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Member Spotlight: Jonathan Hudson, Appalachian Well Surveys

Posted By Lyndsey Kleven, Communications Coordinator, Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The member spotlight series features legacy OOGA members who have been a member of the Association for at least 10 years. If you would like to recommend someone to be highlighted, please contact Lyndsey Kleven lyndsey@ooga.org

 

Background information:

 

Jonathan (Jon) Hudson was born and raised in Guernsey County, and has stayed around the area his entire life. He started college at Zane State College (formerly Muskingum Technical College) in the late 1970s, transferring to Marietta college two years later to finish his degree. Jon had no family ties to the energy business and originally started college to become a civil engineer. While dating a girl from New Concord Ohio, whose brother-in-law worked for an oil and gas company, Jon was able to get a summer job that lasted throughout his college career.

 

“An old man told me, once you get oil on your boots you’ll never get it off. So I’ve never taken the oil off my boots. And it’s been boots on ever since,” Jon remarked. 

 

After his first summer working the oilfields, Jon switched his major to petroleum engineering and graduated in 1982.

 

“The more you get into this business, the more it sucks you in. Every summer that I worked was something different. The next year I got to work with folks on leasing property. The year after that we worked in oil field solvents. The more experience I got, the more I enjoyed it. The more people I met, the more they sucked me in too. The people in the industry are a very unique breed of people—and it’s a brotherhood. You aren’t going to find too many people that’s any closer then the oil and gas industry.”

 

Jon’s first job after college was working for Marathon Oil Company in Bridgeport Illinois. Following that year, Jon decided to return back to Ohio and started working for Eastern Well Surveys, an independent wireline company in Wooster that he stayed at for another year. Bringing him full circle back to Cambridge in 1983 was Sego Services, a start-up service company. Jon worked at Sego Services through 1986, which was a time when the industry started to really take a downturn.

 

“Then I get this genius idea that I was going to go into business for myself.”

 

Appalachian Well Surveys Overview:

 

Jon had several years experience working in the service business and was able to see that everyone had a unique way of doing things. Starting a business in April of 1987 as the industry was facing a tough time was an added challenge. After fully deciding that’s what he wanted to do, Jon visited his banker and shared his ambitions of getting into the wireline business.

 

His banker said, “Jon if you’ve got enough guts to get in this business right now, I’ve got enough guts to lend you the money.”

 

Jon knew of a company in Texas that was facing financial struggles with 130 wireline trucks to sell. He went to the auction in Texas and bought one of the trucks and drove it back to Ohio.

“It scared me to death because I had never driven a diesel, everything I had driven was gasoline. Here I am traveling 1,000 miles with a diesel I’d never driven before and away I went.”

 

Arriving back on a Friday, Jon had already set up his first job to perforate a well with Doug Gonzalez the following Tuesday—officially starting his business, Appalachian Well Surveys (AWS). Having been able to find work quickly, Jon still recalled how tough it really was starting out at this time. The company was in debt, the industry was doing poorly and there was a good amount of competition with many other well established wireline companies in the area. 

 

“It was really rough to get started during that time, and I would not wish that on my worst enemy. The first ten years were the ugliest ten years I ever had in my entire life. Just because the industry was tough and the prices were down. If you can get through that first ten-year hump, which is so critical for any business, you’re usually going to make it through then.”

 

It required two people to man a truck, so starting out it was Jon and one other employee. After the first year they went back to Texas and bought another truck and hired two more employees. As AWS was picking up more business they started running two stations, one in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. In its third year they felt they knew what they were doing and Jon decided to expand into the open-hole business. The first two trucks were cased hole trucks and the newest truck was a logging truck. Jon described open-hole as an experience, dealing with radiation that brought with it a realm of federal regulations.

 

Around 1994 the industry started picking up and the commodity prices started to climb. Companies started to drill more which created more work for the service companies. It was also during this time that a good amount of Jon’s competitors (some of whom were older) started to sell out, creating less competition.

 

“As small as we are, we know what our limitations are. We knew what the industry needed in our Appalachian basin and we provided the tools that were used everyday, afford to buy and enough to keep us busy.”

 

Through the late 1990s is when the company had its biggest growth spurt with a total of ten employees. Over the years Jon has considered his staff family. Up until the latest downturn AWS consistently had 13 employees. The latest downturn forced the company to downsize, which was one of the toughest things Jon had to do in his nearly thirty years in business. Jon is an optimist that the industry will eventually rebound and he will be able to bring back his former staff. He is also optimistic in achieving status of being the oldest wireline company in the history of the Appalachian basin. In five more years AWS will surpass Jon’s former boss Bill Musselman’s tenure at Easter Well Surveys, which was in business for 30 years.

 

Horizontal drilling and state of the industry:

 

Looking at the current state of the oil and gas industry, the biggest changes Jon has seen over the years have been technological. He feels the basics are still used but the technology being used today has changed twofold.

 

“We know all the basics but this new age of drilling is amazing. How we’re getting the product out of the ground, more efficiently, with less of a footprint, it just amazes me—and it’s all for the good. I am working with young engineers that are educating me on the new technology.”

 

The new technology has been a cause for new regulatory changes, which Jon feels, overall, is a positive for the industry. It is a challenge, costing more money (especially now) but Jon feels it is important to make sure procedures are done right. And Jon feel’s there isn’t one person on the OOGA Board who wouldn’t agree—he says, if we’re going to preach, we’ve got to practice it.

 

The last few years has caused AWS to re-evaluate its outlook because of horizontal drilling, which has caused vertical open-hole operations to slow dramatically. AWS has purchased some new tools that are standard of the new drilling operations. This has brought the company some work in the new era, but Jon’s motto has always been to keep things simple and not get pushed out of his comfort zone. 

 

History with the OOGA:

 

Jon has been a member of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association for more than two decades. Jon credits the Association as being very instrumental in the mid 1990s to helping keep many of the independent companies in Ohio in business.

“They did everything they could to listen to our problems, and it’s no different than it is today. The industry was really, really working together. I think the industry in itself, as long as you’re progressing and positive, those guys were there to help you,” Jon recognized.

As AWS became more established Jon was able to take on a more active role within the Association, which he attributes as being built around a strong foundation of brotherhood. In 2014 Jon was elected to the Board of Trustees, a role he currently holds today. Jon happily mentioned the comradery among the group, saying the majority of the board are his customers and he is always given the chance to bid on work.

“Being on the board, you get a more well rounded background of what all the Association is really doing out there to fight for our industry. And we need a strong taskforce like that to tell the truth.”

The guys that keep Jon going are the old-time, legacy members that uphold a positive attitude, regardless of the state of the industry, with a passion to “drill baby, drill.”

Having been involved with the Association for the long hull, Jon has seen its evolution over the years. New board members with interest in different drilling techniques have gained board seats as the industry has changed. Jon says Tom Stewart has been one of his all time favorites, and appreciates his tireless dedication to the industry and drive to instill this attitude among other board members—many of which are constantly going over and above their responsibility.

“All we’re trying to do is find energy for people. And we’re trying to do it right. And we have some of the sharpest cats on the block, bar none.” 

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