Steve Soychak is on the front line when it comes to preserving energy
When Steve Soychak started his job 11 years ago, things were far different from today.
“At the time, we had only 20 employees in this building right there,” he said, pointing to a structure just outside the window of his office at Williams Production RMT outside Parachute.
Soychak moved to Grand Junction to become district manager of Barrett Resources Corp., and continued in that capacity when Barrett was purchased shortly afterward by Williams.
Today, Soychak manages about 100 of the 250 people employed locally by Williams.
What was a 400-well operation producing 90 million cubic feet of gas per day when he arrived now consists of some 3,000 wells producing 800 million cubic feet per day, the most of any company in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin. A company that had been generating a few hundred contractor jobs a decade ago now is responsible for some 2,000, Soychak said.
But there are some other numbers Soychak is just as proud of, such as the $1 million Williams gave to Colorado Mountain College’s West Garfield Campus for energy programs, the $150,000 it contributed for scholarships in the Landman/Energy Management Program at Mesa State College, the $250,000 for the CareFlight program at St. Mary’s Hospital, and $125,000 to move a historic cabin to Battlement Mesa.
That’s not to mention the countless hours Soychak and other Williams employees volunteer to community causes from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction and beyond.
“I think everybody’s involved in helping the community in one way or another,” Soychak said.
Soychak leads by example. He served on the Community Hospital Foundation Board from 2004–2009, and helped lead fundraising for construction of the Holy Family Catholic School in Grand Junction, tapping Williams’ matching contributions in the process.
He served as Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association president in 2003–04 and met Kathy Hall, who was hired as the group’s representative and got the organization involved in fundraising for Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado.
Soychak also helps teach an energy development class at Mesa State.
Soychak said he has encouraged employees to be part of the community, to help earn the community’s respect. Philanthropy by Williams and its employees helped the company be recognized by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce last year as the Business of the Year.
Soychak loves living in western Colorado, and it has been a great place for him and his wife, Jane, to raise their three daughters, he said.
He settled in the Grand Valley after a life frequently on the move, first as a military brat and then as a young man pursuing a career in the energy industry.
Soychak was born in Virginia, but spent time abroad while growing up because of his father’s career.
The family lived in Germany and France, and his mother is a native of France, having met Soychak’s father while he was in Paris in the military.
After graduating from high school in New Hampshire, Soychak earned a petroleum engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma. He then found work with Amoco, working in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, and his career later took him to Texas and Wyoming before he arrived in western Colorado.
Soychak said he’s attracted to the diverse and dynamic nature of the oil and gas industry, with fields ranging from drilling, to well completion and production, to geology, civil engineering, and the list goes on.
“Plus it’s a very high-tech field, if you look at what’s done out there with directional drilling and wellhead automation,” he said.
During Soychak’s tenure, Williams has taken a number of high-tech steps to help reduce the above-ground impacts of gas development and increase efficiency. When he started out in Parachute, the local use of directional drilling was still in its infancy. Now, Williams might drill up to 24 wells per pad, versus four to six before, sharply reducing the amount of land disturbed.
Wellhead automation has helped reduce truck traffic, as has recycling of water in production.
The once-common sight of gas flaring is almost nonexistent now that Williams and other companies do flareless well completions. Williams pioneered the local use of combustion devices that burn off harmful air pollutants at wells.
All told, a lot of things Williams pioneered locally were adopted in the state’s new oil and gas rules, Soychak said.
Delegating work to good people has been key to overseeing Williams’ growth, Soychak said. He’s proud of his employees’ efforts in increasing the company’s local operations to a size that its gas production is enough to meet the energy needs of 3 million homes.
In Soychak’s spare time, he enjoys playing hockey on a Williams-sponsored team, the Explorers.
He also loves fishing the region’s rivers and lakes, mountain biking and alpine boarding, a variation of snowboarding.
Soychak speaks softly but wields a deep, rumbling voice even a radio DJ would envy.
“I’ve been asked about being a baritone in the choir, but my wife says I’m better off not singing,” he said with a smile.
As a church-goer, Soychak treasures the memory of having traveled with his family to Australia in 2008 to see Pope Benedict at World Youth Day.
He subscribes to Vince Lombardi’s advice to his players, that prioritizing faith, family and the organization in that order is the key to success in life.
It’s a philosophy that seems to have worked for Soychak as a leader at Williams and in the community.
“I just feel like I’ve been very blessed being here,” he said.