For Exxon retiree Leon Robinson, drilling continues to be an addictive fascination he just can’t quit
By Linda Hsieh, associate editor
If there’s one thing Leon Robinson learned during his 39-year career with Exxon, it’s that drilling isn’t a science. For all the textbook learning he did to earn three degrees in physics, it still wasn’t enough to truly understand drilling.
“Drilling is equal part science and art,” he said. The science of it can be taught in textbooks and classrooms, but the art of it — the experience — you have to get yourself. That’s why field work is such a critical part of training for the new generation of drilling engineers. For Dr Robinson, his own early career was mostly limited to lab work at Exxon Production Research. That’s why it took him 20 years to build up enough field experience and feel truly confident about his drilling competence, he said.
Needless to say, the current industry can’t afford to wait 20 years for the next generation of competent workers, and Dr Robinson urged every employer in the industry to send its young people out to the field at every opportunity. “Nothing replaces visiting the rig,” he emphasized.
RETIRED BUT NOT OUT
Although Dr Robinson officially retired from Exxon in 1992, he never really left the industry. He’s still a drilling instructor with Petroskills, an industry training provider. He is chairman of an API Task Group that rewrote recommended practices for solids control and shaker screens and is still continuing to improve the document. He is on the 2008 AADE Conference Planning Committee and a member of the SPE Waste Management Committee. And he has been leading the IADC Technical Publications Committee in its quest to write a set of drilling “encyclopedia” (see below).
On top of that, he’s made it a personal project to help improve public perception of “Big Oil” from a grassroots level. “The general public has no idea what the petroleum industry is about, and we’re doing a lousy job of informing them. Every chance I get, I talk to students at universities or the Ocean Star museum in Galveston to explain what we do and our sensitivity to the environment. I think every major oil company should being making more educational efforts.”
A LONG WAY FROM 1953
Since joining Exxon (then Humble) in 1953 — “when we had no idea what was going on downhole” — the industry and its innovative technologies have continued to fascinate Dr Robinson like nothing else. “If I hadn’t stayed active in this industry after retiring, I would’ve been totally obsolete by now. The new technologies that have emerged, like rotary steerables and expandables, are so fascinating they’re impossible to put down. Drilling is like a drug; it’s addictive. If I were to quit this stuff, I might curl up and die.”
IADC Technical Publications Committee works to pass on drilling knowledge
Q: What is the goal of the IADC Technical Publications Committee?
A: We want to write a complete compendium about drilling, with a peer-reviewed book on every drilling subject, from casing to well control to fluids to managed pressure drilling and underbalanced operations. These will be practical and readily understandable books with expert opinions from the best people in the industry.
When we’re finished, we’ll have a rather unique set of books about all aspects of drilling that should be a great benefit to the industry.
Q: Are you looking for more volunteers to help out with the project?
A: Always! We have about 100 volunteers now, but I’d like to double that. This is a labor-intensive project. We don’t need that many authors, but we need people to help the authors write complete books.
We have more than a dozen books in different stages of completion, and we’re hoping to publish 4 or 5 books this year.