Charles Reimer, Freeport LNG's former President, is a familiar face at the company, but the details of his life and career may be surprising to many. Charles grew up in Medford, Oklahoma, a small town of 1200 with a high school of only 100 students. Charles played quarterback on the football team but was better known as a student that excelled in math and science. He graduated as valedictorian in his senior class of 28.
There were a number of early influences on Charles. His brother and sister were both inspirations for him. His brother Dennis went to West Point and built a career in the military that saw him retire as a four-star general and Army Chief of Staff. His sister Glenda was an outstanding high school basketball player, and trained as a nurse after school. She volunteered to work in Laos during the Vietnam War and became a nun with the Sisters of Charity, working on issues of healthcare, forensics and criminality. Charles' Mennonite parents were blue-collar workers: his father a mechanic in a local garage and his mother a cook in the school lunchroom. "Even though our life might have been considered at the lower end of the income spectrum," remembers Charles, "I thought we were rich. We were rich in values, rich in work ethics, just rich in the way we lived our life."
Charles' career path was strongly directed by his high school principal, Don Schuman, who recognized his talents in math and science and recommended he apply for the engineering school at Oklahoma State. Charles was accepted and thrived in the curriculum, and he would land his first job with Exxon through the college's job fair.
The job at Exxon proved to be a wonderful opportunity. "I attribute a lot of what I was ultimately able to do," reflects Charles, "on the very good training that Exxon provided good academic students who've got a little bit of flair for managing people and want to learn the processes necessary to do their work." His favorite assignment was managing Exxon's King Ranch operations. Over its one million acres, Charles—at the age of 32— supervised drilling activity, workovers on wells, adding new production facilities and producing about 2 Bcf of gas—about the same amount of gas that Freeport LNG will run through their liquefaction facilities with all three trains.
After 15 years with Exxon, Charles left to work for a brief time in Egypt for a company from Oklahoma City and got a call from an executive recruiter looking to fill the president's position in Indonesia for Huffco, a Roy M. Huffington company. Huffco had discovered a significant amount of gas, built an LNG plant and had ambitions of growing gas production and number of trains. Charles moved to Jakarta in 1986 and stayed in Indonesia until 1994 as president of the company.
The assignment had some parallels with his work on King Ranch. The operation on
the East Kalimantan coast of Borneo, incidentally, also produced 2 Bcf of gas. With a staff of 2,000 Indonesians, Charles supervised a high level of drilling and workover activity and big compressor stations from which gas was sent to an LNG plant in Bontang where it was made in to LNG and shipped to Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Charles fondly remembers his time there. "It turned out to be a love affair with both the individuals who worked for me and a love for the country. I had breakfast between 5:20 and 5:40, my driver was there and I had a cup of coffee in hand, sat in the backseat, read the newspaper and was driven to the office. And then I'd spend the whole day doing great work."
In the early 1990s, Huffington sold his share in the Indonesian project. , After a period of working in Houston for Huffco, Charles moved to a position at Contango and a seat on the board of a fledging company named Cheniere.
"I remember the lunch that we had at the Coronado Club," says Charles, "where Charif Souki described the supply and demand situation for U.S. natural gas, and asked that I come in and create a business plan that would create a regas terminal, or maybe several of them along the Gulf Coast."
In 2000, Charles became the CEO of Cheniere and asked Hugh Urbantke and Volker Eyermann to work with him for their LNG expertise. However, raising money for the projects was a tough hurdle. The white knight proved to be Michael Smith who decided to invest in one of the regasification ideas in 2002 and selected the Freeport LNG project. "Michael told Charif," Charles recalls, "'I'll take the Freeport site and I'll take Reimer and whoever he wants to take with him... and I'll buy that particular project out too!' And that's what he did."
The road to completion of the regas facility on Quintana was full of challenges. In the fall of 2002, the first hurdle presented itself: Exxon had a right of first refusal on the lease where the company wanted to build the regas terminal. That was successfully negotiated, and the next steps involved the process of construction approvals. Along with FERC's many blessings, there was also the task of marketing the idea to the Quintana community. "I remember very well the initial days," says Charles, "because it was me and whatever employee I could find, and we were out putting up signs, we were at early town council meetings, because LNG at that point in time was not well understood at all. In fact, there were some horror stories that always would appear in the press." Charles even decided to build a house directly across the street from the LNG tanks to show his confidence in the safety of the future facility. And then there was the financing, always a tremendous hurdle. A lucky break would change that, says Charles. "We were blessed because of a statement Alan Greenspan made in the spring of 2003: 'You know, the United States is probably going to run low on energy. We may not have enough natural gas in the United States.'" Suddenly, the path to completion became a little easier.
There would be other obstacles that would delay the terminal's opening: a storm that destroyed the vacuum insulated pipe that led from the dock to tank number one. The pipe had to be removed, remanufactured and reinstalled. After various other construction delays that postponed the startup by six months, the regas terminal began commercial operations in June of 2008. But the storms were not done yet, and one called "fracking" would deal a new hand."The United States gas story just changed." "It was sometime between 2008 to 2010," observes Charles, "that we came to the realization that this thing was built the wrong direction; we should've built it to send gas out, as opposed to bring gas in. The United States gas story just changed."
Fortunately, the story of Freeport LNG did not end there. The company is well on the road to building the infrastructure to export LNG, and Charles has been a steady hand on the wheel throughout. Even after his official retirement in April 2014, he remains on the Freeport LNG board as well as on the boards of Contango and a Morgan Stanley hedge fund.
He commutes from his new home in Laguna Beach, California, to Houston and relishes his extra time to spend with his two grown-up children, for travel and time on the golf course. He still remains proud of his time at Freeport LNG. "At the very tail end of my career, to work with Michael and the entire Freeport organization in being able to put together a project that will serve the community well and all the employees well, I couldn't have asked for a better kind of ending."