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Slow, slow, slow

From 30 to 8 employees in a year
Trevor Spearing
Trevor Spearing grew up in the oilpatch, and has worked in it since the 1980s. This is the worst slowdown the head of Extreme Excavating Inc. has seen.
Oxbow – Asked how things are going, Trevor Spearing, of Extreme Excavating summed it up in one word: “Sucks.”
He then followed up with, “Slow, slow, slow.”
The Oxbow-based hydrovac company had built its fleet up to 12 trucks for a while. They’re now down to eight. “It would be four if we could get some money for them,” Spearing said. 
They traded in three old units for one new one, downsizing but updating the fleet at the same time. 
Being a hydrovac company, it’s very important to keep your fleet in a heated building. But now there are fewer trucks in it.
In 2015, he said they were alright. “We were alright until late November. It wasn’t busy. We had been busy until the end of April. But In June and July, no one does anything here in the patch anymore.”
That’s been a longstanding issues, with many oil companies shutting down operations in the early summer because of wet ground conditions that had persisted ever since the flood year of 2011. But 2015 was no flood year, and in fact it was one of the best years in recent memory for doing dirt work and drilling. The problem is, no one was spending much money due to the oil shock.
So the company started to downsize. Spearing explained, “Most of the East Coast folks went home. One Newfie has stuck it out. We had six to eight, from Ontario to Newfoundland. One Nova Scotian moved his family here, so I consider him local now.”
He’s also still working.
Lots of people in the business went home, he said.   
As for 2015, he said on Jan. 21, “So far, it doesn’t sound very good, not from the people I’ve spoken with. There will still be die-hard stuff like integrity digs.
“With the price of oil, I don’t think you’ll be doing a lot of flowlining for anybody else.”
There’s been a “big-time drop-off,” he noted, adding that most of what he’s seen has been from prior commitments. 
That sort of work – pipelines – is the bread and butter of hydrovac companies, since all underground lines must be “daylighted,” before any excavation can begin. Fifty to 60 per cent of their work is pipeline related. 
“We needed a price correction in the oilpatch to get rid of the riff raff, but not a year-and-a-half. Who knows how long it’s going to last?” he questioned, adding this has been going on since 2014. 
Even their utlity work has dropped off. “SaskPower is probably as caught up as they’ve ever been,” he noted. 
Spearing has seen slowdowns before. He grew up in the business, finally taking over trucking company Spearing Service Ltd. before eventually selling it. 
As for this slowdown, he said, “It’s the worse I’ve seen for a shutdown or slowdown. I’ve never seen it as slow or as cutthroat as it is. Oil companies are asking for 35 to 40 per cent discounts. If I was making a 40 per cent profit, I wouldn’t be here!”
For those younger people who may have overspent and racked up a lot of debt, Spearing said, “I feel sorry for some young people maxed out to the nines, thinking it’s never going to stop.”
It will be hard to find a workforce to come back when things do turn around, he added. 
“It took nine years to get to this point, and (we) let a lot of it go. 
“In April 2015, I had 30 employees. I’m down to eight right now,” Spearing said. 
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