Carrying on the 75-year-old family tradition
By Maggie Cox, editorial coordinator
When asked what he remembered about the oil industry as a child, Jim Nicklos said, “There was always a water jug out there with only one cup, and for whatever reason, I don’t know why, that stuck in my mind.” With a smile, he continued, “I can remember going out to drilling rigs occasionally when I was pretty small. The equipment always impressed me because of its size.”
Mr Nicklos is carrying on the traditions of his grandfather as president of the third version of Nicklos Drilling. Seeing his father work in the industry and knowing his grandfather’s reputation were motivations for Mr Nicklos, who accepted a job offer from his father in the spring before college graduation in 1971. “I always had it in the back of my mind that I would go into the family business because I thought it would be a great tradition to keep the business going,” he said.
Representing the third generation of Nicklos drillers, his company is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year using the “Nicklos Drilling” name.
Mr Nicklos’ great-grandfather, Jacob Perkins, in the 1880s was asked to build a refinery in an area of Austria that is present-day Poland. His grandfather, E. J. Nicklos, followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps to Austria to drill for oil in the early 1900s. E. J. Nicklos founded Nicklos Drilling Company in 1935 and traveled extensively, drilling wells from his homeland in Canada, to Poland, then to Yugoslavia, Mexico, Tulsa, Okla., and then settled in Houston.
Nicklos Drilling currently has a total of four rigs – two in East Texas that can drill wells 13,000 to 18,000 ft; one in College Station, and another in Hardin County, both capable of drilling to 10,500 ft.
A proud moment for Mr Nicklos occurred when he started the second version of Nicklos Drilling in 1988. “It was a really rough time. It was the worst downturn in history, and I decided to go back into the drilling business,” he said.
Perseverance and the determination to start from scratch helped Mr Nicklos to find new vendors, equipment, labor, financing and contracts. “When I got my first check, it was a really good feeling,” he said. “I had made my goal.”
In 1992, Nicklos Drilling merged with ADCOR Drilling, and Mr Nicklos and his business partner, Jack Blanton Jr, managed the company for four years before they sold out to Nabors Industries. “When we sold out to Nabors, there wasn’t really a whole lot of time to think. We started the next version of Nicklos Drilling Company over the weekend,” he said.
Mr Nicklos commented, “it just seemed to be the natural thing to do.”
Having endured several downturns in the industry, Mr Nicklos had his company prepared for last year’s troubling economy. “Luckily, we were extremely successful in 2008,” he said. “We cut expenses and downsized, knowing the history of our industry and the need to conserve cash.” Being a closely held company has its benefits. Major decisions can be made quickly and efficiently when a problem arises. Mr Nicklos recognized the value of his close-knit team for making the business successful. “I think mainly the integrity, dedication and loyalty of our employees is where we get the reputation for the kind of work we do,” he said.
Mr Nicklos has not only been a participating member of the industry but has also been an active member of IADC since 1972. “I believe IADC is the thread that holds the drilling contractors together,” he said. “They are a huge resource for contracts, safety, environmental/health and training. I have made a lot of friends through IADC.”
Serving in 11 positions starting as vice chairman in 1979, becoming secretary/treasurer in 1984 and finally serving as an executive committee member in 1996, Mr Nicklos was awarded the IADC Exemplary Service Award – a cherished moment in his career. “Being recognized by your peers means a lot to me,” he said. “Just quietly going on about your business and then 38 years later someone recognizes you.”
Maintaining relationships is part of this business. Of the hands that Mr Nicklos has shaken, he has been partnered with Mr Blanton for 22 years, a man whom he described as having a great impact on his career. “There’s such a synergism between the two of us, and we complement each other’s strengths. We know how to work with each other. It’s a lot like a marriage, except some marriages don’t last that long,” he said.
With the economy looking brighter this year, Nicklos Drilling has moved forward with the purchase of a new top drive and is presently drilling horizontal wells in the Haynesville Shale play.
“I think that natural gas is critically important to the US, we have vast amounts,” Mr Nicklos said. “It’s a clean-burning fuel, environmentally friendly, and we don’t have to import it.
Click below to hear a rare 1953 interview with E. J. Nicklos in which the founder of Nicklos Drilling Company discusses his travels and experiences drilling in Mexico and Poland.