A Calgary Drilling Company Leads Us to The Energy Future?

Both True readers know that I love, I mean really love Canada’s oil and gas industry. Alberta reminds me of Colorado and Calgary of Denver. I feel at home and among my people. When I attended the Canadian Energy Executives Association’s (CEEA) Oil and Gas Beyond Boomers event in February, I was looking forward to a fun, Friday night event. I didn’t also expect to encounter one of the industry’s most visionary leaders sitting next to me on a panel. 

How the world has changed since February 2020. Yet, Kevin’s approach is more timely and important than ever – and we can all learn from the way he’s thinking about the energy future. Kevin embodies the kind of novel thinking we need to embrace from our millennial workforce to keep one eye on the future. 

Kevin’s a humble guy, so he’s going to hate this. Nevertheless, I think you need to hear what he has to say. He has three decades left working in oil and gas, and, therefore, is thinking differently about our shared future. 

Both of these things are true:

  • No industry will look in 30 years the way it does today.
  • The oil and gas industry is solely responsible for its own reimagination.

What you need to know:

When I met Kevin Krausert in February, I knew he was the CEO of Beaver Drilling. He looked kinda young (compared to me anyway); he runs his family’s drilling company; and so I expected the usual “we need to educate them about the importance of oil and gas” fare. Instead, I heard not just a vision for the future, but a call to action on how to build it.

I leaned forward in my seat when Kevin clicked to the slide in his presentation entitled “Oil and Gas Pathways to Net Zero.” It included reducing emissions; low-emissions LNG; and blue hydrogen (H made from natural gas), among other things. As you know, I believe our industry should be a) sharing the ambitions of a public who wants to decarbonize and b) charting a path forward. So far, I’ve only seen this kind of vision articulated by the oil and gas majors. I didn’t expect to see one of those cutting-edge leaders on stage on that particular Friday night. 

Kevin got his start at Beaver Drilling as a roughneck. His grandfather, who started the company in 1965, wanted him to come to work for the company —– and Kevin planned to stay for a year. He’d gotten a degree in neuroscience and planned to pursue a master’s degree in the same topic, so he was taking a big step away from his intended career path. But he enjoyed the challenge of his work, embracing the family’s legacy, and making the first money of his life.

Sixteen years later, he’s the CEO, and I asked him how his thinking had evolved. Kevin has led Beaver Drilling for the last five years and had a front row seat to the opposition that has so devastated Canada’s industry. And that was before the challenges we all face in the oil and gas industry today. Three primary things informed his thinking.

  1. Canada is on the front lines of the pipeline wars. As a drilling and energy service company, Beaver Drilling is really on the front lines of very depressed drilling economies. Canada’s rig count has dropped 96%, from almost 600 rigs in 2014 to 24 today.
  2. He has traveled extensively in developing economies. Kevin studied in India and has seen first-hand the impact access to energy (or lack of) has on communities. This exposure has really informed his passion for the importance of the industry and oil and gas products worldwide to raise living standards, prosperity, and hope.
  3. Rapid changes are upending all industries — especially now. In the last 16 years, Kevin has observed how new technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and automation are changing businesses. Oil and gas is no exception. As the leader of a company being impacted by these innovations, he looks ahead to the 30 years he has left in his career and asks himself, What does this company, this industry look like in 30 years?

Together, these elements have pushed him to embrace disruption and reinvention of our industry.

Beaver Drilling is Canada’s oldest drilling company, and Kevin’s sense of family pride — in both the traditional sense and as the company family — simply exudes from him. He saw excellent, talented employees struggling to keep up with emerging technologies and wanted to create an environment where employees were not just able to survive disruption, but to champion disruption. He wanted his employees to have the tools to succeed in a future they know to be bright.

Much like me, Kevin receives pushback from both sides of the energy-environmental divide arguing that his messages are “a bridge too far.” For opponents of oil and gas, he emphasizes that the decarbonized energy future is closer and more realistic with the industry engaged in the solutions. For those in the industry who pine for a return to the past, he doesn’t think nostalgia is a viable option. 

“In Canada, we have realized that we have to adapt or the industry will die,” Kevin says.

Coming from Kevin Krausert, that’s the beginning of an optimistic, engaging, future-looking conversation. His leadership style has been shaped by his long view of his company and his own career: What will the industry and Beaver Drilling look like in 30 years? What will it take for them to be thriving then? 

It matters because

As I covered in my millennial edition, oil and gas employees and company leaders with 20 to 30 years ahead of them have a vantage point and resulting creative perspective about the future that we need to incorporate into our present-day strategy. If anything, they are more clear-eyed about the work ahead than those of us with more experience.

The critical mistakes companies are making:

Thinking linearly about what the oil and gas industry looks like in 2 months, 2 years, and 10 years as we have always pictured it, rather than imagining the changes now required for success in a massively disrupted energy world.

Seize the day: From my conversations with Kevin, there are four components of his leadership style that are relevant as we lead into the response, recovery, and rebuilding required post-pandemic. 

  • Embrace disruption. Companies that view innovation and adaption as integral to their future success will prepare their workforce and their business plans. Furthermore, they will take this thinking into their approach to engaging stakeholders about the energy future they imagine.
  • Articulate the future. The pandemic has accelerated the disruption that was coming anyway for the energy future. In step with this, Kevin wants to sell the role of industry to the public: “There are lots of areas we cannot replace oil and gas as we advance solutions to climate change. As a society we need effective decarbonization tools, and these include oil and gas.” In thinking about a post-pandemic world, he focuses on the role oil and gas will play in a reimagined energy future.
  • Build bridges. Kevin believes in the importance of engaging with politicians across the left-right spectrum. He’s attuned to the rightful anger of many in industry about the industry’s inability to build pipelines. He is cautious about aggressive initiatives — because although they do make us feel better — he asks, “Do these efforts sway public opinion? That has to be our priority.” Especially now when government support for energy companies in stimulus packages is proving to be controversial.
  • Return to our sweet spot: Invent and innovate. Beaver Drilling has created a cross-industry collaboration, the Avatar program, to directly empower oil and gas workers for the energy future. He was observing technical requirements of industry employees that were outpacing their training, so Kevin wanted to turn that dynamic on its head. Does your staff have the tools, training, resources, and imagination to meet the challenges of the next two decades? Let’s get them there through innovating in new ways.

The Avatar program is a collaboration with the University of Calgary — part training, part tech accelerator. Field hands participate in the 2-year program which covers E&P, field services, and aerospace components.

My heartfelt thanks to Kevin and Beaver Drilling for their energy leadership. Got a lead on an innovative, future-focus energy effort underway? I want to hear about it.

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