By Linda Hsieh, managing editor
For someone who has wanted to be in the drilling business ever since he went to a rig christening in East Texas as a child, going to work for Helmerich & Payne (H&P) in 1996 was Shane Marchand’s dream come true. He had graduated from Baylor University the previous year with a mechanical engineering degree and gone into an offshore construction engineering job that failed to foster the “can-do attitude” he was looking for.
Luckily, he soon found his way to H&P. “They nurture free thought and new ideas, and they like challenging the status quo,” Mr Marchand said, adding that the company entrusts young employees with a wide range of responsibilities to push their learning. “You either sink or swim.”
Mr Marchand swam. From an engineer trainee 17 years ago to vice president of marketing now, the drilling business has proved to be an “exhilarating” career.
He fondly recalls H&P sending him out to roughneck in Central Texas when he first started. It wasn’t just a year of physical labor; it was a year that gave him a deep understanding of the importance of people to this industry. “As much technology as we put into drilling, this business still comes back to the guys on the rig floor. Without them, we’re nothing. It is our responsibility to give them the best iron, the best training and the best support to let them do outstanding jobs,” Mr Marchand said.
As the industry continues to confront a widening gap in qualified personnel, he believes companies must focus on giving their employees a safe place to work. “We all want a good day’s wage for a good day’s work, and we want to go home and see our families with all of our fingers and toes,” he said.
Because of the value he places on rig employees, Mr Marchand notes that it’s always hard to see layoffs when the industry goes through a slump. “Nobody wants to send people to the house. … The hardest part to these downturns is always the personal aspect more than any type of business aspect,” he said.
Although the industry has historically been cyclical, recent trends show the business is experiencing higher peaks, lower valleys and a higher frequency of them. Mr Marchand acknowledges that is nerve-racking but also believes the industry did a good job during the last downturn of keeping crews for as long as possible and getting them back as soon as possible. “We just have to do our best to maintain and keep the most talented.”
Whereas recruiting and training remains the most critical challenge for the US land business, where the vast majority of H&P rigs are deployed, Mr Marchand sees a vastly different challenge when it comes to land drilling markets outside North America. “In many places internationally, most people look only at unit costs,” he said. H&P, however, sells lower overall well costs through advanced-technology equipment heavy on performance, such as the FlexRigs. “Drilling rigs are not widgets. With widgets, you look at the lowest unit cost. But with rigs, there’s the rig, the people, the training, the safety, the maintenance systems, the management of change systems – all of that goes into making it an efficient operation.”
As countries outside North America begin to assess shale drilling, however, Mr Marchand believes it will boost the demand for new technology and high-performing rigs. “We’ve also had successes in Tunisia, Argentina and Bahrain. When you have three rigs in Bahrain that are performing beyond anyone’s expectations, that news will spread,” he said. H&P currently has 239 FlexRigs out of a total fleet of about 270; the company recently launched the first FlexRig 5 and plans to build at least 10 more this year.
Listening to the experienced
Looking at all the young people who are now coming into the industry, Mr Marchand advises them to listen and learn from people with experience. He recalls working with some of ConocoPhillips’ best drilling engineers on the Lobo project in South Texas years ago. “Those guys took the time to train me and teach me how to be a drilling engineer when they didn’t have to,” he said, and the lessons learned were invaluable. “The people who have the experience got their experience through hard knocks. If they’re willing to teach, you listen.”