Trenchless Pioneers: Frank Canon

May 31, 2024

Trenchless Pioneers is a special monthly series sharing with readers the trailblazers who grew and expanded the trenchless industry.

The horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industry started 2024 with a significant loss: the passing of drilling fluids legend and pioneer Frank Canon. Canon retired in 2015 but he was far from being removed from the HDD industry and drilling fluids conversation. As the HDD industry took off in the 1990s, Canon became the go-to guy when it came to drilling fluids on the jobsite. Though his first priority was to sell drilling fluid for Baroid, he also became an expert trainer and educator of mud use and recycling to a generation of directional drillers. His mud schools were must-attend sessions for drillers and his war stories showed the depth of how much the industry has grown in the 25 years since he started working in it.

In a career spanning over 40 years, Canon solidified legendary status in the HDD industry. In addition to practical expertise put to use in the field, he is remembered as an outstanding educator and mentor. He travelled extensively, training thousands of people a year in the best practices of working with drilling fluids. He travelled the country and the globe, working on sites and teaching mud schools on every continent except Antarctica. His teaching style has been described as homespun, humorous, folksy and memorable.

In 1975, Canon began work for Baroid as an oilfield mud engineer. He showed up for his first day of work in a lime-green polyester suit, which he soon traded for his trademark red jumpsuit and flowing white beard. The family relocated to the Rocky Mountains, where they lived in New Mexico, Wyoming and then Colorado. When he began with Baroid, Canon had no idea that he was to become a pioneer in the emerging HDD Industry. In 1991 he returned to his roots in Houston, working in the newly established Baroid Industrial Drilling Products Division. By the next year, his role became entirely devoted to trenchless technology execution and education.

“The knowledge gained from this experience proved beneficial and central to his ability to observe and identify the root cause and subsequently develop an effective solution,” says Baroid Industrial Drilling Products general manager Ed Anderson. “Frank was a firm believer in hands-on learning and insisted on working onsite with crews to observe and evaluate the drilling process.” His ability to observe onsite drilling practices and evaluate the outcome, allowed real-time solutions to be developed and implemented. Anderson says this gave rise to the “The Drilling Square,” a training concept/presentation that thousands of industry personnel attended over Canon’s illustrious career. Anderson notes that drilling fluid additives and mixing equipment present in the early 1990s were designed to serve oilfield and water well applications and not the HDD industry.

“It became clear that mixing systems would need to evolve to fit the HDD application and project footprint, as well as new drilling fluid additives should be developed to meet the specific requirements of the emerging industry,” Anderson explains. “The significant amount of time spent by Canon working onsite with rig crews and stakeholders to observe drilling conditions and practices began to pay dividends. The real-world knowledge gained by Canon was instrumental in the formulation and development of BORE-GEL boring fluid system which was specially formulated for use in HDD applications.”

Anderson describes his former colleague with many adjectives but zeroed in on his gift — the ability to reach people when talking about the science of drilling fluids — and how his message just resonated. “Canon was a skilled presenter and a gifted storyteller,” Anderson says. “[He] possessed the unique ability to structure a complex subject in the form of a story and clearly explain the scenario to those in attendance. The ‘story’ received instant acceptance due to its structure and delivery but also because those in attendance immediately recognized that Canon spoke with real world experience, not theory.”

During the course of his career, Canon received many accolades for his HDD work, including being named the 1999 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year, North East Trenchless Association’s Founder’s Award (2010) and induction in to NASTT’s Hall of Fame in 2012. He was also a member of Trenchless Technology’s Drillmaster Advisory Board, contributing many articles on drilling fluid use. His most recent award was his induction into the HDD Hall of Fame in 2022. As for his legacy, Anderson says it goes beyond his incredible expertise. He says it’s his trickle-down tutelage, similar to a coaching tree, in which his knowledge continues to flow through those he mentored. “[His] greatest strength was his ability to establish, develop and maintain relationships with people he met throughout his career,” Anderson says. “This allowed him to build on that relationships and continue the education process for ears to come after the first meeting. People appreciated his skill and sincere willingness to share information and knowledge.”


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