A good rig was hard to find in the 90s: So Mike Heier founded Trinidad Drilling, 20 years ago today

Mike Heier
Mike Heier, Chairman of the Board and Founder of Trinidad Drilling.
Trinidad Drilling is celebrating its 20th anniversary today! In honour of this milestone, we sat down with our founder, Michael Heier, for a look back at where we came from and what we’ve accomplished over the past two decades.

There was a time when a good rig was hard to find.

Michael Heier, who was running a private oil and gas company called Trinity Energy in the early 1990s, understood that problem at the gut level, and decided to do something about it.

“I had a couple of drilling rigs (from another company) working into our year end. Unbeknownst to me, they took them away from me, and we didn’t get all the drilling we needed done.

“I said, well, that’s not going to happen again,” reflected Heier, now the Board Chair of Trinidad. “Let’s build a couple of rigs. That’s how Trinidad started.”

In mid-1995, Heier, his father and his brother started putting capital together and gathering equipment; and by February 23, 1996, Trinidad was up, running and incorporated.

Trinidad Rig #1
Trinidad Rig #1

The first rig, Trinidad #1, began drilling its first well on November 28, 1996, just south-east of Hillmond, Saskatchewan.

Trinidad Drilling: What’s in a name?

Everyone asks, where did Trinidad get its name? Here’s the story.

Heier, the second oldest of 10 children, was born to a German father and Trinidadian mother, who is “also devoutly Catholic,” he said.

“Trinity is English (for triad); Trinidad is Spanish for trinity,” explained Heier, noting that Trinity also refers to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Catholic faith.

“Depending on who you’re talking to, I could say Trinity was the three of us – my dad, my brother and me. But it would go back to my mom’s faith.”

“Rip-snortin’” growth

With the name in place, the Heiers started building rigs and growing the company. They brought in investors, but the majority of the company was owned by Mike, his brother David, and their father.

As Trinidad grew through acquisitions, it became clear that the company would have to go public. It was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2000 under the symbol TDG. Lyle Whitmarsh, today the CEO, and Brent Conway, today’s President, came on board at that time, bringing considerable expertise with them.

“At the time a 10-rig company (like Trinidad) would have been a sizeable entity,” remembered Heier. “These monolith companies that exist today, they just weren’t around then. We have grown in an order of magnitude since then.”

Much of the growth followed when Heier convinced his partners and investors to turn the company into an income trust.

“It was the key moment in the growth of the company… we had rip-snortin’ growth; in a short space of time we took our company from CAD$2 to CAD$19 per share and grew it to about $1.6 billion between 2002 and 2006.

“The government then changed the rules for income trusts, and Trinidad returned to its publicly-traded company status.”

Building (awesome) rigs

Some of Trinidad’s growth came through acquisitions, and some came through rig-building. The first big AC rigs, Rigs 45 and 46, were built in 2005. By 2006, we began building rigs in-house.

“We were very focused on what the industry needed,” said Heier. “When we went public, there was a lot of junk out there. If you created something that would run circles around the junk, you’d be first up, last down.

“We have some of the highest utilization rigs in the industry. They make other rigs in that size range look weak.”

Also in 2005, Trinidad started to expand internationally, into the United States, and then into Mexico in 2008.

The first U.S. rig, #100
The first U.S. rig, #100

Further growth came in 2013, through a joint venture agreement with Halliburton; and in 2014, Trinidad expanded into Saudi Arabia. The latest acquisition was last year, when Trinidad brought CanElson on board.

Putting people first – always

As Trinidad grew, Heier was always determined to do the right thing — both for the investors and the employees.

“We have always been, and will always be, altruistic in our nature. If there’s a defining characteristic of us, it’s that. We were stalwarts in trying to do the right thing in capital markets.”

The oil service industry’s record on handling staffing was also “awful” in years gone by, and Heier set out to change that.

“There’s no more of that. We took on a whole new skill set in training and mentoring.”

On the exploration and production side, the asset is in the ground, said Heier. With the service or drilling side, the asset is in the people, and they need to be well taken care of.

“What has made our culture better than others, is we are recognized in the industry for doing things above average, safer than, better than, cleaner than, faster than…and it is all because of that training and mentoring.

“Because of that, Trinidad has always punched above our weight class, and it always will, because we have that attitude about us.”

We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary all year long! Check back here on Thursday for an infographic marking some key dates in our history, and watch our social media channels on #FlashbackFridays throughout the year for old school Trinidad photos.

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