David Richard – President & CEO, Entrepose Drilling – France
The CEO of Entreprose Drilling, a company that specializes in deep onshore drilling, discusses his company’s achievements in geothermal energy and provides insight into his ventures in India.
How does Entrepose Drilling contribute to the Entrepose Group’s strategy?
Entrepose Group, part of Vinci, is specialized in the design and construction of complex projects in the oil and gas sectors in particular, and the energy and environmental sectors in general. From creating transport and storage solutions to delivering turnkey projects, Entrepose Group is constantly developing its expertise in conceptual engineering, process design and contracting in sensitive environments.
Our strategic approach at Entrepose Drilling consists in being ahead of projects. One of our objectives is to establish contacts with clients during the early stages of their projects. The Entrepose Group therefore capitalizes on the relationships we have built prior to the engineering phases of a project.
For thirty years, Entrepose drilling has conducted drilling and exploration activities in France. Could you please define this historical expertise and savoir-faire that Entrepose Drilling has acquired over the time and provide us with an overview of your current operations?
Entrepose Drilling was formerly known as COFOR, the oldest drilling contractor in France. It was officially founded in 1958 but its activity actually traces back to the end of the 19th century. Cofor has therefore drilled many wells, contributing to our cumulative experience. We were involved in oil development in the Reims area (now run by Lundin) and ESSOREP developments (now Vermillion). In the 1980’s we observed an opportunity to develop geothermal drilling. With the oil market collapsing, our oil drilling activity is obviously declining in France. Our geothermal operations are therefore sustaining our overall activity. Overall, we can offer an unmatched cumulative experience in this field.
I insist on the concept of cumulative experience because drilling can only be learnt on the field. I graduated from an engineering school specialized in drilling (IFP School), where despite learning how to design a well, I was in no way capable of overseeing drilling operations. When you drill, you don’t know what is happening two kilometers away. Cumulative experience enables you to foresee challenges and predict issues arising on the field. We have built an extensive experience in geothermal drilling in France, and have become a leader in that aspect. We are even able to address turnkey wells. Overall, we must admit that our activity would dwindle if we only remained in France.
Your geothermal activities require substantial inputs in regards to innovation and technology. How would you define the importance of research and development?
Technology relates to technology of the well and technology of the rig you operate.
Operators usually design and operate the technology of the well. In geothermal energy, clients are utility players, who will rely on the drilling contractors to supply the innovation. In regards to innovation on the rig, we invested in the most recent generation of drilling rigs. We therefore enhance safety levels via highly automated rigs. Environmentally, they have a smaller footprint and limited noise levels. We foster innovation through the type of rig we select, which in turn address environmental concerns. It is on the rig itself, that Entrepose Drilling can really make a difference.
Entrepose Drilling is also involved in coal bed methane (CBM) drilling. Is CBM a fast developing industry in France? Moreover, Julien Moulin from EGL has expressed his commitment to federate communities around these activities. How is Entrepose Drilling concerned with the involvement of communities around these new energy markets?
CBM is not developing fast enough. We are very active in CBM because in 2011, we acquired a company called Geometric, which specialized in this field. We have been heavily involved in this field ever since, in the UK in particular. This market has huge potential in France. EGL is the only actor in France, and we are happy to contribute to their success and be involved in CBM, which again has huge potential. We are a contractor of choice and have developed a very positive relationship with EGL, and yes, we are also federating communities around these activities.
When drilling for geothermal energy, operators are compelled to interact with local communities and must publish a report accounting on these interactions. It gives us time to be transparent and explain the context of our activity and provide further information on the implications for local communities in terms of project timeline, noise peaks equipment deployed and so on. People are usually surprised to hear that a drilling operation only lasts a few days, and now thanks to our technology they are barely burdened noise levels. We also invite our audience to visit our operations!
In extension of your drilling activities, you provide well maintenance: work over and reconditioning. Again, how important are these services to sustain the development of your business?
In Europe, we are not market leaders in services. Workover is a long-term recurrent business, which is important outside of Europe both for oil and gas and geothermal wells. In Europe, drilling is constantly short of business, drilling campaigns are short, and we often rely on work over to smoothen the ups and downs of the drilling industry.
Your 2014 activity report highlighted the exploration contracts won in India. How are your international projects unfolding so far?
Our international development is divided in two axes. The market slowdown in Europe encouraged us to seek opportunities both geographically and technologically. Geographically, we are involved in West Africa, India and the Middle East. In the two latter markets, we find long term and onshore contracts, which are essential to our success. Investments in such rigs usually are around $20 million and can only be profitable if we win long-term contracts.
We must also remind our audience that in light of the considerable investments deployed to integrate a market like India, we need to win important contracts for it to be profitable. In India, which constitutes a global hub for Entrepose drilling, we have access to skilled labor and proximity to other important target markets. Most rigs in the Middle East are actually staffed with Indian engineers. Despite all the administrative constraints, which are often cited, our integration in India was remarkably smooth. We obviously face challenges in terms of timing and regulations, but generally speaking, my feedback on India is very positive. Operationally, we enjoyed extremely good drilling performances with our hydraulic rigs and were abled to tackle the challenge of operating in the Thar desert.
What are Entrepose Driling’s prospects for international expansion in Africa ?
Regarding Africa, Cofor was involved in water well drilling fifteen years ago. In West Africa, we capitalize on language and cultural ties. Chinese players now dominate this market segment, and we have therefore ceased this activity.
Africa will nevertheless constitute a main growth driver in the future and is rightfully labeled the land of opportunity! Competition on this continent is very fierce however, especially in regards to drilling services, and I believe that we have earn the support of major operators towards small contractors like us by offering them differentiated value propositions.
Entrepose Drilling has highlighted QHSE as a commitment and responsibility but also as a foundational value. Can a player in the oil and gas industry assert otherwise today? In concrete terms, how have these duties been integrated into your everyday activities?
I had the pleasure of being a driller for a very long time. On a daily basis you are fighting against all the elements that prevent the successful completion of a drilling operation. QHSE is embedded in every aspect of our drilling activities. Drilling is a very dangerous activity and we can therefore never afford to disregard HSE. Although HSE is critical across the oil and gas value chain, there is an even greater emphasis in our field. We must also remember that one of the main challenges of QHSE is to instill these values when producing local content, whether in India or Africa.
QHSE also influence our decisions in regards to the rigs we choose to purchase or the training centers we implement. I suffered from an accident after weeks on the field and I can assure you that I concentrate all my efforts to ensure that this will never happen to any of our professionals. We emphasize on training and QHSE to redefine our employees’ philosophy. We capitalize on our fit-for -purpose rigs to deliver innovation and efficiency to our customers.