Cye Wagner now leads the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers is one of the most long-standing oil and gas industry trade associations in America, with a legacy that goes all the way back to 1930. With more than 2,600 current members, the Alliance is also the largest state-based trade association for this great Texas industry.
Cye Wagner, who leads her own long-standing family business, Fort Worth’s Cooper Oil & Gas Company, stepped into the role as Chairman of the Board for the Alliance earlier this year. As such, she became the first woman to lead the 90-year-old association. I was able to catch up with Cye in late June and talk about her good fortune at having stepped into this high-pressure role at such an “interesting” time for the oil and gas business.
Question: Tell us about your background in the industry.
Wagner: I truly grew up in the oilfield. I spent more time on drilling rigs catching samples than anything else. I received my engineering degree from Texas A&M in 2008. While I was there, I really got to take advantage of all the wonderful internships that the department has as a requirement for graduation. I interviewed and earned internships for Burlington Resources and Chevron, and then EOG in the summers. I spent one summer working for my family’s company. I tried, very purposefully, to see all sides of the industry and learn as much as I could and get a taste for what I wanted to do when I left. I was at EOG of course, in ’07 at the height of the Barnett Shale. It was just too much fun.
Question: What did you do after graduation?
Wagner: I had a hard time deciding where to go after school. But the Barnett Shale was hopping, and in completion engineering at the time, the science that we were getting to use at EOG was just fantastic. So, I went into completions immediately following my internship and worked my way into production before I left. EOG has never been afraid of investing in science dollars, and if you had a solid theory that you could prove and test, they allowed you to spend that capital budget. Which is one reason why I believe they’re such a successful company.
Question: So, you were there for almost two years, and then decided to go into the family business. How did that business get its start?
Wagner: My mom and dad built a true mom and pop startup—they’ve been in business for over 40 years. They drilled their own wells, and it was just the two of them. My mom left her job at the hospital to keep the books and run the regulatory side of the business. Dad is, just bootstrap, learned the business. He had an uncle that was in the business and got interested, and then started drilling his own wells in his 20s. Pretty much a true Texas wildcatter. They grew and developed over the years into a much larger and successful company.
Question: How did you make the decision to move over from EOG to Cooper Oil & Gas?
Wagner: I realized at that time that dad was hiring a lot of engineering firms to do things that I could do. I was about to get married and settle down, and I thought, “Oh, won’t that be great? I could have a job at the family company and help that grow, and maybe have a little more flexible work schedule, and raise a family.” And, of course, those things went out the window about the first, I don’t know, 15 days of work. You put your own name on the door, and it was longer and harder hours than I had ever dreamed.
Question: What is the focus area of your business?
Wagner: We’re pretty much an all conventional company. We have some horizontal wells, but most everything we’ve done is conventional plays and production, mostly in the North Central Texas area. In the last few years, we’ve expanded towards the Permian and down towards the Gulf Coast. My husband works for us as well, he is also a petroleum engineer. He does the production and reservoir engineering. And my brother is a lawyer, in-house with us, and he manages all of our surface operations — he used to pump his own route growing up before school in the mornings. And I manage mostly the G & G side, drilling engineering along with accounting and regulatory. So, we wear a lot of hats, out of necessity. We run pretty lean, but that’s kind of the difference between small shops and the big guys.
Question: So, tell us how you got roped into serving as Chair for the Texas Alliance.
Wagner: Our business has for many years been a member of the North Texas Oil and Gas Association (which merged with the West Central Texas Oil and Gas Association to form the Alliance), so I grew up going to North Texas Oil and Gas events. I have always had great respect for the Alliance for what they were doing, advocating for our industry. Obviously, coming into more of an operational, key leadership role in our company and seeing the target that’s on our back. There’s a lot of misinformation out there in the public. It’s all the things that you‘ve mentioned in so many of your articles and your press that’s out there — we have a public in need for better, more accurate information. What you worry about then is if that misinformation is going to start drowning policy and regulatory efforts. Texas is a great energy-friendly and energy-rich state. We provide so much for our communities and our schools, and not just Texas GDP, but the United States. As you well know what oil and gas has done for the state of Texas and all of its communities, and to see that being attacked, it gets personal when you have a family company.
Question: I’m sure it does.
Wagner: We’re very much stewards of the land and the environment. Clean water and air, and clean soil are crucial for the survival of a multi-generational business like my family has — we farm and ranch as well. When you see the press out there claiming how bad oil and gas is for the environment and all the different misinformation that’s out there, somebody has to stand up and say ‘Yes, there are some bad actors, and sure, accidents happen, and the energy industry, like any industry doesn’t have a perfect track record, but this is what we do, this is who we are and the vast majority of us are good actors.’
We care, and I want the public to be educated. I want to entice young people to join this fabulous energy industry, and I want to make sure the legislative and regulatory efforts are positive. We need to be regulated, as any industry does, but that needs to be done with smart policy based on fact and science. So, the things that are very near and dear to my heart for my own personal family and business reasons are the exact ethos of the Texas Alliance, so it was a natural progression for me to get involved.
Question: What do you plan to focus on during your two years as Chairman?
Wagner: Education is key for me. Not only for educating the public, but also our policymakers and our regulators more about our industry — the good science, safety and innovation being employed today. This is the way to bridge the industry to them so that we can have effective policy and regulations. We will continue to accomplish this through our efforts in Austin and Washington, D.C.
When I was at A&M, I was involved in — and I still am involved in — The Society of Petroleum Engineers. We had a volunteer team in which we visited local elementary schools. We were able to teach kids about what petroleum engineering was, and we used that opportunity to talk to them about STEM careers. Seeing kids’ eyes light up at the prospect of science and math and earth sciences and engineering and them going “Wow! There’s a whole other world out there.” And surprising them by holding up all of the petroleum by-products and saying, “this is how this gets made, and it takes all of these types of jobs and people to do this and to create this.” That was exciting, and that strikes a real chord for my passion. Using my platform with the Alliance to entice young people and children to this industry will always be a focus of mine.
Question: The Alliance has always been a very effective voice in Austin. Do you plan to be down there frequently during the upcoming legislative session?
Wagner: I hope to. We are, as you know, in such good hands with our recent hire of our new President Jason Modglin. His experience is second to none, not only, of course, having worked in the legislature, but also at the Railroad Commission. So, he will be at the helm of our efforts, and he is the face of our organization. My duty as chairman of the board will always be to represent our membership and what’s best for them. I was able to go down quite a bit as vice-chair and participate in a few things in Austin and D.C. and will continue to do so as much as possible.
Question: What’s it like to be the first woman in this role? Obviously, that’s not why you are in it, but it is notable, and I’m sure people do notice.
Cye Wagner: It’s still funny that sometimes I walk into a meeting, and people are shocked that I’m an engineer, or shocked that I’m running an oil and gas company. That perception of the makeup of our industry or the diversity of it is not always spot on. It’s exciting to me to be able to represent the independent producers, and our membership has really grown — we have midstream, PE companies, large publicly traded entities and more.
So, just like you said, I’m not there because I’m a woman. I’m there because of my experience, my education, and hopefully my ability to successfully communicate on behalf of our board to the general public and to our regulators and legislators. That is why I’m there. I just happen to be a woman. So, I understand what you’re saying. It is still refreshing to walk into those offices and to be heard and be listened to, again, because of my education and experience, not because I am a woman. But it is a good thing to show the diversity of our industry.
Question: Indeed, it is. Thank you for your time.
Cye Wagner: Thank you.
For more information about the Alliance, visit www.texasalliance.org.