2024March/AprilSafety and ESG

2024 IADC Chairman Brad James: Putting people first is not only the right thing to do, it’s good business

He also foresees drilling contractors staying disciplined on spending amid tight access to capital, but is optimistic for a healthier industry

2024 IADC Chairman Brad James, President and CEO, Enterprise Offshore Drilling

By Stephen Whitfield, Senior Editor

As the worldwide oil and gas industry continues to improve following the post-COVID oil price downturn, operators are more disciplined about where they invest their resources, keeping costs under control and avoiding unnecessary expenditures. A focus on capital discipline and operational efficiency is critical in an environment where banks and venture capitalists have become more hesitant to fund oil and gas projects, whether for perceived ESG or political reasons or otherwise.

This capital discipline will have a trickle-down effect on drilling contractors in the coming years, said Brad James, 2024 IADC Chairman and President and CEO of privately held Enterprise Offshore Drilling. He noted that drillers like Enterprise will also focus on capital discipline and increasing shareholder value. That, coupled with lessons from the last newbuild cycle, means the industry is unlikely to deploy capital for newbuild campaigns anytime soon, he said.

“Access to capital is difficult for the entire industry, and we’re all going to have to exhibit more capital discipline. This is challenging in the short term; however, a much healthier industry will emerge over time, and we’re already seeing positive results industrywide.”

Rather than embarking on expensive newbuilding campaigns, most drilling contractors will likely prioritize their investments toward initiatives that will help them differentiate from their competition and become more efficient. Today, most drilling contractors are deploying newer technology to drive efficiency, reducing emissions, creating a safer work environment and prioritizing healthy initiatives for their employees and families.

Putting people first at Enterprise

At the heart of Enterprise’s culture is PeopleSafe, the company’s behavioral-based safety training program, and LeadSafe, its leadership training program. Enterprise requires all employees to attend a two-day PeopleSafe session on an annual basis. Senior supervisors dedicate the first day to attending LeadSafe and join their crews for the final day of PeopleSafe’s rig simulation exercises.

The exercises include simulations of rig activities whereby crews work together in a problem-solving environment. The objective is to foster QHSE-based conversations to eliminate at-risk behaviors and promote teamwork on the rig.

When a safe or at-risk behavior is observed on the rig, the employee is encouraged to engage in a thoughtful conversation about the observation, agree on what went right or what went wrong, and record the event on a STAR (“See, Talk, Agree, Record”) Observation Card. Employees are required to call a time-out in any situation they think could cause an injury or property damage. In addition, Enterprise requires the use of a job safety analysis for pre-planning prior to issuance of a work permit.

STAR cards are shared and discussed with rig employees during their daily meetings. To incentivize employee participation, the rig crews vote on the “Star Card of the Hitch,” and the winner is awarded a cash incentive and a PeopleSafe challenge coin. Further, Mr James sends a handwritten note to the winner, thanking the employee for their actions and encouraging them to watch out for the next hazard.

This process reinforces Enterprise’s objective to “keep safety personal,” Mr James said. To that end, a member of the company’s senior management is always in attendance at PeopleSafe and LeadSafe training sessions. The efforts pay dividends for the company in the long term.

“It’s all about teamwork, creating a sense of belonging and taking care of our people and their families. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s good business. With a focus on and commitment to our people, everything else will fall in place. It’s a simple recipe: People take care of clients; clients reward the company; the company gives back to the people and its shareholders.”

Building a career path

Mr James regularly attends Enterprise Offshore Drilling’s sessions for PeopleSafe, the company’s behavioral-based safety training program. “It’s all about teamwork, creating a sense of belonging and taking care of our people and their families. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s good business,” he said.

Mr James’ commitment to people came from a career working in the oilfield at an early age. While attending Southwestern Texas State University in the mid-to late 1970s, he spent his summers and winters working in roustabout and floorhand positions for various offshore and land drilling contractors. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and minor in psychology in 1981, he went to work for National Supply in its sales service department.

After that, Mr James moved on to a sales position for a rental tool company and then to work for Intrepid Drilling. That led to a seven-year stint at Southland Drilling, where he served as Vice President of Marketing. He then spent three years as founding CEO of a land drilling company. After the divestiture of that company, he worked in business development at Cliffs Drilling, which was purchased by R&B Falcon in 1998.

R&B Falcon was later merged into Transocean, and the shallow-water division was subsequently spun off into The Offshore Drilling Company (TODCO), where Mr James was Vice President of Marketing. TODCO was later purchased by Hercules Offshore, where he was Senior Vice President of Marketing. Enterprise Offshore was formed in 2016 via the acquisition of Hercules’ US operating division.

His early years working on rigs proved extremely valuable to Mr James as he moved along in his career, and he said he still uses the lessons learned from that time, even in his current position at Enterprise.

“Having worked at entry-level positions provides insight into the challenges our rig-based people are faced with every day. It’s basic human nature to have the desire to be valued and appreciated. I always tell our people that I’m just another guy like you and worked my way up the food chain. You never know where you’re going to end up. If you work hard, are honest and do things right, opportunities will present themselves.”

When the oil price downturn hit in 2015-2016 and Mr James found himself out of a job, he decided to forge his own path. He founded Enterprise Offshore in late 2016, and it started operations in early 2017.

“The drilling industry was experiencing its darkest chapter at that time, and job prospects were few and far between. After speaking to potential investors and former colleagues, we believed it was a good time for a fresh start. If you’re going to succeed in business as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to take risks and do things that other people don’t want to do; no one else wanted to own jackup rigs in the Gulf of Mexico at that time. We were fortunate enough to find investors and employees that believed in the idea, and the rest is history,” he said.

As of February 2024, Enterprise Offshore owned/operated six active jackups (four owned and two managed) and manages one platform rig. Mr James credits the company’s success to hiring the right people for the right positions, then providing the resources and processes that allow them to do their jobs safely and effectively.

Goals as IADC Chairman

One of the main challenges for the industry and for IADC going forward centers around reinforcing the value that the oil and gas industry provides in everyday life.

As the industry continues its efforts to address misinformation about what it does and its impact on the world, IADC has a great platform to improve and enhance the industry’s public image.

“I think it’s incumbent on IADC to do everything we can to arm our members with facts and statistics demonstrating the value that our industry provides to society. My hope is that IADC members will hammer home the concept that the industry has a proven track record of providing clean, affordable, reliable and sustainable energy to the world,” he said.

Mr James pointed to the role that oil and gas plays in everyday life. For instance, petrochemical and refining industries provide critical compounds for pharmaceuticals, housing, food production, clothing, furniture, electronics, heavy industry and transportation.

“From crayons to jet fuel, our industry touches the supply chain in some positive way,” he said. “People think of our industry as burning hydrocarbons, but they don’t think about the other benefits and how civilization has flourished since fossil fuels were discovered,” he said.

He also noted the role of natural gas as a valuable source of cleaner energy for low-emissions power generation: “It’s available 24 hours a day regardless of whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Natural gas is also extremely cost-effective and plentiful on a worldwide basis.”

Looking ahead at the rest of 2024, Mr James said he hopes to see IADC increase its membership, and hopes members will utilize social media and other channels more often to amplify IADC activities, whether it’s something from IADC HQ or from chapters or committees.

“When I see an IADC chapter that’s doing something on social media, I’ll either comment or hit the ‘like’ button and share that with everybody in my network. Social media offers tremendous opportunity to project a positive message to the entire world, and it’s cost-effective. I would like to see people educating other people, and social media is a great platform for that.” he said. DC

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