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Explorers in Profile: Tom Homza
Tom Homza, Staff Geologist, UAX/A/E, based in Anchorage, Alaska
Where were you born, brought up and educated, and what were early influences in your life?
I was born and raised in Stratford, Connecticut; a working class community between New York City and New Haven.
I attended twelve years of Catholic School, the final four at a Jesuit High School. It was there that I learned to appreciate scholastics and to be an analytic thinker. I was also exposed to geology in high school, in the form of an innovative “mini-course” program that enabled students to take classes of interest taught by experts. I was hooked on geology right away and declared myself a Geology Major as an incoming freshman to the University of Vermont (UVM) in 1984.
UVM had a wonderful field geology program. I went on so many geology trips, I couldn’t name them all. But the best summer, 1986, included a month-long trip across the Island of Newfoundland, Canada (which isn’t burdened with too many pesky trees), and a month as an intern in the Sierra Nevada, California. By then I was pretty sure I would be a career geologist.
However, I wanted to taste something else before committing further, so I took my 3rd year off and worked as a counselor at a wilderness camp for troubled boys. Whoa! This was an intense experience that really developed my patience, responsibility and accountability. I grew 10 years in 1987 – and forfeited most of my hair in the process.
So, I finished up at UVM and thought about heading west to see some rocks that weren’t Appalachian. I applied to all the state schools out west and the University of Alaska – Fairbanks (UAF) jumped out entirely because of their well-funded, helicopter-supported Brooks Range field program. Sign me up for a masters! I drove out in the summer of 1989 with three friends, paddled the Yukon River for two weeks, then got an apartment in Fairbanks.
I completed my thesis and was all set to come “home” to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for a doctorate on a full scholarship when the allure of the Brooks Range caused me to burn that bridge. I stayed on at UAF; declining the Ivy League for the Tundra League and taking two more Brooks Range seasons and a UAF PhD in 1995. I married my UVM sweetheart, Julia, and we moved to Anchorage, where I went to work for BP.
So how did you come to join Shell?
I worked for about ten years in the E&P industry before joining Shell, seven at BP in Anchorage and London, and the rest with EnCana in Anchorage. I opened the EnCana office in Anchorage in the Frontier Building, which is where Shell’s current office is located.
Then, as a part of a major refocus toward resource plays, EnCana exited Alaska and I conducted the farm-out presentations. EnCana knew that I would be staying in Alaska and so they allowed me to hand out as many resumes as prospect-sheets to interested oil and gas companies. This was when Chandler Wilhelm was leading a quiet effort within Shell to re-enter Alaska and we both realized that we could take advantage of the circumstances.
So, I joined Shell and task number one was to secure the office that EnCana was selling. It followed, in a manner of speaking, that one day I took down the EnCana sign and put up the Pecten and started ordering servers and internet connections. Now, seven years later, the same office seats many more than a hundred people as we approach the most exciting drilling season of my career.
What have been your jobs to date at Shell?
I’ve wanted to be Alaskan-based from the start and the Shell Managers that I’ve worked for have been incredibly understanding. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to stay here and I thank Shell for that.
When I first joined Shell, I was Shell in Alaska. I set up the office, built it out, and plugged it in. I also represented Shell at agencies, communities, and so on. This was exciting for me, but I was soon rightly usurped in these roles by much more qualified long-time Shell folks and I – ungrudgingly - went back to the sub-surface.
I’ve been involved in many things in Alaska and the Arctic. I recruit for Shell Geoscientists at UAF each year, but mostly I do regional and prospect-level geology. For Shell, I’ve worked the Canadian Beaufort; the North Aleutian Basin; Cook Inlet; the North Slope; and the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. My job has morphed over time to be - along with the encyclopedic Bob Scheidemann - the guy who knows the wells, the history, the reservoirs, etc. in the Alaska venture. I am also currently responsible for the regional geologic models and for generating/maturing prospects.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I’ve always had a fascination with regional geology, so I have thoroughly enjoyed the role of Principal Regional Geologist and the opportunity to slowly stitch together the petroleum geology from the Canadian Arctic to the Russian Arctic. This is the result of the opportunity to be exposed to all kinds of learnings, data and great people at Shell. I’ve been fortunate to have had great leaders and colleagues at Shell. To name a few early influences and friends: Alec Bray, Bob Scheidemann, Jan Harrell, Steve Bergman, Guenter Jaeger, and Chandler Wilhelm.
Now, the enjoyment is in the build up to the big wells that we finally hope to drill this summer in the Alaskan offshore. I look forward to being offshore during the “big moment”.
What are you doing when you’re not in the office?
My early days in Alaska were spent in the outdoors as much as possible, but with the arrival of the first of our two boys, that changed. Currently, in the short summer months I am deeply involved in Little League Baseball in Anchorage; I was President of a 600-kid (1200 parent!) league from 2009-2011 and am still involved on a daily basis. Baseball is pretty much it for summer, except for evening/weekend hiking.
Wintertime is different. I backcountry ski whenever I can and I take the kids backcountry snowboarding or boarding at Alyeska Ski Resort on weekends. This year Julia and I got into snowshoeing, which was great in the deep snow we had. I spend the winter nights reading, painting acrylic landscapes, playing guitar - and shoveling snow!
What do you love most about living in Anchorage?
That’s easy: the access to incredible wilderness areas and the relative lack of traffic and crowds. I also value the city as a fine place to raise a family and to keep lasting friendships.
It’s an emotional – and financial! – challenge to live so far from my east-coast family, but after lots of thought, Julia and I decided we’d prefer to put down family roots in a stable (tectonics aside) place that offers the things we value, and Anchorage is it for us. So, there you have it, we hope to spend more time here as part of the Shell community.