Getting It Done No Matter The Price

In Brett Tinnes, 24, energy service and manufacturer RDI has an area manager whose traits and skills are those needed by the new breed of oilfield worker.
By Luke Geiver | August 20, 2015

It’s early summer and Brett Tinnes is standing near the clubhouse of a Minot, N.D., golf course surrounded by oil industry workers, workers, ready to participate in this year's American Petroleum Institute golf outing. Oil prices are still below $65 per barrel, the magic number needed to reactivate the majority of fracking activities or drilling rig crews, and there is a detectable buzz that this golf gathering is much different than the previous year. The conversations held amongst golfers are different. As they speak in their carts or near the clubhouse, some of them dressed in shirts embroidered with their company logo, others in polos, all waiting  to be told where to go and when to start, they seem more subdued, and quieter than the previous year. It's as if they are there, but thinking about something else.

As Tinnes steps in front of the group to begin his announcements, it’s clear he fits in. Tinnes is short in stature, dressed in a blue polo and black golf shorts, his hat and glasses made for Saturday nights and riding in the truck, not birdieing the eighteenth. Amidst the backdrop of golf carts and oilfield personnel attempting to dress the part of midweek golfer, Tinnes is clearly with his people. Most likely, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Growing up in Tioga, he watched his father work in the drilling rig business. After four years attending school in Minot and working part time for a steel supplier going boom in the Bakken, he took over the lead role for a small-team, small branch division of a unionized pipe manufacturer based in Red Deer, Alberta, called Red Deer Ironworks (RDI for short).  Since the branch first opened in Minot in 2013, Tinnes has been at the helm of RDI’s most successful U.S. branch. At any given time, Tinnes has roughly $1 million worth of inventory on hand to keep up with client demand. Through the local chapter of American Petroleum Institute, he has also found success as a leader in the regional organization, and whether he likes it or not, become a golf event orgranizer and fundraiser tasked with bringing together teams and funds regardless of oil price.

At the front of the crowd, when he opens his mouth and the words come out, his tone is soft with a hint of toughness to it like he is attempting be firm but humble when he speaks. Following his morning announcements about the day’s schedule, the golfers head in different directions, the carts appearing as large white ants dispersing to the grass. Later that day, when the golfing has ended and the one-time-per-year players park their carts and head to the clubhouse, Tinnes ditches a microphone shortly after it fails and shouts out the raffle winners without ever thinking twice of stopping his work of announcing. He is clearly tired, but trying to show enthusiasm after two straight days running a golf event instead of his recertification shop. As Tinnes would tell you himself, he likes to “make sure things get done.”

At 24, Tinnes has become a clear representative of the modern, young oilfield worker. He has seen the best of the Bakken and now, for the first time in his life, a slowdown of client calls and product orders, creating an unfamiliar situation. If every young oilfield worker takes Tinnes’ approach in the future, there will be more companies like RDI finding ways to navigate and work in whatever environment and mood those annual golfers at the Minot API golf tournament seem to be in.

RDI’s 2.5-Year Journey
It took only two years for Tinnes and his team of 10 to make an impact in the Bakken. Admittedly, they could do even more with other locations in Watford City or Dickinson, Tinnes believes. The company manufacturers high-and low-pressure pipe, fittings, collars and a myriad of other products used in the completion or production side of the business. The company also tests and recertifies piping and other products in need of maintaince or evaluation. Every week, Tinnes hits the road for Williston and Watford City just to stay in front of customers, pick-up service orders or deliver finished product even if they could have been dropped off at a shop in Minot. Right now, that is his goal, to stay current, fresh and good with existing clients.

“Just like everyone else we all got hit up for price cuts. We are technically the bottom of the bottom because we manufacture. We can’t go any lower,” he says. When oil prices started to show an impact in December 2014, Tinnes and his corporate leadership in Alberta all decided to reduce their own pay and to reduce the fees they charged for products.

“There are only so many companies out there,” he says. “We take pride in our customer service. Making sure our clients won’t go somewhere else when prices are five cents cheaper is important.”

In addition to lowering its fees, Tinnes organized meetings with several entities to talk needs and logistics. “We asked them what they could use more of and what products they wanted to have more of. You can’t just go to Walmart and get this stuff.”

While the new iron sales have not increased, the efforts of Tinnes have paid off in other ways. “One thing that benefited us in the slow period is that you didn’t see as many people buying new stuff,” he says. “You saw them trying to reuse and recycle more things. Our service side maintained itself.”

The methods used in the Bakken to complete wells help to drive RDI’s maintaince team usage. Because of the high water volumes, pressures and sand totals that flowback, the pipe wears down. “It is meant to last forever, but the sand eats it up,” he says. “Anytime you are mixing sand and pressure you are basically sandblasting the inside of the pipe.”

RDI, and other companies like it, can test the pipe for its integrity and repair worn spots if necessary. Some major completion companies or operators have internal mandates requiring pipe integrity testing every six months.

Although new pipe sales were slow the first three months of the year, the maintenance side has kept Tinnes team busy. The company has also strategically positioned itself to operate lean when times are slow, according to a company spokesperson. RDI does it by watching inventory levels, spending and excessive work hours.

No one in the North Dakota branch is over the age of 28. And, none of them has experienced an oil industry downturn such as this, Tinnes said. Talk with Tinnes or look at his brief track record of success, however, and you wouldn’t know that. It was evident at the golf tournament, evident when you talk with him on the phone. He has the air of having been in the Bakken for many years and that he already understands how to be successful in it. Then again, all it really takes to understand Tinnes and the young, new class of oilfield worker experiencing all the Bakken has to economically offer, is to look at Tinnes representing RDI at the golf tournament. There he was on the golf course, standing amongst so many of his peers who work under the same standards and have the same responsibilities, the area manager in the blue shirt finding a way to mingle, talk, get in front of customers, make announcements, check work emails, hit a driver and, no matter what the price of oil is, get things done.

Author: Luke Geiver
Editor, The Bakken magazine