Presidential characterization: D. Nathan Meehan
The beginning of an exciting new professional chapter is already underway for Nathan Meehan. As the recently confirmed nominee for 2016 SPE President, Meehan will see his calendar grow increasingly full as the end of 2015 nears, when he will be preparing to assume the leadership role next year. In his day job as senior executive advisor for reservoir and geosciences at Baker Hughes Incorporated, Meehan will be one of a handful of service company professionals to have helmed the industry group since its formation in 1957.
After collecting a pair of degrees in physics (BS) and petroleum engineering (MS), Meehan got his oil industry start with Union Pacific Resources (UPR) in 1976, which would later prove to have been the beginning of a 24-year-career with the company. At the time, UPR was struggling with tight reservoirs and permeability challenges. Applying what he had learned in school, Meehan crafted software programs for HP calculators that would enable engineers to determine fluid properties and other reservoir engineering measurements. This ability to peer below the surface would provide the basis upon which teams could model their hydraulic fracturing jobs.
As the industry took a sharp downturn in the late 1980s, Meehan embraced his desire to continue working with technological applications, rather than P&Ls. Spurred by what he remembers as exciting times, technologically, Meehan took the opportunity to earn a PhD in petroleum engineering from Stanford University. During this time, and after, he continued to focus on reservoir characterization, but also worked in geosteering and, at one point, had a drilling department report to him, during a time when UPR was actively drilling 3,000-plus-ft horizontal wells.
Just over a decade later, UPR was acquired by Anadarko, at which point Meehan jumped briefly into a position at Occidental Petroleum, before going into engineering consulting. Although he enjoyed the projects he undertook as a consultant, including field studies and arbitration on technical challenges, it was not long before Meehan was drawn back into the fold of big-time oil and gas. In 2008, he joined Baker Hughes with the goal of helping the company, and its customers, to better understand the reservoir. More than 30 years after he first built calculator programs to help engineers “see” subsurface properties, Meehan is interested in addressing the question of how best to quantify the value of reservoir characterization tools.
As much as majors, independents and NOCs may be willing to spend on products and services in today’s upstream industry, from Meehan’s perspective, there is one concept that may be even more valuable. Referring to the idea of a “social license to operate,” he described a drilling paradigm in which operators work smarter, not harder (and messier, and noisier, and larger). Pad drilling has become increasingly popular for cost savings and environmental friendliness, but Meehan said he believes the industry can do much more, while also reducing the number of wells drilled and frac stages pumped.
Meehan’s social conscience extends beyond the oil and gas supply chain. A little more than two years ago, he and his wife returned from Hong Kong following an 18-month humanitarian trip, during which time they performed community service throughout Asia. Over the coming year, Meehan will turn his focus, once again, to the industry, as he becomes SPE president-elect this fall. Meanwhile, when he has a moment of reprieve from overseeing things at Baker Hughes, he will be mulling over which objectives he would like to focus on during his tenure as head of the 124,000-member SPE, all while continuing to learn Mandarin Chinese in his spare time, of course.