When Energy Services BC (ESBC) began planning the third annual Fort St. John Energy Expo, their goal was to unite local service providers with the real decision-makers from oil companies based in Calgary in a way that no trade show had done previously.
Although the event was not a total success in those terms, Art Jarvis, Executive Director South for ESBC, suggested that it was a positive step in the right direction.
"It's just a networking opportunity between the service sector and the producers that are working in our area, specifically from Calgary," said Jarvis.
"And so what we needed to achieve [was to] get the right people from Calgary, meaning operations personnel such as drilling superintendents, completions managers, get them up here so that they can meet face to face with the service sector [companies] that do their work or can provide the equipment to do their work up here."
Jarvis was pleased with the participation by companies such as Progress Energy Resources, who had production foreman Lee Wizniuk in their contingent, and Shell Canada, whose team included a completions superintendent.
"I like the Expo," said Wizniuk. "It gets our name out. It lets everybody in the industry know who we are, what we're about, what we're doing. So, it's a good deal.
"We're all trying to do the same thing."
The participation by Progress and Shell was not unexpected, as both companies are currently quite active in the Montney natural gas play of the Fort St. John area. However, Devon Energy, a company that isn't very busy in the region at the moment, also had a booth at the Expo.
"Devon didn't bring anybody from Calgary, but they are not doing the exploration and expansions that Shell and Progress are doing," said Jarvis. "They did bring all their key people from the local branch that do make the decisions. They basically are doing maintenance to their wells here. And so these people are ones that are doing work - they are the right guys to talk to.
"Until they start doing some of those big projects," he added. "And when they decide to branch into the bigger projects, then it will be necessary to talk to the Calgary engineers. But right now they did provide the local engineers and production foreman, the superintendent. I think they did a good job of representing themselves here."
Much of the feedback from the exhibitors has been positive.
"The only legitimate complaint that I've heard about the whole Expo is there wasn't enough people out of Calgary that they have to actually talk to," said Jarvis, noting that oil companies from Calgary who chose not to attend also missed an opportunity to get a firsthand look at some of the newest and most innovative heavy equipment in the industry.
"We have some unique equipment here that they don't have in the rest of the world," he added. "So, we can provide that to oil and gas companies right here.
"The people who did come from Calgary and got to see that equipment, they can say, 'Well, you know, there's a real investment here in the community to build specialized equipment to do what we need done.'"
"It's been a great experience," said Scott Hendrickson, a corporate accounts manager with service provider Clean Harbors.
"We've met a lot of contacts here, both existing contacts and we've made some new ones. It's been an excellent show in the sense that there's a lot of the [exploration and production] companies, as well as the service companies."
Hendrickson remarked that he met industry people from Calgary during the Expo whom he had only previously communicated with via telephone or email, despite the fact that he is based in Calgary as well.
"There have been other shows that I haven't found as valuable as this one," he added.
The value for Hendrickson wasn't solely about talking to the producer companies, but also about talking to other service providers.
"Some of them are competitors, but some of them are people we work with as well," he said. "So, it's great to get together with those guys and to determine what's worked well on projects we've worked on together in the past and maybe how we can work together on future projects to benefit multiple companies."
Daryl Hosker, President of Cancor Rathole in Fort St. John, was slightly less impressed.
"There was a lack of Calgary customers," he said.
That certainly wasn't due to a lack of effort on the part of the local service sector, according to Hosker.
"A lot of time was put into bugging CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) about getting those types up here," he added.
"It's a point that was raised to us," said Geoff Morrison, B.C. Operations Manager with CAPP.
"And we sent that message out to our members and stressed that point," he continued. "At the end of the day, CAPP can encourage our members to do those things, and they'll act individually to do what they think is best for their company. But I understand that perspective. And the point of this is to get new relations with decision-makers in the business.
"So, we're moving toward that as best we can. And I still call this a success, the event, and we'll continue to participate in the future."
Morrison admitted that finding the best timing for an event that brings the producers and service providers together in one place can be challenging, noting that the two sides often operate on different timelines.
"It is tough to find time in the immediate future when you're thinking about six or seven or eight months further down the road," he said of the producers. "So, I don't know the answer [as to] how we square that. I mean, there's probably an MBA student out there somewhere studying this.
"CAPP's going to continue trying to narrow that gap as best we can," he added. "And every year we'll make an improvement on that, hopefully."
Jarvis felt the timing issue was alleviated by moving the event from the fall to the spring.
"The turnout is so good even though we just had an expo about eight months ago," he said.
"This is good timing because it's a bit of a relaxed time for a lot of people," he continued, suggesting that ESBC will continue to hold the Expo in the spring.
"I mean, certainly, in the service sector, we're not doing much here until the bans come off [the roads]. So, I'm sure that Calgary is in planning stages right now, but they're probably a lot easier to get out of the office and get up here now than they are after the operations get going and they're dealing with day to day issues."
Morrison also indicated that it can be difficult to gauge the success of such an event, as it can't really be measured in terms of deals signed.
"Those things don't happen in a timeframe around a trade show," he said. "But those relationships - and the marketplace is the same as any relationship - they develop and they mature and they evolve over time."
That is one area where Hosker and Morrison appear to see eye to eye.
"If you think, coming into this, that you're going to come out of this with a bunch of work, and that's what you're going to focus on, than you're a terribly naïve businessperson," said Hosker.
"[It should be] an extremely small percentage of your advertising time," he added.
Regardless of what happens at the Energy Expo, said Hosker, it is necessary for local service providers to travel to Calgary to meet with the energy sector decision-makers one-on-one.
"It's our job to sell," he said. "Not necessarily their job to learn."
However, it seems that learning is also the job of the service provider when the plans of producer companies not currently busy in the region remain uncertain.
"How do you get yourself prepared as a service provider for the company that will be here in the future in the sense that they have land today, but they aren't active in it?" said Morrison. "And that's a new business development problem.
"It's an industry that has, I think, benefited from not having to do a lot of new business development," he continued. "Because you're always busy."
Still, it is important to fight the image of complacency.
Even though Cancor Rathole has enjoyed steady work and solid relationships with the industry players operating in the region, Hosker continues to attend trade shows such as the Energy Expo to show that his company isn't becoming complacent.
He looks back to a few years ago when the industry was really booming in Northeast B.C. and many service providers stopped attending trade shows.
"They just thought, 'Hey, we're busy. We're wide open. Why would I spend the money to go to the show and have a booth? We don't need the work. We're flat out as it is.' That was their attitude, which is a wrong attitude. But that was an attitude that I heard," said Hosker.
"Things will slow down," he continued. "So, when they slow down, you're still there. I didn't quit going to Calgary and doing my three [or] four weeks a year in a [public relations] stance just because, well, we're wide open, we really can't handle any more work. But you still go see all those people. Because it will change. So, when it changes, then you better be ready."
Hosker suggested that it is also important to keep demonstrating to the industry that contractors based in Fort St. John are ready to do their work.
"What they do [is] they come, they look, they see, and then they get impressed and realize what is here," he said of oil company representatives visiting the Expo.
The word then circulates through the company that there are local contractors ready and able to do the work.
"There's been a huge push over the years, which is great on the oil company, to use local," Hosker continued.
"It's a big push from [the smaller] to the bigger companies to really push using local or giving local contractors the opportunity. We're kind of succeeding. So, that's why five years ago [or] ten years ago, this [kind of trade show] was a lot more critical than it is today, because more are being utilized."
ESBC is trying to grow the employment of local contractors with their BC Based Business Certificate program that they launched last year.
"The BC Based Business Certificate program is really getting some good traction with more of the oil companies," said Jarvis.
"Last year, Shell had just come onboard, and they do walk the walk besides talk the talk. They make sure that they push that BC Based Business Certificate program on their local contractors. When they brought an engineering firm to do their facilities, they made sure that the engineering firm talked to us first - talked to Energy Services BC first - to see who was locally based here.
"And there's a few other oil companies that are very excited about using this as a way of procurement, as a way of deciding who gets first opportunity."
ESBC met with Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman during the Energy Expo to discuss the program.
"He had his question and answer period with us so he could understand the program," said Jarvis.
"I think he's going to help us. What we need is their representation too, so that each time he talks to an oil company, he can bring up Energy Services BC and the BC Based Business Certificate program. And the exposure that way is going to develop it further and create an importance in other producers' minds too."
Jarvis suggested that ESBC will double their efforts to promote the Energy Expo in Calgary for next year.
"Bigger lobbying in Calgary," he said. "When we go back to Calgary and talk to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and let them know how our event was structured and what they could have attended, the ones that didn't attend, and the results of it all, I think that next year we're planning on having more participation from Calgary at a higher level."
Jarvis believes that word will get around that those who didn't attend lost an opportunity to meet with B.C.'s Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman and Prince George-Peace River MP Bob Zimmer and hear their views on the oil and gas industry in the province.
"I would have liked to have seen more oil company personnel attend those speeches," he said.
That type of opportunity should be a selling point for the next Expo.
"We don't get to hear that level of government come here and speak at any other event," added Jarvis.
Hosker discussed another option with ESBC President Dave Turchanski during the Expo. His idea involves moving the Expo back and forth between Fort St. John and Calgary.
"Take it down to them next year," he explained. "Bring it back the next year. Alternate back and forth, taking this show to the customers.
"Costs more money for the local contractors to go down there and do that," he added, "but [there] can be a lot bigger return. So, then it's not more expensive, because you did better."