After 40 Years, Drilling Fluids Expert Frank Canon Plans to Slow It Down After Officially Retiring in April
Frank Canon isn’t going into retirement quietly.
The drilling fluids expert — known for his bright red Baroid IDP jumpsuit and treasure trove of HDD war stories — plans to stay active in the industry that he loves by continuing to share his wealth of knowledge through his mud schools and consulting on horizontal directional drilling projects.
After 40 years, Canon is calling it quits. He joined Baroid in March 1975 and his official retirement day was in April. But he already has a mud school lined up in Amsterdam and is consulting on an international project in South America. Retirement…yeah, right!
“When people ask me what my plans are now, my stock answer is ‘I’m going to be screwing around a lot but I won’t feel guilty about it,’” Canon says from his home in Magnolia, Texas. “I’ve been taking it easy but I’ll be working a quarter of my time for Baroid IDP. I’m not gone! You can’t just do something for 40 years and just flip a switch and walk away. It’s impossible.”
As the HDD industry took off, Canon became the go-to guy when it came to drilling fluids. Though his first priority was to sell drilling fluid for Baroid, he also became an expert trainer and educator of mud use and recycling to a generation of directional drillers. His mud schools were must-attend sessions for drillers and his war stories show the depth of how much the HDD industry has grown in the 25 years since he started working in it.
Canon’s job has taken him to drilling sites and training sessions around the world, including South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, China, South America, Europe and Russia. The question becomes: Where hasn’t he been?
“I’m damn sure I haven’t been to Antarctica!” he says, laughing.
During the course of his career, Canon has received many accolades for his work in the HDD industry, including being named the 1999 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year, North East Trenchless Association’s Founder’s Award (2010) and induction in to NASTT’s Hall of Fame in 2012. He also has served on NASTT’s Board of Directors from 2001-2005. He was also a member of Trenchless Technology’s Drillmaster Advisory Board, contributing many articles on drilling fluid use.
Canon started with Baroid in the oilfield as a mud engineer in 1975. After training in Houston, he was transferred to the Rocky Mountains territory where he worked for 14 years, living in New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado. In 1989, he left the oilfield group to work in what is now Baroid Industrial Drilling Products. At the time, he was working primarily in the water well industry, covering the South Central United States. In 1992, Canon was awarded the Texas Water Well Association’s Man of the Year.
“At 8 o’clock in the morning on March 10, 1975, I showed up in Bay City, Texas, wearing a lime green, double-knit polyester leisure suit, not having a clue as to what was going to be happening during the next 40 years,” Canon says, laughing.
In 1989 and 1990, Canon started getting calls about a relatively unknown drilling discipline that would soon change the way underground utilities were installed — horizontal directional drilling. The trenchless method wasn’t widely used at the time but it became more and more accepted. Canon embarked on the challenge of learning about this evolving, game-changing industry, as well as microtunneling, auger boring and pipe bursting. Over the next several years, he worked with manufacturers and contractors to learn what was needed for drilling and lubrication fluids in the trenchless industry.
“That time is when the big change happened and I started working exclusively on the trenchless side of things,” Canon says. “By 1992, we had to transfer someone to take over my territory because trenchless was taking up more and more of my time.
“There wasn’t a handbook on [HDD] at the time and there still really isn’t one,” he says. There’s more information out there but there’s never been a handbook to follow. It was an adventure.”
Canon has become synonymous with the drilling fluids mud schools put on through Baroid, as well as other industry conferences — in North America and abroad. The importance of understanding how drilling fluids are used in an HDD, auger boring or microtunneling project is paramount to their success. With the increase in the number of drillers coming into the HDD market early on and later with the telecom boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the mud schools were critical. Some contractors would bypass fluid use altogether or just use water.
“Back in the early 1990s, the issue was getting contractors to use enough fluid,” Canon remembers. “They would only pump the bare minimums and not maintain flow.”
Today, the impact of HDD technology and equipment has made a difference in the use of drilling fluids, especially with the use of the mud separation systems used regularly on all sizes of HDD jobs, not just the maxi rigs. “Today there is much more sophistication and much more knowledge,” Canon says.
He says even though the contractors and manufacturers are more knowledgeable when it comes to drilling fluids, there needs to be a re-emphasis on drilling fluid training by the industry. “There are lot of people who have been around the industry quite a while and have the knowledge and have retained the knowledge of all the training we did through the 1990s and the work through the early 2000s,” Canon says. “But there are a lot of people getting into the industry today and [the industry] isn’t doing the volume of training we did in the past and some are starting to take shortcuts.”
Canon is amazed at how far the HDD industry has come from its early days, with more powerful equipment and longer and longer bores being done. “I remember in the mid-1990s at one of the tradeshows, there was a panel discussion on whether a 10,000-ft bore was feasible,” he says. “This summer we have an 11,000-ft bore coming in South America.”
Canon has earned the respect of his trenchless peers over his career and has made long-lasting friendships. Reflecting on his career, he gets emotional about the people and the impact he has had on the industry.
“It has all meant so much that you would not believe,” he says. “I had a guy come up to me (at one of the mud schools) and say, ‘You don’t remember me, but I was in one of your [mud] schools back in the 1990s. When somebody remembers you for 20 years, that really means a lot.”
He recounts the story of one driller he trained in the mid-1990s in Gulfport, Miss., when Canon was onsite helping on a job that involved drilling in pure sand. He says the drill operator was the backhoe operator the day before and didn’t know anything about drilling. After a grueling day on the site being trained by someone who “was a screamer,” the operator was ready to call it quits in HDD. Canon spoke with him and stayed on the site another day to help with a second bore, working with him.
“We get out there the next day and he asked me, ‘What do I do?’ I told him not to touch anything until you know what it’s going to do before you do it. We finished up the bore and I left,” Canon says. “Three years later I was in Memphis at an event and a young man came up to me and asked, ‘You don’t remember me do you?’ That was the same young man. He had stayed at the company, which now (at the time) had nine rigs and he was the drilling superintendent.
“Just staying that extra day…When you can make an impact like that one someone’s life, that’s the difference,” he says.
Though Canon is not ready to hang up his jumpsuits entirely, he has been taking it easy. He and his wife Mary Ann will be celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary this summer and he plans on spending time with his sons Barrett and Jared (who does wireline steering with Sharewell).
“People consider me retired but I’m still out there,” he laughs. “I still have the same cell number! It’s been a heck of ride but it’s not over. I’m just doing it in a lower gear.”
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.