The key to oil-patch longevity? A bit of love

Reflections from Canadian Association of Drilling Engineers founding member Leroy Field

December 01, 2010

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Leroy Field and Megan
Photograph by Joey Podlubny

Leroy Field, an Alberta-born founding member of the Canadian Association of Drilling Engineers, worked across the West and on exploration frontiers from the Beaufort Sea to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. In arenas such as the Petroleum History Society of Canada, he provides views of oilfields from a vantage point of nearly 60 years of experience, in roles from laborer to corporate drilling manager and trainer of new professional generations.

Alberta Oil: What is the magic ingredient that sustains a long career in a notoriously tough occupation?
Leroy Field:
We have a cohesive community of talent and technology, with the activity centered in the Edmonton and Calgary region. It’s a unique situation. You find it nowhere else. From that – and from learning from each other – has flowed a great deal of advancement. I like to pique interest in this – for instance, here at the history society, by talking about the romance of drilling. The icon, the poster boy of the industry, is the rig. Its capabilities were front and center – and recognized – ‘round the world in the rescue of the workers who were trapped by the cave-in of the mine in Chile. In drilling you bond, for future projects and socially too, because you’re working together with a great many types of talent. You’re working with people from geologists to equipment manufacturers.

AO: Is that romance all smooth sailing?
No. Rough spots are part of it. There’s a love-hate relationship with the exploration and production companies. They find well locations you wouldn’t believe that we have to go to – and do. I learned that as a beginner on a well near Oyen in central Alberta, working in weather so cold that salt water was freezing. Out on Axel Heiberg Island, 600 miles [960 kilometers] from the North Pole, we pioneered airborne equipment and the ability to drill and not damage the tundra or the environment. After we left you’d never know we were there. We Canadians developed a way of working together on challenges. There have been a number of organizations such as the Arctic Petroleum Operators’ Association in the heyday of northern exploration. We teamed up to create the Petroleum Industry Training Service [now Enform]. After the Lodgepole blowout in 1982, we worked with regulators on putting together Alberta-recommended practices for sour gas drilling. There’s got to be a better way to learn than to make mistakes – but it sure gets results.

AO: Is that industry icon a completed masterpiece?
It keeps evolving. Over time we’ve made innovations like helicopter-portable operations with rigs broken down into 4,000-pound [1,800-kilogram] loads, standardized contracts, satellite communications, remote monitoring, safety procedures for kick [blowout] control, and formal personnel training and certification. These things are not very romantic but they keep the industry moving in a developing way. I was privileged to be in it when it was growing and dynamic. The environmental industry is becoming hard on it. I’m hoping logic and reason will prevail.

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