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Member Spotlight: Mark Lytle, Buckeye Oil Producing Co.

Posted By Lyndsey Kleven, Communications Coordinator, Tuesday, February 2, 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


Background information:


Mark Lytle was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Ohio (a small town just south of Wooster) and grew up wanting to become a game warden.  Mark had a short stint at a technical school in Zanesville to pursue this ambition that didn’t last long.


Mark’s father worked as a schoolteacher and his mother was a radiology technician.  His brother, Skip, and twin uncles, Dean and Gene Smith, worked in the oil and gas business at this time, prompting his interest.  Going a completely different direction in his career path, Mark started working for Dowell out of Wooster in 1975.


Dowell was Mark’s first experience in the fracking business and introduced him to many new experiences.  He was willing to take on new opportunities as they became available within Dowell.


“When I was at Dowell I wasn’t married, and if somebody said go somewhere I had my hand up. I was fortunate enough to go to the Alaskan North Slope and Laredo, Texas on the Mexican border.”


Mark worked at Dowell for three years gaining experience in the industry, learning a lot from Rick Carter, who would become a close friend and mentor. Across the street from Dowell, Buckeye Oil Producing Co. was building a new warehouse. Skip and one of his uncles were working for Buckeye at the time and in 1978 Mark also got a job at Buckeye Oil Producing.  He started out driving truck and would sit in on the handful of wells being drilled by Buckeye because of the experience he gained from working at Dowell.


Skip was the field superintendent at Buckeye around this time, but left the company soon after Mark started working there.  Mark inherited some of his responsibilities and managed to work his way up over the years.  Throughout the years Mark sporadically worked with his uncles, which he found to be very helpful drawing on their knowledge.  Starting with the company more than 37 years ago, Mark worked his way up to vice president, president, and served as the CEO of Buckeye Oil Producing since 2005.  Mark “semi-retired” from Buckeye in 2013 but remains active managing the production in West Virginia and southern Kansas operations.


Buckeye Oil Producing Overview:


The founder of Buckeye Oil Producing was R.K. Shoolroy, who got into the oil and gas business in the 1960s in Wooster, Ohio by owning retail gasoline stations.  The office space that Buckeye currently occupies in Wooster was one of the first gas stations that Mr. Shoolroy owned.  In the 1960s crude oil supply was starting to get short and Mr. Shoolroy sold off some of his gas stations to Ashland Oil.  Always thinking ahead, Mr. Shoolroy went out and bought some of his own crude oil production so that he could take his crude oil to the refinery and trade it for gasoline, in order to keep his remaining gas stations open.  He got into the production side with the goal of keeping the gas stations running.  Mr. Shoolroy found that he liked the production side better and got out of the gasoline station business to start Buckeye Oil Producing.


Buckeye started out with only a couple of well and over the years have grown greatly.  Starting off in Ohio, the company grew primarily through acquisitions with the philosophy of buying existing production.  When production began getting more challenging to purchase in Ohio, the company started its own drilling programs and drilled some wells for themselves.  Today they continue to drill their own wells and have grown outside of Ohio.  With approximately 500 wells, and 20 employees working for the company, Buckeye has come a long way from where it started.


“Buckeye was always very thrifty, even in the slow times, which we kind of liked actually, because you could make better buys. Today that’s not the case.”


Buckeye is an independent company that primarily drills their own wells.  Lytle says they have partnered with a lot the good, older generation companies in Ohio. The majority of the wells operated by Buckeye are conventional wells in the Clinton, Berea and Knox formations.


“In 1983 we branched out of Ohio and purchased property in West Virginia.  We kept that until 1996 and sold it off due to plugging liabilities.  In 2000, we went back to West Virginia which has been a lucrative expansion.  We’re not just a little company; we’ve expanded into seven states over the last 15 years.”


In 2003 Buckeye was integral in starting a consortium made up of four companies looking to grow drilling operations.


“We saw a lot of companies in Ohio and not a lot of good locations to drill.  We felt that in order to grow our companies we’re going to need to get out of Ohio.  We all pulled together and hired a geologist based in Colorado. We ended up drilling in Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Texas. We learned a lot and met a lot of interesting people.”


The consortium still exists today with three participating companies.  They still work together on projects and have found success drilling in Kansas and are currently drilling in Colorado.


“The direction that we’ve gone in the past 5 years or so is drilling for oil.  All of our drilling prospects must have good oil potential before we would drill.  Anything we drill now has to be primarily oil.”


Mark’s intrigue in outside ventures has led Buckeye to become somewhat diversified over the years.  They have always owned some real estate, but have gotten into investing in high-tech start up ideas. A group of people in Akron was recently looking to develop replacement disc for a spine and Lytle became one of the investors. Buckeye helps to providing funding to get the project up and in the start phase, with the end goal of selling them off. Other entities also include a hydraulic shop business, and tool and die plant.


“It’s interesting. If I get bored in the oil business, I can go somewhere else. I guess I’ve always been intrigued by new technologies. Some of the ideas we used in the oilfields weren’t the smartest or best ideas in the world, but I’ve tried a lot of different ones. Getting involved in these outside ventures has been an interesting distraction as the oil business slows a little bit.”


Horizontal drilling and state of the industry:


Buckeye Oil isn’t doing any shale work and farmed out its shale acreage. Lytle says they did this over five years ago when the shale play was just beginning.  They sold off acreage and took a decent offer early on.


The nice thing about horizontal and deep shale drilling is that companies are bringing new technology and a willingness to try new techniques in the industry.  Some of the technology can be adapted to different drilling projects, like the Clinton and Berea sandstones, which Mark has been involved with.


“Some day you will see a handful of producers go together and drill horizontally. We’ve talked about it with some producers.  But right now, with these prices, no one could get excited about horizontal drilling.  I still think that horizontal drilling in the Clinton has some merit and we could see a little of that in Ohio.  We need to see at least $60 a barrel before anyone can get remotely excited about it.  Buckeye will remain mostly conventional, for now.”


Mark has watched the play and seen the deep shale lines move around, drawing big companies to come to work in Ohio in the last years. He says the only prayer for the independents is to watch and learn.


“On the shale side of things, I think there’s going to be a spot someday, a window, where independent producers can go in and do it.  But boy, the sad part about it is that’s years away now, not as close as we originally had thought.”


“I’ve been in the industry a number of years and I’ve seen a lot of highs and lows.  But today it’s a completely different low. It’s going to last longer. When we come out of this, if you’re not a little more savvy on what you do, your conventional Clinton wells aren’t going to bail you out like they have in the past.  Even with an up-tick in prices all it’s going to do is prolong the agony of the companies and it’s not going to bail everyone out.  Smaller guys are going to have to look at some of the unconventional ways of horizontal drilling in order for a company to survive. You’re not going to be sitting on these Clinton wells and produce them like we’ve all previously done to make a good living.  This time it’s a different low, I think, and it’s longer lasting.”


History with the OOGA:


Lytle has been a long time member of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, spanning nearly 30 years. He joined when he started working for Buckeye Oil Producing, who has been involved with OOGA since 1961.


Jeff Baker suggested to Mark that he run to be on the board of Trustees. He said that it could take a few tries in order for Mark to actually be elected.  Lytle was elected after his first attempt. Lytle has been an OOGA board member since 1978.


Mark initially got his feet wet with OOGA committees back when he was on the insurance committee.  Lytle described working with Berman Shaffer, Bill Musselman and Allen Jones and some of the issues that this committee dealt with. He learned a little about the insurance business, but a lot about the oil and gas industry’s early days. 


Mark was involved with a few other committees following the insurance committee but reflects on how he wished he had played a more active role.  Regardless, he attended all the meetings and supported the Association over the years.

“I’m a very firm believer, and I’ve said this from the beginning, I think that anyone who is going to drill a well in the state of Ohio should have to sit in on a OOGA board meeting to see all of the activity that goes on behind the scenes. All of the people on the committees, the committee chairs, the people behind them, and there’s so much involved in this process which most people don’t even realize.”


The overall theme of what Mark has seen happen within the Association during his tenure as a member is the change in political structure the industry is facing. Today he feels much of what the industry is dealing with is very much a political game.  He feels the Association and its leadership has been an integral part in shaping the industry and what it has established throughout Ohio.


Mark lives outside Millersburg with his wife, Janet.  They have 3 children and 2 grandchildren.  He enjoys “tinkering” on their 40 acre farm.

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