While contemplating this month’s article, it occurred to me that the oil and gas business in Alberta is not all that different than the game of golf.
For most of us, the game of golf is one of recovery. Whether trying to get up and down from a sand trap or get out of the trees and back to the fairway, I always seem to be trying to get back on track. In many ways, the projects we build in Alberta are much the same. They are about staying on track, recovering, and making sure we end up with a solid score.
In golf, we stand upon on a small perfectly manicured piece of real estate. We gaze out at a target we typically cannot see until we are almost on top of it and, at that point, only exists on paper. Of course, these targets are usually between 60 and 600 yards away rather than 1,300 to 3,000 yards for an oil well, but there are similarities. In each case, we cannot physically see the ultimate target, and we are relying on previously gathered data to guide us. In one case, it’s a scorecard with a map, and in the other, it is geological and seismic mapping.
In golf, we stand on a tee box and prepare to direct a 1.68 inch diameter projectile to ultimately land in a 4.25 inch diameter hole. Years ago, this projectile was made of feathers, and the “clubs” were little more than basic sticks. Technology has progressed over the years to the point where the club design can correct many player faults. This allows more and more people to “keep it in the fairway” and achieve success.
In oil and gas, we start with a four inch to 30 inch diameter rock bit and many lengths of drill string, and we are aiming for a small spot roughly 2,000 to 3,000 yards away. Things have also progressed in oil and gas. In the thermal environment reservoir, engineers evaluate various fields, delineate them with a drilling program, and then design the most efficient way to extract the bitumen. Drilling used to be done with tools hanging on a string and progressed through to rotary drilling using drill pipe and mud. Years ago, drillers would use a technique called “whipstocking” to deflect the wellbore and effect directional drilling. They would pressure one side of the bit to deflect the wellbore towards its ultimate destination. This enabled greater access to subsurface oil fields by creating more access points.
Today’s directional driller benefits from an amazing amount of technology to control the angle and direction of the wellbore. Drillers today are similar to video gamers or military drone “pilots” operating a joystick commanding millions worth of technology. It means we can drill with the least amount of surface disturbance ever, to extract the bitumen. Technology such as coiled tubing drilling has further improved the efficiency.
The technology is there and has been for a few years. The recovery itself is more about staying on track and never hitting into the woods in the first place. This is not about technology but more about the human interactions throughout the process. The industry needs to be more collaborative and not just pay lip service to the concept. I mean truly collaborative where risk and reward is shared and neither group takes advantage of the other. The adversarial approach that has been prevalent between EPC’s and producers against fabricators and manufacturers MUST stop. We have a broken process, and it needs to be repaired before we can recover.
If the industry is to regain its lustre, it will be through a true team approach. Each player doing their part to improve and contribute to the end result. When each group is treated fairly and dealt with honestly, they will feel that collaboration. Each group should WANT to see the other succeed.
This is not a case of one golfer against another with only one winner. It’s more of a Ryder Cup approach where we are all on the same team. We know Team Alberta is a good one, we just need to prove it each and every day.
Frank McKenna, the former Liberal premier of New Brunswick, put action to his words when he said, “The best social safety net is a job,” and devoted his 10 years in office to job creation and the growth of small business in his province.