100 years on, they really know the drill

By Sandra Bretting

The O’Day family of Pearland mixes water and oil for profit.

Last year was the best ever for their family-owned O’Day Drilling, which drills water wells for oil companies and others, after it landed a contract with one of the major oil and gas firms involved in the Eagle Ford Shale basin.

The 100-year-old O’Day Drilling was hired to drill 22 wells in the Eagle Ford, boosting its 2011 revenues to $11.5 million.

“It’s a unique environment there,” said Mike O’Day, 62, grandson of founder Pat O’Day. “Those are 3,000-foot-deep water wells. That’s deep.”

To drill and hydraulically fracture a vertical well to release oil and gas deposits can take almost 400,000 gallons of water, according to a study by Colorado State University.

“There are a lot of water-well companies in Texas,” said Patrick O’Day, 32. “But as the wells get larger in diameter and deeper in depth, you start to limit the amount of companies that have the ability to do it.”

Last year’s drought in Texas also boosted revenues at the 26- employee company.

“The drought was hard on a lot of folks, but it’s true that it also meant more business for our members,” said Leroy Goodson, executive secretary of the Texas Groundwater Association. That group has about 1,600 members across the state. “Both residences and businesses needed more water last year, and they needed people to find it. The O’Days have been involved with our group since back in the ’40s.”

Another thing that’s helped the company weather economic downturns has been its decision to get involved with research and development for oil companies in the 1990s. Mike O’Day said about a quarter of its business now revolves around R&D.

“We had long-term customers in the oil field that needed to test tools, and they needed unique environments to test them in,” O’Day said. “We can create that environment for them, with holes that are the right size, depth and direction.”

“We’re probably one of the only water-well companies that can do it all,” Patrick O’Day said. “From building dirt roads and retention ponds to building water and sewer plants. We’ll do everything from a two-inch house well to a 160-inch-diameter hole for research and development.”

The company estimates it has drilled some 12,000 water wells since 1912. While Pat O’Day hand-drilled his first well using a mud pump and wooden derrick, the company he founded now owns six drilling rigs, including a $1 million rig purchased last year.

“That was the first complete drilling rig that we bought from an actual manufacturer,” said Amy O’Day Matejek, 34, who serves as the company’s chief financial officer. “Every one before this was made by my dad or grandpa.”

In November, the company received the Texas Family Business of the Year Founders Award from the Institute for Family Business at Baylor University. The award recognized the firm’s commitment to community service, including Mike O’Day’s stint as a state representative from 2007 to 2009.

“The award recognizes family businesses that stay true to the ideals of its founder,” Amy O’Day Matejek said. “Which includes drilling the best water wells possible and serving our customers in a way that befits our heritage.”