TribLIVE

| Business

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Falcon Drilling tackles shale sites with mid-sized equipment

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Daniel Donahue, president of Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling, stands near the company's newest rig before drilling begins outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Daniel Donahue, president of  Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling, stands near the company's newest rig before drilling begins outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Workers and subcontractors for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling prepare a rig before drilling begins outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Workers and subcontractors for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling prepare a rig before drilling begins outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - A worker for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling climbs the company's newest rig to begin drilling outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A worker for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling climbs the company's newest rig to begin drilling outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Daniel Donahue, president of Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling, explains the the monitoring system on the company's newest rig before drilling begins outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Daniel Donahue, president of Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling, explains the the monitoring system on the company's newest rig before drilling begins outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Two workers for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling ready a rig to begin drilling outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Two workers for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling ready a rig to begin drilling outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Mike Woods of Charleroi, an independent contractor for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling, welds pipe cover caps for a rig to begin drilling outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Mike Woods of Charleroi, an independent contractor for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling, welds pipe cover caps for a rig to begin drilling outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - A subcontractor for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling readies the company's newest rig to begin drilling outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A subcontractor for Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling readies the company's newest rig to begin drilling outside St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

On the Grid

From the shale fields to the cooling towers, Trib Total Media covers the energy industry in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For the latest news and views on gas, coal, electricity and more, check out On the Grid today.

Falcon Drilling LLC

Headquarters: Indiana, Pa.

Founded: 2001

Employees: 325 by the end of this month

Specialty: Top-hole and air drilling for energy companies exploring the Marcellus and Utica shales

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Monday, June 9, 2014, 11:06 p.m.
 

Executives at the big, publicly traded energy companies exploring the Marcellus and Utica shales like to tell investors they're drilling gas wells more quickly and cheaply than before.

Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling is helping them make their case, with its focus on using mid-sized rigs and air drilling, a less-expensive approach.

“We can do it more efficiently because this has been our focus for the past 13 years,” said company President Dan Donahue. “We have the equipment and people to best get this done quickly and safely for the customer.”

Donahue, 35, of Fox Chapel has sharpened that focus since he bought the company in 2011. He shed a side operation in water transportation, and is investing in employees and rigs that can drill a well in the Marcellus or the “top hole,” or vertical portion, for a deeper Utica well.

He boosted payroll from the 100 employees when he bought the company to nearly 325. He added seven drilling rigs, including the purchase in March of three mid-sized, powerful “super singles” that were drilling in northeast Pennsylvania, bringing the fleet to 13 rigs.

Falcon is refurbishing the equipment, which can drill more deeply than its other rigs. Donahue could not say how much Falcon paid for them because of an agreement with the seller, and he declined to provide financial figures for the company because it's privately owned.

“This puts us in a whole new market,” Donahue said recently as the first of the 250-ton rigs started on a Rice Energy site in the Utica shale south of St. Clairsville, Ohio.

The companies for which Falcon drills include Rice, Antero Resources and Range Resources, a longtime customer.

“There's a big incentive to use Falcon on as much of the drilling as possible,” said John K. Applegath, senior vice president for the southern Marcellus division at Range. He said boring a well costs about $20,000 a day when a firm hires an air-drilling operation such as Falcon, versus about $60,000 for companies that user bigger rigs and rely on fluids and mud.

Donahue noted that Falcon can move its smaller operation to a site faster with about 40 truckloads — compared with more than 100 for the biggest rigs — and drill several wells on one site with little movement of equipment. He hired employees who are experienced in drilling with fluids and mud.

The equipment and employees mean more solid footing for Falcon, which once operated in a smaller niche as a shallow-well driller.

“We were missing the boat in the top-hole Utica market,” Donahue said. “But if the Utica dries up, we can bring this back to the Marcellus and keep working there.”

Energy companies like Falcon's flexibility, Applegath said. For Donahue, it's about pushing customer service, something he learned in the hospitality business, his profession before he bought Falcon from the Kozel family.

On the drill site, Donahue stresses service and safety. He instituted training for employees and tries to make sure workers have necessary personal equipment.

“He's the guy who backs me up out here,” said Wendell Keener, one of three safety supervisors on Falcon sites. “I get his support and it comes from the top.”

Falcon has had no operational deaths since Donahue bought it, he said.

There have been stumbling blocks. A year after Donahue bought the company, Falcon's chief operating officer and controller were caught in an embezzlement scheme in which investigators said they funneled out $9 million over eight years. They pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing in federal court.

Donahue credits other longtime employees and additions with maintaining the operations side of the business while he looks to expand.

“We're in the service industry. You work with a client and show you're committed, and the technical side can be taken care of with the people you have around you,” said Donahue, a North Hills native with an MBA from Duquesne University.

If Donahue's background or young age are unique in the unconventional drilling world, that's OK, Applegath said.

“It takes unconventional people to work and succeed here,” he said. “Dan has brought forward-thinking to the company.”

David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Business Headlines

  1. United Airlines hack coincided with incursion into government employee data
  2. U.S. Steel CEO expects rebound
  3. Plastics propel Bayer’s 2Q earnings
  4. Post-Gazette offers voluntary buyouts in bid to avoid layoffs
  5. Gold continues to fall further out of favor with investors
  6. Voice-assisted technology raises privacy concerns
  7. Range Resources cuts workforce 11%
  8. Fed holds steady on rates
  9. China rebound, Fed statement fuel rally on Wall Street
  10. Muni bond funds stressed
  11. Travelers find direct Web route to Priory’s spirited past in North Side