TDI Interview – James Cooper

Insights / 4 September 2022 by TDI
Credit : Layne 'A' Granite Company - Drilling Rig

As part of The Dewatering Institute‘s commitment towards knowledge sharing, TDI is developing a series of monthly interviews of industry leaders, and professionals from different parts of the world. This month’s edition features James Cooper of Layne, A Granite Company based on South Dakota, North America.

Share a bit of your background: tell us about your groundwater history and how you got into the industry?

When I retired from the Marine Corps after  10 years, I went to work for Schlumberger as a drilling fluid engineer in Texas. They put me through school to become a Completions Engineer and a Solids Control Engineer.

I then moved over to M-I SWACO and ran their sales for HDD Mining and Waterwell. There I got to apply drilling fluids to mining, foundation drilling, micro tunneling, horizontal directional drilling and waterwells. Later I moved on to become the Northeast Sales and Operations Manager.

From M-I SWACO I went over to CETCO where I was their Southeast Sales Manager. There I got to see water wells drilled all over the United States. I always found groundwater fascinating, it’s the one thing in our industry, the drilling industry that doesn’t really fluctuate. Everyone needs it and it seems to be the most challenging industry to do it right.

Next I had the opportunity to work for a competitor to Layne, where I primarily focused on mining and technical applications. While working there, I noticed that Layne was always taking on the more specialized and more challenging projects. They are nothing like the typical competitor. So when the opportunity presented itself to join Layne’s special projects division, I was on board.

We have over 100 years of experience in our office at Layne and when we approach a job it shows. We sit down with a panel of 6 experts to run through everything in detail. When we do big jobs we spend a lot of time picking it apart to ensure all bases are covered. I really love that kind of concept and the genuine care that we take with each project.

In your opinion, what has been the biggest development in the industry through the years?

The biggest development is definitely safety. Especially in my industry dealing with mining, we have come a long way as an organization. Everyone always says safety first, but putting it into practice is a different thing. I’m proud of what our company does with that and ensures safety practices are met correctly on all projects.

What are the biggest challenges that you’ve seen in the industry over the past few years, and what do you see as potential challenges in the future?

We have a lot of people in our industry, especially here in North America that are getting ready to retire which is creating a huge gap in knowledge. There is a substantial gap between those retiring and new people coming into the industry. It’s one of those trades that you can learn but you can’t pass on the experience and I think that is going to be our biggest challenge.

However, I think that the companies that continue to learn to grow by applying new and proven technologies, the companies that are innovative, are the ones who are going to survive and thrive in the industry. There is a tremendous amount of oil field technologies and applications that can be implemented into our industry but the older generations are reluctant. They have always done things a certain way because they know it works and it’s the way it’s always been done. It’s a double-edged sword.

What would you recommend to the new generations coming into this industry and why?

Pick a mentor and learn as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to fail but fail when you can; fail in a safe environment. If you’re not learning, you’re not progressing. Be a sponge, think outside the box and be willing to challenge the status quo. Choose people to emulate and think about who you want to be and where you want to go. You must learn the job above you and the job below you – that’s key to building an organization. 

What’s the best piece of advice that you would give a younger version of yourself?

I would tell myself to be more mindful. Don’t focus too much on the short term, rather think of the long-term impact of what you’re doing. Its easy to get caught up in the details in our industry. Invest in building long term relationships with customers and focus on solving problems.

You have an impressive arsenal of equipment in your company, ranging from well-drilling to pumps to water treatment equipment. Would you say technology in our industry is moving as fast as the technological advancements in other construction sectors?

No, we need to figure out how to get faster, lighter, and more efficient. We need to figure out ways to reduce our carbon footprint, as well as adapt to the reactive, fast-paced tempo of our industry. We have a long way to go.

There is a big movement in the civil engineering industry focusing on carbon neutral goals. How does this affect our industry and how do you see it being addressed in the future in the area that you specialize in?

I have some ideas that could change the game in the future. We need to find ways to convert existing drill rigs to electric and push manufacturers to offer hybrid packages. We need to figure out ways to reduce fuel costs. Fuel is our biggest X factor with running this heavy equipment. I think there is a lot of potential for thinking outside of the box and building new types of equipment to improve our carbon and actual footprint and increase productivity.

In your view, does the work TDI do play an important role and why?

I think it’s important to bring together industry leaders from all over the world and get on the same page. We have an opportunity to shape this organization and the future of our best practices. It’s nice to have people who are involved, and I’ll be more involved too. It’s nice to get everyone together for the benefit of our industry. I think you guys are doing an awesome job with sharing best practices. There is a tremendous opportunity to involve industry leaders, put their heads together and see where it takes us.

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