By Diane Langley, editorial coordinator
As the sun set in the West Texas town of Sonora in 1975, a young man in his sophomore year of college had a decision to make. Would he continue to help his father on the ranch during the summer or would he go work for a well servicing company? “I went to work for $3.30 an hour at the well servicing company and I thought I was rich,” said Joe Eustace.
Having been raised on a ranch near Sonora, Mr Eustace continued his studies in agribusiness and worked on well servicing rigs during summers. After graduating in 1977 from Texas Tech University, he went to work for Pfizer Animal Health and later moved to Denver, Colo.
“I had friends in oil and gas, and in 1981, I decided that the grass looked pretty green on that side of the fence,” Mr Eustace said. “I always liked being around big equipment, big iron, and the pace is definitely a lot faster. I didn’t know that coming off of the boom of 1981 was the giant bust of 1982.”
“It was quite a ride, as they say,” he recalled. But Mr Eustace’s common-sense management approach has served him well. In 1982, he was hired by an investor group to manage Dawson Well Servicing in Charlotte, Texas, and his career decision has taken him to his current position as executive vice president and president of production services for Pioneer Drilling, which has a fleet of 71 drilling rigs, 75 workover rig packages, 85 wireline trucks and four fishing tool stores.
“I just want to be in the spot where I can make the biggest difference, to be wherever I’m needed,” Mr Eustace said. For him, well servicing is that important area of the business. “Well servicing will always be a big part of this industry.”
“Well servicing is a tough, very physical job,” he continued. Safety is paramount in this segment because good people are of the utmost importance. “It’s the right thing to send your employees home in good condition, and it should be the first order of business for the industry,” he said. “Both majors and independents understand the importance of working safe. We’re seeing it permeate into all levels of the industry. That’s probably the biggest accomplishment we’ve made in the industry in the last 15 years.”
He notes that, up until about 10 years ago, his companies opened safety meetings with the question of how many would want their sons and daughters to follow them into the business? The answer was 1%. But that’s really improved now, according to Mr Eustace.
Safety has continued to improve in overall performance and focus. “We’ve come such a long way both in drilling and well servicing over the past few years, but we have such a long way to go before we should be satisfied. Some contractors are farther along than others, but, honestly, those who aren’t onboard with working safe most likely won’t be around in five years. Since the tragedy in the Gulf, we’ve seen a tenfold increase in customer concerns over well control issues and safety in general,” he said.
One endeavor that took place at Pioneer a few years ago was developing portable BOP test trailers to test and certify BOPs before the well is opened. “We also make this service available to our competition whenever the equipment is not busy.”
Other industry improvements are on the horizon. As chairman of the IADC Well Servicing Committee, Mr Eustace has been instrumental in driving the work of the committee toward improving accreditation programs, as well as being a proponent for better standards for rig masts and other equipment. The committee is also updating the recommended standard well control practices for well servicing and workover.
The well servicing sector is entering an era in which the gaps in safety and equipment are finally closing, and Mr Eustace has been in a front-seat position to effect change.
“I wouldn’t trade for it. It’s had its ups and downs, but I could not imagine myself doing anything else,” he said.