John Lacey Helped Raise The International Stature Of Canada’s Oil And Gas Industry

John Lacey

The Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame Society is honouring six men and women as its 2018 inductees at a special luncheon Nov. 23 at the Calgary Petroleum Club. In a series to be published weekly on the Daily Oil Bulletin and, writer R.P. Stastny profiles each of the inductees. Today: John Lacey

Many prominent oil and gas people have become household names in Canada’s petroleum industry, but the influence of people who took the stage just beyond the spotlight cannot be underestimated. John Lacey, who spent over four decades as an international consultant, helped establish global recognition of Canada as a nation with broad competence and expertise in the petroleum industry. 

Born in the town of Leatherhead, England, John graduated with B.Sc. in Oil Technology at the London University in 1953. He continued his studies in Reservoir Engineering at the Imperial College and then returned to London University to earn his PhD in Geology and Engineering in 1956.

Guided by a taste for international work, John came to Canada to join Triad Oil Company, which was taken over by British Petroleum (BP) shortly after. As a division manager for Triad/BP, John was involved in the development of the Prudhoe Bay oil and gas field.

He also found an early affinity for the complexities of gas contracts and was involved in BP’s first gas project signed in Canada. His expertise was recognized and later sought out by the wider BP group when the company arranged contracts in the North Sea.

Similarly, John’s interest in economics led to many oil and gas economic assessments and BP eventually sent him employees for training. In this way, John was already operating as a consultant within BP before he resigned 1971 to launch his own consulting firm.

His advisory practice focused on western Canada but also on the global market. At the time, there were no local petroleum consulting firms operating internationally and maybe one firm in the United States doing so.

In the 1970s, John notes that the Canadian oil and gas industry and its service providers — with a few notable exceptions — had little appetite for global expansion. John R. Lacey International Ltd. ran counter to that trend.

The base of his work was resource and reserve assessments, with an emphasis on gas supply, which he spun out into various countries. Often the overseas work expanded to negotiating contracts with foreign companies, doing engineering assessments of pipeline systems and providing advice on everything from initial exploration through to marketing and finance.

It wasn’t uncommon for John to receive calls at all hours of the day or night. A call from Thailand at 11 pm in the early 1980s became one of his longest standing retainer contracts with a foreign government. That contract remains in place today, as does a similar contract with the Government of South Australia.

The roster of John’s clientele includes companies and governments in the U.K., Germany, Holland, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Iraq, Ireland, Norway, Australia and Russia. This work with foreign oil and gas interests over the years helped to bring visibility Canadian expertise. Alongside the efforts of a few other Canadian companies operating abroad, John helped pave the way for others who exported their field services, drilling, geophysics and engineering expertise and products internationally.

Choosing a high watermark from a career as fascinating and diverse as John’s is no easy matter, however, the work he did late in his career stands out, specifically when he was asked to create a gas supply model for Europe, Russian and the CIS, mapping its pipelines, compressor stations, delivery points and volume information.

Gazprom, the Russian national gas company with some 700,000 people requested that John, who employed seven people at the time, help in future planning of its pipeline system and provide a blueprint for dealing with European Union countries.

Gazprom also wanted him to track down the source of lost product, which was suspected to be due to leakage. John managed to solve that problem issue in a matter of days when he unravelled the Russian system of gas markets and production and saw that it was based on mathematical accounting norms rather than actual numbers.

“The producers said they produced more than they actually did. The markets said they used less than they actually did. So you had a separation between the numbers. It was a data entry error,” John says.

The project concluded with a report for the Russians and Europeans in which John’s team made some 40 recommendations for improving security, operating processes and other dimensions of its vast pipeline system.

John combined his successful career in Alberta and the international oil patch with a lifelong love of music, a passion he shared with his wife, Naomi. Calgary in 1956, when the Lacey’s arrived, was a very different cultural environment than their home in London, England.

They became regulars of the Jubilee Auditorium to hear the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO). For years, the Laceys supported the CPO in a number of ways, but in 2007, after helping rescue the organization from bankruptcy and restoring it to financial stability, John and Naomi decided to up the ante.

The result was the launch of the Naomi and John Lacey Virtuoso Programme in 2008. Its mandate was to bring the world’s greatest artists to perform with the CPO. The couple’s generous financial commitment allowed the CPO to feature stunning guest artists, including cellists Yo-Yo Ma and other world-class musicians.

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