“My education is the school of learning through experience… I still attend classes every day.”
David Werklund (CM AOE) has had many accolades. He’s been named Ernst & Young’s Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year (in 2005). He’s been inducted into the Order of Canada, Alberta Order of Excellence; Calgary Business Hall of Fame and the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame as well as a 2022 Queen’s Jubilee Recipient. He’s been named one of Alberta’s 50 most influential people by the Globe and Mail, the Financial Post and the Calgary Herald and now he has added one more title to his name – author.
Throughout an amazing career in Alberta’s oil and gas industry, Werklund has pioneered environmental protection techniques while he built several successful oilfield service companies and kept faithful to his guiding principles: “Protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink and the ground we walk on.”
Under his guidance, his teams developed environmental practices that not only exceeded existing standards but in many cases set the regulatory bar for the industry.
Werklund has now chronicled his career and life experience in his book “Unconventional- The Story of An Entrepreneurial Environmentalist Inside Alberta’s Oil and Gas Industry” to be released March 14, 2023, through Barlow Books, co-written with Robert Brehl.
It is a journey exploring the reality that an environmentalist can also be a success in the energy industry and improve business practices while respecting the environment along the way.
Werklund’s career journey started with his first days with Shell Canada as a production operator in 1965. The founding of his first company – Dave’s Oilfield Service – in 1970, started his entrepreneurial journey, progressing to the creation of Concord Well Servicing in 1979-which grew to the third-largest well-servicing company in Canada. He subsequently founded Canadian Crude Separators, a crude oil processing and waste management company which was merged with Concord’s well-servicing business in 1994. By 2012, Canadian Crude Separators had expanded to encompass twelve related divisions which came together under the name Tervita Corporation
In 2014, Dave created Werklund Ventures Ltd. to personally invest in private innovative companies. Among his many interests, he is Founder and Chairman of Pure Environmental and Chair Emeritus of RS Technologies. He also remains the Chair of the Werklund Foundation as a legacy-building endeavor to empower youth through leadership education.
It comes as no surprise that people have been following Dave Werklund’s career for years and he chose to write his autobiography in response to many requests. Certainly one of the many interesting stages in the growth of Werklund’s companies occurred in the 2000s. His company, Canadian Crude Separators grew as Canadian income trusts flourished in the early 2000s.
Income trusts provided significant tax benefits to investors, particularly to those exempt from Canadian income tax and investors not resident in Canada. As reported in an article in mondaq.com, by 2006 the income trust market had expanded to all types of businesses and the Canadian government became increasingly concerned with tax leakage.
“In September of 2005, the Minister of Finance estimated the federal tax leakage for 2004 at $300 million. In September of 2006, a University of Toronto Professor estimated that the combined federal and provincial tax leakage of businesses utilizing the income trust structure was $700 million annually and, after the completion of the publicly announced proposed trust conversions as of that date, the combined federal and provincial tax leakage would be $1.1 billion annually.”
As more corporations converted or expressed intention to convert into income trusts and market advisors speculated that other large Canadian corporations (including EnCana Corporation) would soon announce their intention to convert, the Department of Finance announced the “SIFT Legislation” – specified flow-through entity legislation “which imposed an entity-level tax on publicly-traded income trusts at a rate comparable to corporate tax rates and taxes investors on income trust distributions in a manner similar to shareholders of a Canadian corporation” according to mondaq-com. By 2009, it was enacted into law.
Werklund describes his company Canadian Crude Separators as:
“The first firm in the environmental energy services sector to convert from a public corporation to an income trust – the conversion was to Canadian Crude Separators’ growth what jet fuel was to Boeing. The result was I was asked to present our story to Wall Street fund managers for “TSX Canada Day” in Manhattan. Imagine that? A farm boy from Valleyview Alberta, telling his dream to the world’s premier financiers! It was incredible. We were the first energy services company to go into an energy trust and the first company to get out 5 years later.”
Werklund optimized the manner in which producers got their oil to market. The first Canadian Crude Separators facility was designed and built across the highway from the Peace Pipeline at La Glace, Alberta. He continued to leverage the idea to locate processing close to pipeline access throughout the company.
He designed and built 29 processing and disposal facilities, which included cavern disposal – all of which included environmentally superior waste management than what was being offered at the time.
One of the many great business and environmental decisions Werklund made was to purchase a salt cavern in Unity Saskatchewan from Sifto Salt. He developed it to become a world leader in cavern disposal, converting it to waste disposal facilities so oil companies had a way to dispose of their produced solid waste.
“Oil producers were trucking their oilfield waste- which were produced solids – to meet environmental disposal standards,” according to Werklund.
“I knew it was cheaper for the producers to come to one of our facilities located near pipeline shipping points. Our expertise in all facets of the business and our costs to them were still better and more cost-effective than trucking the oilfield waste for disposal and cleanup.”
It was a move that eliminated a lot of emissions and costs by reducing the travel involved in the processing of trucked oil to meet pipeline specifications and transport of that product to shipping points. He sums up the biggest lessons he learned from that experience as “move fast and aim high.”
“It’s better to get things wrong in the direction of moving too fast, instead of moving too slowly, because good ideas and opportunities in business move rapidly… It’s why Canadian Crude Separators moved into salt cavern waste storage and the best-engineered landfill sites, which the government used to model new, stringent regulations for others in the industry to follow. We aimed high, we took our lumps at times, but we learned and continued to grow and innovate.”
Through all his successes, when asked what the best business move was that he made through his career, Werklund replies:
“I would say becoming more aware… more self-aware and aware of how I interact with our staff and with the people we’re confronting. Also choosing people that were much more competent, and much more capable than I was. And then really, I was able to be the person that was steering the ship.”
“Unconventional” details examples of great entrepreneurialism, whether it is recognizing an opportunity to offer a new service, developing a new product, or enhancing an existing product. In fact, Werklund says one of his most successful entrepreneurial endeavours, RS Technologies, has grown from insolvency to becoming a world-class and sustainably resistant composite pole manufacturing company -replacing the wood power pole.
It is why people have called Werklund a visionary. He advises that thinking like an entrepreneur means looking at ideas and understanding their competitive advantages and future potential.
“I have always believed that mistakes and failures are not the opposite of success, but rather part of success,” according to Werklund. “An entrepreneurial life is not for everyone. There are many risks and rewards and many ups and downs – like a roller coaster.”
He admits that there have been lots of challenges over the years and that early on his naiveté may have actually helped him. He says that although it may sound strange, his lack of formal education made him try things that others might not have tried if their business school training showed them numbers that didn’t add up or showed risks.
“The challenges ranged from the boom-bust nature of the oil and gas industry and government policies and regulations that have impacted investment coming to Alberta, to dealing with the narcissistic behaviour of once-trusted lieutenants who put stress not only on the business but on my personal health and well-being,” Werklund says.
Ultimately, his success has led him to recognize the value of introspection and what is popularly referred to as a moral compass.
“Entrepreneurs must engage themselves in a serious commitment to learning about themselves, to learn about what they do know and, more importantly, what they don’t know,” he advises.
” They must align themselves with good, correct values. Integrity is at the core of these values.”
Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry.