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Robert Melvin (Bob) Tessari


The textbooks of Canada’s oil drilling history, if ever written, would not be complete without a chapter on Robert Tessari, whose historic contribution of top drive drilling technology revolutionized the industry.


Born on Jan. 16, 1947 in Lethbridge, Alberta, and raised on farms in Warner and Sundre, Bob showed self-confidence and drive even as a young boy. He began his oilfield career at age 17, working on drilling rigs for General Petroleum Drilling. In 1966, he moved to Parker Drilling, which became Nabors Drilling later that year.


But Bob would not be content to live a life of limited horizons. In 1971, he attended the University of Alberta, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering. His summers and breaks were dedicated to working on Nabors rigs both out of passion and to foot the bills of his education.


After graduating, Bob worked with various exploration and production companies, including Tenneco and Can Del Oil, over the next eight years. In 1974, he began his offshore career by signing a drilling engineer contract with Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) in Indonesia during a time when high oil prices and production levels signalled a watershed for the country’s economic direction. Offshore business was booming.


Just two years later, Bob went to work for Amoco in Egypt as drilling superintendent for its Gupco drilling affiliate, directing a fleet of more than a dozen offshore rigs.


In 1981, Bob returned to Canada to partner with Syd Robertson, Terry Dexter and Martin Jevars at Pajak Engineering, a service and supply company.


But, as his friend Delton Campbell writes, Bob would not soon forget the knowledge he had gained from his first-hand experience within the exploration and production sector. His time offshore forever altered the way he, and the rest of the production industry, would look at drillstring technology. Over the next 20 years, Bob would be hailed as a revolutionary for bringing top drive technology to land drilling.


Bob’s first experience with top drive technology was with ARCO. He believed applying top drive technology — common in the offshore drilling business — to land rigs would not only increase efficiency but would be a safer method for drilling or tripping pipe.


But the story of Bob’s career was not as simple as bringing a revolutionary idea to the open arms of eager buyers. He spent long days in the lab honing top drive technology while the rest of his day was spent trying to find the means to finance the project.


Eventually he came to work with his brother, John, in managing Bluebird Drilling. The first prototypes of the top drive were installed on Bluebird rigs and met with initial success.

However, when the top drive rig was unavailable for a contract in another area, a chance comment from a BP drilling hand — “too bad that top drive isn’t portable” — would, once again, change the course of drilling technology: a paradigm shift that began with the founding of Tesco Drilling to further refine the top drive technology.


Bob’s next challenge was to convince drilling contractors that top drive was the wave of the future: three years later, in the wake of passion, perseverance and $90 million, Bob brought the world’s first portable land top drive to market. Lasmo Oil was the first, outside Bluebird, to install the top drive technology to drill a Lloydminster well in 1992. From there, the domino effect turned what was once a dream into today’s standard.


Top drives were a radically different form of drillstring management compared to the conventional rotary table and kelly. With a top drive, drilling could be done with three joint stands instead of single joints while allowing workers to trip pipe more efficiently.


With top drive firmly in place, Bob continued to bring advances to the industry. In 2002, he introduced casing drilling technology, which was hailed as the greatest innovation in drilling technology since Howard Hughes pioneered the rotary drill bit in 1909.


Tesco Drilling says casing drilling not only saves companies time and money by avoiding kicks and sidetracks, it also increases safety by eliminating drillstring tripping.


Bob remained at the helm of Tesco until his decision to step down as chief executive officer and take the title of chief technology officer in 2005. With unique, hands-on experience in the production sector, Bob has transferred his knowledge and bright ideas to the service side of the industry. Without having worked directly on the rigs, he might never have developed the idea to bring top drives and casing drilling to drilling operations.


Bob has drawn on his life experiences for ideas and revelations. More importantly, however, has been his drive and steadfastness to see his projects through to completion. Rather than waiting for someone else to do it, Bob made his own dreams a reality and whether intentionally or not, solidified his place in the history books.


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