Nearly a century ago, an innovative local machinist working for service company Midway Fishing Tool had a simple idea that has transformed the oil industry – in Kern County and around the world.
He discovered that if he used a milling machine and a thin slitting saw to cut slots in a piece of casing, it could be used to filter out sand that was preventing the recovery of heavy crude oil. Geologically young, heavy oil zones, such as the Pleistocene, Miocene and Pliocene, basically are oil sand reservoirs. Small particles of sand can interfere with oil drilling thousands of feet below the surface.
By the mid-1950s, these “slotted pipe” filters became so popular that most major oil producers were lining their production zones with them in the local Kern River, Midway Sunset and Belridge fields. And the race was on among oil service companies to produce the best and most advanced version of what a simple machinist had crafted in a Kern County shop.
Versions of slotted, filtering casings now are used around the world, notably in oil fields in the United States, Canada, South America and the Middle East. And through it all, Pacific Perforating Inc., with its Kern County headquarters, west of Fellows, has emerged as a leader in the industry.
The local company, which is a subsidiary of Canada-based RGL Reservoir Management, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Theirs is a story of oil pioneers using hard work and ingenuity to survive in an economically volatile industry, and helping oil producers recover Kern’s enormous treasure of black gold.
“I believe PPI has been able to survive for 50 years because management has made a commitment to our customers and employees that we will weather poor economic times together,” said Garett Rogers, the company’s general manager.
“The level of teamwork really shows when times are challenging. At Pacific, everyone is willing to give their maximum effort to benefit the customer and the company. I also believe that our unmatched products, service, cutting-edge equipment and proLAB testing has and will continue to keep us in the well completion market for another 50 years.”
Pacific Perforating opened its doors in 1969, when a Taft businessman, the late John J. Miller, sensed the growing potential for Kern oil producers and their need to control sand intrusion into their oil wells.
Miller had followed his father, Leo, into Kern’s oil business. And in 1980, Miller’s son, Roger, joined the family-owned company. Today, Roger Miller is Pacific Perforating’s U.S. Sales Director.
“We have knowledge of every heavy (thermal) oil field in the county,” said Roger Miller, noting that four of PPI’s staff members have more than 25 years with the company. Manufacturing and delivery teams average more than 10 years of experience. “We know where the fields are, their characteristics, and keep a database on completion methods that work best for that area and zone.”
When Pacific Perforating began operating under John Miller’s ownership, its manufacturing plant consisted of a single 12-spindle slotting machine and pipe-cleaning/de-burring system. There were just three employees, including Miller’s wife, Betty, who handled the company’s accounting.
Within the first month, Pacific Perforating was providing products to Getty Oil, Standard Oil, Victory Oil and Atlantic-Richfield. In 1981, when Sun Oil Co. launched a large drilling program near Taft, Pacific Perforating began a 24/7 operation to complete orders and initiated a vendor stocking program.
But as often happens, the oil industry experienced a widespread economic downturn in the mid-1980s. The price of Kern heavy crude oil dropped from $25 per barrel to $6. At one point, only two drilling rigs were operating in California. Pacific Perforating looked internationally for new customers. These were found in the Middle East, as well as Venezuela and Columbia. Eventually the Millers, who were long known to Canadian oil producers, sold to G&L Slotco Oilfield Services and the Kern company became a subsidiary of RGL Reservoir Management.
Today, the company’s manufacturing facility is staffed by 25 employees and produces about 300,000 feet worth of sand- and flow-control devices a year. These products are mostly used in oil production in Western states, including Colorado, California and New Mexico.
As Pacific Perforating celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is focused on the future.
“We have the only seaming facility in the U.S. and our CNC slotting machines are far more precise and efficient than anyone else can offer,” said Miller, noting that the company’s relationship with RGL Reservoir Management gives customers access to superior testing and engineering resources. “With RGL’s support, we are improving the way heavy oil wells are completed in California.”