Life on the Frontier: Joe Greenberg, B.S. ’83

Joe Greenberg ’83 graduated with a degree in Geology and Geophysics and is the president of the Alta Resources LLC. Photo courtesy of Joe Greenberg.

When Joe Greenberg graduated from Yale with a degree in Geology and Geophysics in 1983, he never would have expected to one day be the president of Alta Resources LLC, a company on the cutting edge of the oil and gas industry. But just as Greenberg’s four years at Yale were filled with thrilling outdoor activities, the 28 years which followed have also been an adventure.

After his studies at Yale, Greenberg had his first formal introduction to the oil and gas business through a summer job with Shell Oil Company in New Orleans. This experience spurred him to pursue a Master’s degree in Geology at University of Texas-Austin, a hub for the oil and gas industry. His advanced degree helped him secure a full-time job at Shell when he graduated from UT-Austin in 1986. Greenberg worked for more than four years as an exploration geologist during one of the worst periods for the oil and gas industry in recent memory. He says that the job gave him the ability to deal with the tough periods for business and to keep a grounded perspective during the prosperous times.

Following a brief stint with Edge Petroleum, Greenberg directed his newly found entrepreneurial spirit and extensive industry background to found Alta Resources LLC in 1999. For a while, he was the only employee, and his friend Todd from graduate school (the son of gas and oil industry leader George Mitchell) was the sole investor. Greenberg started Alta by buying some oil and gas properties in Texas and slowly was able to hire a few geologists and expand.

Alta broke onto the national stage when it began working on shale gas technology, which Greenberg accurately predicted as the “next leap forward in energy technology.” While the Barnett Shale in Texas’ Fort Worth Basin had already been identified as source of natural gas before 2000, Greenberg and his geologists recognized that there were rocks in Arkansas of the same geologic age as the Barnett rocks. They quickly took advantage of this discovery and began buying properties containing Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas. After gaining investors and national attention, Alta expanded to Northeast Pennsylvania based on scientific investigation by its geologists to continue the search for shale gas. Once again, Alta was the frontrunner among its competitors and helped to develop the Marcellus Shale, which is now recognized as the largest shale natural gas field in the world: the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas in the United States.”

Greenberg praises the technical training that he had at Yale through the Geology and Geophysics major, crediting “superstar” professor Brian Skinner with originally piquing his interest in the subject. Greenberg says that it is incredibly important for undergraduate students not only to find mentors like Skinner while they are at Yale, but also to seek out mentors during every step of their lives because, just as in the oil and gas business, “life is a steep learning curve.” In this spirit, Greenberg has served as a mentor for many students as the former President of the Yale Club of Houston and current Director of the Houston Yale Alumni Schools Committee.

Greenberg asserts that his Geology and Geophysics knowledge has been a huge advantage throughout his career because the oil and gas business is constantly changing based on new technologies; the development of three dimensional seismic imaging, horizontal drilling, and hydraulic fracturing have all changed the nature of the business. Today, the production of natural gas using shale has international competition because these technologies are now very well known. For this reason, Greenberg has decided that Alta’s shale gas fronteier exploration phase is over. However, this does not mean Alta is resting on its past successes. Rather, the company is actively continuing to search for and reach new technological horizons.

Flaring gas well in PA, Marcellus shale. Photo courtesy of Joe Greenberg.