By Stephen Whitfield, Associate Editor
Growing up in Austin, Texas, in the 1950s and ’60s, Fred Growcock’s childhood interests were the same as any other average American boy from that time period – girls, baseball and having fun. The son of a minister, he initially thought he’d follow in his father’s footsteps.
In due time, Dr Growcock would embark on a decades-long career with some of the leading companies in the oil and gas industry, becoming a trusted voice on drilling fluids. But in high school, he was just a kid who realized he had an affinity for math and science and wasn’t sure if he wanted to make a career of it. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and, interestingly enough, didn’t start out in math or science – he initially enrolled in Plan II, an undergraduate liberal arts honors program.
“I was one of those kids who was just looking around and seeing what might work for me. I knew I liked to solve problems, especially problems that could be defined precisely and with precise solutions,” he said, “so maybe something in the sciences.”
In his junior year, Dr Growcock took a part-time job working for a PhD student at UT’s microbiology lab, where he sterilized petri dishes and prepared malaria cultures. By the end of that year, he’d shifted his focus to chemistry. In 1969, he earned BA and BS degrees in chemistry from UT, with minors in math and philosophy. He then earned his MS and PhD in chemistry from New Mexico State University in 1974. From there, he took a postdoctoral research position at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., an hour east of New York City.
Dr Growcock spent seven years at Brookhaven, initially working on the liquefaction and gasification of coal and later moving to a regular staff position studying high-temperature, helium-cooled nuclear reactors. While he enjoyed his work there, the tug of family began to pull at him after seven years on Long Island. That ultimately led him into the world of oil and gas.
“My wife’s got a strong Texas accent and was keen to get back down to Texas, where our families live. Although jobs in the Southwest in coal or nuclear research were scarce, there was activity in the oil and gas sector, so I started studying up on it and became interested, and that pretty much decided things,” he recalled.
His next move did not get him to Texas, but it came pretty close. In February 1982, Dr Growcock took a job as a Senior Scientist at the Dowell Division of Dow Chemical (now Dowell-Schlumberger, a division of Schlumberger) in Tulsa, Okla. There, he was tasked with performing research on acidizing and foamed frac fluids.
While most of his work at Dowell was done in a laboratory setting, Dr Growcock got the opportunity to visit a rig site for the first time. One thing that stood out to him on his first trip to the field was the rig crew’s focus on safety. “I had preconceived notions that oil and gas industry operations were dirty and sloppy and that safety was not a big deal. What an eye-opener. Drilling and fracking sites were well organized, neat and pretty clean. And most important, the rig crews held safety meetings every day.”
After six years at Dowell, Dr Growcock moved on to a Senior Scientist and Engineer position at Amoco Production Company, working in the company’s drilling fluids and solids control group over the next 11 years.
Following Amoco’s merger with BP in 1999, Dr Growcock moved on to a job that finally brought him to Texas – Senior Technical Advisor at M-I SWACO, where he worked on the development of new systems and products.
After 12 years, he went on to a five-year stint as Global Fluids Specialist at Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) before retiring in January 2016. At Oxy, he was in charge of advising and guiding the company’s fluids personnel in different parts of the world. He also wrote drilling fluids guidelines and led tutorials.
Dr Growcock is a long-standing member of the IADC Technical Publications Committee, joining the committee in 2003 and taking over as Chairman in 2019. The committee is responsible for curating publications from various authors on well construction-related topics, including providing guidance and conducting peer reviews.
The committee is primarily focused on publications covering oil and gas well construction and integrity, but Dr Growcock said it is interested in expanding the scope of its work to areas outside of the oil and gas industry, such as geothermal well drilling. This expansion of the committee’s work scope mirrors the expansion that he sees the industry taking.
“Oil and gas will continue to be important for many years to come, but we should be thinking about what’s going to happen in the next few years,” he said. “Large operating companies are already diversified, and they plan to diversify even more.” DC