Leading the Pack

Predator Drilling Inc.

Oil sands development has provided a great many opportunities – and Predator Drilling has embraced them. Business in Focus spoke with its President, CEO and Director, Shane Walper.

In 2008, when Predator Drilling started, gas prices were still relatively high and there was a fair amount of activity in the shallow well natural gas arena. That market disappeared towards the end of 2009, so Predator has had to identify new areas in which to use their rigs and equipment. From a sales perspective, there has been a need to find clients who could use their equipment and services. The equipment then needed to be modified in order to be more suitable for the new clients.

The work done to make equipment ideal included the retrofitting of a couple of rigs last year. Capital was invested to upgrade equipment in order to drill shallow horizontal wells. Currently, Predator is actively putting that equipment to use in the Kindersley, Saskatchewan area for Viking Oil.

“One of the segments of our business is called presetting,” Shane explains. “In that respect we have been able to use our smaller rigs to go out and drill just the surface portion of the well. Our rigs are not big enough to drill entire wells. But, we do the surface portion, run the casing and do the cement jobs. We fully turnkey that operation, which has proved economically viable for a number of clients in a number of different markets.”

“From the moment I started the company, I established a set of core values and we firmly believe in those values,” shares Shane. “We practice them every day. We hire based on alignment of those core values as they provide the operating foundation going forward.”

The first of four core values is Safety as Predator Drilling wants to ensure that it is protecting its people. Accountability is an ideal that permeates all aspects of the company and Teamwork is vital since more can be accomplished through mutual respect, collaboration and communication. A commitment to Performance Excellence in every aspect of work and customer interaction rounds out the code of ethics.

Shane truly believes that business and equipment is only as good as the people within it. “We are different because of the respect that we have throughout the whole organization. We have titles and an organizational structure, but no one is more important than another person. One of our most important people is our receptionist Amber. We really like that philosophy right through the organization.”

The lease hand – the entry level position on its rigs – gets treated with the same respect as a Rig Manager; the focus is on individual tasks.

While Shane’s job is different than that of the Roughnecks, he started out as a Roughneck in this industry and does not have a post secondary education. He worked his way through the ranks and had a vision. With that, he has gained respect and was able to surround himself with good people who are in touch with what is happening at the ground level. He has empowered them to set the expectations and move the company forward.

Last year, Predator Drilling boasted a retention rate of 72 percent. The company has been very selective in its target recruiting. It has a number of people who come from all over Canada and, as Oil Sands work takes place between December and April, it targets workers who are looking for employment during the winter months.

“A lot of money can be made and then they can go back home in the spring and do their lobster fishing or farming. We just provide a nice respectful, stable workplace for them. We also give out incentives based on retention and performance. Within the industry our retention rate is higher than most.”

One of the many reasons that Predator Drilling has such a great retention rate has to do with its mentorship programs. At the field level, it has what it refers to as the ‘Passport to Attacking Safety’. This passport is issued to every employee. The Leasehand (entry level position), for example, is issued a Passport that clearly identifies the tasks in which he needs to be competent. He is assigned a mentor who will observe, coach and help him achieve those tasks. Once the Leasehand is deemed ready, the mentor signs off on that and the achievements become part of the career progression plan. Every position has one, including the Rig Manager.

“One of the unique things about Predator is that we are a small company and realize that we cannot change the industry, but we can affect our own culture here through the Drillers. We choose to call them Team Leaders.”

Another example is the Rig Manager. The industry slang term for the position is “Tool Push”, but Predator Drilling views things quite differently. It sees each rig as equivalent to an individual business unit with the Rig Manager acting as the president of that rig. Empowered by the company, he is responsible for the human resources component, operational component, safety and all the functions of the business.

Drilling technology has not changed much over the years, but Predator Drilling has sought out ways to use technology. Its field level hazard assessment is used to track hazards in real time. It them employs a tool which tracks near misses and hazards and makes observations based on behaviour. The information can then be used to correct behaviour as part of the mentoring program. There is an automatic sharing of hazard information across the fleet.

“Someone enters in a hazard that they see, which has the potential to hurt someone seriously. They perform a corrective action on that specific hazard; it’s entered into the system and that goes live globally amongst Predator Drilling. Every rig operating can see that hazard and correlate whether that hazard is relevant to that rig. It also gives me the opportunity to see what hazards we are dealing with and how we are correcting or mitigating them.”

In the peak season, the company needs over three hundred employees. Finding good people is always a challenge and the company has learned to be strategic when it comes to the places in which it recruits and in the selection of the people themselves. At its very foundation, Predator is looking for a high quality individual who is aligned with its core values. There are also other incentives in place; for the last three years, Predator has run a referral program.

“We know that a good rig requires good people, and we encourage them to have fun. One of the best ways to do that is to empower them to bring on their friends, or people they know. They can build their own tight knit team out on the rig and within their crew.” The program has been quite successful.

Shane has recognized the importance of name recognition since day one. The company created a distinct brand through the use of the colour of its equipment and its Cougar logo. “We needed something that stood out and that people would take notice of. We feel that we have accomplished that. We call it Predator Green.”

One of the company’s short term goals has to do with rig utilization in the off season. Predator has always been successful in the oil sands during the winter months, but finding markets to utilize the rigs in the off season was difficult. But, as of mid-July, it was celebrating an accomplishment: it had the greatest number of rigs working on any given day in the off season than ever before.

In the future, Predator Drilling has aspirations to expand into steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) in which high pressure steam is pumped into an upper well bore to heat oil. The reduced viscosity oil is then pumped out after it drains into the lower bore. “That is the next direction that we would look to go.”

Other long term goals have to do with more growth. “If it comes to it, and seems like a viable option, we would go public. We have a number of opportunities in front of us that we are exploring.”

May 25, 2020, 4:54 PM EDT