Mark Seale – Baker Hughes
Creating 129,000 square feet of office space on five floors in an existing building in Houston’s energy corridor does require “taking it down to slab and building it back,” Seale says, because Baker Hughes is reimagining its workplace.
So, cubes and assigned seating are out and collaborative meeting spaces are in, along with large screen monitors and whiteboards that can be rolled into meeting areas. The new environment recognizes employees work hybrid schedules and may only need to meet in the office for a day or a few hours, Seale says.
However, his body of work over almost 18 years with Baker Hughes includes guiding construction of facilities that make and test the tools and equipment used to drill oil and gas. That’s included facilities in Oklahoma City built to support tool manufacturing and operational logistics, a giant test pool in Scotland used to test components for North Sea drilling and construction of facilities to support Guyana’s burgeoning oil industry.
“Baker Hughes develops and deploys the most advanced technologies to serve energy and industrial companies looking for more efficient, more reliable and cleaner solutions,” Seale says. “I’ve been able to go anywhere in the world with minimal infrastructure and find a way to get the project done while ‘dotting i’s and crossing t’s.’”
Meeting the markets
Baker Hughes was formed in 1987 when oil industry pioneers Baker International and Hughes Tool Co. merged. Founded in 1907 by Reuben C. Baker, Baker International developed a casing shoe used in cable oil drilling that allows a drill casing to rotate through bedrock. In 1909, Howard Hughes Sr. developed the first roller cutter, which greatly improved rotary drilling.
Baker Hughes is currently divided into two operating segments—one for oilfield services and equipment and the second to develop industrial and energy technology. The second segment is developing technology for more sustainable natural gas development including pipelines, storage and distribution. It’s also developing methods for emissions management and carbon capture and provides artificial intelligence solutions, software and analytics to the energy industry.
Seale expects the new headquarters to be occupied just after Labor Day this year, enabling an office consolidation from several Houston locations, he says.
“It’s not a 72-acre campus with three buildings, but it’s a fun project nonetheless,” Seale jokes, comparing the headquarters project to the Oklahoma City facilities built in 2013.
The Oklahoma City campus was developed to provide domestic manufacturing and testing facilities as U.S. oil production boomed. It includes 90,000 square feet of offices, 130,000 square feet of oil service workshop and a 250,000-square-foot manufacturing building.
Because the average height of a drilling rig is about 125 feet and drilling can go as deep as 20,000 feet using drill pipe sections of 20 feet or more, the manufacturing building was equipped with as many as five cranes per bay to hoist the raw materials and finished products. It took about 24 months from buying the land to build the facility, Seale says.
He’s been there
The test pool at the Baker and Hughes manufacturing center in Montrose, Scotland, a community along the North Sea between Edinburgh and Aberdeen, is not an employee perk. It measures 10 meters (almost 33 feet) in length, width and depth, and is used to test the equipment used in wellheads for subsea oil drilling. Wellheads are components including valves and piping at the surface of oil or gas wells that control the pressure of the well during operations.
When Seale joined the project in Scotland late in December 2018, building the manufacturing center was going according to plan. However, because the site is so close to the North Sea and the water table is shallow, digging the pool was difficult.
The soil was a mix of sand and gravel and crews were hitting water about 5 feet below ground. So, they had to inject slurry—a mixture of dense solid materials—as a coffer dam around the pool to prevent groundwater from breaching the pool’s foundation.
More recently, Baker Hughes has worked on a project that supports ExxonMobil as it drills oil reserves it discovered in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Guyana in South America. Baker Hughes has built what it calls a “supercenter” facility to make and test drill bits and other equipment for several offshore drilling rigs. The supercenter opened in February 2022 on an 8-acre site with a workshop, warehouse and storage yard that includes maintenance facilities.
Prior to ExxonMobil’s discovery, Guyana didn’t have an oil industry or a highly developed real estate industry. Seale says Baker Hughes’ challenge came more in site selection than in the construction itself. Finding land was done mostly by word-of-mouth from locals, then he had to work with authorities to ensure it could be used—all while showing the company was complying with anti-corruption regulations and avoiding conflicts of interest.
“There was lots of legal and vendor review and interpersonal relationships to develop before we could get into construction,” Seale says.
Cowboy boots and corks
Away from work, Seale also supports a Lone Star State tradition older than oil exploration. He’s now in his eighth year volunteering with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the largest indoor rodeo competition in the world.
But he’s working with corkscrews instead of bucking bulls and broncos. Seale works in the HLSR World Champion Wine Garden, selling a selection of 70 wines—about 70,000 bottles in three weeks—that were chosen in an international wine competition the previous November. Proceeds support the organization’s scholarship program that funds between $25 million and $27 million in scholarships annually, Seale says.
He has guided multimillion-dollar construction projects for Baker Hughes since 2005 but says he had planned a career in marine geology. A native of Beaumont, Texas, he was working toward a bachelor’s degree in geology and earth science at Lamar University when he realized the career choices were limited.
Instead, he earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management from the University of Houston in 1990. Before joining Baker Hughes, Seale was a project manager at Falcon Group Construction & Development as well as for Landry’s Restaurant.
“I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, and it’s never boring,” Seale says of his Baker Hughes role. “I like being seen as an experienced go-getter who can make things happen and I love a challenge.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VII 2023 Edition here.
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