Power Player

How Saxon Energy Services’ VP of engineering, Kevin Jonah, is helping the global land-drilling contractor become an industry leader

Fully owned by Schlumberger—the world’s leading supplier of technology, integrated project management, and information solutions to the oil and gas industry—Saxon Energy Services Inc. is an international land-drilling contractor, currently operating 101 land-drilling and workover rigs across the globe. The company strives to lead the industry as a Tier 1 drilling contractor, and company vice president of engineering Kevin Jonah plays a crucial part in making that goal a reality. Jonah oversees all things engineering and rig construction, which means it’s up to him to make sure Saxon’s equipment is designed, built, and running properly. Here, he shares with Advantage some of the key metrics of the company’s success.


Jonah began his career at Saxon almost 10 years ago. He gained industry experience at Precision Drilling Corporation in the company’s international drilling division as a design technologist before it was sold to Weatherford International. Rather than move to Houston, Texas, to work for Weatherford, Jonah stayed in Calgary to work with Precision. But when a number of prior Precision Drilling executives took over management of Saxon in 2005, they asked Jonah to join.

“I was one of the first employees they recruited from Precision,” Jonah says. “I was hired as an equipment designer. My first week on the job, I went from designing drilling equipment to being a project manager, responsible for delivering seven drilling rigs for a client in the US, with a budget of nearly $80 million.” Jonah quickly got his feet wet in project management despite any firm structure within Saxon at the time. It was up to Jonah to create internal engineering and construction standards for the company to follow. So, from the beginning, Jonah has been tasked with building the group and its rig fleet.

“The problem with working for an international drilling contractor is the fact that the locations in which we drill are often remote and less than ideal,” says Kevin Jonah, vice president of engineering. So, these days, Jonah spends much of his off time with his wife and two kids, the latter of which are active in hockey, lacrosse, and softball.

101 rigs

Saxon currently operates in 11 countries, with drilling rigs in the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Australia, Pakistan, Oman, Iraq, and Algeria. There are 101 rigs spread throughout the world, which have allowed Saxon to become an internationally diverse organization and recognized as a Tier 1 drilling contractor.

According to Jonah, however, Saxon isn’t looking to expand to any other nations. “It’s hard to gauge with the price of oil these days,” he says. “This year is really about staying steady.”

1 size doesn’t fit all

Jonah’s team plays a big part in Saxon’s overall success. Generally, when the team receives a rig request from an operator, each one will have its own set of unique requests based on the well profile it plans to drill. Jonah and his team will take a look at existing assets to see if anything matches, but they usually don’t.

“Oftentimes, it requires a new build and anything related to construction falls within this group,” Jonah says. “We have to put together the budget, the design, the schedule, and eventually, when we get the contract, we have to execute on the construction.” Jonah and his team are responsible for every aspect of the rig, from bidding to delivery.

$30 million

According to Jonah, the engineering team’s work is akin to that of general contractors. The team will work to generate the design that best suits the environment the rig is planned for, and once the overall plan is in place, the team uses a number of third-party design and fabrication companies to execute the projects. With each rig costing more than $30 million and taking nearly a year to build for a new design, there is a lot of planning that needs to occur for a successful build.

The group is divided between sustaining engineering projects and capital projects. “I have a Western Hemisphere engineering manager working in Calgary and an Eastern Hemisphere engineering manager working in Dubai,” Jonah says. Those two managers work primarily on existing fleet, taking care of issues when they arise. Saxon also employs an electrical expert to support both groups as well as a capital projects manager with a small team of project managers, project engineers, purchasers, and a documentation coordinator. “The success Saxon has had over the years is largely dependent on the ability to design and build new technology rigs.”

3 new projects

Saxon has no plans of slowing down the development of new drilling rigs; in fact, Jonah’s team is currently working on building three new ones. One of them is an upgrade to an existing design, the ATD-550. The 550,000-pound rig is expected to operate in the United States in 2015. The other two rigs being developed are collectively called the ATD-750—a highly mobile, 750,000-pound double with the latest technology, created with an effort to improve operating efficiency and risk reduction. “That rig is being built on speculation,” Jonah says. “The idea behind that rig is to integrate additional drilling services as well as to increase rig automation.”