As he prepares to graduate in 2021, former A&M student chapter chair says respect for safety will be guidepost for his future career
By Jay Stracke, Editorial Coordinator
Imagine that you’re a college student driving for Uber to earn some extra money. You start a conversation with the passengers in the back seat, telling them that you are studying to be a petroleum engineer, and you realize that they don’t know anything about oil and gas. In fact, they don’t seem to think oil and natural gas are that important to their lives at all. Do you keep what you know to yourself, or do you take the opportunity to share your knowledge, even if it means potentially losing a tip or getting a bad review from the passenger?
For a year and a half, while studying at Texas A&M University, William Villalobos was that Uber driver. And he never missed an opportunity to champion the industry of his future career. In fact, he said he took every chance he could to educate people about the important role that petroleum plays in everyday lives, the difference between conventional and unconventional operations, and the facts about hydraulic fracturing.
“When I was driving for Uber, sometimes I’d have people contradict me for going into this industry,” he recalled. “But I would still push for a reasonable conversation because I wanted to gain the perspective that other people had. When I did that, people usually appreciated how I would teach them a thing or two about the oil and gas industry.”
Mr Villalobos – who chaired the IADC student chapter at A&M in 2019 and is set to graduate in fall 2021 – first learned about drilling when he was just 8 years old, shortly after he moved from Peru to Winnsboro, Texas.
As he grew up, his stepfather, who owned an oilfield construction company, would often take him out to get first-hand looks at the construction of drilling pads and pipelines. It wasn’t long before he fell in love with the camaraderie he witnessed among those who worked out in the field.
“Everybody was very friendly and wanted to make sure everything was done right. And one of the ways they did that was by simply treating each other as extended family.”
Even before graduating high school, Mr Villalobos said, he knew that this was the industry for him. In 2014, he enrolled in Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant, Texas, to study engineering. Summers were spent as a field hand, where he helped in the construction of drilling sites and assemblage of production equipment. He also assisted pipeline welders at his stepfather’s company. “I was guided through everything, which I feel very fortunate to have experienced,” he said.
After completing his associate degree in 2016, Mr Villalobos then enrolled at Texas A&M University to study petroleum engineering, upon the advice of several alumni he met while working in the field.
A couple of years after that, he took an internship with Dimock Operating Company, working as a floorhand on a workover rig.
This internship taught him a lot about the importance of safety on the rig floor, Mr Villalobos said, recalling his first time on a workover rig when a gas well was being opened to relieve pressure.
“They cracked it open, and the immense pressure from the well was more than I could ever imagine from just reading in a book,” he said. “When we cracked it open, it pushed the tree branches back and laid the bushes flat just like a jet engine would. It taught me the power of what we’re dealing with on a daily basis and why safety is so important.”
Safety also was a focal point for Mr Villalobos when he was elected as Chairman of the IADC student chapter at Texas A&M. As part of his work with the chapter and to help educate the general public about HSE awareness within the oil and gas industry, he helped to organize an HSE summit featuring, among others, Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick. The event, which was originally scheduled for spring this year but postponed to spring 2021, also aims to facilitate interaction between industry and the public.
“I organized this seminar to teach the public about the oil and gas industry and what we’re doing and what we’re improving upon, from the perspective of regulators, academia and the industry,” Mr Villalobos explained. “Because I study this, it’s my passion, and I want to educate others.
Upon completing his petroleum engineering degree from Texas A&M next year, Mr Villalobos said, he plans to realize his long-time dream by joining the oil and gas industry. He hopes to be able to pursue work in remote parts of the world so that he can travel and see the world while helping to deliver the energy that people need. “Oil is oil, no matter where you go in the world,” he said. DC