He went to Fort McMurray planning to stay only a few years – 23 years ago
Todd Scorah joined the Swagelok team back in 1989. With his background in engineering he was the perfect fit for the start-up location in Fort McMurray.
Back in 1991, Edmonton Valve & Fitting needed a full-time sales and service rep to serve the oil sands region around Fort McMurray. We had a couple of people who would make the trip monthly to service accounts, but in order for the business to grow we needed a resident salesman in Fort McMurray.
Todd Scorah said he was willing to come up for a few years.
"And here I am, twenty-some years later," he says.
Scorah already had been working for us in Edmonton for a couple of years in sales, after a brief career in mechanical engineering, designing and testing valves and related products.
"I found I was far more interested and better at sales than I was at engineering," he says.
His engineering knowledge was crucial, however, in his first years at Fort McMurrayValve & Fitting. That's when he spent a lot of time building up a clientele and working with customers to specify allied Swagelok products as the standard in various facilities.
Scorah comes to the industry naturally. His father was in the oil and gas business, taking the family around the world. While Scorah was born in Edmonton, he grew up mostly in England and Singapore.
Growth and change
When Scorah first came to Fort McMurray, we had only two major accounts .We had a good contact base but it needed to be increased. He was on his own, and he liked it that way.
"I was a gunslinger type, just trying to build the business as best I could, and meet as many people as I could," He recalls. There were no cell phones then, so it was just Scorah, a fax machine at home, and a car.
A lot has changed over the years, including the way companies work the oil sands. In the '90s, they were basically mined using bucket wheels that placed the oil sands onto conveyor belts. Then the industry shifted to trucks with mobile shovels. About 80 percent of the ore body is too deep to mine, so the oil is extracted using steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). In that method, two horizontal wells are drilled, and steam is sent through the upper bore. The heat causes the oil to drain into the lower bore, where it's pumped out.
Scorah's job has changed too. As the area grew and our customer base expanded, it became too much for one person to handle the entire territory alone. Now, four people from Edmonton come up, typically for a few days each month, to service some of the customers that Scorah no longer has the time to service properly. In addition we have a team of 5 full-time people in the Fort McMurray Valve office, which is a good thing since we are the go-to supplier for fluid system components in the Fort McMurray area.
Scorah also is more involved these days in value-added services such as vendor-managed inventory. He checks the stock on hand at the client's site, then schedules deliveries of whatever parts are needed. With one client alone there are 18 different inventory locations at the base plant and the remotely located SAGD site. He's also involved in energy surveys, training and facilitating the discussions for custom solutions assemblies.
Scorah is looking forward to more changes in his territory. Basically, the industry is always looking for ways to get more oil out for reduced cost.
"The mines will continue to scale up their equipment. Every couple of years the trucks get bigger," he says. "Big" hardly seems an appropriate term for the trucks, which can cost $10 million apiece and weigh as much as two jumbo jets when fully loaded. The tires alone cost about $50,000, Scorah says, and each truck needs six of them. SAGD technology will continue to evolve and become the dominant source for bitumen to be upgraded into synthetic crude.
"The facilities are also continually going to get greener," he says. "We get bad press all the time, but if you come up here and take a look at what they are doing, they do a lot to keep the impact on the environment to a minimum."
Wastewater used to flow into large ponds to contain the tailings, the residue left when all the oil has been extracted. Processing tailings has been one of the most difficult environmental challenges for the oil sands mining industry. At one point it took up to 20 years for the tailings to become inert, Scorah said. Now it's down to one year, and researchers are looking for a way to eliminate the need for tailings ponds altogether.
Scorah expects to see that day come. After more than 25 years with the Swagelok product line, he doesn't expect to leave any time soon. Besides, with the advancement of technology in the Fort McMurray area, there is always something new to learn.