Despite his world-shift from drilling and completions operations for E&Ps to sales and services, Hunter Wallace, who at 35 is now COO for Atlas Sand, knows that his career decisions make sense.
Of his first professional role, as a drilling engineer for XTO Energy, Wallace says, “When I was just one year out of school, I had 11-12 rigs that I was looking after. It was a ton of work, but I had the opportunity to learn and do more than most people 10 or more years my senior had ever done.”
At Pioneer Natural Resources, Wallace earned the top designation of “Outstanding,” only given to the top 10% of the company’s technical staff—in his case, because he had decreased well costs by $800,000 to $1 million per well. This same efficiency helped him become the drilling & completions manager at Brigham Resources LLC when he was 29.
And when most people at Brigham relaxed after the successful $2.55 billion asset sale to Diamondback Energy Inc., Wallace did not idle. At 32, he helped “found, raise capital for and start up a company from scratch in Atlas Sand.”
He has led the Atlas team in the design, construction and capitalization of two Permian frack sand plants, each capable of producing 4 million tons per year. Atlas has broken records by being one of very few companies to start up within the published timeline and by having some of the fastest ramp-up times from startup to full capacity for both plants.
“Growing up working with and being raised by a hard-working West Texas rancher who thinks like an engineer … has given me the ability to dive in and understand most any mechanical or physical process I have ever come across in my career.”
Going against the grain: Wallace found that the frack sand business “was very stuck in its ways as far as how plants were designed and built.” Whereas the old industry mindset had been “sand tears equipment up, and we just do our best to fix it as quickly as possible when it does,” Wallace brought an E&P approach to develop greater standards of reliability by adding backup systems and redundancies throughout.
So far the effort has paid off. Wallace proudly states, “We have never missed a single ton of sand promised to a customer, and it is a huge source of pride for me to see our team continue to execute day in and day out.”
A hard-working rancher: Wallace traces his tenacity back to his father, who also made a dramatic career move—from ranching to petroleum engineering.
It all started when Wallace’s grandfather told his father that he must leave to get a college degree because his “older two siblings did not and the ranch couldn’t support them all.”
“In my opinion, this was the time that defined the rest of my father’s life and in turn my own as well,” Wallace says.
Wallace’s father studied petroleum engineering and his career in the industry allowed him to fulfill his dream of owning his own land. His son grew up learning to build and repair just about anything on the ranch. Wallace jokes that “I bet I had more hours on the end of a chainsaw by the time I was 13 than most people do their entire lives!”
This rural upbringing instructed Wallace: “There is something unique to growing up working with and being raised by a hard-working West Texas rancher who thinks like an engineer … [it] has given me the ability to dive in and understand most any mechanical or physical process I have ever come across in my career.”
The heat of a fire: Like the West Texas landscape that is his heritage, Wallace finds himself sustained in part by hidden reserves.
When they were both young, Wallace lost his only brother. In Wallace’s words, that experience “lit a fire in me that has driven me ever since.”
He has turned this fire into heat for industry and warmth toward those he works with. The sand plant numbers speak for themselves, as does the fact that Wallace has helped to ensure that Atlas is “the only sand operator in West Texas who pays 100% of its employees’ family benefits.”