August 20, 2014
Sharewell HDD LLC is marking its 30th anniversary in 2014. A company born out of the Texas oilfields and at the knee of the then-fledgling horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industry, the pioneering HDD tooling and service provider has definitely earned its stripes through its years of innovation and expertise.
Over the years, the company has served as inventors and leaders to both the oil and gas and HDD industries, creating a strong foundation on which the Sharewell name has matured. Under the Sharewell HDD LLC umbrella are its two divisions: Sharewell HDD Services and Sharewell HDD Drilling Products — together covering the HDD industry above and below ground.
The company’s top management team — Todd Caspary, Greg Wilson and Dan Sharpe — has a combined 70-plus years of experience when it comes to horizontal directional drilling and can swap industry war stories during any point of a conversation. They remember the early years of HDD when it was a struggle to get the word out about this game-changing technology and they recall the highs of the fiber-optic boom that took the industry to new heights and the lows when it came crashing down.
Taking note of the potential in horizontal directional drilling, Sharewell HDD embarked on a mission in 1985 that saw it introduce the wireline steering tool to HDD river crossings — a time when few had even heard of horizontal directional drilling. Since that time, the company has continued to create tooling and technology that moves the HDD industry forward.
Two key pieces of Sharewell’s technology arsenal are systems that the company teamed with Tensor to develop: its Wireline Steering System and TruTracker System. The Wireline Steering System gave contractors real-time information while they were drilling to determine location with increased accuracy. The TruTracker system is an industry staple that provides accurate determination of the location of the drill bit during the drilling operations, even in areas of magnetic interference. This system has been used to successfully complete millions of feet of pilot hole since.
Sharewell HDD CEO Todd Caspary and president Greg Wilson each have been with the company for more than 20 years, with Wilson starting his career as a surveyor. Each brings a unique perspective to the business and is the ying to the other’s yang when it comes to determining the company’s future, bringing a needed balance to the process.
“Greg has done an incredible job of running this company over the last 10 years,” Caspary says. “We’re going to continue to be a supplier of new and innovative technologies. Those are our short- and long-term goals. We are hopeful over the next two years that we can double in size as a result of [our] new products.”
Today, the company headquarters are located in Houston, with its Sharewell HDD warehouse located in the Houston suburb of Spring. Home for Sharewell HDD Drilling Products is near Fort Worth. The company also focuses on distributors around the globe, providing its innovative technologies beyond the U.S. borders.
HDD got its start in the oilfields and so did Sharewell HDD. The company was founded in 1984, using downhole technology from the oilfield and developing a magnetic multi-shot survey tool that would later be the catalyst to its success in the HDD industry. Recognizing the potential of the HDD market, in 1985, Sharewell partnered with Tensor, a leader in developing and manufacturing wireline steering tools, to convert the survey tool into a wireline steering tool that could be used on HDD river crossings — and never looked back.
“The company continued to dabble in the oil and gas industry but [HDD] became a very important part of our business,” Caspary says.
Caspary joined Sharewell in 1990 as its business development manager and Wilson came aboard as a surveyor in 1991 — just two of the long-tenured Sharewell employees. In 1993, the company expanded to include hard rock drilling products and started to add downhole drilling motors, hole openers, reamers and bits, becoming the first HDD service company to provide a complete tooling package to its HDD contractors.
Sharewell partnered with Downhole Design Inc. to develop a hole opener that could be used to cut multiple hole sizes on a single body, while limiting the amount of torque the drilling rig would be subjected to. This was the birth of the LoTorque hole opener.
“We wanted to add a new product line. The customers were getting into drilling harder rock,” Caspary says. “We saw an opportunity to bring our oilfield technology to the trenchless industry.”
In 1995, Sharewell was acquired by Drilex International, adding an HDD component to its oilfield service offerings. Baker Hughes then acquired Drilex in 1997 where it remained until Caspary re-acquired Sharewell from Baker Hughes in 2000.
Everything was going well for Sharewell at that time, with HDD at an all-time high, particularly with the large number of fiber-optic projects dotting the entire country. That all came crashing down in 2001 with the economic and HDD collapses, leaving Sharewell struggling to keep its doors open with 12 employees — but it did. “We did survive because we were lean and we had our survey and technology business,” Caspary says.
As the industry and the economy slowly turned around, Caspary set his sight on returning to the oil and gas industry. Sharewell Energy Services was established in 2004 as a subsidiary of Sharewell, serving just the oil and gas industry. He stepped away as CEO of Sharewell to lead the new company and Wilson took over management of Sharewell.
Caspary sold 60 percent of the energy services business to a private equity group in 2012 and he returned to Sharewell HDD in July 2013. Trenchless industry veteran Dan Sharpe joined Sharewell in 2013, brought on to lead the company’s newest venture Sharewell HDD Drilling Products.
“Todd and I had talked over the years about doing something together,” Sharpe says. “He had started to refocus on the trenchless side of things and I had some ideas for new products. That’s when we decided to form [Sharewell HDD Drilling Products] to focus on above the ground.”
The facility is located in Ponder, Texas, just north of Fort Worth. This new venture allows Sharewell to diversify its offerings and introduce new products that aren’t necessarily HDD focused. Take for example its first product — the Thunderbolt 2 electric auger boring machine, a partnership between Boretec Equipment and Sharewell HDD Drilling Products. That product, along with its patent, was recently sold to an undisclosed buyer.
Two products that have shown enormous promise are mud cleaning systems. The Thunderstorm II, a mud mixing and cleaning system that features a 3,000-gal split tank, first rolled off the assembly line in March. Just starting production is the Thunderstorm I, a smaller version of its older sibling.
Another product that Sharpe is excited to discuss is the rig anchoring system named CLEAT, a steel structure with hardened steel spikes or “cleats” protruding from the bottom that provides stability during drilling, especially during pullback. The first unit was completed in July.
One of the intangibles that has helped Sharewell become so successful over the last 30 years is its perseverance to overcome challenges — whether those challenges include economic downturns or former employees becoming direct competitors to name a few. Whatever has been thrown at Sharewell, it has rebounded and become stronger.
“We’ve been through three pretty significant economic downturns in the [HDD] industry,” Wilson says, noting the 2001 downturn cost the company about 60 percent of its revenue. “We’ve had to make cuts and hunker down on our finances and struggle through it. Like any industry, there are peaks and valleys. You know if you can just make it through that valley that eventually you are going to peak again.”
The company is enjoying the peaks that the HDD industry is experiencing today, thanks in large part to the booming shale plays. “All of the resource plays are driving a lot of our HDD business from natural gas to oil from the South to the Northeast,” Caspary says. “They have to build the infrastructure to connect all of this oil and gas and that’s what we are seeing the benefits of.”
And shale plays aren’t limited to North America, with countries such as China, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland going through this, as well. “That is going to allow a lot of opportunity for us internationally,” Sharpe says.
One of the challenges of being a pioneer in an industry is the possibility of losing good workers who decide to leave and create their business to compete with yours. Sharewell has been the starting ground for several tooling and wireline experts who directly compete with the company today. Wilson and Caspary take it in stride, noting it’s the nature of the beast. But they also work that much harder to provide exemplary service to keep their customers happy and with Sharewell — during the peaks and valleys.
Many of those customers have been with Sharewell since the early years of the HDD industry and remained with them during some of the darkest times the industry faced. “We have some very loyal customers who have been with us for a lot of those downturns,” Wilson says. “The reason they stay is because of the service we provide. Being a service company, you have to understand that when you get into those types of downturns, you have to work with your customers.”
The company also isn’t afraid to dip its toes into other areas of HDD as a way to expand its reach, such as moving above the ground for new products. Always looking for ways to strengthen its position and offerings, Caspary and Wilson won’t shy away from acquiring companies that have products that complement Sharewell’s.
“Sharewell HDD Drilling Products is a good example of us willing to move into different avenues of the HDD industry,” Wilson says.
Just as HDD grew out of the oilfields more than four decades ago, that lifecycle continues today as products that are standard equipment in the oil and gas industry are making their way into the HDD market, first to the maxi rig contractors and now trickling down to the smaller ones.
“Mud cleaning systems are a prime example,” Sharpe says, noting that they were first used with maxi rigs and today they are becoming a staple on smaller rigs. “And now, the contractors who are putting in fiber-optic lines or electric lines are using mud cleaning systems to stay competitive. [One more way] to claim profit is to clean their own mud. That’s helping our side of things. They didn’t used to clean their mud two years ago but now you are seeing it.”
Wilson notes that wireline steering tools were primarily used by maxi rig contractors years ago but today are now being used by the smaller guys, most notably in Texas. “Here in Texas, [regulators] want all the smaller rigs using wireline steering,” he says. “They are becoming more and more required simply for the mapping aspect. You can’t put a piece of pipe in the ground without knowing precisely where it is… In the early days, you were [drilling] out in the middle of nowhere. That’s not the case anymore.”
Staying on Top
The competitiveness of the HDD tooling market has never been fiercer and Sharewell HDD plans to stay on the cutting edge of technology but also keep service at the top of its strengths. “[The competition] is growing larger and larger every day,” Caspary says. “More and more companies are providing hole openers and split bits. So it’s going to come down to service.”
He further notes the key to enduring success beyond your products and service are three critical areas. “It’s basically about staying lean, being able to react to the market quickly and being debt-free,” Caspary says. “You have to have the financial resources available to react to opportunities. That is the key thing.”
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.
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