Lon Briscoe: Life on the Rig

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It would be difficult to call Lon Briscoe’s expertise into question when it comes to just about anything related to oil and gas drilling or HDD.

A 45-year veteran of underground construction, Briscoe has spent a career mastering the science of drilling while also gaining managerial experience along the way, working for a number of drilling companies and holding senior leadership positions. His expertise is rooted in both his background and his true passion for drilling.

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Briscoe got his hands dirty in the drilling industry early. As a kid in high school, he wasn’t the type who had a cushy part-time job. He didn’t take family vacations either. Instead, his summer holidays were spent roughnecking on the drill rigs for his family’s oilfield drilling business, called Guthrie McLaren Drilling.

Briscoe’s father was a tool push on the rig. Until he was six, Lon and the rest of his family, which included his three older sisters and two younger brothers, lived on location in a small mobile home. Briscoe’s mother taught his older sisters school via correspondence. The Briscoes moved their trailer with the drilling rig about every 30 days before eventually settling down in Edmonton. Lon learned the business alongside his two brothers, Jess and Trevor. It’s a period he credits as developing his work ethic and laying the foundation of his knowledge of drilling.

“As a young man in my teens and throughout my oilfield career, I had the opportunity of being mentored by many successful Canadian oil and gas drilling contractor and oilfield service contracting legends,” he says.
Briscoe’s early career experience in both conventional and experimental drilling techniques also sparked a lifelong dedication to innovation when it came to drilling. He says working for his family’s business taught him to appreciate the capabilities of drill rigs and how to push the limits of what can be accomplished on a project.

RELATED: Direct Horizontal Develops Wireless HDD Tool

“I was taught the importance of working hard and working smart,” he adds. “The most important thing my father taught me was to respect employees and the equipment that we use in our daily work.”

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Lon Briscoe at age 16

Lon Briscoe at age 16 working on the drill rig for the family business,
Guthrie McLaren Drilling.

The Crossing Company

After finishing high school, the Briscoe brothers all stayed on the drill rigs. Lon went on to gain experience drilling all over Alberta, becoming a rig manager and eventually holding a leadership role with Guthrie McLaren Drilling. In 1998, he pivoted from the working on the rig and spent eight years working with Derrick Equipment Co., where he rented and sold mud handling equipment. For four of those years, he even spent time in Russia in the Central Asia region selling drilling equipment and solids control systems to drilling companies working in the region.

As he advanced in his career, so did his brothers. Jess and Trevor Briscoe both joined Cherrington Corp. in 1989, the company founded by HDD pioneer Martin Cherrington. Today, Jess Briscoe works for Sharewell HDD and represents its sales territories in the western U.S. and Canada. Lon co-founded and became president of the HDD and auger boring contractor The Crossing Company in 1997 with Trevor, who served as vice president of operations until his retirement.

Upon founding The Crossing Company, Lon and Trevor Briscoe started off by purchasing a 300,000-lb drill rig in 1996. They acquired two additional rigs when they purchased another drilling contractor’s operation in Alberta the following year. “We just grew it from there. Every year, we’d build a rig basically,” he says, recalling that first acquisition as one that positioned the company to work in the winter – a move that has defined one of Briscoe’s areas of expertise in terms of drilling in difficult conditions.

It was also during this time Briscoe became interested in retooling oilfield drilling equipment to work in HDD applications.

“The technology of the drill rigs was pretty crude,” he says. “There weren’t even reamer suppliers back then. We went to oilfield service companies and had them revamp downhole reamers to fit HDD applications. Me and my younger brothers grew up knowing how to build efficient drill rigs. And from what we were seeing with existing rigs, I knew we could do it better and add bigger pumps and proper solids control.”

Briscoe would eventually move on from The Crossing Company and entered the world of consulting for a short time before getting back into the drilling game.

2015 cover of Trenchless Technology Canada

Briscoe, right, pictured on a 2015 cover of Trenchless Technology Canada with Direct Horizontal’s Brian Sadoway and Neil Brown.

Direct Horizontal Drilling

Briscoe joined Calgary, Alberta-based Direct Horizontal Drilling in 2008, becoming president in 2010. He holds one of three executive leadership positions along with company owner and fellow Canadian oilfield veteran Neil Brown and vice president Brian Sadoway.

Direct Horizontal Drilling employs 50 full-time workers – a number that tends to increases to 250 during the busy season. Many of the company’s drilling experts, like Briscoe, Brown and Sadoway, are oil and gas industry veterans.

Direct Horizontal, first established in 2000 – but purchased in 2009 by Brown – has more than 250 years combined experience in successful subsurface product installation over various lengths and sizes. The company’s early days were spent drilling in the Rocky Mountain Basin, an area that is known to be one of the toughest drilling environments in the world. From this experience, different drilling practices have been introduced over the years to mitigate the risk of unsuccessful product installation. Direct was the first contractor to introduce and implement annular pressure monitoring and modeling. It also introduced running an oilfield downhole mud motor for hard formation drilling.

RELATED: Experienced Staff, High-Quality Equipment Play Vital Role in Direct Horizontal’s Success

Direct Horizontal’s drilling fleet includes its Maxi Series rigs and Light Rig Series. Both are well known to customers to offer safe, efficient drilling operations, as well as rapid rig up and high mobility. All Maxi Series rigs in Direct Horizontal’s fleet are high-performance drilling rigs suited for operating in extreme weather conditions. Briscoe says the company’s recent success can be attributed to its low employee turnover and its HDD rig mechanical down time that consistently runs at less than 0.50 percent.

“We run our jobs 24/7 up here in Canada,” he adds. “So every one of our nine maxi rigs have to have three crews. Multiply that by nine rigs, that’s how many crews we have to keep busy.”

Specifically, Direct Horizontal’s fleet consists of 11 American Augers rigs and eight Ditch Witch HDD rigs, and one Vermeer light rig. The company updates the rigs in-house to keep them among the best and safest rigs in use in Canada. All of its ancillary equipment is custom-built by Direct Horizontal to match the rigs and the working conditions in Canada, even in temperatures of -45 C.

“I think in just last year, we drilled 35,000 meters in pilot holes. [That] is every day, business as usual. For other people, it’s not,” Briscoe says. “When people come up here, I explain it like this, ‘Our rigs are purpose-built for these conditions in Canada. I can’t take one of my million-pound rigs, go to Texas and compete down there. It just would not work.’

HDD Today

Briscoe says he sees the HDD industry as being positively impacted by the owners placing stricter specifications on contractors.

“Professionalism has to be a standard in an industry like this,” he says. “When you’re taking on 2 km of 42-in. diameter ream, there has to be some professionalism. That’s a complicated and difficult project to complete and everything has to go right. You have to show up with the right people and the right gear.”

He also adds the quality of downhole reamers has evolved significantly, as have the guidance and tracking tools that allow for faster drilling and better accuracy.

In fact, just this year Direct Horizontal was looking for a way to extend its reach at crossings, work more efficiently in poor geological formations and reduce its drilling schedules. This led to the development of its own proprietary electro-magnetic (EM) directional tools and HDD steering system, which allows the contractor to safely and efficiently perform HDD crossings without the liabilities of downhole wiring.

At the end of the day, it’s Briscoe’s experience that continues to drive Direct Horizontal. His leadership has resulted in industry-changing technological advances recognized by the HDD community.

RELATED: HDD Project Takes a Back Seat to Pipeline Community’s Heart

In 2013, Briscoe was invited to participate in the first ever “Legends of HDD” panel at NASTT’s No-Dig Show in Sacramento. The panel was a two-hour conversation presenting perspective on the history of HDD and the evolution of the industry that included other known industry icons like Cherrington, along with Ron Halderman of Mears Group, Richard Melsheimer of Melfred Borzall, Bill Riel of Barbco Inc. and Tom Tibor of Baroid Industrial Drilling Products.

“It’s always interesting,” Briscoe says of the HDD industry today. “There are so many interesting projects and we see engineers getting more inventive and using the HDD technique on so many different types of projects these days.”

Briscoe also adds that business is strong in Canada and the short-term outlook is positive despite drilling markets facing some uncertainty due to increasing costs and investment opportunities increasing in the United States. “That’s the only challenge we have,” he says. “Drilling? That’s not a challenge to us.”

Andrew Farr is an associate editor of Trenchless Technology.

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