Chris Carlsen, right, vice-president of engineering at Birchcliff Energy, with, from left, Khaled Behairy, engineering student, Katy Josephs, legal student, Jesse Doenz, controller and investor relations manager, Joshua Uy, engineering student and Amy Short, executive assistant. Wil Andruschak, © Postmedia Network Inc.

Joel Schlesinger © Postmedia Network Inc.

Start small. Think big.

They’re two necessary ingredients in the recipe for any successful business starting out. Certainly for Birchcliff Energy, these traits helped launch the oil and gas producer on the trajectory to where it is today.

“We are focused on having one of the lowest cost structures in the industry and that’s what has allowed us to prosper in what has really been a difficult time for the energy industry,” says Chris Carlsen, vice-president of engineering at Birchcliff.

Based in Calgary, the mid-sized energy firm launched in 2004 with less than a dozen employees. Today, it has more than 100 at its head office in the city and many more in the field at the Montney/Doig Resource Play about 95 kilometres northwest of Grande Prairie.

“The company has gone from zero production 13 years ago to 77,000 barrels a day,” Carlsen says.

About 80 per cent of Birchcliff’s production is natural gas.

“We’ve built a large, 100 per cent owned and operated, contiguous land base in the Montney/Doig, and that allows us to control our own destiny by delivering energy at a low cost,” Carlsen adds.

Great asset ownership is certainly a key ingredient for success. But so too is the ability to be nimble and embrace new technologies, and the next generation of oil and gas workers, says Jesse Doenz, controller and  investor relations manager at Birchcliff.

“We believe the younger generation is crucial to the success of our industry,” he says. “They are the ones leading the way when it comes to adapting to new technology and innovation like data science.”

Even during the downturn, the company offered summer positions for students, recognizing the need to give them valuable on-the-job experience regardless of whether they go on to work for a competitor.

“The hardest thing for a student is to get the foot in the door and that first job within their discipline of study, so we’re pleased to help with that,” Carlsen says. “We’re not big enough to  absorb 10 new hires every year, but for a few key people, you bet we try to hire and train them.”

The company also takes a leading role in the communities where it works by supporting charities, including raising more than $1 million in the communities it operates for STARS Air Ambulance, Carlsen says.

Growing the company is certainly a priority, but building the industry overall is also important. Key priorities include expanding access to global markets through LNG pipelines, pushing the envelope with new technologies for better production and reducing the environmental footprint of operations.

When it comes to being innovative, Carlsen points to Birchcliff’s early adoption of horizontal hydraulic fracturing to boost production in the Montney, one of North America’s most promising resource plays. The company has boosted energy efficiency, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, at its gas plant and other facilities through processes such as heat waste recovery.

Birchcliff Energy could also point to its use of pad drilling — allowing for multiple wells from one site — as another illustration of its innovative nature.

“Instead of drilling several single wells throughout the field, we use a multi-well pad that allows us to drill up to 28 wells off of one pad, he says.
Of course, having the right business model to go along with lucrative assets is vital to survival in this new era, too.

“Our asset base allows us to allocate capital quickly to the highest rate of return projects,” Doenz says.

And Birchcliff’s profitability is expected to keep expanding as its latest Pouce Coupe gas plant expansion comes online this fall, increasing processing capacity to 340 million cubic feet per day.

Still, great technology and strong assets cannot fully explain Birchcliff’s success in the industry, Carlsen says.

“Our biggest asset is our people,” he adds. “More than anything, that has helped set us up to weather this storm of low prices and innovate when others in our industry are having a tough time.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Calgary Economic Development.

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