It seemed excessive with even the most optimistic of outlooks.
But Packers Plus Energy Services Inc. CEO Dan Themig insisted that his company’s new Red Deer shop be built to a massive size of 30,000 square feet.
“Thirty-thousand square feet was unheard of for a field station of a downhole tool business,” said Woody Randell, Packers Plus’s Red Deer service centre manager.
But less than two years after the Clearview Industrial Park shop opened, Themig’s ambitious plans have been vindicated. The local centre finished 2010 on a record-setting pace and has become the busiest location for Packers Plus, which specializes in oil and gas multi-stage fracturing systems.
“For two months in a row before Christmas, (the company’s) Edmonton manufacturing (facilities) shipped more equipment to the Red Deer shop than they’ve ever done for the whole company,” said Randell.
The numbers even turned heads at Packers Plus’s field centres in the United States, where the company has been active for much longer.
“They just cannot believe that we’re running so much equipment out of Red Deer.”
During the latter half of 2010, the local centre was installing about 50 to 60 downhole tool strings a month, and the number is expected to climb this year.
“February, it looks like we could be about 83,” said Randell, who oversees a staff of nearly 45 people, including 24 field reps.
That’s a far cry from 2003, when Randell joined Packers Plus and became its only employee in Red Deer.
“I worked seven months without a shop,” he recalled.
Packers Plus had only come into being a few years earlier, when Themig, Ken Paltzat and Peter Krabben — all industry veterans who had worked for multinational oil services companies — decided to pursue some innovative completion technologies. They developed the StackFRAC high-density multi-stage fracturing system, which allows a horizontal wellbore to be segmented and fraced in sections.
The process has proven to greatly enhance productivity and efficiency, but was a tough sell in its infancy, said Randell. He remembers carrying brochures around, without much success.
“Companies just looked at them and basically laughed.”
Eventually the system was deployed in the United States. Positive results generated more demand, and eventually StackFRAC found its way onto Canadian well sites.
The busy Red Deer centre is now servicing clients as far away as Edson and Swift Current, said Randell.
“We would not be able to survive without this shop.”
Packers Plus has 27 offices in Canada, the United States and beyond. Its corporate headquarters are in Calgary, with manufacturing taking place in Edmonton, where robotic technology has been adopted to speed up production and enhance quality.
The company has continued to improve the technology and expand its applications, said Randell. This includes longer tool strings with more fracs per well.
“When we started out, three stages was a big accomplishment for us. Then we got to six, and from six we went to 11.”
Currently, he said, the company is running several strings with 22 stages.
“The highest one we’ve done out of the U.S. is 44.”
The consequence has been increased production from mature and even uneconomical fields, said Randell, pointing out that traditional techniques might have left 65 per cent or more of the oil and gas behind.
“We’re going back in 30 or 40 years later with horizontal fracturing, and these wells are making 300, 400 barrels a day.
To date, Packers Plus has run more than 5,000 systems — accounting for some 45,000 frac stages.
“We’ve revolutionized the whole oil industry,” said Randell.
In 2009, the company was rewarded by being named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Canada.