This was A&B Pipeliners’ fleet many years ago. If you look closely in the background you can see three cable hoes and two wheel ditches. Cable hoes were entirely supplanted by hydraulic excavators, and wheel ditchers are very uncommon these days as well, again, in favour of excavators. Photo courtesy A&B Pipeliners

CALGARY – Only a handful of companies in the Canadian oilpatch have made it 50 years in business. Fewer still have made it 65. But on Feb. 22 Arnett & Burgess Pipeliners (A&B) celebrated a major milestone of 65 years in pipeline construction.

That’s long enough that if the incorporation papers were a person, they could collect a pension cheque.

Established in 1957, A&B has been helping build evolving energy infrastructure in Western Canada.

The sector was booming in 1957 and Les Arnett and Ray Burgess set out to do things differently and had a vision to add a more human element, a more customer service and people-first focus to the industry, the company said in a release. Those values grew to be quality, safety, integrity and community, with all remaining strong at all levels of the company today.

That’s according to company president Carey Arnett, who took over as president of Arnett & Burgess five years ago. She’s among four family members still involved with the company. The Arnett family is now in their third generation taking part.

“It would make Grandpa proud to know that something they started is still around and relevant.  What we do is very similar to what we did, but the technology, the equipment, the processes and what our people have learned along the way results in doing what we did in the industry 65 years ago, but better,” said Carey Arnett on Feb. 22. She spoke to Pipeline Online by phone from Calgary.

Les was a graduate from the University of Saskatchewan, and originally came from a farm near Outlook. He became one of the founding members of the Canadian Gas Association in 1959. Ray Burgess sold his interests in the business to Les Arnett in 1968 to pursue an opportunity in Australia.

A&B has been a family operation for many other families, too. Arnett said, “We’ve had fourth generation employees working for us.”

Arnett & Burgess Pipeliners provides pipeline and facility construction, pipeline integrity, pipeline coating, and custom fabrication to the energy industry.

The company has about 600 people working right now. That was closer to 1,000 in August of last year. Currently in Saskatchewan Arnett & Burgess has around 100, mostly doing what she called “roustabout work.” They’ve recently done some pipeline abandonment work, in addition to coating repair pipeline digs.

Video produced by Arnett & Burgess Pipeliners celebrating their 65th anniversary.

 

The company established permanent roots in Sedgewick, Alta., in 1974. Tom Arnett, Les’ son, became president in 1988. In 1996 they built new offices at Sedgewick.

The 21st century saw the establishment of several field offices across the west. In 2002 they opened a field office in Bashaw, Alta. Another was opened in Athabasca, Alta., in 2008.

Eleven years ago A&B opened an office in Regina, and two years later set up shop in Estevan.

In 2012, A & B Pipeliners built the Vantage Pipeline across southeast Saskatchewan.

 

A&B’s footprint in Western Canada now includes offices in: Calgary, Blackfalds, Grande Prairie, Athabasca, Sedgewick, Regina and Burnaby. The oil downturn led to the closure of the Estevan office after a few years of operation.

Arnett said that while corporate offices are in Calgary, much of their back-office, as well as operations, are based in Blackfalds, just north of Red Deer. Their yard is just off Highway 2.

Asked how things have gone over the last five years, Arnett said, “We’ve grown. Our capabilities have expanded. We’ve done lots of mainline right of way cleanup. We started a CPAC (cathodic protection alternating current) mitigation division and a coating division.”

The company is currently doing some “post-flood disaster relief” in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

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With regards to labour issue facing a lot of oilfield service companies right now, Arnett said, “It’s always an issue. It hasn’t been a major issue for us, but it is an industry issue. It’s not going away. We have a good core group of people but if the workload doubles for us, it will be an issue like it is for everyone else.”

Can’t work from home and build pipelines

Regarding how they survived the last two years, she said COVID-19 was a big catalyst for companies to stop capital expenditures (CAPEX). However, much of their work is operational expenditure (OPEX), and that made a difference.

She said, “I think we’re survivors. We are unique in pipeline construction in that a lot of our work relies on OPEX versus CAPEX. So when all that CAPEX shut down, some of the OPEX budgets got expanded. So, it was definitely a down year for us, but we were able to execute some great projects cleanly. You can’t do what we do by going home. And we were able to maintain operations in a safe, effective manner and continue doing what we’re doing. With a lot more prescriptive programs in place, we’re able to continue operations safely.”

With oil prices at US$90 a barrel, the best in eight years, Arnett said, “There’s lots of talk about things happening, but we’ll see what happens. I think there’s more projects in the back half of the year. It’s one of these environments where I don’t think they all can happen, that are being discussed right now. But there’s a lot higher tendency for them to happen in this environment.”

In 2014 Quanta Services acquired A&B. It also includes Banister and O.J. Pipelines among its 39 oil and gas infrastructure divisions. It also has numerous electrical power divisions. The parent company lists a total of 85 divisions, including Arnett & Burgess.

As for the next 65 years, Arnett said they will continue doing what they do for their clients. She has two kids, a boy, 9 and a girl, 10. Asked if they were being groomed for the next generation at Arnett & Burgess, she said, “I was never forced into the business. They can become pipeliners if they want to, or they can go do what they want to.”

 

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