When discussing his company, Shannon Burns sounds like a racetrack tipster with the inside track on hot horse.
“With the increasing concern for the impact that seismic exploration has on the environment, our low impact seismic (L.I.S.) drills are compact, fast moving, efficient and powerful machines that get the job done on time while capable of accessing sensitive areas with minimum disturbance,” enthuses Burns, chief executive officer of Terroza Exploration Services (TES) of Fairview, Alberta, Canada. “In fact, some of the oil companies and other customers we work with call our company and our crew the ‘Thoroughbred Group.’”
If he were selling tout sheets, Burns would be justified in boasting “a winner every time!” Those energy-service sector winners include oil companies, contract equipment suppliers and operators situated throughout western Canada and the United States. For these customers, TES engages in geophysical exploration for the energy services in a fashion that gained it a reputation as a reliable and customer-service focused enterprise. Providing the best equipment for surveying and mapping, line clearing and shot hole drilling, TES partners with its clients to closely assess their requirements and, in turn, exceed their expectations.
EMPLOYEES IN THE SPOTLIGHT
But equipment only generates half of the company’s success, indicates Burns. “A company can equip itself and its customers with the best technology available in the world—and the United States hadn’t seem some of the drilling technology that we’ve brought down from Alberta—but if you don’t have the best personnel to operate the equipment, then you really don’t have anything,” he says.
Appropriately, TES has filled its ranks with the industry’s best drillers, mechanics and supervisors. “Some of my people have been with me for eight to 10 years,” informs Burns. To attract that kind of talent, he adds, TES has had to pay out on the front end, but the investment provides large dividends in the back end. “That’s the way I’ve focused my philosophy,” he affirms. “Employees are what makes the company shine. I don’t seek the spotlight. Rather, I place it on the employees. I find the work for them, but they are the ones who go out and get the job done.”
With this approach, TES has garnered a clientele nucleus of six to 10 energy producing, geophysical and front-end companies located throughout North America (in Canada, the company works in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, while its U.S. activities are conducted in Alaska, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado and Utah, according to Burns).
Further, TES has advanced to the point at which it can comfortably decline new work. “I’ve gotten calls from people as far away as Chile, Russia and Africa who ask us to make bids,” relates Burns. “I’ve had to turn some of these offers down.”
While TES prides itself on the quality of its employees, Burns reveals that staff recruitment and attainment is no easy task in a post-9/11 world, which indicates how effects of the World Trade Center attacks reverberated beyond U.S. borders like an earthquake aftershock.
“We’ve diversified ourselves enough to effectively cover the U.S. market when the Canadian market experienced a downturn, and right now, we’re dealing with the downturn in the Canadian industry. But the big problem we face by working in the United States involves immigration issues,” explains Burns, “and this involves the acquisition and expense of the ATF license. All of our workers need the license as well as a visa to work in the United States. Plus, organizations like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security check their backgrounds. After 9/11, everything tightened up so much, and with the downturn in Canada—which will probably last until this winter—U.S. agencies have really buckled down on Canadian companies coming down to work across the border.”
But the Canadian downturn has had an even more substantial impact on TES. Previous to the receding economic tide, during a period ranging from 2004 to 2007, TES experienced a steady and healthy annual growth rate ranging between 20 to 25 percent. In the past year, the percentage has dropped and TES has been forced to downsize. “Right now, we’re down to about 28 full-time people,” reports Burns.
Further, the company has narrowed it business focus. “Now we strictly concentrate on drilling,” says Burns.
Still, he remains optimistic. To weather the storm, TES took the best of what it has down to the states while awaiting the inevitable Canadian upswing. “The Canadian fiscal downturn should only last a short period,” anticipates Burns. “After the new year, I think you’ll see it going gangbusters once again.”
Moreover, Burns maintains his upbeat attitude by reflecting upon the past. “With everything going on right now, things are still good for us,” he says. “Trust me, we’ve been through some pretty hard times and had to take on some pretty bad jobs. But that comes from being a green beginner. Every successful organization learns its business from the bottom up while competing with organizations that have been in business for decades. As we have aged and developed, we’ve been able to approach them and then run right alongside of them – like a strong thoroughbred.”
Despite its racehorse gait, and even though the company turns down bid opportunities, TES still appreciates each job it receives. “The way I look at it, after where we’ve been and where we are now, to be awarded any job is remarkable,” says Burns. “There are many competitors out there, and some of them operate like cutthroats, and the only way to move to the front of the pack is to push yourself a little bit more with each step you take. That’s what we do.”
TES may not be as big as its competitors, but the company is aggressive and has the capabilities to get the job done as good as or even better than its more experienced rivals.
“Quality and production has moved us forward in stride and by leaps and bounds,” comments Burns. “We also attribute our advancement to the equipment that we run.”
TES’s equipment fleet includes LIS Comtrack drills, portable drills, Heli-portable drills and track water carriers, as well as various one-ton truck and service support trailers. A fleet highlight, the Heli-portables enable customers to drill in the most remote areas.
Specifically, the company’s portable drilling rigs are lightweight, portable, multi-purpose machines designed for helicopter portability and operation in difficult logistical areas. They are constructed from steel channel sections that keep weight to a minimum while retaining maximum strength required by loads generated during operation. The drill can work alone or with compressed air or water, depending on drilling conditions. In addition, they are designed for easy transport and quick and simple set up.
The company’s Comtrack drills are built for low-impact seismic exploration. Measuring 68 inches wide and 130 inches long, and possessing two-pounds per square-inch ground pressure, the electrical Comtrack can drill with air and/or water. Positioned on straight rubber tracks, the units sustain only minimal environmental damage.
Such technology enables TES to back up its boast that there isn’t anything out in the field that it can’t drill and drill on time. All of its units are well-oiled machines provided by a well-oiled organization.