February 2014

Innovative thinkers

Blackhawk Specialty Tools: Two sides, one coin

Melanie Cruthirds / World Oil


 Necessity is the mother of invention. – Proverb

For many companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico today, the Deepwater Horizon incident is an inevitable, unavoidable point of reference. If you were there before 2010, your timeline likely bears the distinct transection of the pre- and post-Macondo eras. Deepwater activity in the Gulf came to a halt, and companies scrambled to avoid going under, too.


Blackhawk engineers perform testing on one of the company’s inline centralizer subs.

In the months that followed, operators, service providers and equipment manufacturers set about making plans to keep business going during the moratorium, while preparing to revisit the deepwater Gulf in the future. Some looked to other, similar opportunities outside of the U.S., while others focused on unrelated operations. Like many others during this time, the professionals at Blackhawk Specialty Tools, who had established the company as a market leader in the offshore cementing arena, began the regrouping process.

Here was a company that had already been there, done that, with regards to setting industry standards. Blackhawk had introduced the first fully universal, automated top drive cement head in 2008, and was in full operational swing by the time 2010 rolled around. Having weathered the global economic recession during that same time period, the company quickly began its post-Macondo recovery with a similar combination of innovation and execution. With operations at a stand-still in the Gulf, Blackhawk looked to its existing technologies and nearby opportunities, in the meantime.

Taking lessons learned from deepwater cementing, Blackhawk ventured into the U.S. land market, where opportunity abounded in domestic shale plays. After pinpointing a regional operating base, in Pennsylvania, the company unleashed a group of engineers and other professionals on the area, to see what they could come up with.

Finding that its offshore equipment was over-engineered for this new application, which didn’t require such high tensile strengths, the company introduced a more compact cement head, allowing operators to rotate surface and production casing during cementing. Blackhawk CEO Billy Brown said the technology, another industry first, was initially deployed with an operator in the Marcellus. The company has since expanded activity to the Eagle Ford and Niobrara plays, and the Permian basin.

Now that drilling activity has returned to the deepwater Gulf, so has Blackhawk to its first specialty. Most recently, the company launched its new, highly-engineered inline centralizer subs for GOM and international operations, approximately 15 months ago, enabling companies to meet the more-stringent API standoff specifications for casings that have passed through tight-tolerance deepwater zones. Brown said the company is now working with an API steering committee, to develop and refine standards for inline centralizer subs.

Having proven itself to be a skilled adapter, Blackhawk is looking next to expand its reach not only to additional U.S. shale plays, but also to international regions. The company has established a facility in Brazil to serve various IOCs, adding to its service and supply base in Houma, La. Having grown from roughly 50 employees to more than 200, over the past five-plus years, Brown said that, while tool refinements and service improvements are part of their ongoing success, the company’s most important element will continue to be its people.

Although offshore wells are getting deeper, and shale plays are continuing to present new challenges, this year is likely to see more innovation from Blackhawk. If the company could see itself grow during one of the biggest slowdowns in industry history, there’s no telling what could be next for the firm in a disaster-free future. WO

About the Authors
Melanie Cruthirds
World Oil
Melanie Cruthirds melanie.cruthirds@worldoil.com
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