Gregg Scott.

For outstanding contributions to the petroleum industry in Saskatchewan and Canada, Gregg Scott is inducted into the Saskatchewan Petroleum Industry Hall of Fame. You can attend the awards ceremony on June 1 at the Saskatchewan Oil and Gas Show. Tickets are available at oilshow.ca.

Editor’s note: This interview with Gregg Scott is probably the most in-depth discussion about land acquisition during the Billion Dollar Bakken boom, and what really took place, that I’ve had in 14 years. Scott Land & Lease was at the very centre of the action.

 

CALGARY – Gregg Scott is from very humble beginnings being raised in Plunkett, Saskatchewan, population 100, where his dad ran the local hardware store for 58 years. Scott moved to Saskatoon with his mom and siblings in the mid-60’s.  In 1981, Scott wanted to get into the oil and gas industry but had no experience and it was a very tough time to break in. He knocked on a lot of doors in downtown Calgary until he landed a job with a land services company run by Norm McKenzie.   Gregg had cold called an oilman, Ed Molnar from Voyager Petroleum whom he had never met but who also came from the Plunkett area.  Scott’s dad remembered Ed as a kid who came into the hardware store and he told his son to try to contact Ed.  Ed took the meeting, introduced Gregg to Norm and Norm hired him, Gregg’s first lucky break in his career.

Scott worked in southeast Saskatchewan for most of the first decade of his land career, including living in Estevan for three years while working on a 1 million acre freehold lease play.

Scott noted that there had been a long stretch in Saskatchewan with little oil and gas activity, through the 60s and 70s. “There wasn’t a lot of confidence in the industry,” he said. “I came along about the time there was a new Conservative government in Saskatchewan and our company was out leasing that million acre lease play that we had. That was my first work in southeast Saskatchewan, and it was really interesting, because in many cases we were the first landmen that many families had spoken to in 25 years, 20 for sure. And so, it was a bit of a re-education.

  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0024 Southern Bolt Katrina Southern Folk Rock Intro
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0016 Estevan Meter Services
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0015 Latus Viro PO Ad 01
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002
  • 0001

 

“It was interesting, because some of the landowners had these mineral rights, but no one had come around to lease them for over 20 years. Some weren’t even sure if they were valuable.”

At the time, coincidentally he was leasing for Voyager Petroleum, run by the same oilman, Ed Molnar who had given Scott his lucky break a couple years earlier.

Scott had started as a landman in 1981. He was initially working in Alberta, when he was told, “Hey, you’re going back to Saskatchewan, kid. There’s a new government there.”

Scott worked in Saskatchewan from early 1983 to late-1986, when a big oil collapse led to a slowdown in the industry.

Black Beard’s was the place where Gregg Scott saw people lining up, seeking to lease out their land to oil companies.

 

“This is a true story: When word got out in 1983 that we were leasing, there would be people lined up at the Beefeater Hotel in Estevan, in the coffee shop, waiting to see us with their mineral titles. They were wanting to talk about a lease, which is not the way it is now. But at the time, people were happy to lease their minerals to see activity. New rigs were popping up and everyone kind of wanted in on this new revitalization of the oilpatch in the early 1980s.

“I can still see the big land map on my wall in the Beefeater. It was basically Weyburn over to the Manitoba border, from the U.S. border to Highway 1,” he said. “The client gave us the map, and said, ‘Within certain areas, we want you to lease all freehold within two miles of a well that had produced X number of barrels.’”

He continued, “Oil wells had been shut in because oil prices were down and the government taxation system was high. The play wasn’t based on seismic. It was based on closeology.

“I learned a lot on that project. I have a real soft spot in my heart for Estevan, because I learned a lot about the industry working there.”

Scott said, “It’s very satisfying for a landman to go see a mineral owner, lease their minerals, and then drive down the road two years later and see pumpjacks on that land, because you know that family you dealt with are making some nice royalty money. So that was very rewarding.”

For many young people growing up in Saskatchewan at the time, it was hard to advance their career here, Scott found. That has sure changed from those early years.

“There wasn’t a lot of opportunity coming out of high school for a lot of guys like me, and so it was really exciting to see Saskatchewan really start rolling in the early 80s driven by the oil industry and then the potash industry and other industries. And fortunately, our company is now very active in all those industries, which is great.”

  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0024 Southern Bolt Katrina Southern Folk Rock Intro
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0016 Estevan Meter Services
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0015 Latus Viro PO Ad 01
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002
  • 0001

 

He moved back to Calgary in 1986 to reorganize the McKenzie Land corporate head office.

“I did that for a few years and then I started my own company in ’92, exactly 30 years ago. And of course, we opened an office in Saskatchewan, and we’ve been activate there ever since. Having Saskatchewan roots, you always want to continue to do business there, and we have, and we’ve expanded and grown.  We have a great team in Saskatchewan!” Scott said.

That company is Scott Land & Lease Ltd. They have offices in downtown Regina and another operation in Lloydminster.

The company has grown to over 100 employees with operations coast-to-coast. However, much of its focus is still on Saskatchewan, where today the company still has a robust operation with many long-term staff led by managers, Celeste Farrow and Shaun Kozak.

Branching into other industries.

The 1990s saw some slower times for the oilpatch. Scott said, “I found the oil and gas business was up and down. We started branching into other industries, like telecommunications, infrastructure, and eventually renewables like wind and solar projects. And potash has been good for us in Saskatchewan. We’ve been arguably the most active land company in the potash industry in Saskatchewan for a long time.”

Wind was the primary renewable effort, but solar, especially in Alberta, has been a recent growth area. It’s been driven by many important companies including European interests.

Scott said, “Our economy is going to need all energy forms. And so, if there’s going to be renewables, it’s nice to see that much of it comes from Saskatchewan and Alberta, for sure.”

“We started doing telecom in the early days. First, we acquired the right of way on one of the first fiber optic lines for Alberta Government Telephones, now Telus, from the border at Coutts, Alberta, to Edmonton. We signed up every farmer. No one objected. And we had to educate every farmer on what the heck fiber optics was at the time. You had to have a little chunk of it in your briefcase to show them it wasn’t going to harm anything, and it would be buried six feet deep.

“That led to cell towers. We had a call which I still remember well from Cantel. They said, “Do you guys do cell towers?’

“And it was dead slow in the oilpatch. ‘We sure can!’ he said.

Cellular towers became a key diversification for Scott Land & Lease.

“Really, you’re talking about a small site with a road and a power line. A cell tower site is very similar to a wellsite. And so, if we can do a wellsite, we can do a cell tower site. And that was back when phones were the size of a brick.

“That first cell tower turned into 100 cell towers. We’ve now done thousands of cell towers in Canada. SaskTel is a good client.”

“Everyone that works on Saskatchewan projects lives in Saskatchewan and are from Saskatchewan. That is really important to us,” he said.

Scott said, “As for diversification, in each industry you use the same skillsets as our team had back 30 years ago. You need a good land agent. You need good administrators, and you need a solid back office. You just adapt to the nuances of each industry. And that’s why we’ve been able to keep people long term. I’ve got a few staff who have been with me for most of the last 30 years and even a few from the McKenzie Land days. It gives them a variety of interesting work.”

Huge resource plays resulted in lines of pumpjacks in southeast Saskatchewan, and Scott Land and Lease was in the thick of it all.

Income trusts and juniors

Towards the end of the 20th century, several large players were involved in the southeast Saskatchewan oilpatch. They included British American, Imperial Oil and Shell. But as they exited, a wave of junior producers replaced them.

In the early 2000s, one of the driving factors in the Saskatchewan oilpatch was the income trusts. To that end, Scott said, “There were several clients who converted to income trusts, and it just seemed like they had large budgets to do a lot more activity, due to a lower cost of capital.  And when the tax changes came in the infamous Halloween budget of 2006 it ended, obviously, and that hurt them and the activity and things ground to a halt. We had some very good clients that were trusts.”

  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0024 Southern Bolt Katrina Southern Folk Rock Intro
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0016 Estevan Meter Services
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0015 Latus Viro PO Ad 01
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002
  • 0001

 

Scott said, “The oilpatch has had so many iterations over the years. We had the juniors, when the majors exited and the juniors were formed, and then some of those juniors became trusts or the trusts bought up the juniors. Then the trusts had to pivot when the rules changed and so on.”

The junior model started to evaporate when oil crashed in late 2014. Scott said, “We saw the slow demise of the juniors. There was a lot of consolidation. There were many that didn’t make it. There are still a few juniors around. And I tip my hat to them because they kept their heads down, adapted, and weathered the storm and now they’re being rewarded with higher commodity prices. So, the juniors that have made it through this last seven years are real survivors. Will there be more juniors? Yes, but not like (before). I just don’t see it like we had before, but who knows.”

He added if there’s ever a shift by the current large companies, that’s when there could be a vacuum filled by the next juniors.

Big blocks

In the early 2000s several prominent companies were looking for vast tracts of land for oil development in southeast Saskatchewan. Scott said, “Back then, to avoid conflicts and stay organized, you could only work for one freehold client in one area. You couldn’t be working for two in the same area. So, what we did is we blocked off areas for each client.  In one hot period, we had a 100 township area blocked off for one client, and in another area, another 100 townships for a second client and then a third client had another 100 township area blocked off.  So, we had three 100 township lease plays going on at the same time. That’s unheard of. And I’ve not seen it since.

“While the Crown land sales were big, the freehold leasing that was going on didn’t make the front pages of the LeaderPost. We had teams of agents out there led by my current VP Land, Greg Meidinger, trying to lease up land, and so did our competitors. It was a very competitive time,” he said.

“Those were fun days. You know, leasing freehold minerals is very competitive, but it’s fun. You win some, you lose some, but you try and win a lot more than you lose.”

Drilling and seismic activity in southeast Saskatchewan in 2011 was part of the boom that really started in 2007-08.

Bakken Boom

In 2008, the Saskatchewan oil industry got a lot of attention. The Bakken Boom took off, and Saskatchewan saw over a billion dollars in Crown land sales over the course of a year. Every two months, another sale would come in around the quarter billion-dollar mark. And that doesn’t even count the private mineral deals. And Scott Land & Lease was right in the thick of it, representing some of the largest players. The Scott name frequently appeared in Ministry of Energy and Resources press releases as the highest bidder in this area or that sale.

It wasn’t their money, of course. They were representing various oil companies.

Scott described it like this:

“We were right in the thick of that. We were the top land buyer every quarter, every year. And we had some really strong clients that were trying to build a large land base in a very competitive market. So, when you went to the land sale you had to pay up, to ensure you’ve got the land. And we were carrying those bids for a number of clients. So yes, we’ve carried a lot of bids that put a lot of money into the Saskatchewan coffers.

  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0024 Southern Bolt Katrina Southern Folk Rock Intro
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0016 Estevan Meter Services
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0015 Latus Viro PO Ad 01
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002
  • 0001

 

“Back in the day in the 80’s and 90’s, it used to be where you would fly from Calgary with the bids. You know, there were even slide bids then, and there was all kinds of last-minute juggling by clients. And it got a little simpler as time went on, but you used to have to run downtown to the bank in Regina and get a bank draft, because the client was faxing a new bid letter.  Sometimes dozens of last-minute bids.  You’d run to the banks and get the drafts, stuff the envelopes and race over to the Crown and get them in before the deadline. Those were hairy days, the way it used to work. Now it’s more automated, obviously. But yes, we had a long, good run in land sales,” he said.

Why use a land broker?

Oil companies typically use land brokers to acquire mineral rights without making their intentions widely know, lest the competition gets wind.

“It’s more in exploratory areas that oil companies will use a broker to cover where their next move is,” Scott explained.

“So, of course, clients stay behind the broker names, so it doesn’t foretell what their plans are, whether it’s buying land, maybe planning a well or further land acquisition,” he said.

“Sometimes you’ll start out in an area. It’s mostly open land. The client doesn’t want to tip off anyone that they’re going into a new area. So, you’ll pick up a few sections of freehold, see how it goes. And you’ll pick up some more, all in a broker’s name. And then the client might eventually test the play out by drilling a well. Usually when you drill a well, that’s when everyone knows who’s exploring the area because the well is usually in the client’s name. But by that time, they’ve assembled the land and maybe even picked up some of the Crown land around it. Or you drill into a land sale where you drill a well, offsetting a bunch of postings. And if you hit a dry hole, you don’t go to the sale. And if you get a boomer, you bid up,” Scott explained.

Drilling rig counts in Saskatchewan during the boom years

What happened after the big 2008 land boom?

“Clients then had to drill,” he said. “Because you usually had five years to hold it, with a well. So you couldn’t just sit on it. You had to do something with it. So that’s when a lot of that Bakken drilling activity took place.”

And as that five-year period wrapped up, there was a push to drill before leases expired, especially if the oil companies were getting good results. That led to the era of 100 active drilling rigs in this province, around 2011-2013.

By late 2014, oil prices collapsed, then COVID came. But oil prices are up sharply now. So what’s happening now?

Scott said, “You know a lot of land that was leased during the boom has long expired, if it wasn’t drilled. And I think oil and gas companies are more disciplined these days. So, they don’t pick up freehold land by the township, but rather by the section it seems now. That’s a general statement,” he said.

The April land sale this year might have seemed high to the government, but it sure wasn’t compared to historical sales, he noted. “It’s been relatively quiet on the leasing side for seven years.”

What’s next?

Without giving away any secrets, when it comes to what’s next for Saskatchewan, Scott said, “My sense is, for the future of Saskatchewan, I think you will see more interesting developments in new energy like hydrogen, helium, geothermal too.  I think you’ll also see continued measured oil and gas activity. You’ll see new technologies applied to existing fields, because we kind of know where most of the fields are.”

He then corrected himself, saying, “They actually thought that back when I started in the early 80s, they said there’s not a lot left to drill up in Saskatchewan. Oh really? But right now, because of the delineation of a lot of fields in southeast Saskatchewan, as an example, there’s new technologies that may be applied, there’s waterfloods and CO2 enhanced recovery for instance.”

Scott Land & Lease did the land work for the Souris Valley Pipeline, the first CO2 pipeline that came from North Dakota to the Weyburn Unit.

  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0024 Southern Bolt Katrina Southern Folk Rock Intro
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0016 Estevan Meter Services
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0015 Latus Viro PO Ad 01
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002
  • 0001

 

Expansion of CO2 development will mean more pipelines, more drilling and less emissions.  This will mean more activity for Saskatchewan.

But right now, well licenses aren’t reflecting US$100 oil, he noted, as companies are focusing on rewarding shareholders. Scott said, “I think that’ll come, once clients pay down their debt, and their shareholders are happy with increased dividends. That’s when I think you’re gonna see more drilling and more innovations making the news. I hope that good old-fashioned exploration will lead to some exciting new plays there too, one day!”

Where the money comes from

A lot of this exploration over the years had been debt-financed by the banks. But the ESG movement has worked hard to strangle investment in and lending to oil and gas. Oil companies are paying down debt in earnest, boosting share buybacks and dividends.

Scott said, “The days of our clients being beholden to the Toronto banks will probably end in a couple of years, because a lot of these companies, if they’ve paid off their debt and their shareholders are happy, then they’ll be able to raise funds through equity because investors will want to own them. There’ll be more demand for the shares in these companies.

“But I think a lot of companies, many of which are gone now, were totally beholden to the banks but I think those days are coming to an end, and I think there’s going to be a new healthier oil and gas industry.

“Maybe a better way to say that is, in my 40-year career, our clients’ balance sheets have never looked better. I think that’s a safe statement to make.”

Outside of business, Scott supports a wide range of community and charitable causes including those that help children, the homeless, women in crisis, cancer research and awareness, and a host of others. He is very active in support of the arts as well.

Scott’s two sons are in the business too—Ryan Scott, age 43 (and former Notre Dame Hound) who runs Scott Telecom Services. Ryan has been with the company for 23 years. Hunter Scott, age 28, is part of the senior management team in head office running the day-to-day operations and some special non-land projects. Scott’s right-hand man, Ron DaSilva (Sr VP) has been with the company for over 26 years.

“In all of my career, you try to do things the right way, you treat people fairly, and often get the deal,” Scott said.

 

  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0024 Southern Bolt Katrina Southern Folk Rock Intro
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0016 Estevan Meter Services
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0015 Latus Viro PO Ad 01
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002
  • 0001

 

Southeast Saskatchewan Legend Norm “Pierre” Mondor

Southeast Saskatchewan Legend Ray Frehlick

Southeast Saskatchewan Legend Ken Lee

Southeast Saskatchewan Legend Vi Day

Southeast Saskatchewan Legend Ron Carson