[Full text of the Interview]
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into the oil business.
I was born and raised in the Wilkie area and moved to Lloydminster on June 23, 1948. Dad was working as a welder at the refinery at the time. He was nicknamed "Blackie". My brother-in law and I helped Dad build the house. I remember the first day they picked me up at the railroad station. The road was pretty muddy and swampy and all the oil trucks were still using the grade as access to the refinery for the oil hauled oil down the road. I finished high school in Lloyd 10, 11, 12 and then immediately went out to work at the Husky warehouse for Terry Grierson (July '51). I worked for Husky until July 3, 1991... 40 years and one day! I worked out at the warehouse for two years then they moved me into the office to start doing the record keeping and pricing transfers. Everything was done manually. When you worked on the inside, there was a cubicle where four of us were working, Terry, Harry Martensen, Betty Fair, the secretary, and myself.
The warehouse served both the production operations group and the refinery. We provided the service for both. I think the first drilling program that I remember was the GCD program in 1950-51, which drilled about 50 or 60 wells. Husky, at that time, owned their own drilling and service rigs and then a little later they bought Commonwealth Drilling's operations and acquired some additional service rigs, cats, shops and persons like Alec Ruhl (one of their foremen). It was a tremendously good experience when you were involved with the buying of the drilling rigs, parts for them and supplying them with their daily operating needs. Also at that time, the refinery got into switching over from mainly bunker fuel production to diesel fuel and as well specialties. They built a specialty plant and started making pipe coatings and construction material. Sidney Roofing built a plant next door to produce asphalt shingles and a supply line for raw material was run across from the refinery to their plant.
I guess that's why I always appreciated working in the purchasing department because you dealt with all the departments and you got to see what they were doing. You got to see the broad picture.
One of the early problems we faced in the early post war years was obtaining supplies. The oil industry was basically in its infancy, not only in Lloydminster but all over Canada. Construction material in post war years was in tight supply. There was a boom in building because of the lack of these materials and the resulting demand was high during the war. Steel, lumber, and cement, anything in the construction field were in short supply. Cement and steel were the main two components required by the oil industry. When you bought brass pipes and fittings, there didn't seem to be a problem. It was basically the steel casing/tubing and cement required. A normal well in Lloyd would use up to two hundred bags of cement. That was a lot of cement and you couldn't see anything when you finished so I guess they didn't like to see it go down the well. Therefore, you were on priority. We used to receive all the cement in bags and you'd handle each one individually! There were no forklift trucks and no pallets. Because I was one of the younger ones, I helped unload the cement. It all came in by rail cars, which were parked, on the local spur lines to be unloaded. Out at the rig, the guys had to unload it by hand from the truck to the ground. You carried it, then split the bag and put it in the hopper. It was all manual. Steel pipe came in also by railcar; it was all seamless tubing. Mostly from the U.S. Canada was starting to get into making a little pipe, but most of it was from the U.S., Spang pipe from Pittsburgh. I don't know how Terry did it to get the forms from the government to acquire this pipe but every joint of pipe that came into Lloyd we had to put a number on it, like a priority number, and it was racked and stacked and then it was hauled out. In the later days, you had to have a mill certificate to run it in the hole. You had to have a legitimate number to say this pipe was yours.
We did use quite a bit of used pipe. The industry couldn't get new pipe so they turned to Pennsylvania, where they were abandoning a lot of water wells. There was a lot of used pipe available and carloads of pipe came in. It was all off-loaded by hand. One of my first jobs was to be the chief pipe inspector! My qualifications weren't necessarily that great but my tools were really of the latest technology, they were a wire brush and a ball peen hammer. You just walked along each joint, rolled it over to check it. Wherever you thought it was a little scaly you would use the wire brush and then you'd hit it with the ball peen hammer! If it held, it ran. From the warehouse point of view, there weren't many rejects! Later on, when the mills started making pipe in Regina (IPSCO), we had more problems with thread than we had with the old pipe. Of course all the pipe was spun in with just a spinning chain and tongs so you didn't really torque it up to any really consistent level. Otherwise there might have been more trouble.
Tell us more about GCD. [The Gate City Development Program].
There were some failures, with the old casing. Casing became more plentiful after that and you could start using good pipe again, and we did. However we had several miles of this used pipe left over. So, somebody in their great knowledge decided they would cut the threads off and bevel the ends and run it as a low pressure gas line from the Blackfoot area into town to supply the refinery
I remember some of the things we did in the old days. One of the things I did was sell a lot of used pipe to farmers for corrals and stuff. All the feeder pipes were laid out on the undeveloped road allowances and through the trees. Farmers used to pick that up and take it and give you a couple of cents a foot. The main line was buried.
Did you ever hear of "Invasion Pipe’?
I don’t remember. Is that the stuff that came back from the line that ran up from Norman Wells to the army? I didn't know that it was called invasion pipe as such. But we brought it back - it was 3.5 and 4.5-inch pipe. Very thick wall, excellent condition when we got it the stuff I saw. As I remember, what happened to it … the stuff from the AlCan line. We bought some of that, I imagine there was probably some good and some bad in there - being the optimist I remember only the good. It was still all part of the supply after the war and then the Korean conflict and you just couldn't buy that stuff and that was there and there were some unscrupulous dealers that supplied some of the stuff.
What were some of your bad experiences?
I was transferred to Calgary in 1956.1 think Terry and I went together. The whole purchasing department went together, but I think only Terry and I were the only ones that lasted. Then Husky just about did nothing except abandoned old wells. I remember coming back when it started picking up again around 1966. It took awhile for the activity to pick up again and to get rid of all the old equipment from abandoned wells.
Do you remember the Old pump houses down there, full ofjunk?
Old valves, pipe fittings, wellheads etc. There was a lot of it salvaged a lot of it reused. Finally they used up most of it and then you got down to the real dogs. I think the price of oil must have come up there because you started buying new again. In the mid and late '60's, we started buying and placing orders for pump orders that we had never experienced before like 100 to 150 pumps in one order!
You were involved in the Yo-Yo Pipeline?
A Williams' brother was the major contractor. Bob Miller moved back from Moose Jaw to be the Pipeline Manager. We got involved. I think this is where the oil industry made some real strides with the Yo-Yo pipeline of course. The Western Oil Producers started using Ipsco - (Inter Provincial Steel Co.) out of Regina. They had started making pipe there and started to get their foot in the door as a pipe supplier in Western Canada. They made spiral well and some big pipe, and Husky and Ipsco got into bed together with IPSCO supplying the pipe. I think Husky at this time started to use the electric resistant welded (ERW) pipe for their casing. Prior to that it was all seamless pipe from the U.S.A. and there was a real resistance from people to using this ERW pipe. We ran several millions of feet of this electric resistant welded pipe out of Regina. I think this area here used it extensively and really put Ipsco on the map as far as being a competitor. They then started making it in Edmonton and Calgary and electric resistant welded pipe was recognized as a legitimate contender for pipe supply for the industry.
The Yo-Yo was a unique effort to pipeline heavy oil and it depended on something called "flowlining"?
I used to ride back and forth to Calgary with Howard Geier. I think he was the lead guy in the new thermal project. Howard was the engineer responsible for designing and planning the steam project. For me it was an exciting time because I got to ride with Howard to Calgary. Of course there were no airplanes or anything like that. You'd come up to Lloyd and you'd spend the week here and then you'd go back to Calgary. Howard liked to talk and explain things. It was an exciting time because we were starting to do things that were totally foreign to the low-pressure heavy oil thing. The new project would involve high pressure, and we were talking about getting Cameron or WKM valves for the well heads. We would get headers built in shops and then bring them out skid mounted and then hook them into place. Totally new and foreign to then. I will always remember those elevated pump jack bases that Howard designed, in case the pipe grew out of the ground as the well was steamed, so it wouldn't knock the horse's head off the pumping unit. I don't think it ever did. Those kind of things. Then we started getting into larger and larger pumping units. Up until then I think the only pump unit was a 40D with a 36-inch stroke. And you started getting in 57's, and 114's, 160's and 456's and the much larger units. The thing I remember about 114' and 160's were that we just tore gearboxes out of them like crazy when we were pumping the wells at high rates. It was very hard to understand. The engineers had a hard time understanding why the gearboxes were tearing up. They were just overworked by this heavy oil. It was quite unique. I imagine people in the other oil patches were familiar with these larger pumping units and stuff like that but Lloyd wasn't. I think Bill Williams would have turned over in his grave when you start pumping these with 60-inch strokes, rapidly, and trying to suck oil out and suck the sand up. We used to wear out pumps that sand came through and ... some of those expensive valves. I remember out at the Golden Lake fire flood, you'd put in a $600 valve and the sand would just slice it off, just like it had been cut with a torch. Things like that were just totally new to the people around here. During the frenzy of some of the big "FUND" drilling programs they would lay pipelines to the wells before the wells were drilled. Some of them never got connected because they turned out to be "dry" holes.
What were some of the other innovations you saw in the heavy oil industry?
First horizontal treater:
I remember National and Black, Sivalls & Bryson were in competition at the time we were trying to buy these horizontal treaters. I think the first one (Dulivich steam project) was 6 by 15 or something like that, very small! Later you got into the 10 by 40's as your experience level increased. Some of the treaters had hay sections and some had electric grids for the final "polishing" phase of the treating process. They had a terrible time trying to get an interface between heavy oil and the water, so it could recognize when to dump the water. And the different things that happen. I remember when the first treaters came to Lloyd. Those big trucks hauling them and you had to find a road to get them out there to the field. And the size of the pads you had to build for their bases!
There was a heavy oil and steam symposium in Calgary in the late 60's. Steaming heavy oil wells was just becoming THE thing and Husky was a major player in it They had a whole display setup down at the Calgary Stampede grounds. Husky supplied 2 steam generators brought down from Lloyd for the show. One was a portable steam generator that George Stevens and Johnny Page operated for "huff and puff' situations on individual wells. It was really a first class show for the heavy oil people out of Lloydminster. The then Prime Minister of the day, John Diefenbaker , even stopped by to see the show and visited with "Husky Bill" Williams.
What are some of your other recollections?
I remember when I first moved back to Lloyd, the list of telephone numbers [at Husky] was on one page of 8.5" by 11" paper. When full it would go to both sides and then it went to 8.5" by 14". It just grew and grew and grew.
How we used to argue about our company trucks, whether we should have automatic transmissions, or air-conditioning and big deal sliding back windows, those kinds of things.
I also noticed an awful lot of waste and abuse at that time, of equipment. You saw it come back to the warehouse where you had tons and tons of perfectly good pipe and valves thrown away because it was faster to go and get new stuff than to pay someone to take this apart. And there were things that we built and they just didn't work so we would build something else. I don't know where all the money came from for that but there it was ... I can remember the old pipe yard out there where there were 3 or 4 acres of scrap pipe that was brought in by truck. I think we had some tremendously dedicated people at work, at that time. We worked long hours. I can remember after we got enough staff, we would have ball games in the evenings. All the foremen would come in and with the guys from the office would play a game of softball. Then everyone would go back to work! You'd be working all of this time. It was an exciting time. There were maybe not always the best safety practices but this heavy oil field did not have very many accidents - serious accidents. The way the people worked, they worked hard and they played hard and they accomplished an awful lot.
It was exciting for me. I know coming back to Lloyd from Calgary I was given an awful lot of authority and responsibility. You could do things. You didn't have to go to Calgary and get approval. And you did things and things got done and it was exciting. You could do this and do that and have it completed. I remember the Furness battery being built and the little competition between who was going to get to build pipelines, and do the work. Like, you could move heavy oil around and you got condensate out to the field and back. And 50 years later it's still a pretty good field. I think it makes money for people. There were a lot of things, a lot of hardships that people went through. Like before the roads came and you had snow plows that would just push it out of the way. Talking with Henry Tetz the other day and he says he remembers when he would haul a bottle of ammonia out to the wells on a sleigh because there was no other way to get to the well. With the ammonia out there he could thaw the well head out and keep it pumping.
Matt Kondro and George Deveyrac were pretty dedicated people. They took it on as a personal challenge. They took in doing their job properly. Reg Clarke hand mowed his leases with a lawn mower. You know the equipment that we had. No one really liked heavy oil. A lot of the people that looked at it over the years felt there was no money in it. It didn't have the romance or the glamour of the light oil of a Rainbow Lake or a Leduc or a place like Estevan. It has certainly changed now. I don't think the local companies ever made the rate of return that some of the majors felt was necessary for a good investment but I'm sure the companies that were here early have made good returns from where they started.
I can remember Mobil Oil when they first started; they wanted to go by their manuals and had to have well heads that were totally different from a normal Lloyd well head. They had to have metal clad pump houses and all welded fittings on the well heads. As a result they couldn't get the returns needed and they'd walk away from it. But over the years, Heavy Oil has provided a good living for a whole lot of people. And there were some real exciting times and this life that you and I had then was a hard life but I can't complain with it. I enjoyed my time in the patch. I liked working in Purchasing and then later got involved in the administration where I had five or six different areas of responsibility.
What were 2 or 3 highlights of your career?
Well, certainly the pipeline getting a market outside. I think that really helped there. My dad was working at the refinery and they used to send out train loads of Bunker C and that sort of thing. I think the refinery has always played a stabilizing role in Lloydminster and has done some good things. Some other things like the specialty plant I remember. The refinery started buying boxcar loads of empty cans and filling them. Husky always looked at the Heavy Oil as having potential to do many things. I think the refinery was the impetus that started things going and kept it going and generated the initial income production (the wells) and then the pipeline.
I remember out in the Aberfeldy area when they first started waterflooding. We bought fiberglass pipe, cement lined pipe because of the corrosive nature of the saltwater. I found that an interesting period of time.
The year that we drilled 483 wells was an exciting time. I enjoyed it, I didn't mind getting phone calls at 3:00 in the morning. I was young enough.
There were also some periods of frustration when the steam program failed and they shut it down. When we tried to sell all that steam equipment and stuff like that I was disappointed. When they sold all the Blackfoot wells to Tullcan and that sort of thing, I really didn't think that was such a good idea. I felt part of Husky was lost there disposing of those old fields. That was in the 70's and it was getting ... hey that's 25 years ago!
I remember how he ran the old warehouse compared to the new one, the material that we moved through there, and the people that did it. I'll always remember Sandy Macdonald when we used to start moving casing in by truckload. Andy Kerr had an office up the road up from the warehouse. We would phone Andy Kerr and he and three other guys would come up in a half-ton truck and load or unload pipe. Total cost between $11 and $13 per load! Their rates were $2.75 an hour for each of these guys and they could unload a truck in an hour. When Ross Trucking moved to Lloyd from the Estevan area they brought the first cherry pickers. They would start unloading pipe and it would take less time but cost us $55 dollars to unload a truck! We would never do anything by hand again! Probably at the warehouse we noticed this change more than other places. It was the change from manpower to mechanical power. I can remember Pete Kosteriva and I loading a load of 7-inch casings by ourselves and rolling it up planks laid up to the truck bed. That's why we built all of those racks 3 feet high so they would always be at truck level. You did that because if you had racks on the ground you couldn't lift it up. That was quite a change, when those big trucks started coming in. You just used to have gin small pole trucks with short beds and that sort of thing. Those things I remember, moving from one stage to the next.
So you enjoyed your years with Husky?
Well, not just the Husky part. Heavy Oil did give us a nice living and Husky, was the only company I worked for. There were a lot of changes in the way you'd do business. When I first got involved with the drilling part of Husky, I remember, I would get John Page to get a bid on 10 wells to drill. And I think they prepared the 10 sites for $165 each and they just dug the mud pits. You never disturbed the topsoil any more than you had to. If it was dry when you moved in and dry when you moved off, the well site stayed pretty good. If it rained it was too bad. Now, just west of town here they are building 4 or 5 acre sites and it takes a year almost to get it restored for farming. They're drilling a well just south of Lakeland College and they've got the dirt pushed back for a quarter of a mile to the road. The entire black dirt stripped for the road’s whole length in. If you go up to the Kitscoty area and you see these well sites, huge places, compared to what we used to do up in the McLaren Field, Blackfoot and Aberfeldy.
In the old days of drilling, we used a gravel pit out in the Tangleflags area for dumping the drilling muds and fluids without first testing it. Now you have to have the fish test. We used to just spread it over a farmer's field and in most places it worked out well, very little damage at all. Now you have to ensure a fish lived in the water for 24 hours or something like that. It got to that point from just squeezing it onto the lease and spreading it around to where you had to do a pH level and send it into the lab and had to prove that a fish could live in it. Those are the things that you notice now.
I can remember when some geologist would phone up from Calgary. They were always good at doing this because they wanted the last sale or their land was about to expire if they didn't drill this well. So you would go in and they would say, "you've got to drill this well now! We would go out and lease it and have it surveyed, send the survey plot in, or just tell the coordinates to the DMR in Regina and they would give us a license number. And all the rest would take place afterwards. We would often have the well drilled and completed - many times before you got your drilling license.
Now I think it would take you a week to 10 days before you could get a license, if everything went well. You have to have the license posted in the doghouse at the rig. You can't just drill on a number. I remember when we drilled those 480 wells; there were leases that were built, drilled and cased where a Husky person never saw them. We used to take those drilling programs to one of the tool pushes or Jack Ross would pick them up. Somewhere you'd get together and you'd give him two locations in advance. Your footage price from the rig included everything including up to a 6 to a 10-mile move. Then it got to where you had to have truck foremen to move the rigs. The cost just escalated with the regulations. Those are the things that I guess I remember more so than the geology or the production part of it.
Now days, they are drilling six or eight wells, or more from one site! I think it is a whole New World. I'm glad I'm not in it. At my age, I don't need the stress and the strain. And yet, there was a lot of freedom out there. You decided what you had to do and you were able to do it. Now you can't do that. I think I was ready for retirement when that came. I don't think I was ready for consensus and team meetings! It was quite different way back then.