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Energy by the numbers

Statistics alumna makes impact at energy firm Apache   

Rice statistics alum Carrie Braun puts numbers to work for Apache Corporation, helping the Houston-headquartered company calculate when and where to explore for, produce and develop crude oil and liquid natural gas.

It’s a business in which number crunching is crucial. Executives who make the calls to proceed or pass on energy projects can risk millions—if not billions— of dollars of shareholders’ money each time they take on a new project or venture.

“My job is to help my bosses make the most highly informed choices possible, even though there are always some unknowns involved,” said Braun, who graduated from the university in 2007. “When people ask me what the energy business is like, I explain that, ‘Sure, it’s about oil and gas. But it’s also about the math.’”  

Factors such as historical data and probable future cost of energy are involved, said Braun, speaking from her office on the 13th floor of Apache’s headquarters building in the heart of Houston’s Galleria District. “Nothing happens without understanding the numbers,” she said, pointing to her desktop computer screen filled with numerical models, graphs and charts.

Apache, a company valued at about $45 billion, operates in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Coast, parts of West Texas, Canada, Egypt, Australia, the United Kingdom and Argentina, among other areas. In November, it merged with Mariner Energy in a transaction valued at approximately $4.1 billion and purchased some of troubled British Petroleum’s assets last summer for $6.4 billion. Braun worked on analyses of the numbers on both deals.

“It’s a lot of pressure on big projects like that, but it’s also very exciting to be a part of the great team here,” she said of the company, which was founded 50 years ago.

Alfonso Leon, Apache’s vice president of planning, strategy and investor relations, said Braun’s contributions to his strategy team are highly valuable.

“As a $45 billion global energy corporation, we need to make the right decisions on large and complex projects every day,” Leon said. “Carrie helps us to achieve that with her smarts, knowledge, drive and people skills.”

Braun said her drive to do well at Rice, particularly in math, came naturally to her. Though the school is extraordinarily demanding, she wasn’t content to limit her studies  to a single major. She added two other majors—mathematical economic analysis and managerial studies. She thought that would help her to better prepare for a meaningful and useful career.

“I didn’t want to close any doors on myself,” the self-described overachiever explained. “I was still trying to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be able to have choices.”

Rice, with its small class sizes and residential college system, proved an ideal match for her, Braun said. She fondly recalls interactions with professors such as Katherine Ensor, now chair of the Statistics Department in the School of Engineering.

“Professors at Rice are approachable and really care about students. You feel like you’re a part of something there. I also think Rice better prepares students how to think about problems,” the Jones College alum said. 

Ensor recalls Braun as an enthusiastic and energetic student. “Carrie was one of my favorites,” the professor said. “A number of our best graduates are now making an impact in the energy business in Houston and elsewhere. It shows the power of statistics in complex sectors like energy and how the discipline can make an important contribution to society.”

For Braun, putting her numerical skills to work in a business setting first occurred during a Rice internship with Morgan Stanley. The experience left her thinking she might take on a career in investment banking. When she was hired by the firm after she graduated, she spent 2-½ years working on deals that involved the energy sector. She later decided that investment banking wasn’t the right match and joined the Apache team.

With husband Jonathan Braun (Rice ’06 Biochemistry), now a medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, she hopes to stay in Houston and start a family of her own. The couple expects a first child in February.

The Braun’s live in Clear Lake, where she is active in a local church. Her dad, Michael Fossum, is a veteran NASA astronaut about to take his third trip to space this summer to spend six months aboard the International Space Station. Mom, Melanie Fossum, teaches kindergarten.

 —Dwight Daniels, Engineering Communications