Ron Sorokan’s rig designs helped push the frontiers of oil and gas development

The Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame Society is honouring six men and women as its 2018 inductees at a special luncheon Nov. 23 at the Calgary Petroleum Club. In a series to be published weekly on the Daily Oil Bulletin and, writer R.P. Stastny profiles each of the inductees. Today: Ron Sorokan

Ron Sorokan built some remarkable drilling rigs over his career. He cofounded what is today Dreco Energy Services, which became an important part of National Oilwell Varco over 20 years ago.

Ron’s rig designs for harsh environments, rapid mobility and operating efficiency helped establish Edmonton and Nisku as an export hub for Canadian drilling rigs destined for oilfields in the North Slope of Alaska, deserts of Kuwait, the North Sea and the jungles of South America.

Ron’s pioneering innovations continue to influence rig designs today, and he also inspired a generation of leaders through employee mentoring and his highly collaborative business approach.

“Ron began mentoring engineers, designers, fabricators and constructors in the early 70s right through to his retirement,” says Precision Drilling CEO Kevin Neveu. “His mentorship and personal support of myself and many other professional, executives and, for that matter welders and electricians, is unmatched by any innovator I have come across in my career.”

Ron was born in 1945 in Smokey Lake, Alberta. He became a journeyman welder and worked in various capacities until he was hired into oil and gas equipment manufacturing in 1967.

In 1972, Ron and his business partner Fred Pheasey pulled together a joint investment of $8,000 to buy Pyramid Steel in Edmonton, which was later renamed to Derek & Rig Equipment Company (Dreco).

Two years later, Dreco started a downhole tool subsidiary that developed motor products used primarily to drill deviated and horizontal wellbores that are the choice of the industry worldwide to this day, now under National Oilwell Varco Inc.

In 1979, Ron conceived and designed the Slingshot Style Substructure, which quickly became the industry standard, offering faster rig assembly in the field as well as much enhanced worker safety. The first rigs of this design were built and delivered the following year to National Supply.

For Dreco, the 1980s were a dynamic time of innovation and business expansion. The Alaska Pipeline was completed in 1977 and North Slope production was growing to a peak of 2 million bbl/d in 1989.

In 1981, Dreco became the world’s leading oil derrick manufacturer with $243 million in operating revenues and earnings of $12.4 million.

A notable rig that Ron participated in the design and build of was Doyon Rig 9, delivered to Doyon Drilling in 1981. It was the first partially self-propelled drilling rig for the North Slope of Alaska.

“Rig 9, a 20,000-foot reach, was the first of four modular self-propelled drilling rigs built for the North Slope of Alaska. The success of Rig 9 changed the way other rigs are built and moved on the North Slope to this day,” says Ron Wilson, president and general manger of Doyon Drilling.

Ron recalls his work on the North Slope rig fleet as a “special time” in his life. He was involved in numerous renowned firsts, such as the self-propelled, fully-enclosed drilling rigs for the North Slope of Alaska, drilling modules with compensating draw-works for offshore drilling vessels, automated pipe handling for North Sea rigs, desert rigs for the Middle East and North Africa, and special equipment used in China and Russia.

In 1997, Dreco merged with National Oilwell to become the largest North American manufacturer of oil and gas drilling and production equipment, supporting the transformation of resource extraction around the world. Innovation continued at Dreco, including the design of Rig 26, which is currently being built by National Well Varco and will be the largest mobile land rig in North America, capable of drilling over 35,000 feet.

Ron’s ability to truly hear what clients needed was the critical starting point for his design work. He was also able to gather many points of view on challenges that needed to be overcome and then advance inspired ideas.

“Ron’s style of innovation and design was underpinned by strong collaboration model,” Neveu says. “He brought the customers, the designers, the suppliers and occasionally competitors together to create the best technical and commercial solutions.”

Ron’s quiet leadership, extraordinary work ethic, innovation and collaboration fostered meaningful client relationships within North America and globally.

Many professionals and skilled workers who worked under Ron’s guidance went on to start successful companies, which is a testament to his capacity for mentorship and personal support.

“My first interview with Ron for full-time job as an engineer was in 1981,” Neveu says. “It was clear that Ron expected hard work, innovative thinking and efficiency in work—key attributes we all aspire to. He was prepared to help a young engineer or a seasoned veteran contribute and work with the team to deliver a remarkable result.”

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