The foundation for Colter Energy was built long before Clay Bradley founded the company in 2003. While his first exposure to the energy industry was in the field, his professional career began in a sales capacity. He honed his craft for the first six years as he learned more about the energy industry and, specifically, the importance of follow-through. He naturally built great relationships with his clients as he closed deals, but for Bradley, signing a contract for work was only the beginning.
“Once we successfully won a project, I would spend a lot of time in the field meeting the crews that would be running the project. They were the ones responsible for delivering what I promised to the customer. This approach was uncommon among my peers but incredibly impactful to our success. I got to know a lot of our field personnel really well that way, and when I decided to move on and start Colter, many of those field operators came to work for us because of the relationship that developed over the years,” says Clay Bradley, President and CEO of Colter Energy.
He continued to meaningfully connect with his employees once he started his own business, and the culture this created helped attract and retain great people to propel the company’s growth. In 2009, Colter began to expand its scope and service area, offering the gamut of production testing services not only in Canada but also in several basins in the United States. Colter Energy counts most of the major oil and gas industry players as clients, and by putting a focus on acting with integrity, the company has established a solid reputation that has made it a go-to provider in the industry.
A great deal of credit for this reputation goes to Colter’s focus on fostering great relationships. Not only does the team build incredible relationships with its clients, but it has also built a great rapport with suppliers in the industry. The company’s reputation for efficiency, quality work and staying on schedule and budget, along with its hands-on, collaborative way of doing business, has turned employees, customers and suppliers into partners and friends. Bradley is grateful for the support the company has received from everyone over the past 20 years.
Colter has developed a robust 10-year relationship with a key financial partner as well. In 2013, Colter Energy partnered with Calgary private equity company TriWest Capital Partners and their involvement and support helped Bradley situate Colter at the forefront of the industry.
“TriWest has been an integral support system for us. They provided capital for us in the early years so we could grow and be in the position we are in today, and certainly, through the pandemic and other difficult times, they provided help for us when we might not have otherwise made it. TriWest has been instrumental in the background for us,” Bradley says.
With hard work and some help from industry friends, Colter has grown significantly in reach and scope. Today, the company services clients in Canada through its head office in Okotoks, sales office in Calgary, and bases in Red Deer and Grande Prairie. These teams support the work Colter’s clients are doing in oil and gas across Alberta and northeastern British Columbia, as well as on the helium production side in Saskatchewan. In addition, Colter operates a fully staffed shop in Washington, Pennsylvania, working for clients producing in the Marcellus natural gas field along with operation bases in Casper, Wyoming and Minot, North Dakota. Over the past 20 years of providing quality service to its clients across diverse markets, Colter Energy has earned its position as one of North America’s leading flowback and production testing equipment and service providers.
Colter Energy specializes in a variety of well completion activities, offering clients customizable services from stimulation support and drill-outs to well optimization, production and inline testing. After their clients have drilled their well, the Colter team goes through the various fracking stages and then performs tests to determine what kind of output clients can expect from the well. Once this is completed, the well is turned over to the client’s team to prepare for production.
After 20 years and thousands of completed projects, there is little that someone on their team hasn’t seen or done before, and the Colter professionals are equipped to handle virtually any situation or scenario. The collaborative team custom designs and implements cost-effective, fit-for-purpose, detailed flowback and production testing programs, delivering innovative solutions to its vast client base. Colter can accommodate large and small jobs alike, and whether there is a handful of people with a few pieces of equipment at a week-long job or a complex project that requires dozens of pieces of equipment managed by 40 professionals over the course of six months, clients receive the same personalized, tailored service that ensures the job is done right and clients are completely satisfied.
“The main application for our service is to provide specific data to the producers about their oil and/or gas wells,” says Bradley. “How we tailor our equipment and personnel to a project depends on the dynamics we face with each client and project.”
No matter the scenario, Colter Energy is sure to have both state-of-the-art equipment and the right people for the job. In a service business like production testing, where the equipment, real-time monitoring technology and processes are quite similar across competing companies, it’s the people that really act as the main differentiator. And since the beginning, Bradley and the Colter team have been all about their people and treating them like family. The company has a bottom-up approach that puts the emphasis on the staff so they can better serve clients rather than a top-down management focus. Colter does all it can to create an environment that makes employees safe, healthy and happy at work.
To address the first goal, the company has implemented a comprehensive safety program that ensures the Colter team stays healthy and safe on the job. There is a safety coordinator in Canada and one in the United States who heads up the safety programs in each country, and they are supported by safety personnel in place at each base location. These programs form the basis of new-hire training as well as ongoing safety procedures to ensure employees stay safe for their entire tenure at Colter Energy.
Colter does not push new employees into the field quickly. Instead, they invest in developing them by providing training coupled with mentorship and job-shadowing. This helps new hires acclimate to their position and allows them to really understand the process and gain confidence in the field. By training staff about the finer points of what their job entails and what they need to know about what’s happening around them, Colter’s recruits don’t become overwhelmed or intimidated by the job. Bradley has found that people who are supported and have positive experiences early on in their employment tend to stick around in that position for longer, and by ensuring staff are comfortable and well-trained, Colter is enhancing its already excellent retention rate.
The evidence of this effective strategy can be found in the large number of long-time employees working at Colter Energy, including several people on both the administrative and field sides who have been with the company since its inception. From early on in their careers with Colter, employees know they are valued and appreciated, both personally and professionally, and they are given the opportunity to move up in the company.
“Our industry is traditionally somewhat transient, and the fact that we have the long-term retention that we have with many of our people, in my mind, is remarkable. Everyone is involved and engaged, from our entry-level people to our field supervisors to the senior management team. The culture we’ve created is all-inclusive, and we believe that when you get involved, it makes it more personal, and you get a true sense of commitment from your people,” says Bradley. “They are proud to wear the Colter coveralls.”
Employees, especially the great ones, are hard to come by in this labour-strained market, and Colter Energy takes the approach of being a supportive training place that encourages people to learn, develop their skills, and grow to become future supervisors, sales associates and management personnel. In fact, nearly all of the management team in place were promoted from the field and developed into their current positions. This is a source of pride for the company and a practice the team strives to implement at all levels.
After all, advancing great employees is far easier than trying to recruit new staff from a pool of available candidates. The key is to find people who are not only service-oriented and eager to learn but also individuals who possess the positive traits that mesh with the company’s collaborative culture. Clay Bradley and his team have been successful in this pursuit, as the staff of about 350 people across the organization is dedicated to the growth of Colter Energy and is invested in the company’s continued success. The company was built on its core values of having a customer focus that puts clients first, delivering great value for clients, achieving operational excellence for stakeholders, practicing loyalty to clients as the team goes the extra mile, and fostering teamwork and respect for everyone connected to a job, both within the company and outside of it.
As much as Colter invests in its staff from within, the team also invests in the outside communities in which it operates. The company sponsors various sports teams and supports local causes that are important to the staff and its community neighbours. Colter has a long history of involvement with community organizations in both Okotoks and Calgary, including the Foothills Hospice, the Okotoks Food Bank, the Alberta Children’s Hospital and Kids Cancer Care. Additionally, the company supports local oilmen charities and helps out with causes and charities in the Red Deer and Grande Prairie communities. Colter Energy is active south of the border, too, and the company proudly promotes hockey by being a major sponsor of the Junior A hockey team, the Minot Minotauros in North Dakota while donating to and supporting a variety of charitable causes where they have American bases.
“As a company and as individual employees, we support many local charities, not-for-profit organizations, and sports and recreation programs through both donations and employee involvement. Being a good community citizen is a crucial part of our guiding principles and beliefs, and this ultimately brings about positive change in the communities in which we work and operate,” he says.
Colter Energy has experienced its share of extremely difficult times during the past two decades. They have ridden out the cyclical ups and downs in the industry to survive recessions and energy sector downturns and then had to regroup when crashing oil prices and a global pandemic led to complete operation shutdowns and temporary layoffs at the company. Through it all, Colter Energy managed to come out the other side stronger. Having experienced adversity and hardship of their own over the years makes it even more important to Bradley and his team to support communities that need help. The team feels privileged to be in a position to assist others, and they are happy to pay it forward.
“Making it this far has been an incredible journey, and the fact that we’re still kicking around 20 years later is impressive, especially in our space. Many companies have come and gone over those years, and we have worked extremely hard and been very fortunate,” Clay Bradley says. “We are grateful to our employees, clients and suppliers for the dedication and commitment they bring to Colter Energy every single day.”
With the company’s dedication to providing quality custom solutions to clients, the wealth of experience and knowledge on the team and its complete lineup of flowback and production testing services, it seems that Colter Energy’s clients, suppliers and employees are pretty fortunate, too.