Schlumberger’s Alaska history dates back to first oil well


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Schlumberger Alaska Manager Lees Rodionov, at her Anchorage office. Schlumberger has about 850 employees in Alaska and 115,000 worldwide.

Michael Dinneen/AJOC

Schlumberger, the oilfield service company, is so embedded in the history of the petroleum industry that its proper pronunciation should be on the entry quiz for new oil workers.

If it’s pronounced properly (hint: founders Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger were French) the new employee passes the test. If it’s said improperly (hint: like a hamburger) the boss points the way to the door.

Schlumberger has been in Alaska since 1956. When Richfield Oil drilled its Swanson River discovery well in 1957 — the well that laid the foundation for Alaska statehood — Schlumberger was there doing the well logging.

Fast-forward half-a-century plus five years. A lot has happened in the state, and Schlumberger is still here, logging wells and lot more.

If the oil and gas fields are ever depleted, all the prospects explored and the industry is packing up, Schlumberger will still be here, helping abandon old wells.

That will never happen, of course, because old oil fields continually reinvent themselves — Schlumberger helps with that, too — and creative and entrepreneurial geologists and engineers always find new ways to squeeze more oil and gas out of rocks.

Schlumberger is involved in that, too.

What the company does is use technology to help the oil explorers or producers find out where the petroleum is, figure out how much of it there is, and get it out of the ground.

Schlumberger started in France in the 1920s but is now an international firm, with 115,000 employees worldwide. Schlumberger works most places in the world where there’s oil and gas being produced or looked for. The total now is 85 countries.

In Alaska, the company has at least one of its 17 service and product lines engaged with every major oil producer and every explorer as well, says Schlumberger’s Alaska Manager Lees Rodionov.

Services the company provides, which are vital to the industry, include the “logging” or the mapping of subsurface reservoir intervals using special tools, to providing drilling fluids to control the well during the drilling process and cementing the well casing (the steel tubulars of the well) that make the well stable and safe.

There’s a wide range of other services including work done before a well is drilled (the analysis of geologic information), the measurements of fluid movement during production, to help the operator produce the well most efficiently, work related to remediation of old wells, and much more.

Much of the work is at the leading edge of oil industry technology. For example, Schlumberger helped develop techniques to conduct tests and measurements in the hole while drilling is still under way, a technique called “logging-while-drilling” or LWD. This was a great leap forward for the petroleum industry because it meant logging could be done without having to stop drilling and pull all the drill pipe up out of the hole, a process that takes time and costs money.

LWD not only avoids that but allows for immediate changes in the drilling plan with the equipment still in the hole, which guides the drillers with more precision to the desired spot deep underground. Other products and services that Schlumberger provides during the drilling process include bits, various drilling tools and mudlogging.

Another technology the company helped pioneer and now operates in Alaska is coiled-tubing services, mobile equipment with huge metal coils that are lowered down wells to do repair work, or even used in drilling.

For many types of jobs, using coiled-tubing units is much more economical than using a drill rig. Anything that lowers the costs of drilling and completing wells makes it possible to reach and produce smaller oil pockets that were previously uneconomic. Another technology aimed at accessing bypassed hydrocarbons is Schlumberger’s LIVE Digital Slickline service in which traditional slickline has been coated with a proprietary material and allows for digital two-way communication without being affected by well completions, conditions or fluids.

A “slickline” operation involves a thin cable passing through pressure control equipment, allowing work to be done safely on live oil and gas wells.

(Editor’s note: Schlumberger maintains a widely-used oilfield glossary on its website, at http://www.glossary.oilfield.slb.com/default.cfm).

The company is now at the forefront in developing automated drilling technologies, which allows work to be done with fewer people on the rig. This not only lowers costs, but with less people working around machinery, it improves safety too.

Schlumberger now has nine locations in the state including two in Anchorage, four on the North Slope and three on the Kenai Peninsula. There are about 850 Schlumberger employees in Alaska, 75 percent of them are Alaska residents and a lot of them were recruited in the state, Rodionov said.

“Our corporate strategy is to recruit where we work. We want to be part of the community,” she said.

Schlumberger recruiters pay close attention to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Anchorage.

“We’re a technology company so we focus our recruitment on the engineering and science disciplines, such as petroleum engineering and other geosciences. We’re interested in any graduate with a technical degree, however,” including fields like computer science and math, Rodionov said.

Business is growing for Schlumberger in Alaska, and that means the company is hiring, and hiring Alaskans. Two hundred employees have been added to the Alaska workforce in the last two years, Rodionov said.

What’s driving the growth is the expanding activity by explorers, many of them small to mid-size independents.

Schlumberger invested $30 million in its Alaska operations in 2012, including a new building on the Slope to consolidate drilling support functions, which will completed in 2013.

The company plans a $50 million investment next year, focusing on bringing new technology to the state and new facilities in Kenai to support the growth there.

“We saw rig activity up 15 percent to 20 percent this year over last, and expect to see similar growth in 2013,” Rodionov said.

That’s good news for Schlumberger, because where there are rigs drilling there is demand for the company’s services.

 

Tim Bradner can be reached at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

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