Michael Economides, International Energy Expert, Dead at 64

Michael Economides, International Energy Expert, Dead at 64

Michael J. Economides, an international authority on petroleum engineering,  died late Saturday evening while onboard a jetliner bound for Santiago, Chile. He was 64.

A voluble and colorful character, the fact that Economides perished while traveling the globe is hardly surprising. Over the course of his career, he did technical or managerial work in more than 70 countries. He was constantly on the move, working as a professor, speaker, and consultant. He authored or co-authored more than a dozen books as well as more than 300 journal papers and articles on a myriad of subjects related to oil and gas production, including hydraulic fracturing, and reservoir engineering. As the founder and editor-in-chief of Energy Tribune, a Houston-based online publication, he also wrote dozens of articles on the geopolitics of energy.

His career in the energy sector included jobs at Celanese Chemical Company as a process engineer, Shell Oil as a reservoir engineer, and the University of Alaska as an assistant professor of petroleum engineering. In the 1980s, he worked for Dowell Schlumberger. In the early 1990s, he taught petroleum engineering at Leoben Mining University in Leoben, Austria. In the mid-1990s, he was the founding director and chief scientist of the Global Petroleum Research Institute at Texas A&M University. In 1998, he became a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Houston, a position he held until his death. As a consultant, he worked for some of the biggest energy companies on earth, including Chevron, Shell, and Petrobras. He spent a great deal of time working in both Russia and China.

Economides loved to antagonize the Green Left. He was a frequent and vocal critic of the pundits who promote global warming. For his effort, he was named to the “climate denier list,” a badge he gladly embraced. He even offered a cash prize on multiple occasions to anyone who could definitively prove that humans were causing climate change. He loved to write about Iran, Russia, and Venezuela, and their leaders. He called the leaders of those three countries the “axis of energy militants.”

Now to the particulars: Economides was born on September 6, 1949, in Famagusta, Cyprus. He arrived in the US on July 20, 1969 to attend the University of Kansas on a Fulbright Scholarship. He earned a BS and MS in chemical engineering from the University of Kansas and went on to get a PhD in petroleum engineering from Stanford University in 1984. He became a US citizen in 1982.

Michael married Christine Ehlig in 1976 in Lawrence, Kansas. Christine is a distinguished petroleum engineer in her own right. Like her husband, she received an MS in chemical engineering from the University of Kansas. And like him, she earned a PhD in petroleum engineering at Stanford, but she got hers in 1979, five years earlier than he did. Christine Ehlig-Economides now teaches at Texas A&M University, where she holds the Albert B. Stevens endowed chair in petroleum engineering.

Economides is survived by his wife, Christine, as well as his brothers, Dimitris, of Rhodes, Greece; Charalampous, of Athens, Greece; and Andreas, of Nicosia, Cyprus. He is also survived by two sons, John and Alexander. John lives in San Francisco, California, and Alexander lives in Houston, Texas with his wife Elisabeth.

No date has been set for a memorial service. As I’m writing this on Sunday evening, Economides’ body remains in Chile and it’s not clear when it will be returned to the US.

I worked with Economides from 2006 to 2010 at Energy Tribune. I was attracted to him by his sense of humor and by his technical knowledge. I first heard his name in about 2004, when he was quoted in a newspaper article as saying something to the effect of “not even the cows would believe that.” In 2006, when he told me he wanted to go into publishing, I warned him that he could make a small fortune in publishing, but only if he started with a big one. We went forward despite the costs.

During my years working at Energy Tribune as the publication’s managing editor, it became obvious that Economides knew more about oil and gas production and oilfield technology than anyone I’d ever met. He could talk about nearly any subject on energy, do so at length, and explain the mathematics behind it. He was constantly working, constantly traveling. And while those discussions were often illuminating, I will also say that frankly, Michael Economides could also be one of the biggest bullshit artists I’ve ever met; he always had a boast, a joke, or a funny story. After delivering one or more of those in rapid succession, he’d tilt his head back, and his entire body would shake with laughter.

And then, he’d offer an excuse in his familiar accent – “leeesen” he would say, or, “I am beezy” – as to why he couldn’t talk any longer. He had to do a speech, a lecture, or catch a plane to somewhere and he had to leave immediately.

Being around Economides could be great fun. It could also be maddening. But it was never boring and seldom quiet.

I last spoke to him about six weeks ago. I was traveling through the Houston airport when my mobile phone rang. I recognized the voice immediately. Economides was on fire (a common occurrence) to write a book about the energy politics in Israel. He and Christine had been doing some work for an energy company working in Israel  and he thought the book was a great idea. (Again, a common occurrence.) I agreed that Israel’s new-found wealth of offshore natural gas was an interesting development. But I went on to explain that I was busy finishing my own book and that we should discuss the Israel idea further when I had more time. We never had that opportunity.

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