Features

Chika Onwuekwe – Trican

Advancing technology and Black professionals in Canada’s oil industry

When large trucks sit idling at a well site, they not only guzzle diesel and money but dump pollutants into the air. Yet, due to regulations and the dangers at sites, the trucks couldn’t be turned off. This was an issue for companies like Trican Well Service Ltd. that wanted to slash emissions.

As far as Chika Onwuekwe and the leadership at the Canadian pressure pumping and oilfield services company were concerned, the answer was simple: better engines with improved technology for fracturing equipment, and idle reduction technology.

Chika Onwuekwe | Vice President of Legal, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary | Trican

Chika Onwuekwe | Vice President of Legal, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary | Trican

Those engines turned out to be the Caterpillar Tier 4 Dynamic Gas Blending ones, which use cleaner burning natural gas with pumps designed to optimize fuel consumption; these pumps replace diesel fuel while also significantly reducing emissions. As Trican’s vice president of legal, general counsel and corporate secretary since March 2017, Onwuekwe and his colleagues negotiated a deal with the engine suppliers. Negotiations took around 6 months and were finalized in the first quarter of 2021.

He says the new Trican fracturing fleets powered by Tier 4 DGB Engine lowered emissions substantially and improved fuel economy. This translated to lower operating and transportation costs, as well as improved efficiency and more competitive rates.

“This is how we’ve set ourselves apart in the marketplace: integrating technology in an industry that usually ignores it,” Onwuekwe says. “Technology is also critical for us to achieve our environmental, social and governance goals—and to help our customers achieve theirs.”

Drilling towards an ESG-focused future

From the onset of the deal, Onwuekwe says he and his department—just one other lawyer and a legal assistant—we’re embedded in the discussions between Trican’s operations and sales teams, its leadership and the supplier, trying to pre-empt issues.

“I don’t see the point in peppering contracts with a bunch of jargon and unnecessary terms like many other legal teams at other companies,” he says. “I have a ‘can-do’ attitude and aim for both sides to leave the table happy.”

He and the legal team stayed involved once the contract was signed, even visiting the locations where the engines were being installed in Trican’s pressure pumping equipment. That ensured the contract was being fulfilled and helped to understand the technology, such as how the new frac fleet displaces up to 85 percent of diesel with clean burning natural gas during frac operations.

Chika Onwuekwe | Vice President of Legal, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary | Trican

“It helps us understand the business better, from the top of the rig to the bottom,” he says. “It’s good for me to go in and see what’s happening—as well as the rest of the legal team.”

Onwuekwe says his hands-on approach extends to other areas of the business, too. For example, he’s collaborating with Brad Fedora, Trican’s president and CEO, to advance the company’s partnerships with Canada’s First Nations in areas where Trican operates. This includes negotiating related service agreements with First Nations.

“This is particularly important as the legal team and Trican want to be more involved with communities since one of our main goals is to build for the future while respecting the environment,” Onwuekwe says.

Revving up for human and digital advancements

While Onwuekwe works on improving his skills and expanding his knowledge, he also wants his team members to feel included and appreciated.

“I want them to build and advance their careers, which is why it’s so important we know what’s going on in the company and be involved from the start all the way to the end, such as with the engines,” he says.

He also has started working with the BlackNorth Initiative since its inception in 2020 and currently serves as the Canada-wide co-chair of the mentorship and sponsorship committee, as well as chair of BNI Alberta Chapter. The organization’s goal is to eradicate anti-Black systemic professional barriers facing Black Canadians.

Chika Onwuekwe | Vice President of Legal, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary | Trican

Onwuekwe also serves on the board of ENMAX Corporation and the Canadian Public Accountability Board.

Improving the environment has been on his mind since he was earning his law degree in Lagos, Nigeria. While there, he also taught business law to the MBA class at LBS Pan-African University. Around 2000, he moved to Canada for his graduate degrees at the University of Saskatchewan.

He graduated in 2004 with not only a master’s in law but also a Ph.D. in biotechnology and intellectual property. He spent the next six years teaching and working as an associate at a law firm until joining Trican as a legal counsel in January 2010. Then, in 2015, he left for 15 months to work with PTW Energy Services Ltd. as its first general counsel before returning to Trican in his current role.

“It all comes down to value at Trican,” Onwuekwe says. “I enjoy coming here every day. I—and other leadership—want to make sure that everyone understands that as valuable as the work we do here is, they are just as valuable to the company and the ESG goals we’re moving towards achieving at a rapid pace.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2023 Edition here.

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