DOINews: I Am BLM: John Ajak, Petroleum Engineer

Last edited 09/05/2019

Note: "I Am BLM" stories feature Bureau of Land Management employees whose talents and backgrounds are as diverse as the landscapes and resources they manage under the BLM's complex and far-reaching mission.

BLM petroleum engineer John Ajak
John Ajak is a petroleum engineer with the Bureau of Land Management's Fluid Minerals Division. He joined the BLM in March 2011.

Where do you work and how does your job help fulfill the BLM mission?

I serve as a petroleum engineer for Fluid Minerals Division in the Washington Office. In this capacity, I am responsible for oil-and-gas operational issues, particularly program strategy, policy, technical standards, and procedures affecting industry's use of public and Indian lands. This consists of preparing instruction memorandums and technical reports as well as other resource and program policy direction and guidance needed to meet the BLM's mission. In addition, I work closely with talented engineers in the BLM states and field offices in preparing regulations and implementing requirements that affect the oil and gas program. Together we review and revise existing regulations to ensure conformance with new or existing statutes.

What previous experience or education prepared you for the job?

I have a B.S. in petroleum and natural gas engineering from Penn State and an M.S in engineering and management from George Washington University. I began my career as a reservoir and field engineer in the oil and gas industry. I joined the BLM on March 11, 2011, as a reservoir management specialist for the Eastern States' Jackson Field Office. My BLM experience broadened when I moved to the Washington Office in 2012.

John Ajak standing with colleagues on an oil rig.
John Ajak stands with colleagues at an oil rig during his time as a drilling specialist in the private sector.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is the people I work with. The BLM has talented and dedicated employees, all committed to a wide assortment of work as true stewards of public lands, and I am grateful to be part of this group. I have worked closely with a number of very talented engineers and managers. In my experience, BLM managers are always willing to listen. I have constantly heard them say, "work smarter, not harder," which implies working together as a team and innovate for simplification in order to meet the mission.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Educating the American public about the BLM's multiple-use and sustained yield mission is the most challenging part of my job.

What brought you to the BLM?

I had the opportunity to work with and learn about the BLM from a BLM inspector who was assigned to a well I was working on as a drilling specialist for an operator in Bakersfield, Calif. The inspector was thorough in his work, and from then on, I began to research BLM's mission. I learned that BLM manages about 245 million surface acres and approximately 700 million sub-surface acres of mineral estate that are tapped for oil and gas development to meet our energy demand and to lessen our country's dependence on foreign oil, as well as providing opportunities for new jobs to support local economies. I knew then that this is where I needed to serve the American public. Working for an agency such as the BLM gives me a chance to give back to a country that has given me so much.

What is an interesting fact about yourself?

I consider myself a survivor of Africa's longest civil war in the country of Sudan, which is now split into countries of South Sudan and Sudan.

The outbreak of civil war in the mid-1980s brought with it circumstances that permanently altered my life and the lives of thousands of other South Sudanese. As forces of the Sudan government carried out campaigns against the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, the rebel group based itself in the south, where I am from. At the initial phase of the war, about 16,000 children as young as 5 years old, who were not able to handle guns, fled in search of safety in what turned out to be a treacherous thousand-mile journey to neighboring countries.

We wandered in and out of war zones, spending years in dire conditions surviving on plant leaves and filthy water. Thousands of children around my age lost their lives to hunger, dehydration, and exhaustion. Some were killed by wild animals, others drowned crossing rivers, and many were caught in the crossfire of fighting forces.

Having lived through that ordeal, I was fortunate to reach a refugee camp in northern Kenya where I lived for seven years on one meal a day until the U.S. Congress introduced a program to settle 3,000 South Sudanese boys to the United States. I was among the first to be settled here in 2000.

CBS News named us the "Lost Boys of Sudan." We were accustomed to surviving to see the next day, not the future. I was 16 when I settled with a family in Souderton, Penn. For these reasons, I feel fortunate to be giving back to the American public through the BLM mission.

BLM petroleum engineer John Ajak standing beside Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; Washington Monument in background.
The Bureau of Land Management's John Ajak shares a moment in Washington, D.C., with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Submitted by: BLM National

Jan. 8, 2015

Related Link:

DOI Video: 'Lost Boy' to Land Management: John Ajak's story

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