Business View Magazine interviews Glen Rabby, President of Hi-Kalibre Equipment as part of our focus on Canadian mining and energy.
Hi-Kalibre Equipment Ltd., headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, designs and manufactures blowout prevention equipment for the global oil and gas industry, and is a leading innovator in product design and development. “It was started about 30 years ago by my uncle Glen Rabby and three partners,” says current company President, Patrick Rabby. “When the company first started, it was mainly a service company. We did anything for anybody, but our main client was the drilling industry in Alberta. The founders quickly saw a need for quality safety devices for drilling and service rigs, so they developed their own product lines and those products did fairly well. The firm got a reputation for good quality and service. And then, when top drives started to take off, that’s when the company really found its mark. We got involved with some of the early top drive developers in Canada and the U.S., and we developed patented technology for them.”
Rabby explains the difference between top drive drilling for oil and gas versus conventional, rotary table drilling: “Top drives have revolutionized the drilling industry,” he says. “Today, we put the drive at the top of the rig, as opposed to rotary table rigs where the drive was located at the base of the rig. We can drill faster and more efficiently with vastly improved safety. Combined with sensors and automation, downhole motors, telemetry, automated pipe handling, walking systems, improved fluids, drill bit advancements, completions tools – the technology and skill in this area has exploded in the past 20 years, and much of it has been developed in North America. In these tough times, our knowledge and technology allows North American companies to be competitive in a global market. And many countries around the world are looking at North American technology and skill to help them stay competitive.”
Rabby admits that his company was very fortunate to have been at the forefront of top drive development in the industry. “That’s where our company really started to take off,” he states. “We developed some patented technology for top drives; we did a lot of work with early top drive manufacturers to get our equipment on their top drives when they were being made. And through that, we were exposed to the global drilling industry, because of the demand for top drive technology worldwide. So, our equipment was getting international attention. From there, it continued to grow. Larger top drive manufacturers started to use our equipment offshore; we did a lot more work overseas, and we spent the last few years developing our service and support in all the countries where our equipment is working.”
Hi-Kalibre’s main products are the different kinds of high-pressure valves that are used in various parts of drilling operations. For example: top drive drill stem safety valves are widely used for both blow out prevention and mud control during drilling; inside blow out prevention valves are used to control back flow or blow out when the drill stem safety valve is disconnected from the drill pipe; and ball valves are used in manifolds, choke, and kill assemblies. In addition, the company also makes actuators that can turn its valves on and off, remotely. Currently, Hi-Kalibre has 13 patents and patent pending technologies for drill stem equipment and hydraulic actuation, specializing in the top drive space. “Our mandate is to improve operational uptime for drilling contractors by providing reliable, high quality equipment,” Rabby states. “Because we focus on drill stem technology, we are constantly designing or adapting our fluid control technology to use the latest drill string connections or meet drilling contractors’ job specific requirements.”
Rabby believes that since the worldwide oil and gas sector is extremely price-competitive, those countries and companies that invest in the latest technologies will always tend to have an edge. “Look at the work that is going on in Canada and the U.S. today. Despite the low contract prices and the prolonged weakness in the price of oil, we still have fields in North America where the costs to bring them online are economical,” he asserts. “And everybody is looking at what we’re doing in North America with our expertise and equipment, especially the advances in drilling and completion. And that technology and skill is going around the world as other countries try to improve their competitiveness.”
While Hi-Kalibre’s products are helping drilling contractors compete more effectively, the industry, as a whole, is facing difficult challenges, particularly in Canada, which is a net oil and gas producer. Not only is the sector trying to recover from the recent economic downturn and continued depressed prices for fossil fuels, but political instability and environmental concerns around pipe lines and oil and gas projects, as well as a withdrawal of investment in Alberta’s fields, has convinced Rabby of the need to get the message out of how important the sector is to the country.
“This industry is vital to Canada,” he declares. “Despite the drop in investment, oil prices and activity, oil and gas is still the third largest direct contributor to our GDP. It drives manufacturing jobs, research and development, and investment in our country. But further than that, it helps drive commercial real estate, travel, vehicle sales, housing starts and many other parts of our economy. For every dollar that gets spent on an oil and gas project in Alberta, three to four dollars gets spent in our economy. Oil and gas contributes directly to roughly 30 percent of Alberta’s GDP, and closer to 42 percent, including indirect dollars spent. For many Albertans, if they don’t work directly in oil and gas, they’re doing something in support of it.”
He goes on to express his desire for a more reasoned approach and a national energy strategy for one of Canada’s major industries: “As a business owner, pipelines and infrastructure within Canada do nothing for our company unless it is drilling related. Almost everything our company makes is exported internationally. However as a friend, neighbor, and a citizen of Canada, I am deeply concerned that we have not done enough to promote all the benefits of our industry, and the many positive aspects of Canadian oil and gas. If we work to improve support for internal and external pipe lines, and get our Canadian oil and gas to multiple markets, we could offer energy produced in a clean, efficient, and safe environment that is made ethically. Canadian produced oil and natural gas, when transported in a cost effective and green manner via pipeline, has probably the best environmental footprint we can hope for from fossil fuels, especially when transport is considered.”
“To encourage export of our ethical oil and gas, and to promote Canadian skill and expertise, we need a stable political climate, which encourages business to invest in jobs, technology, and growth,” he continues. “We need to get the word out on just how clean our oil and gas is, and we need to showcase that investment in Canadian resources is invested back into emission reductions. Naturally we need to continue to ensure we are producing energy in a responsible manner. And we need to have an investment environment where the regulatory approval process is centralized, fair for Canadians and the environment, but also allows international companies to plan projects in a timely manner.”
Rabby also exhorts his fellow citizens to express themselves, as well. “We are already seeing Canadians who understand the importance of speaking up in support of the great amount of skill, expertise, and value we can provide,” he states, unequivocally. “The oil and gas industry will continue to be a responsible member of the world energy supply chain as we look for alternative energy solutions and emission reductions. However energy is still a major contributor to quality of life, which is why the world is dependent on oil and gas. As Canadians we have the opportunity to help the world bridge the gap in a responsible and ethical manner.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Hi-Kalibre Equipment Ltd.
WHAT: Designs and manufactures blowout prevention equipment for the global oil and gas industry
WHERE: Edmonton, Alberta