Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a weeklong series of articles on the local and regional energy sector titled “Big Bang: The boom and bust energy industry.”
SHERIDAN — Though he has traveled all over the world for his work, petroleum engineer Mark Heid’s roots are firmly planted in Sheridan County.
Heid’s start in the energy field began in Wyoming in the late ‘70s. Originally from North Dakota, he attended the University of Wyoming and earned a degree in petroleum engineering in 1979.
“I always knew I would be an engineer. That was a given,” Heid said. “But really what I liked was chemistry and geology. Along the way I figured out that petroleum engineering was the best of the engineering, geology, chemistry and you don’t have to work in a plant or an office, you can work outside.
“In the ‘70s, petroleum was just a fraction of the engineering field, only 2 percent were petroleum engineers,” he continued. “But the energy field booms in big cycles. When I came out of school in ‘79 it was at the top of the boom. I had 17 job offers and could go work anywhere. That was just coming out of school with no job experience!”
Heid now specializes in overseeing drilling operations, which takes him to oilfields all over the world.
Early in his career, he worked for Marathon Oil and moved around the United States every couple years. Eventually, in 1989, he had the opportunity for his first living abroad experience.
He and his wife, Tammy, and three young children, ages 3, 4 and 5 moved to Damascus, Syria.
“That was during the first Gulf War,” Tammy Heid said. “We got there in June and Aug. 1 is when Saddam (Hussein) invaded Kuwait. The people around us said ‘don’t worry, if something happens, we will take care of you.’ We felt safe but our parents were really worried.”
The Heids remained safe and happy in Syria until 1992, when they returned to the U.S. to live in Houston, Texas. Ironically, the Heids noted that their oldest child was in kindergarten at the time and his Syrian schoolteacher was in tears when she heard they were relocating to Houston. She had heard that Houston was wracked with gang and gun violence and feared for their children’s lives.
“She could not believe we were going to take these young children to a place so dangerous as Houston!” Tammy Heid said. “All they knew about the U.S. and Houston was what they heard on the news.”
The Heids did not remain in Houston long, but began taking additional overseas duties.
“Whenever the boom was on, they would move me,” Mark Heid said. “I like the drilling operations so we would always go to the next busy area. We were in with the boom and out with the bust.”
In 1994, as domestic oil production slowed, Heid decided to start his own consulting business, allowing him increased travel opportunities and increased control and flexibility of his work schedule.
“There are three reasons to go overseas, either the money, the career advancement, since you get a lot more responsibility and experience in a hurry, or the third reason is for travel and adventure,” he said. “That is why we did it. It was exciting.”
The Heids purchased a home in Big Horn in 1993 and it has remained their home base ever since. Over the course of his career, Heid and his family (when they accompanied him) have worked or traveled in 94 countries and lived in four countries.
“All the years he has traveled, he has flown out of here,” said Tammy Heid, noting that the Sheridan airport has been their connection to worldwide destinations. “There’s only been a handful of times we’ve had to take him to a different place to get out because of weather.”
Mark Heid is currently taking a few months off, and plans to head back to work in Africa, likely Gabon, later this fall.
Though they have lived a life that is envious to some people, getting paid to work while traveling the world, the Heids noted that there have certainly been difficulties. Particularly in the early years of his career, there were no cell phones, fax machines, Skype or email access. Instead, he would often drive 50 miles from a remote drilling location to a phone to call his family, only to find no one home.
“When he was working for Marathon we moved about every two years, but it got to the point where I was ready to put some roots down and the kids were ready to go to school,” Tammy Heid said about their move to Big Horn. “That is when things changed and we decided if Mark was going to continue to do this work, I wanted to be closer to family, so we moved here and put the kids in school.”
“It was difficult,” she continued, about his long absences. “The kids struggled with it and the teachers could tell when Mark was gone. One kid would get madder and one would get sadder. But as time went on and communications got better, things got better.”
The upshot of Heid’s schedule was the accumulation of six months off per year. During the month he is home, Heid said he is 100 percent focused on his family and has no job duties distracting him during that time.
He has seen many changes and advances in the energy field during his long career and said new opportunities are arising all the time.
“There are some people who say oil is going to run out and it isn’t a good career to get into but I disagree,” he said. “I think it is a fantastic career. Oil companies are diversifying as well into other areas. It is a great industry. You do need to be flexible as it does cycle very bad, there are booms and busts, probably like no other field. It is not for everybody. But, if you are willing to move and follow it, it is fantastic. You take your experience and travel.”
“It is exciting,” he continued. “When you have multinationals (companies) we’ll have 30 different nationalities involved with these wells and you work with a great group of people. They are people who have left their homes and traveled the world. But it is nice to come home to Big Horn. We could live anywhere in the world, but we choose Big Horn.”