Will Midland/Odessa become a part of the “Corridor to the Pacific”? It will if more people like Buddy Sipes climb on that train. It’s a big vision for a guy who’s had some other clearly defined aims, most of them in Permian Basin oil and gas. By Al Pickett, special contributor
Play it where it lies.
That golf adage, which has been put to use so many times as a guide to life itself, could sum up the outlook and character of the well regarded and well liked Midland engineer who answers to the name L.D. “Buddy” Sipes, Jr.
Sipes, a golfer himself, and one who has “shot his age” on multiple occasions, comes across as low-key and unassuming. But he’s also always been someone who has known his own mind and his own heart’s inclination. That’s true of him now, and it was true of him in his youth.
Most college students have very little idea what they want to do with their life after graduation. Not Buddy Sipes, however.
“When I was a junior at Texas Tech, I decided who I wanted to work for, what I wanted to do and where I wanted to live,” he recalled. “I wanted to do reservoir engineering, and I wanted to live in Midland. Even though I grew up in Big Spring, I thought Midland was the best place to live in West Texas.”
Sipes’ dream was to work for Leibrock & Landreth, a consulting engineering firm in Midland. He spent 15 years doing just that, going so far at one point as to buy the company—doing so along with the company’s other working engineers—before leaving in 1981 to start his own independent oil and gas producing company, Chisos Operating, Inc.
He has lived in Midland since 1966. Quite frankly, one might be hard pressed to find anything in Midland that doesn’t have Sipes’ fingerprints on it. Not only has he fulfilled his dream of living in Midland and becoming recognized as an accomplished consulting reservoir engineer, he has served on the Midland City Council and has filled roles as president of the Midland Chamber of Commerce and as deacon at First Baptist Church, just to name a few of his other involvements.
In 1966, he was named the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ Outstanding Young Engineer for the Permian Basin chapter, and in 1990 that same organization named him the Engineer of the Year. He has served in a variety of leadership roles with the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the American Association of Engineering Societies.
Leroy Peterson, vice president at Patriot Drilling, calls Sipes someone “who has enhanced people who have been around him.”
Peterson has known Sipes for more than 25 years. “We play golf together regularly,” Peterson said. “We go to church together, go on road trips together, that sort of thing.”
He describes Sipes as “the kind of person who would never drop his ball in the rough.” In other words, Sipes would be someone who would always “play it where it lies,” even if no one’s looking.
“That’s the main thing about him,” Peterson said. “His honesty, his integrity. As I’ve watched him, I’ve seen that he is adamant about giving back to the community. There’s his work for the city council, for the school board, for church—he’s a real giver of his time. Folks who know him—even those who feel they know him well—would be surprised if they could go down a list of the things he has done to improve our community and our industry.”
Another friend, Bill Hill, told PBOG that he knows Sipes mainly through their shared pastime of golf, but that Sipes “is a determined and excellent golf who hates to lose on the golf course, or in any area of life.
“He does everything well,” Hill added. “As for his character, he is totally honest, hardworking, diligent in all aspects. He attacks with 100 percent. That’s how he does everything. He accomplishes his goals. He’s a top notch individual and a devoted Christian.”
At age 79, Sipes hasn’t slowed down—not on the golf course and not at his work. Although he has turned the day-to-day operation of Chisos Operating over to his son-in-law, David Frederick, Sipes is still actively involved in the company.
He remains active in civic affairs as well. He is currently serving as president of the two-county rail board, which is trying to bring north-south rail service to Midland and Ector counties to complement the rail service currently provided by Union Pacific’s east-west line that runs through the two counties. The proposed line would run to Lubbock to the north and south to other existing rail lines.
“We got a feasibility report, and it says it is feasible,” Sipes claimed. “We are trying to find a partner. It is a big project. It will take years to get it done, if successful. But we need that kind of service to meet the needs that Union Pacific is not currently meeting.”
While a proposed north-south rail line might haul crude oil to pipeline terminal points or even Gulf Coast refineries or Mexican markets, Sipes said the biggest need for a new rail service is to haul sand used for hydraulic fracturing in the ever-increasing horizontal drilling activity in the Permian Basin.
“It is estimated that the industry is using one billion pounds of frac sand per month,” he explained. “That is a lot of sand. It is cheaper to haul sand by rail rather than truck, and the trucks are tearing up our roads.”
The name of the organization is La Entrada al Pacifico Rural Rail District. The “La Entrada al Pacifico” portion, which can be translated as “Corridor to the Pacific,” refers to a larger body of ideas that takes in other regions’ needs—indeed, an international idea. Here is how Wikipedia defines the project:
“The La Entrada al Pacífico trade corridor was designated as ‘Trade Corridor 56’ by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. The corridor is an international project between Mexico and the United States as a route from the Pacific Ocean port of Topolobampo in the Mexican state of Sinaloa to the U.S. state of Texas and beyond by way of the Midland-Odessa area.”
The local “rural rail district” has aims that are targeted more to just the Midland-Odessa area, but they have hopes to tie into larger projects that would link them to the “Corridor to the Pacific.”
Sipes and others in his local organization, which has been existence for 12 years, call the project “LEAP.”
“We’ve been working on it all this time and we’re finally getting some traction,” Sipes said. “On the part that would go south, we’d want to hook into the “South Orient” railroad and go to Mexico. It would go to Presidio and there they’d want to build a railroad bridge [over the Rio Grande, across the international border] and hook up at the border with the Mexican railroad system. There would be a southern connection from there all the way to Chihuahua. And from there anywhere in Mexico. Goods could be shipped to Mexico and from Mexico to the United States.”
A webpage for the project can be found at midlandtxedc.com/la-entrada-al-pacifico.
Sipes said he is also involved in another community project to clean up litter in Midland.
“It is a little overwhelming with all the people we have here now,” he exclaimed. “The litter is out of hand.”
He said he has some ideas on how to tackle the litter problem. Sipes met in April with Midland city and council officials, as well as Keep Midland Beautiful and other interested organizations and individuals, to address the issue.
Sipes began his career in the oil and gas industry even before his graduation with honors in 1957 from Texas Tech with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in petroleum engineering.
“A year before I graduated, I went to work part-time for Core Laboratories, Inc.,” he stated. “I worked part-time through my senior year, and then after graduation I went to work full-time for Core Laboratories.”
He worked in research, core analysis, and consulting for Core Laboratories in both Dallas and Midland. His career with Core Laboratories include a short assignment in Paris, France, too.
“My supervisor in Dallas wanted me to go over there to plot up a field that had been discovered in Algeria,” Sipes recalled. “Before it had ever produced a single barrel of oil, they wanted to know how many wells to drill and how big a pipeline to put in to get their money out as quickly as possible. I think about that often. That field has produced more than 450 million barrels of oil. I think they got their money out.”
His time with Core Laboratories was interrupted twice for military service, but Sipes said the company hired him back each time. He stayed with Core Laboratories until 1966 when he left to take his dream job as a consulting engineer with Leibrock & Landreth. The working engineers then bought the company, which became known as Bailey, Sipes, and Williamson.
“It has had a lot of different names,” Sipes said, who left the company in 1982. The firm, which has offices in Midland and Houston, is now known as Williamson Petroleum, Inc.
“I formed Chisos Operating in 1981 when we bought a working interest in the George Abell Estate [headquartered mostly southwest of Midland],” he continued. “When we bought the Abell property, we had a really good market for oil and gas. Then it subsequently went into the tank. In 1982, we were obligated to drill a well on the Abell property. We had a blowout, and the result of that well helped us to get in good financial shape. Once we got the blowout under control, that well produced a lot of gas. The good Lord rescued me.”
Sipes said he still finds the oil and gas industry fun and interesting.
“There are so many parts to it that you don’t know a lot about,” he added. “There is the guy who originates the idea and where to drill. Then there is the drilling rig and how do you complete the well and what kind of equipment do you use. My expertise is in reservoir engineering, getting scientific information from the well.”
Over the years, Sipes estimated he had a hand in starting at least 15 different businesses, ranging from a cattle operation to an environmental cleanup company. He said some were sold and others folded.
“It seemed like every time I got away from what I know best, I lost money,” he quipped.
Chisos has made two other major acquisitions since purchasing a working interest in that initial Abell property.
“Although we have been pursuing vertical targets primarily, we have been involved in horizontal drilling since 2000 in New Mexico with EOG,” Sipes noted. “I read the other day that within two or three years, 70 percent or more of the wells in the Permian Basin will be horizontal.”
That is just one of the many changes that Sipes has seen in more than 50 years in the business. He admitted to being amazed by the remarkable growth that the Midland/Odessa area is experiencing now.
“It is really so big and vibrant, you can’t see all of it,” he marveled.
Sipes and his wife Deloris have two children, Kevin and Kenda, along with four grandchildren and eight grandchildren, as he has fulfilled his college goal of becoming a reservoir engineer in Midland.
“It is a blessing,” he said. “Midland has been good to me. I hope I have been good to it.”
Al Pickett is a freelance writer in Abilene and author of four books. He also owns the West Central Texas Oil Activity Index, a daily and weekly oil and gas reporting service. For more information, email email@example.com.