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Ensign International Energy Services

By Neil Ritchie

The New Zealand arm of Canadian multinational Ensign International Energy Services is in fine form as Taranaki’s oil and gas sector continues to expand.

“It’s been a bit up and down for Ensign in New Zealand in recent years but now we are growing steadily,” says Ensign’s New Zealand country manager Paul Jones.

“And we are looking at options of bringing more equipment in, perhaps even another rig if the demand is there.”

Ensign currently has the large Ensign Rig 931, which Todd Energy is using for an extended appraisal programme of its Mangahewa gas field, the smaller Ensign Rig 919, which Canadian listed junior New Zealand Energy Corp is utilising for several wells in its onshore Taranaki licences, and the Ensign Rig 2006, the smallest rig used primarily for “workovers” of existing wells, clearing them of downhole dirt and gunk.

Todd Energy started its 25-well appraisal programme of the large inland north Taranaki Mangahewa gas field early in 2012 and the first four wells drilled by Rig 931, in the possible $760 million development, have been very successful in unlocking substantial quantities of so-called “tight gas”.

NZEC has also had similar successes, although on a smaller scale, with its exploration programme over the company’s Copper Moki, Waitapu and Arakamu prospects in its central Taranaki Eltham licence. Rig 919 has already drilled six wells, is currently drilling the seventh, and should shortly start the eighth.

Paul, a typical international “oilie”, has worked on several continents over the years. He has worked in Pakistan, PNG, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as “across the ditch” in South Australia and Queensland.

He says that when he joined Ensign in New Zealand during late 2011 there was a country manager, an administration manager and a purchasing officer.

Below: New Zealand manager Paul Jones -- pictured in front of Rig 19 at the Arakamu wellsite in central Taranaki -- says the region's buoyant oil and gas sector means a bright future for Ensign International Energy Services.

But now there are also a human resources (HR) manager, health and safety in employment (HSE) manager, catering supervisor and an electrical supervisor.

“All these positions support the rigs and their operations out in the field.”

As well, there are all the Ensign employees out on the wellsites – from the roughnecks (general labourers), to the leasehands, lead floorman, lead toolpusher and others on the drill floor of each rig.

There are also specialist positions, including mud doctors responsible for the different types of drilling muds used in different downhole conditions, who work for the company that “operates” a particular licence in addition to the Ensign crew and some other subcontractors.

On any one drilling operation there could 19-20 people, with about half being Ensign crew and the rest working for the operator or subcontractors. Most will work 12-hour days, seven days a week, for two weeks. They either start at 7am or work through the night from 7pm.

And Ensign “down under” is adopting, and modifying, some Australian-based competency standards – “very much like NZQA,” says Paul, referring to the government’s New Zealand Qualifications Authority that ensures this country’s qualifications are credible and robust.

“With the competency training program Ensign have introduced worldwide our personnel are all well trained, with outlined career paths that qualify them to work all over the world.”

In Ensign’s case, this should also result in better HSE guidelines for all its New Zealand operations, particularly potentially hazardous drilling and production operations.

While Todd Energy’s Mangahewa appraisal programme may only last anther four years or so, Paul says NZEC’s planned programmes could last longer.

It is known NZEC sees over 60 well-defined prospects and lesser-defined leads in its Taranaki acreage – the Eltham and Alton licences and soon-to-be-acquired Tariki, Waihapa and Ngaere permits – as well as others on the East Coast where it also holds several exploration licences.

“Hopefully, this will keep NZEC and Ensign busy for many years,” Paul concludes.