Filling a niche in the marketplace is a good quality for any company, and that includes the oil and gas market. The disparity between global operators and small, local ones means there are opportunities for contractors such as Mississippi-based Energy Drilling Co. Drilling Manager Jody Helbling explains the company serves a specific purpose in the marketplace, and that specialization has given it a comfortable market position.
“We have a pretty unique market,” Helbling says. “We don’t really drill for any of the big major companies.”
For more than 30 years, Energy Drilling Co. has specialized in turnkey drilling for small operators. Typically, these clients don’t have their own engineering capabilities, so they turn over the complete drilling work to Energy Drilling Co. This means the company engineers, designs and drills the well, sending it to the owner at completion.
Helbling says this has been the company’s focus from day one, and puts it in an unusual position in the industry. He notes there are very few drilling contractors in Mississippi that provide that kind of turnkey service, and very few elsewhere in the country. Even among this relatively small pool of competitors, however, Energy Drilling Co. stands above the rest. “Overall, with our direct competition, we have probably the best reputation, the best hands and the best equipment,” Helbling says.
Even though competition from larger drilling companies has become more prevalent in recent years, Helbling says Energy Drilling Co. has reason to be optimistic about the future because of its emphasis on establishing long-term relationships with customers and the unique nature of its services.
The company’s fleet of nine drilling rigs – three box-on-box substructure rigs and six trailer-mounted rigs – are dispatched throughout Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama. Although the company’s rigs are not as high-tech as those utilized by other drilling companies, Helbling says peripheral equipment such as mud pumps, generator sets and solids control equipment make Energy Drilling Co.’s rigs extremely versatile. The company is capable of drilling wells between 5,000 and 15,000 feet.
Because Energy Drilling Co. provides complete turnkey drilling services, Helbling says this means the company has to be extra cautious about the kinds of jobs it accepts. “We are taking a lot of the risk, and we think we do a good job of screening the wells and not taking the job if it’s too risky,” he says.
For example, the company typically does not take on turnkey drilling projects for directional wells or wells deeper than 13,000 feet. Even though this means the company has a smaller base of work to draw from, Helbling says it’s worth it to maintain the company’s reputation and portfolio of successful projects. “We lose sometimes, no doubt, but as long as we can win more than we lose, we’ll keep that philosophy,” he says.
Value of People
Aside from its equipment and capabilities, Helbling explains there is another component to the success of Energy Drilling Co. “I would mainly put it down to the personnel we have working for us,” he says.
The company values its employees and seeks their input frequently, Helbling adds. Employees are asked for feedback about the equipment and what they need to perform their jobs better. Helbling says the company also tries to make things easier for its employees and allow them to concentrate on their jobs as much as possible by reducing the amount of paperwork they have to complete. “That kind of helps us stay a step above,” he says.
In addition, Energy Drilling Co. is privately owned. Helbling says the company’s ownership believes in reinvesting profits into the company to maintain equipment and retain skilled employees.
The shaky economy has made it difficult for Energy Drilling Co. to hold onto its best employees, however. Helbling explains that larger contractors often target the company’s workers because of the strength of its training program, and at the moment can promise more work and higher pay.
“If they hear they can get four dollars more an hour someplace else, they’re going to go,” Helbling says.
The emergence of shale plays also has affected Energy Drilling Co., as many operators believe those require more advanced equipment than the company has to offer. Also, many of the smaller operators Energy Drilling Co. counts among its customers don’t have the resources to pay for drilling in those plays. “So when they were pushed out, we were pushed out,” Helbling says.
Nevertheless, he adds, small operators are resilient, and Energy Drilling Co. expects little change in the market over the next few years. The company still sees plenty of opportunities in the same markets it has chased for the past 30-plus years, and Helbling says its insistence on meeting its customers face-to-face no matter where they are will continue to be an important component of its success. “That’s kind of what we hang our hat on,” he says.