Jere. “Most of our projects have existing production with significant exploitation/development scope and virtually all of them have some major upside with deeper exploration objectives (or shallower in one case!). The name INNEX is appropriate no matter what the project focus may be,” he says.
INNEX has focused on low-risk, missed pay opportunities near existing infrastructure.Jere Jay, INNEX
The company has been built by a small, motivated team of experienced, proven oil finders. “We've joked over the years that our recruitment strategy is to merely leave the front door wide open and see who joins us. If they are damn good, hard workers who are smarter than Heiko and me, we've invited them to stay. The strategy has worked well. We've assembled a small, effective core of world class talent,” said Jere.
INNEX started in 1999 with Heiko and Jere, joined by Tom O'Brien who had been Jere's supervisor at ARCO. The trio formed a business incubator for "start-up" oil and gas groups. The idea was to retain experts retiring from ARCO as well as some from Triton, Sun, Mobil, and other oil and gas companies. They found a supportive audience at the SMU Legacy Campus in Plano where unused office space provided a perfect spot to set up the Incubator. Eight different companies have worked at the location at various times and there are currently around 25 geoscience, engineering, research and economics professionals in the building.
The benefits of the incubator are that we have the same quality and breadth of experts up and down the hall that we worked with at ARCO.
“Currently there are 12 ex-ARCO staffers up and down the hall. The INNEX staff includes five ex-ARCO members including Tom O'Brien, Larry Morse who had extensive experience working and managing the ARCO operations at Prudhoe Bay before working for Enron in India, Jim Holland who handles all the drafting and data base needs, along with Heiko, and me,” said Jere. “We also have close ties with Jim Doyle who worked in Indonesia with ARCO and worked with us a number of years. Jim is still "just down the road" and available for consulting. We have continued to work with Dr. Chuck Vavra from ARCO’s reservoir research group, a valuable addition to the staff who evaluates our reservoirs from outcrops and well samples. Chuck is also invited to portfolio reviews, has taught schools, trained the staff, and is involved in special projects. Bonnie Jay, who has more than a few ties to ARCO, runs the business and land operations,” said Jere.
Early on, INNEX consulted while building its own portfolio base. Jere teaches an Industry training school called "From Seeps to the subsurface" utilizing several of California's billion-barrel outcropping, oil fields to serve as analogues for domestic and International project groups. This class helped introduce a number of companies to the scope of potential remaining to be exploited.
In 2005, INNEX purchased the Kettleman Middle Dome Oil field on the west side of the San Joaquin Basin from Chevron. This was a major opportunity with multiple stacked pays that were proven but under-developed on trend with billion barrel fields. "We were lucky" says Jere.
The major companies were focused overseas and had lost focus on their domestic portfolios. Our Kettleman project includes two producing shale reservoirs, which serve to source and seal 3,000'-5,000' of interbedded sand reservoirs at multiple levels from 900' to 13,000'
INNEX’s 2016 program involves redeveloping a shallow oil field with 20-34 gravity oil at depths shallower than 2,400' and developing their lease within the proven oil column from the billion-barrel Elk Hills oil field. Additionally, INNEX worked for years to get new, proprietary 3D data over a major unexplored structural trend and has defined exciting prospects at shallow depths beneath a series of shallow oil seeps. "We can map some extraordinary prospects beneath a deceptively simple outcrop belt. The projects have significant scope and are ready to drill. Our door is open for partners and investment,” said Jere.
Regarding the current business climate? "Well, I would just be lying if I said we were on top of the world but we are surviving and have a strong economic portfolio even with $35 oil and low gas prices. We haven't slowed down much at all. We've built our portfolio with conservative outlooks and expectations and we have a superb staff.
We're ready for an active drilling season in 2016 and beyond with a diverse portfolio to exploit.
Following on to 2015, our events in 2016 continue to draw increased participation, paying tribute to the lasting relationships that were formed at ARCO, both professionally and personally. At Pappadeaux in North Dallas, the crowd of almost 100 included domestic and international, Exploration, Operations, IT, Finance, Accounting, Audit, Research and Facilities coming together for a night of great fun.
There was many a surprised look as someone recognized a friend or former colleague, and we are grateful to our sponsors: Advancial, Contek Solutions and Noble EnergyCathy Clonts, President AWS
Dallas has a number of former ARCO employees running their own businesses, many with a cohort of other former ARCO employees. Jamie Robertson, Salt Creek Petroleum, brought along business partner and Matador Oil board member David Nicklin. David lives in California and was in Dallas for business.
Others with interesting jobs include Hoyt Taylor II who is the Transportation Fiscal Operations Supervisor for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the second largest Metropolitan Planning Organization in the U.S. Hoys helps develop and make regular financial reports on two major transportation construction initiatives, the Regional Toll Revenue funded highway development projects and the Clean Air program AirCheck Texas.
Larry May who works at Dell has the distinction of being one of several former ARCO employees still working in what was the ARCO Plano campus on Plano Parkway.
Also in town was Ken Thompson who encouraged Phoebe Wood, former ARCO Finance VP, to attend the happy hour prior to both participating in Pioneer Natural Resources board meeting. In attendance from Pioneer were Mike Camara, James Meier and Steve Sinclair, Senior staff geologist.
Jere Jay, founder and CEO of INNEX has a number of former ARCO employees working for him. Those at the happy hour included Heiko Muller and Larry Morse. James Doyle worked for INNEX, but is now retired. While at ARCO, James worked in Anchorage, Lafayette, China, L.A., Plano, Indonesia and back to Plano in both Exploration and Production sides of the business.
Steve Sills and Doug Trumbauer are both at Kosmos where new opportunities and sound investments mean the company has so far made no reductions in headcount.
The Exploration group which included Bob McDonald, Chevron, Jim Johnstone, Contek Solutions, Barry Davis, Petrotel, Cliff Pratt, and Heiko Mueller, INNEXPictured below, Pappadeaux, February 2016
New faces at the happy hour included Debra Tedder, Jocelyn Spellman, Jack Brooks, Raju Checka who was a geophysicist at ARCO for many years, Misty Jefferson who was in health and safety at ARCO and is now at RPS, and NJ Tripode. Steve Suellentrop and Martin Wouch, Hunt Oil drove North from downtown. Ian Hogg is living in Dallas and looking for a new opportunity after many years in Singapore. Robert Barney lives in Houston and came to the happy hour with his wife Debra. Bob McDonald who lives in Mandeville, Louisiana where he works for Chevron was also in town.
Cindy Thomas, one of many at the happy hour who were in finance at ARCO, has a new job at SandDollar Financial. Her husband shared that he and Cindy met when another ARCO employee introduced them. "We were both in finance, but the team was so large we might not have met otherwise," said Joe, who is at Contek with Jim Johnstone and Mike Spangler.
Other ARCO couples included Larry and Jackie Asbury, Kevin and Lucy Brosi who met when Kevin was working for ARCO China and Lucy was in the HR department. Kevin is at Cisco Systems and shares that he has run more than 365 marathons. Other couples who met or worked together at ARCO included Diane and Mike Camara, Barry and Cathy Davis, Michael Nanney and Suzanne O’Malley, Ken Kawakami and Vicki Winans; Katie and Mike Spangler, Cynthia and Joe Thomas; and of course Pat Thompson worked with many an ARCO new hire during their Super School program. Pat was looking forward to visiting their daughter and family.
While Randy Mills did not meet his wife Susie at ARCO she said ARCO has a warm place in her heart as they met at a bar one night when Randy was at an ARCO happy hour celebrating a promotion. Randy said he was on the lookout for a wife as his next assignment in Wyoming would be lonely otherwise. As it turned out, the couple stayed in Dallas and Randy moved into natural gas marketing. They have been married for 25 years and Randy is Chief Operations Officer at Netcare Now.
The happy hour drinks, coconut shrimp, and other appetizers were a huge hit as people enjoyed the evening. Carolyn Hale’s Inflated By Design balloon decorations added to the festive atmosphere and we are appreciative for her help in making this event the success it was. The inflatable ARCO letters and white and gold balloons provided the backdrop for a number of pictures.
To view the photos, after logging in to the community see who attended in the photo album.
Advancial is dedicated to providing help and resources to members in need of financial assistance. For more than 35 years, many ARCO alumni have counted on Advancial for financial solutions.
The Skip-a-Payment Program and Loan Extensions help if you are in financial difficulty, and apply to the following criteria:
Additionally, the below types of loans are not applicable for the Skip-a-Payment program:
Please contact your local branch Advancial branch and speak to a representative about how Advancial can help you today.
Contek was awarded a project by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) to write a book on the application of Process Safety concepts and application of the 20 elements of risk based process safety in the Upstream and Shale industry. The scope covers onshore and offshore in addition to some drilling and well construction applications.
This project, which will be published in early 2017, will be a joint CCPS and SPE supported effort.
Contek Solutions is an engineering, safety, environmental and training professional consulting firm. Visit their website for more information.