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Techie Takes Reins Of N.M. Environment Department

SOCORRO, N.M. January 25, 2011 – Tech graduate F. David Martin has been nominated for the position of Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department.

Martin has a long history with New Mexico Tech. He earned his master’s in petroleum engineering in Socorro in 1981.

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F. David Martin, Secretary of the Environment Dept.

Tech Grad, Former PRRC Director Offers Advice To Today's Techies
Over his 20 years in Socorro, Dave Martin became intimately familiar with New Mexico Tech.

He came to the university with ample professional experience, but he chose to pursue a master’s degree to help further his career.

“Getting my advanced degree enabled me to do things I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do,” he said. “Along with my previous experience, Tech enabled me to work with industry people, national laboratories and other government agencies.”

As the director of the PRRC, he testified before legislative committees and interacted with industry representatives.

Ever modest, Martin said he was never the best student; he earned an ‘F’ in one class as an undergraduate at Texas Tech. But he retook that class with the same professor and both learned the material and earned a passing grade.

During an interview at his new office in Santa Fe, he quoted President George W. Bush, who while delivering a commencement address at Yale said, “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the ‘C’ students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”

He offered a few bits of advice for current and future Tech students:

  • “You need to persevere,” he said. “I’ve had my failures, but you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again."
  • “Don’t stop learning. When you graduate, you are just starting. Continue to accumulate knowledge and apply new things.”
  • “Find a mentor who will help you understand what you need to learn.”
  • “Work hard.”
  • “Learn to work on a team. In academics, a lot of effort is individual, like taking tests. In your career, you’ll be on a team. That’s very important to learn teamwork.”

After working for the Calgon Corp. for 15 years, Martin worked for 20 years at the Petroleum Recovery Research Center. From 1987 to 1996, he served as the director of the PRRC. Throughout his life and his career, Martin has always been motivated by both discovery and implementation.

“I don’t claim to be the brightest, but I’ve taken my knowledge and worked hard,” he said. “I’ve always had an interest in new technologies and applying that. In those days, people in research were somewhat reluctant to take their work into the field. With my experience in industry, I wanted to get it out of the lab and see if it worked. And if it didn’t, go back and work on it and improve it.”

Martin’s research specialty is enhanced recovery, an area where he successfully registered 16 patents, including two that he solely invented.

“I have always been interested in new technology and its application,” Martin said. “I’ve always had the desire to work with people and in the field. I never wanted to work in the Ivory Tower in isolation. I’ve always wanted to apply my research.”

Despite his impressive list of inventions, the innovation he’s particularly proud of was launching the GO-TECH website in the late 1980s.

“We had the first website in the industry and one of the first 1,000 websites in the world,” he said. “We felt like we had the opportunity to get our industry, especially the small producers, connected to technology through communications.”

The Gas and Oil Technology Exchange and Communication Highway website was launched to deliver the results of new research to the independent oil producers in New Mexico. They also offered e-mail service, then considered a novel and alien concept. The website is still active and still delivers new technology, techniques and processes to the oil and gas industry in New Mexico (and beyond).

Martin said his personal interest and expertise in new technology, scientific application and innovation will help him lead the Environment Department. He also looks forward to working with Gov. Martinez to implement policies that protect New Mexico’s environment while allowing for responsible, common-sense development of the state’s vast natural resources.

“My goals are the governor’s goals,” he said. “Our mission is to provide the highest quality life through a safe, clean and healthy environment. We want to have policies and procedures in place that will ensure that our children and grandchildren will have the same thing.”

The Environment Department oversees permitting programs for everything from power plants and mining operations to national laboratories and other industrial operators. The department’s mission is to ensure state air and water quality standards are maintained and public health is protected.

Martin said that he hopes to foster responsible development of the state’s natural resources.

“We want to work with companies to make sure regulations are being adhered to, but we want to do that in scientifically reasonable way,” he said. “Not based on opinion or emotion, but based on facts as best you can determine.”

Martin said his experience and education as an engineer – and problem-solver – will help him lead the state of New Mexico in a sensible, responsible direction.

“It’s easy for regulatory agency to throw up roadblocks,” he said. “The Governor wants to ensure that we don’t throw up roadblocks to development. Yet, we’re committed to make sure things happen in an ethical and correct manner. My background will be helpful in moving in this direction.”

Martin said he aims to work with all stakeholders and serve as an intermediary between industry groups and environmental or citizen groups.

“There will be contentious issues,” he said. “We’ll try to work through those issues. Some groups won’t like what we’re doing because there’s a lot of differing opinions. I hope we can respect each other’s opinions and do what’s right for the people of New Mexico, based on reason and science.”

Martin came to Tech not as a student, but as a senior researcher at the Petroleum Recovery Research Center. After arriving, he enrolled in the master’s program in petroleum engineering, completing his degree in 1981.

“My fondest memories from Tech were working with students,” Martin said. “Tech students seem to be something a little different – maybe a cut above. They’re very bright and involved. Plus, Tech is a small environment; everyone knows everyone.”

Martin was the faculty sponsor of the student chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers for 10 years. He also fondly remembers St. Paddy’s Day celebrations and making friends within the community. He was a member of the Gourmet Club made many lasting friends in Socorro.

“In Socorro, you make your own entertainment,” he said. “You participate and make your own fun. It’s a small community and it’s nice to have close interactions with people.”

Another distinct memory Martin has from his time at Tech was a performance at the campus “Bong Show,” which was a take-off of the TV game show “The Gong Show.” Martin, former professor Dr. Langdon Taylor and Bob Eveleth, a recent retiree from the Bureau of Geology, performed “Blood on the Saddle.”

“I told the students that they had to let us finish the song,” Martin said. “That was a lot of fun.”

Martin took a circuitous route to get to Socorro. Born near Paris, Texas, his family moved to upstate New York when he was in third grade. After finishing high school in New York, he returned to Texas and matriculated at Texas Technical College, now known as Texas Tech University.

He followed in the footsteps of his older brother, working summers in the oil fields. He started as a roustabout, or general laborer. He spent another summer as a “doodlebugger,” which is similar to an explosives field technician. He dug holes, planted explosives and set off the charges. Using seismometers, he collected data that helped geologists and geoscientists characterize underground oil reservoirs.

After college he worked for a pipeline company in South Texas before taking a job with the Bradford Laboratories, a division of the Calgon Corp.

His 16-year career with the company took him to Abilene, Texas, Los Angeles, Midland, Texas, and finally to the corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, he worked with Dr. Joe Taber, an engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

When Taber was hired as the first director of the PRRC at New Mexico Tech, Martin followed, starting his research career in Socorro.

After retiring from the PRRC, Martin started his own company and worked as a consultant. Along with Mark Murphy of Strata Petroleum in Roswell, Martin helped transfer new technologies from the national laboratories to the oil and gas industry. Some of the computational work done in weapons programs had applications in the oil fields, Martin said.

No stranger to civil service, he was appointed by then-Gov. Garrey Carruthers to coordinate policy between the state and the U.S. Department of Energy in 1990.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech