Mark McClure takes pride in being a part of the energy industry. “Access to energy enables rising living standards across the world and has an overall positive impact on geopolitical stability,” says the CEO and co-founder of ResFrac Corp. After earning his master’s degree, he chose to pursue a Ph.D. in energy resources rather than taking up a job in an upstream oil and gas company. “This has led to very rewarding, challenging and creative work as a researcher and now as the co-founder of a company,” he says.
At the age of 26, McClure completed his Ph.D. and was hired to be on the faculty in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
McClure and his colleagues performed a research project on the interpretation of diagnostic fracture injection tests. “I think this work was one of the most important that I’ve done in my career. But after we published a paper about it, I realized that most people in the industry did not understand or notice it. I decided to go to the private sector so that I could work directly with the industry and make things happen,” he says.
In 2015, McClure took a professional risk and quit his job as an assistant professor to pursue his dreams. “I left a great job to attempt this effort without any pay. It took me about a year and a half before I convinced myself that the technology would work with the performance and reliability needed for commercial application. This leap of faith required tremendous confidence and persistence.”
McClure established his startup software company in 2018 and developed ResFrac, a 3-D, cloud-based, fully-integrated fracture/reservoir simulator technology from scratch. Today, ResFrac software is being used by 17 E&P companies in major shale basins across North America, serving oil and gas operators as a software-as-a-service solution.
“I have often chosen to do work that is sharply different from the status quo.”
Breadth of responsibilities: Early on, McClure managed most aspects of the company—business development, fundraising, sales, marketing and administration. “It is challenging for a startup to enter a market with a new product or service. We started by working with companies where I had contacts from my days in academia. Since then, word of mouth has been enough for us to grow at a healthy, sustainable rate,” he says.
McClure provided most of the user support and consulting until they began adding to the team later in 2018. Now, he supports the development of the user interface, with co-founders Charles Kang and Soma Medam leading the efforts, along with an “excellent team of contractors.”
Challenging norms: “I have often chosen to do work that is sharply different from the status quo,” he says. McClure challenged the interpretation of diagnostic fracture injection tests, identifying key unsupported assumptions in existing workflows and developed solutions. He also challenged conventional wisdom on the role of newly forming versus preexisting fractures during hydraulic fracturing for geothermal energy, which has contributed to shifting mindsets and new approaches for its exploitation.
“It is gratifying to see my work being integrated into operators’ processes and decision-making, into the direction of scientific literature,” he says.
McClure’s greatest inspiration is his grandfather, Larry, who wasn’t afraid of doing things differently either. “[My grandfather] did not attend college. When he was in his late 20s, he quit his job of installing air conditioners and started a company for building houses in Oklahoma, which he ran for the rest of his life. He was a strong pillar of his community and provided a great life for his family.”
Advice to young professionals: “Find work that is rewarding and takes you out of your comfort zone. But your life outside work should always be your No. 1 priority. Seek out and surround yourself with people who genuinely have integrity and who really care about their colleagues.”