Mark Ashton has an unusual academic background for someone who is involved in the Canadian oil and gas industry, but that hasn’t stopped him from succeeding in a sector facing challenges.
“I ended up in the oil and gas industry somewhat by default after chasing my now wife to Calgary after meeting at University in Edmonton,” said the 2020 Rising Star recipient.
He earned a kinesiology degree from the University of Alberta in 2011 and shortly after graduation, he took a job with a large oilfield service company.
That was nine years ago and Mark, who is currently pursuing his ICD designation, has no regrets.
“Everybody tells me about the ups and downs in the industry, but I’m still waiting for the ups,” he joked.
In 2015 Mark and two partners launched 360 Energy Liability Management, a firm which helps oil and gas companies plan and execute their abandonment, decommissioning, environmental obligations.
Mark said business really took off after the Supreme Court ruled oil and gas companies – even bankrupt ones – are responsible for cleaning up abandoned wells and other facilities following the bankruptcy of Redwater Energy Corporation.
“The Redwater decision in 2016 was the springboard for our business,” said Mark, who is the company’s president.
The company, which now has 32 employees and upwards of 10 to 15 field contractors depending on the day, has also benefitted from federal government’s commitment to provide $1.7 billion in funding to clean up old wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.
Mark credits his time with a major oilfield service company and with a smaller firm, for giving him the background that has helped to make 360 a success.
“It has been a pretty wild ride,” he said.
He also credits “a great team” of managers and employees “who aren’t afraid to pursue crazy ideas.”
Many of the people he worked with in the oilfield service sector have continued to be great mentors and that has played a large role in the success of 360, he said.
Despite the industry’s challenges, Mark said he has “avoided being sucked into the negative cycle” and remains positive about its future.
His career path has been all about being flexible, he said.
“There are still great opportunities in the industry. (Nobody) wants to become a Blockbuster or Kodak (companies that had their glory days but later went bankrupt), so sometimes you need to cut your losses and pivot.”
This ability to adapt has helped him guide the evolving path of 360 and help steer the organization through the turbulent energy sector.
While he sees energy from alternative sources increasing over the next decade, Mark believes fossil fuels will remain a key part of the energy mix.
“My personal belief is that on a relative basis, the future will see a shift in where fossil fuels fit into the energy mix, but to meet current energy demands and support the growing demand from emerging Third World economies, “ he said. “On an absolute basis, I don’t believe we will see a significant demand change from the levels we see today.”
He believes his company has a long runway ahead.
“We are in a good spot,” said Mark. “We’re fortunate in that we can create jobs and support our industry.”
Mark is a director on the boards of the Balance Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing meaningful opportunities to youth through sport and education, and the Calgary Downtown Association.
He played for the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey club and in the Western Hockey League.
Mark and his wife have two children under the age of five.