Private Equity Enables Service Firms To Improve Well Economics

Author: Colter Cookson

According to alternative investment research firm Preqin, private equity firms have $971.4 billion on hand to invest in the oil and gas sector. For perspective, that is three times the size of Canada’s total budgeted federal expenditures in fiscal year 2016. Even for a capital-intensive industry, that is a lot of investment dollars waiting for opportunity to come knocking!

A survey of private equity firms conducted by Ernst & Young suggests much of that capital will go to producers and midstream companies, but upstream service companies focused on all aspects of the value chain–from exploration to drilling, completion, production and even back-office business functions–also are in the mix for private equity placements.

Completion Tools
According to Wes Pixley, COO of completion tools provider Choice Completion Systems, successful businesses recognize a timeless truth. “Employees are the best asset a company has,” he outlines. “Treat the employees well, and they will give the customer top-quality service.”

Treating employees well goes beyond compensation and benefits, Pixley contends. “It means listening to the employees, because they are the ones who hear and see what the customers need,” he says. “If we use the feedback they give us to develop tools and solutions that better serve our customers, our employees will take ownership of the product and the company as a whole. They’ll work harder and keep passing on what they learn, creating a feedback loop where everyone’s needs get met.” That loop can be effective only if Choice has employees who understand the industry, work hard, and keep their eyes and ears open, Pixley says. “One of the benefits of starting the company in the middle of a downturn is that there were quality people looking for work,” he remarks.

The feedback it gets from employees will only matter if the company has an engineering team capable of developing effective solutions quickly and consistently, Pixley continues. “Our team is among the best in the industry,” he says, noting that its members have earned six U.S. patents and have 13 pending. They also have been honored with two awards for engineering innovation.

“We saw a huge need for a fully composite frac plug, so that is one of the first tools we are introducing,” Pixley says. “The plug has one-fifth the material volume of a standard composite plug, so it reduces drill-out times and debris as much as 80 percent.”

Choice also provides toe actuator sleeves, which Pixley notes enable operators to conduct a casing test and initiate fracs without a coiled tubing unit. Its other products include cemented frac sleeves, cement retainers, packers, and related well completion accessories. Future product development will include liner hanger systems, Pixley adds.

Choice has offices in West Texas, South Texas and East Texas, he says. Over the next two years, the company plans to expand into every major U.S. basin as industry activity rebounds. “We are going to continue to hire employees who value their relationships with customers and are committed to solving problems no matter when the call comes in,” Pixley says. “As we do that, we will provide good service and our bottom line will take care of itself.”

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Wes Pixley has seen downturns. Now he’s starting a business in the middle of one.

Pixley, 55, is a tall, large man with a strong Louisiana drawl and a wide smile. One day last month, we met at a local deli. He wore a purple polo shirt and ordered a steak for lunch.

Pixley got laid off in January from well equipment supplier Team Oil Tools. Not two months later, he had the paperwork drafted to start his own tools company.

Prices had just hit $26 a barrel, their lowest in more than 10 years.

Pixley was not dissuaded, seeing advantages in starting up during a downturn: Lower materials costs. Fewer companies to compete with. An abundance of skilled workers looking for jobs.

Pixley grew up on a dairy farm in Athens, La., population 350. He went to Louisiana Tech University to major in petroleum engineering, but the program was taking too long, so he opted for an associate’s degree. In 1980, he went to work for Dresser Industries. In 1983, with oil prices sliding, he lost his first job, at age 22.

But a former Dresser manager hooked him up with another former employee who was starting a new oil drilling supply company, Marshland Packers. And Marshland gave him a small piece of the company. Seventeen years later, Marshland sold to Weatherford International, and Pixley made about $90,000, he said.

He paid off some debts, worked for Weatherford for a few years, and then used the rest of his Marshland profits, about $60,000, to start his own company, Completion Tools & Service, another well equipment supplier.

Five years later, in 2009, Pixley sold Completion to Team Oil for an undisclosed price. He stayed on as the company’s Eastern U.S. operations manager.

In February 2015, Team had its first layoff. About a year later, the company consolidated operations managers, and Pixley lost his job.

Half the staff was laid off that year, Pixley said.

“Everybody was cutting people,” he said.

In April, Pixley’s new company, Choice Completion Systems, worked its first job in the oil field. The company buys, sells, designs, installs and operates oil well plugs and valves, among other tools. Pixley started with three salesmen; he’s now hired 21 workers.

Start-up costs were low. Oil field activity is picking up. And his team, he said, is making sales well-by-well – most already had relationships in the industry before they joined Completion.

“If you have the right people, quality people – and they’re everywhere on the street now – there are opportunities out there,” Pixley said. “You just have to scratch and find them.”

And, if he does this right, Pixley figures, his new company will have its footprint in place when oil and gas prices, and the industry rebound.

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DUG Debut of Choice Completion Systems Introduces High Efficiency Completion Technologies

Patent-Pending Hydraulic Fracturing Plug and Toe Actuator Sleeves are Unveiled 

Houston, TX (Thursday, July 7, 2016) – Newly formed Choice Completion Systems (Choice) is now supplying critical technology for improving the efficiency of completing conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells. The announcement was made June 22, 2016 at Hart Energy’s DUG East conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

Choice is comprised of a veteran group of three completion experts, each with a strong entrepreneurial history of managing and developing successful companies. This team’s edge is their expertise in engineering innovation as seen through their combined list of patented technologies. Between them, the 3-man team holds more than 20 patents and patents pending.

The products and rental tools that Choice offers are key components in completing conventional and unconventional wells. The company’s headquarters and technology center is located in Houston, Texas. Choice currently provides service for its customers from three facilities strategically located in West Texas, South Texas and East Texas. Current plans call for rapid expansion into other active US/North American oil and gas regions.

Unique technologies introduced by Choice are focused on reducing the cost and improving the efficiency of hydraulically fractured completions, a major expense in producing the well. At the 2016 DUG East conference, the company unveiled its patent-pending Razorback hydraulic fracturing plug used to provide zonal isolation during multi-stage completions. Constructed of 100% composite materials, the plug reduces drill out time and debris by up to 80%. Choice also exhibited two innovative toe actuator sleeves—a standard and cycling sleeve—designed to provide an economic and reliable option to unconventional solutions.

“At Choice, our design approach as an engineering team involves providing simple solutions to solve complex problems” explains Kenny Anton, Vice President of Engineering. “We find simple solutions are the most economical for our customers.”

“At a time when the industry is struggling, we are thrilled to introduce new technology to cut costs and improve efficiency,” explains Choice COO, Wes Pixley. “The recent upturn in activity means our technology is ready to provide value that is critical to controlling the cost and improving the performance of completions.” Pixley, a 35-year industry veteran, previously owned and sold two successful start-up completion companies.

Michael Harris, Choice’s Vice President of Business Development, comments, “Our fresh approach to solving completion challenges is creating an operational step change for our customers. We apply a practical focus to creating engineered solutions, while keeping our customer’s needs paramount. Central to this is a service network that is logistically convenient and knowledgeable.” Harris is the former VP of Engineering and Manufacturing of a large domestic completions company. He individually holds 6 US Patents and 13 Pending US Patent applications and is a recent recipient of a Hart Meritorious Award for Engineering Innovation, the industry’s most established and widely respected engineering award.

About Choice Completion Systems:

Choice is a rapidly growing provider of innovative and patented tools used to complete conventional and unconventional wells. Tools that Choice currently provides are: toe actuator sleeves, frac sleeves, composite frac plugs, packers and rental service tools. Headquartered in Houston, Texas, the company currently has service facilities strategically located in West Texas, South Texas and East Texas with future plans of expansion into all major U.S. basins. Learn More.

The U.S. shale oil industry may be coming off life support, though many caution it will still take time to recover from the worst downturn in a generation.

U.S. companies sent nine drilling rigs back to the West Texas and other oil patches across the country this week, the first significant sign of recovery in the dusty regions that were at the center of the biggest domestic energy boom in 40 years.

It could mark another turning point for the industry, an end to the long financial drought that has devastated the service companies that support thousands of jobs in Houston. It comes just a few weeks before the two-year anniversary of the start of the oil bust.

“It’ll come back,” said Russell Robinson, a corporate salesman at Choice Completions, a 2-month-old oil field services startup in Houston. “You can’t live without oil, unless you want to ride a horse and buggy. You just had some people open the spigot a little more than they should have. We’re all excited it’s coming back.”

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