Energy Advisory Board Spotlight - Greg Leveille

By Janet Miranda

Greg Leveille began his career with ConocoPhillips in 1984 in Lafayette, LA. His career has taken him far and wide – from New Orleans, London, Aberdeen, Anchorage, Alaska, Farmington, N.M., Singapore and finally to Houston.

During his first decade in the industry, Leveille held various exploration, development and operations geology assignments. Beginning in 1995, he held leadership positions in exploration, planning and portfolio management, asset management, project management, technology, business management, operations and commercial. Before moving to the technology organization in 2011, he was president of global LNG and Asia-Pacific commercial operations with ConocoPhillips.

Leveille is a member of the Executive Committee of the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC) and has held leadership roles in several United Way fundraising campaigns. He also serves as chairman of the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ U.S. Advisory Council.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity.

UH Energy: How did you get involved with the Energy Advisory Board, and what perspective do you think you bring to the role?

Greg Leveille: I'm on three advisory boards at the University of Houston, with the other two being the Dean's Advisory Board for the College of Natural Science and Mathematics and the Advisory Council for the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute.

What spurred my interest in supporting the university was a recognition that ConocoPhillips would greatly benefit from having a Tier One university in the city of Houston, our global headquarters.

I'm able to contribute in the sense that Energy Advisory Board helps steer the direction of curriculum and research, especially what to emphasize going forward, which might be different to what has been emphasized in the past.

UHE: Your career started at ConocoPhillips in a technical area. Since then, you have moved into management. What did you enjoy the most? Do you think your technical background helps in your management positions?

GL: Over three and a half decades, I've had a lot of exciting roles. I've spent time working in technology organizations, exploration organizations, but I've also worked on field development, production operations, strategy and planning, to name a few.

It’s a tough choice to pick an all-time favorite, but if I had to do that, I would pick my current role as Chief Technology Officer for ConocoPhillips. I look at this role and it really is one where you get to work with so many brilliant people, both inside and outside the company. It's exciting as well as mentally stimulating.

When I think about the second half of your question, it is worth nothing that ConocoPhillips is a very technically oriented company. Almost all our executive leadership team has some type of engineering or geoscience degree.

In fact, even our chief financial officer has a degree in chemical engineering, and our head of corporate communications and investor relations has a geoscience background. With this type of technical focus, I think technical expertise can really help shape business decisions and business results.

You can get the right mix in the company culture, and the technical background helps enormously.

UHE: How did ConocoPhillips weather the storm earlier this year as COVID-19 and low oil prices rocked the industry?

GL: I think weathering storms mostly comes down to preparing for their occurrence. Preparation is what has really helped us through this current industry downturn and (allowed us to) be one of the more advantaged E&P companies.

Much of the work we did to build up resilience to price shocks involved selling off high-cost assets after they were not able to produce oil and gas at a low enough price point to be commercially viable. And during a downturn, we continue working on technology advancements and other forms of innovation that reduce the cost of production for the assets we retain.

Our multipronged strategy is focused on making the core business better. We are practicing capital discipline by only investing in projects that can make a 10% or greater rate of return at $40 per barrel. It's about preparedness, discipline and of course about having some of the best employees in the industry to help you figure out what the right decisions are and the right actions to take.

UHE: What are some important lessons that have helped you manage the COVID-19 crisis and the oil price shock?

GL: I look back over the 36 years I've been working in the E&P industry, and there been multiple highs and lows. The key for long term success is not getting overly exuberant during the good times and not getting too pessimistic during the downturn.

It is about balance and having a steady approach that can deliver on promises made considering the risks and uncertainties, and continually striving to deliver exceptional results through innovation and accelerated adoption of technology.

UHE: What new technologies is ConocoPhillips working on, and how has COVID-19 affected the goals of these projects?

GL: We haven’t greatly modified our portfolio of technology projects. We did pull back on a few very long-term technology investments, and we're concentrating quite a bit on accelerating the adoption of technologies, trying to scale them throughout the company.

We are working on advancing a broad array of technologies, including things like seismic imaging, and numerous digital technologies that offer promise for transforming our industry. The digital space might be the most interesting area that the coronavirus has greatly accelerated, as digital technologies change the way work is done.

We've all had to get more accustomed to virtual work practices. Right now, we’re using automation more and more. These areas, along with data analytics and machine learning capabilities, top our list of projects.

UHE: What advice would you give to students going into the energy field?

GL: When I joined the industry back in the early 1980s, it was going through a dramatic downturn. It was hard to be optimistic, but my first words of advice are to stay optimistic. The industry is large and will see better days ahead.

I'd encourage students to keep learning, not just while they're in university, but for their entire career. I look around our company, and the individuals who have tended to differentiate themselves are the ones who continue to develop new skills as they progress through decades of working in the industry.

I was a geoscientist coming out of university who hadn't had a chance in university to work very much with engineers, but I learned more about the subject as I took on new roles. I think developing a deep understanding of associated disciplines is important. Hone your technical skills, but also develop interpersonal skills—that can go a long way.