– Meet our expert

The chemistry of customer understanding

Beginning her career in the oil and gas industry almost a decade ago as a frac crew engineer, Audra Bailes brings a wealth of real-world field experience to her new role as Key Accounts Manager for Kemira’s Oil & Gas group. Having spent years as a customer using Kemira’s friction reducers, Audra is keenly aware of the tough demands and stern challenges facing the industry and is now using her insight to translate customer feedback into continuous product improvement and innovation.

As the North American oil and gas industry begins to emerge from the recent pandemic-related downturn, solutions and expertise that can help producers improve efficiency, reduce water usage, and maximize the value of their resources are in high demand. But providing the best possible service to customers is about more than investing in producing the right quality and quantity of chemicals, it’s about investing in the right people too.

That’s where Audra comes in. “As a frac crew engineer, I learned first-hand how important it is to have high-quality products in the right place at the right time – and how time-consuming and costly it can be when that doesn’t happen,” she explains. “Later, part of my role was to ensure that we had enough product, primarily friction reducers, and that it worked optimally for the conditions we were facing, so I can really relate to the needs and concerns of my customers,” she continues.

It’s essential to maintain a close relationship to be able to offer the most accurate possible advice on issues like cutting water usage and energy consumption.

The customer’s champion

Audra is now relishing her role on the other side of the table. “I see my role as being the internal representative of my customers, identifying and understanding their challenges and needs, listening to their feedback and communicating that back to my colleagues in R&D and manufacturing who develop chemistries that address them,” relates Audra. Oil and gas producers are facing a lot of pressure to increase their productivity while at the same time using less water and energy. “Luckily that’s precisely where Kemira is able to help, and I enjoy being able to support my customers with innovative solutions that measurably help them meet these seemingly mutually exclusive demands.”

One example of such a solution is Kemira’s range of friction reducers – polyacrylamide additives that reduce friction forces and turbulence in pipes, decreasing horsepower demand and allowing fluids to flow more efficiently. Reducing the friction reduces the amount of energy needed, lengthens the maintenance cycle, and protects equipment. In oil and gas operations freshwater is mostly being replaced with produced water that is treated and then reused, which typically requires a friction reducer that is highly tolerant to total dissolved solids. Kemira has developed chemistries that work very well in high-salinity water, which can increase recyclability and reduce the cost of water treatment or disposal.

As she settles into her new role, Audra is keen to be seen as a trusted adviser to her customers. “With the products needing to be tailored to each site and over time to meet changing conditions encountered in the formations, it’s essential to maintain a close relationship to be able to offer the most accurate possible advice on issues like cutting water usage and energy consumption.”

As the recovery from the downturn begins and the workload ramps back up, Audra knows that Kemira is ready and waiting with the capacity to supply the increased volume of high-quality chemicals that customers will need. “It’s perfect timing that this year also sees the opening of our expanded production facility in Mobile, Alabama which will allow significantly increased production of high molecular weight emulsion polymers.”

Being able to anticipate customer needs is only possible from insights gained through a close, collaborative relationship.

A constantly moving target

Audra sees continued innovation as key to future success. “I’ve only been out of the field for a few years, but even in that time the friction reducers have changed a lot. The solutions we are providing today are much more advanced than when I was using them as a customer, and I can only imagine how they will have evolved in another ten years,” she says.

The chemistries have changed as suppliers react to the ever-varying nature of pain points between formations, between wells in the same formation, and even within the same well over time. “We have to stay ahead of the curve, being proactive and anticipating our customers’ needs, and Kemira has excelled at this,” says Audra. “But being able to anticipate is only possible from insights gained through a close, collaborative relationship based not on trying to merely sell products but on a deep commitment to our customers’ success.”

With our chemistry and process expertise, our customers can get more from the finite resources they have at their disposal.

Squaring the circle of doing more with less

As she looks to the future, Audra sees one of Kemira’s main roles as being to help oil and gas producers square the circle of doing more with less. “Operators face pressure to be more productive, which, if things stay the same, means using more energy. At the same time, society and regulators are applying pressure to reduce energy usage. Kemira is part of the solution because, with our chemistry and process expertise, we can help our customers get more from the finite resources they have at their disposal,” stresses Audra.

Audra also sees that in the coming years, backed by solutions that help them decarbonize their production processes, oil and gas companies will be seen more generally as energy companies. “The demand for energy based on oil and gas will still sustain for decades to come, so the priority is making the production and processing of these energy sources as carbon-neutral as possible. Helping them to use less energy and reach their sustainability goals is something that drives me.”

Name
Audra Bailes
Job title
Key Accounts Manager, Oil & Gas
In the industry since
2012
Topics to watch
Increased efficiency through data analytics and AI.
Words to live by
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
What motivates me
My ongoing desire to learn and my family.