Perspectives: Seadrill’s Derek Hibbard: Spending time on rigs to connect with people who do the work is crucial for safety, performance

By Linda Hsieh, Editor & Publisher

Seadrill’s Derek Hibbard was recently named Chairman of the IADC HSE Committee.

When Derek Hibbard was a student studying business at Canada’s Mount Royal University in the late 1990s, he worked as a roughneck on land drilling rigs during the summer and winter breaks. Although he had grown up around the oil and gas industry his entire life – his father had worked for Reading & Bates (a predecessor to Transocean) and co-founded a local land drilling company – Mr Hibbard wasn’t exactly looking to build a career in the oilfield. Like many young college kids, he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life and simply saw the rig job as a way to make some extra cash.

Yet, once he stepped foot on a working drilling rig, he soon realized he was actually pretty good at it. In fact, by the time he graduated from university a few years later, he had already worked his way up to assistant driller.

Little did he realize it then, but the time he spent on those rigs would end up proving immensely valuable when he did follow his father’s footsteps into an oil patch career.

In his first “career” job after graduation – as Manager of Technical Services with the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) – Mr Hibbard relied heavily on his field experience while liaising with engineers and HSE professionals on a variety of technical issues. “Not only could I understand what they were talking about, but I was able to add value because of the experience I had,” he recalled.

In 2007, Mr Hibbard joined Weatherford, initially as QHSE Manager for the Western Hemisphere. His seven-plus years with the service company encompassed a multitude of roles, many of them in a global capacity. Notably, in 2010 in the aftermath of Macondo, he was seconded to the Marine Well Containment Project as Risk and Security Manager. The project was high profile but time-constrained and extremely demanding. Mr Hibbard called it “a fantastic learning experience that was both frustrating and rewarding.”

When that project wrapped up after more than a year, Mr Hibbard took on a new role as Weatherford’s Global Director of Safety and Operational Risk. In this role, he was responsible for the development, oversight and implementation of the organization’s HSE strategy and associated safety programs, management systems, and operational risk management processes/tools.

By 2014, Mr Hibbard knew he was ready for new challenges and joined Trinidad Drilling. His previous experience in international markets made him a great fit for the company. The Canadian drilling contractor had already expanded into the US and was looking to expand into countries like Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Within a very short time after joining Trinidad in October 2014, however, the industry went into another bust. Suddenly, he recalled, “everything was about cost savings, and you just watched the lights go off in real time.”

While those years were tough for everyone in the drilling industry, Mr Hibbard said he now looks back on that downturn as a game-changer for himself professionally. “It got me back in the field. Before that, there was always the excuse of being too busy, and when that happens, the unintended result is that we get disconnected from the rig teams that make our business work.  

“However, when there are only a handful of rigs running to support an entire company, you realize that you’ve got to get out there and use the time you have to really work with the guys. With senior management support, we spent a ton of time out on the rigs, listening to the guys on what worked and what didn’t, and then making tangible changes.”

In 2019, nearly a year after Ensign took over Trinidad, Mr Hibbard joined Seadrill as Director HSSEQ Western Hemisphere. He moved into his current role as Global Head HSSEQ Compliance and Performance Improvement in July 2020.

Much of his focus since joining Seadrill, understandably, has been around dealing with COVID-related challenges. To ensure that contracted rigs could stay working, the company raced to find ways to prevent any outbreaks.

At the time, due to overwhelming demand and not enough supply, a PCR test would typically require five to seven days before results came back. Mr Hibbard’s team, however, was able to tap established relationships and secure same day/next day results on PCR tests for its rig crews.

“That completely changed the game for us because it saved millions of dollars in hotel costs and other logistics costs associated with quarantining people,” he said. “I think it was a significant accomplishment in that the team developed a playbook for how to get ‘clean people’ out onto rigs and protocols to ensure operational continuity during a global pandemic.”

Seadrill is now working on a pilot program with one customer in the US Gulf of Mexico to promote vaccinations to the teams, with the goal of establishing “herd immunity,” or about 80% vaccinated. Those that voluntarily participate in the program will see dramatically reduced compliance requirements currently needed to embark the rig. “The idea is that we are promoting vaccination but not mandating it, and trying to be creative in how we can achieve that goal.”

With travel restrictions loosening up, Mr Hibbard said his priority is to get back out to visit rigs and participate in audits being conducted by his team. “I like to think that it’s not their job to support me, it’s my job to support them. To do that, I have to engage with the guys doing the work.” DC

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