Q&A: Mike McCown reflects on his time in oil and gas industry - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Q&A: Mike McCown reflects on his time in oil and gas industry

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Recently selected as the Oil and Gas Man of the Year at the 46th Annual West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival, Mike McCown has dedicated his life to the oil and gas industry.

A Chillicothe, Ohio, native, McCown graduated with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Ohio University in 1976. He was recruited to work as a petroleum engineer for Pennzoil in Parkersburg out of college, and has since held various managerial positions for several companies in Texas, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. McCown currently serves as the Gastar Exploration Inc.'s senior vice president and chief operating officer.

McCown has also served on the board of directors for the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association and the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia.

In a recent interview with The State Journal, McCown reflected on his experience in the oil and gas industry.

The State Journal: Did you always know you wanted to work in the oil and gas industry?

Mike McCown: Back during that time, there wasn't really oil and gas activity around where I was, so I didn't know anything about it. I just knew I wanted a job that was 50-50 office and field work. But it didn't take long to get into my blood, and I knew that's what I wanted to do the rest of my career.

TSJ: What made the oil and gas industry appeal to you?

McCown: The great people, the interaction with office personnel and field personnel, and the technological advances — the entire atmosphere. The ability to go out and deal with the roughnecks in the drill rigs; the rough-and-tumble hardworking people working 24 hours a day. It's a rough environment, but it's a special breed of people that are employed in that industry and love that industry, and I think that's what really caught my attention. And the diversity of the day-to-day tasks and the excitement — there's nothing mundane about it. Every day is a new adventure as long as you're active and trying to progress in the industry.

TSJ: What are the biggest challenges you've faced in your career?

McCown: Back early in my career, the challenges were that oil and natural gas prices were so depressed that the industry in general and the companies I worked for had to downsize and restrict operations, which meant oftentimes laying off employees and selling assets; so, historically the oil and gas industry was very cyclical. Also, the industry was controlled primarily by foreign sources, and often came from countries that didn't like us very much, so prices would swing wildly based on unrest in the Middle East. We had to act on that by cutting expenses, having to downsize and make decisions about laying people off, which was difficult.

All the controversy we've had with hydraulic fracturing and the misinformation has been the most recent challenge — to get the word out to the public and debunk some of the false information out there about our industry. I've dedicated myself here in the later stages in my career to communicate the good that we do and the positive that we create for the country and particularly for the state of West Virginia.

TSJ: How has the industry changed and evolved since the start?

McCown: Certainly the cost of doing business with the increase of volumes, size and scope of wells. Initially, the wells we drilled were vertical wells, which were very shallow and very cheap to drill. A $200,000 well was not uncommon; a well that produced 200 Mcf of gas a day was a good well. Now, 35 years later, we routinely drill wells that cost $7 million to $10 million each that are drilling a total of 16,000 to 17,000 feet. The magnitude, therefore the consequences of incorrect decisions, are exponential as compared to what they were not that many years ago. It's really taking the industry to a whole new level.

The vast majority of wells that are drilled today are horizontal wells and very expensive wells; and the technology involved with directional drilling, hydraulic fracturing and all that is involved with it has changed dramatically. And with all that are more stringent environmental concerns that we take a lot of precautions about on location to ensure there are no spills. The sensitivity to the environment has increased dramatically, and all of that is a good thing. Our industry is much safer, much cleaner and much more technologically advanced than it was.

TSJ: What would you call your biggest accomplishment in your career?

McCown: As I look back on it, your career kind of morphs over time, but in the last 10 years or so, developing talent around me of people that … I've worked with, that have reported to me, and now seeing their careers blossoming, I think that's my biggest personal accomplishment. Trying to be fair with people and direct with people, and working to advance the careers of others that have worked with me; being an advocate of theirs in helping them advance has been very rewarding. Also, more recently, when I go out and talk to individuals, the public, the landowners that don't understand or that are skeptical about our industry or have read inaccurate propaganda, and then to see the light come on when they realize that we're all in this together, that we want to be a part of the community and we don't do anything intentionally to impact the environment — if I see that someone gets it, it's very rewarding. Early on, the accomplishments were more selfish; I was trying to provide a good living for our family, then over time you start realizing it's more important to give back and contribute to the industry that's been so good to me over the years.

TSJ: What does it mean to you to receive the Oil and Gas Man of the Year award?

McCown: It was a surprise and I'm very humbled by it. I know the selection process and a lot of my peers and industry leaders contributed to making those selections, and just to be recognized for the efforts that I've made over the last years, it's very gratifying. It's hard to express that, but it's a tremendous honor and I take it very seriously. At the luncheon they'll invite all the past honorees — it's been nearly 50 years they've had this honor selection, so to be a part of that esteemed group is very humbling to me. And I'm very appreciative about the ability to have my family there to join in on the recognition. A lot of times in this industry you go out to work a lot of hours, and I've spent more time over the last several years at work than at home, and for your family to see the industry recognize that contribution has been very rewarding. I'm very grateful; it's quite an honor.

TSJ: What goals and accomplishments do you still have to meet?

McCown: We are doing everything we can to make the company I work for successful here in West Virginia. We've been active for the last four years, and I think we have demonstrated to the state that we are a prudent operator and a viable producer, so I want to secure our place and make sure we've got a good foundation here in West Virginia.

As an industry we have received complaints for out-of-state workers taking West Virginia jobs, and that was because there hasn't been an adequately trained job force, and there needs to be folks to help train that workforce. One way to continue to give back is to mentor and teach, so I'm going to explore opportunities to try to provide whatever assistance I can with my capabilities, experience and education to train others and maybe teach in vo-tech schools to provide them with as rewarding of a career as I have had. That would be a good way to give back to the industry and the state to provide jobs for young people that have got the initiative, the work ethic and the desire to work in the industry.

 

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