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Predator Drilling in Red Deer has literally been going green for years.

by Jess Sinclair

Whether driving into Predator’s Red Deer County facility or flying over any of the company’s rigs in the Midland region of Texas, they’re tough to miss; bright green rigs that stand out among a sea of otherwise white equipment. It’s just one example of how the Canadian drilling company does things a little differently.

“We are not at all interested in being the cheapest contractor on the block,” says Predator’s VP Operations, Peter Entz. “We want to deliver the absolute best customer experience and value for money. If a customer calls us and says they want to drill a well, we want to hit the ground running at their chosen location with the best people and the best equipment. We don’t want a lot of back-and-forth because operators are busy people. We want to deliver results, and a single invoice for work well done.”

This method of operating is part of Predator’s larger philosophy, which aims to provide customers with “legendary people producing legendary results.” That ethos might come off as a bit heavy-handed when expressed by anyone other than Entz, but something about his plain-spokenness compels you to believe he takes every word seriously.

It’s that kind of chutzpah that has propelled Predator from a small start-up in 2008 to Canada’s largest privately-held drilling company in a matter of fewer than ten years. The company has successfully weathered two significant downturns, one in 2009 and the more major commodities slump that began in 2015. “We’ve stopped telling [President and CEO Shane Walper] he can’t make an idea work during a downturn, because he keeps amazing us,” Entz says. “For example, in 2015 in the midst of a serious downturn in oil prices, when he decided he wanted rigs on the ground in the U.S.A., there were a lot of doubters around the table. Fast-forward to 2017 and we have doubled our American rig fleet.”

This transition has been a bit of a learning curve for the Predator team. Some of the challenges were practical in nature, such as learning the nuances of transporting heavy equipment across the border and becoming savvy about U.S. Department of Labour safety standards (OSHA). Some of the challenges have been more at the local level. Predator HSSE Manger Darren Paluck laughs when he recounts his initial experiences with “Texas hospitality, gun culture, and employees who primarily spoke Spanish.”

Enthusiastic employees have ensured that Predator is able to take setbacks and challenges in stride. Pride and team spirit are evident throughout the Red Deer County facility and in interactions with the Predator staff. Visitors to the facility’s common area are greeted by a quote from former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that notes that “One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.” Staff recognition is clearly a key element of Predator’s formula for success. The company runs a somewhat tongue-in-cheek monthly contest for ‘Roughneck of the Month’, which all staff members are a part of. Election-style signs posted around the office list various team members’ qualifications for the position, which nets the winner a gift card and bragging rights for the month.

Like most Canadian drilling companies, Predator also takes safety seriously. Eleven members of the Predator team have won CAODC safety excellence awards at the Association’s annual Drilling Safety Awards since the company was founded. Rig crews with exceptional safety records are also able to advertise that fact with embroidered jackets in the company’s colours. It’s a general point of pride, but it’s also representative of just how much Predator staff care for their company, and vice versa.

Company President and CEO Shane Walper gamely agrees to pose for a couple of shots for the CAODC’s Oil Respect advocacy campaign. He also tells us a bit about the business and what sets Predator apart from some other Canadian drilling companies. “The challenge is to strike the right balance between respecting industry best-practises and maximizing value and flexibility for our customers,” Walper says. “Finding that balance starts with establishing the best team of people – folks who are experts in their areas but also empowered to innovate and disrupt based upon client needs. These skills set the team at Predator apart from some others.”

Walper also takes the long view when it comes to the professional development of his staff. “A lot of these guys have been with the company since the early days,” he says. A former roughneck, he understands the importance of nurturing the talented team members within Predator’s ranks. In 2013, when the company was in its fifth year of existence, Walper told Alberta Venture that “[Predator has] branched out into other sectors of the oil and gas market in order to create a solid career path for our team members so that they can clearly see, and say, ‘OK, I’m a driller today but I want to be a rig manager tomorrow.’ We want to be that company that will provide the growth for them.”

This approach has clearly served him well. The company’s tenth anniversary will fall in 2018, and, if there’s one dynamic that is palpable at Predator’s Red Deer offices, it’s pride in how far the company has come in a few short years. “Whether it’s Midland or Grande Prairie, when you fly over our rigs – bright green amid a sea of white equipment – it makes you feel great about what we’re doing here and how we’re doing it,” says VP Operations Entz. According to several of the team members we spoke to, the company’s signature chartreuse green hue symbolizes growth and renewal.

Given Predator’s resilience in the face of tough market conditions, and the enthusiasm of its employees, it’s an apt choice.

The Right Equipment + The Right People = PERFORMANCE EXCELLENCE

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