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Drilling Expert Encourages Students to Explore Field

November 7, 2018
Man gives presentation to students in class
LLOG Exploration Vice President of Drilling Joe Leimkuhler shared his experiences with offshore deepwater drilling with CEAS students Nov. 2.

In 1984, Joe Leimkuhler was working as a “mud engineer” on a rig drilling in the Snowy Range Mountains near Laramie when his life took an unexpected turn.

Jack Evers, the former head of petroleum engineering at the University of Wyoming, brought students to the up to the rig site for a tour. Leimkuhler gave the students an overview of the layout and operation of the drilling fluid, or “mud system.” After the tour concluded, Evers was impressed, and asked Leimkuhler if he had a degree. Leimkuhler replied, “Yes, in forestry and geology.”

Evers continued: “That’ll do. You’re actually an engineer and I would like to talk to you about graduate school at UW. Can you make it into town to the fourth floor of the Engineering Building tomorrow afternoon?”

Originally from Haddonfield, N.J., Leimkuhler earned his undergraduate degrees from the University of Montana. After graduating, he worked on rigs around Wyoming. When Evers asked him to be a petroleum engineering graduate student at UW, he had no prerequisites, which meant taking undergraduate engineering and math classes through the mail. As the rig moved throughout the state, he’d receive parcels addressed to him in each town. He would then complete the work and send it back to UW. He did that for 18 months, then attended UW for two more years, finishing up in 1987 with a master’s degree.

“When you left this place, you knew how to run a rig,” he says of UW’s curriculum strength at the time. “I had internships with students from bigger schools likes Stanford, USC and Texas, and they all asked me how I knew how about the more practical side of drilling engineering. it was obvious they did not have Jack Evers teaching them about drilling.”

He left Laramie in 1987 after Shell Oil Company hired him, so he and his wife Stephanie packed up their kids, drove to New Orleans to work the Deepwater Gulf of Mexico, and has been there since.

Leimkuhler worked for Shell for 25 years in various roles related to offshore drilling, ending up as the offshore well delivery manager for North and South America. In 2012, he was approached by LLOG Exploration, a small private oil company in Covington, La. The company needed help growing their drilling department and further expansion into deepwater operations. For the last six years, he has been LLOG’s vice president of drilling as it grew into the nation’s largest private oil company and fourth-largest offshore producer.

Despite the up-and-down nature of the industry, Leimkuhler urges prospective students to study petroleum engineering. As a member of the department’s advisory board, he believes the department’s emphasis needs to be on undergraduate education and research, in order to prepare students for immediate contributions. He offered a one-hour presentation to engineering students on deepwater offshore drilling Nov. 2.

“We’ve got faculty who are energizing the students,” Leimkuhler says. “We’re on our way. We just need to stay on the path. The industry is at a fascinating point right now. The world is consuming hydrocarbons at its greatest rate ever and the U.S. is the largest producer in the world. I’d call that a turnaround, compared to what it was a few years ago.”

Leimkuhler believes in the value of internships for gaining real-world experience, which also benefits employers who can add recent graduates with little to no learning curve. He says students need to be open to all opportunities and be aggressive about pursuing them. The opportunities are there. even if they are a bit more of a challenge to find coming out of a downturn.

“That’s what students who come into this need to realize about oil and gas,” Leimkuhler says. “One month, there might be nothing going on. The next month, you might have trouble picking between job offers because they’re so numerous.

“It’s not online dating—employers won’t just find you. It’s incredibly dynamic, and there are tremendous opportunities, but you have to go look for it.”

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