Oilpatch hiring offers glimmer of optimism

Precision Drilling’s hiring plans were pounced on by those looking for good oilpatch news

Word that Precision Drilling hoped to put 1,000 people back to work was pounced on by those looking for a little oilpatch optimism.

Darren Ruhr, Precision’s vice-president of corporate services, points out that a lot of the hiring announced by the company president last week is part of the oil sector’s traditional winter activity ramp-up.

However, there have been a few glimmers of light in what has been a dark year for Alberta’s trademark industry.

“There’s a little bit of optimism out there that we have hit bottom,” he said on Wednesday. Oil hitting $50 a barrel also helped.

Red Deer, along with Grande Prairie and Lloydminster, is where Precision does a lot of its service rig recruiting. Lately, Precision has been hiring 20 to 25 workers a month, many of them experienced past employees.

Precision president and CEO Kevin Neveu says in a release accompanying a report on the company’s third-quarter earnings last week that “customer sentiment has substantially improved.”

Activity levels in the Canadian operations are approaching 2015 levels but “it is still historically low and pricing remains highly competitive.”

John Bayko, of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC), said the hiring going on now has more to do with the season than commodity prices or other factors.

“We’ve heard some rumblings that things are picking up, but other than that we haven’t heard too much,” he said.

Given the economic climate, it’s perhaps not surprising Precision’s kernel of good news got so much traction.

“People are just looking for any kind of an up-tick just to say something positive,” he said. “That’s just a comment on how long things have been bad.

“In downtown Calgary, the mood has been grim for a long time.”

Any improvement will be welcomed. 2016 has now officially gone into the books as the industry’s worst year since CAODC began issuing rig counts in the late 1970s.

“We’re really hoping that ’17 is a little better, but we’re not anticipating much of an increase in Canada,” said Bayko.

Some of the larger companies with a U.S. presence are seeing more activity south of the border.

“Saskatchewan is also seeing more activity year over year. Alberta is not seeing more activity year over year for Q4.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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