When Chinese gas exploration players went looking for top-of-the-line drilling help, their search ended in Red Deer County.
C-Sense Consulting Inc. and Icon Energy Services Ltd. are getting ready to ship their newest snubbing rig, destined for central north China.
“The Chinese are always trying to find the best in their industry,” said Michael Eadie, president of C-Sense’s consulting division.
“They get their beer from the Germans, they get their snubbing from the Canadians,” said Eadie with a laugh.
The Chinese contracts are the result of a team effort by the two companies. Icon’s president and owner is Ryan Edwards, and his manufacturing shop is located in Red Deer County’s Clearview Industrial Park, just south of Red Deer.
“We do the business development and sales in China, and we get Icon to build it to the Chinese customer’s preferred specs,” said Eadie.
He will head to China soon to commission two wells with them, bringing along a virtual simulator to help with training on the rigs that can range in price from $1 million to $2.5 million.
“I will commission it with the Chinese, and I would do two wells with them, showing them how the new systems work. If it’s different than their old units, we’ll go through the new systems and will help them with the actual completion of their wells.
“We’ve sold four snubbing units since 2016 to them. And I foresee doing one or two units for them in the foreseeable future every year.”
Canadians have developed a worldwide reputation as being experts in under-balanced drilling and snubbing technology, he said.
It involves inserting tubing or other equipment into the well while maintaining well pressure.
“You’re keeping well control as you’re working over the well, so it’s quite technical.
“Canada has been recognized as a leader in snubbing for some time now — probably since the early 2000s.”
There are more than 30 Canadian-made snubbing units at work in China, said Troy LeBlanc, president of C-Sense’s manufacturing division. Ray Zmaeff runs C-Sense’s service division.
While there are copies — as is typical in China — the Canadian-made models are still the go-to versions for the country’s high-profile wells, he said.
Despite the tough times Alberta’s oil and gas industry has faced in recent years, there is room for optimism.
“Our biggest commodity right now is our expertise. No matter where I’ve been working in the world, Saudi Arabia to southeast Asia to Europe, there are always Canadians around there.
“If the market is soft here, we’re working there and we are recognized as leaders in technology, leaders in forward thinking, safety — all of those things.
“It’s not all doom and gloom. Of course, we’d all love to be working here and staying with our families, but that is not the patch we’re in right now.
“But that will change.”
China is likely to provide a good market for many years as the country transitions from coal-fired power plants to ones run on natural gas, he said.
“We see growth there.”