For decades and decades Schlumberger dominated the wireline market. From the moment the brothers Schlumberger figured out how to evaluate rocks exposed by drilling, the company captured 65-75% of all dollars spent in the oil industry on wireline services.
That dominance ended with the miracle of horizontally drilled wells in the US, wells that first pursued natural gas, then oil. That miracle triggered a chain reaction causing the rise of the independent wireline company and toppling Big Blue from its commanding heights.
The wireline services market will reach $10 billion worldwide this year, but the best year was 2014 when the market hit $15 billion. That peak year, SLB earned almost one out of every two dollars of wireline services sold around the world… about $7 billion. But now the international market (where SLB is king) is stuck in neutral, and the US land market (where SLB isn’t king) is the only one churning away. The result is that SLB today holds 39% of a global market, only a shadow of its best years.
The US land market is defined by wireline deployed plug & perf services, often referred to as pumpdown wireline because, well, you have to pump the tools down the lateral since gravity doesn’t help in a horizontal well. In pumpdown work, the only major service company holding a strong position is Halliburton. The rest of the market is well served by a set of very aggressive, customer-focused, safety-oriented independent wireline companies who are quick to innovate and highly motivated to succeed. We particularly note C&J Energy Services, Allied Horizontal, and GR Energy Services.
Where does wireline go from here? As international drilling slowly eases upward (which it has been doing most of 2018), very lucrative openhole wireline services will again grow and Schlumberger will thrive. Until then, US land is the only game in town and that game is being played on the home fields of the indy wireline companies.