FARMINGTON — Aztec Well Servicing Co. is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer, reflecting on its history of growing from a small family business into one of the largest employers in the San Juan Basin.

Aztec Well now encompasses a group of subsidiaries, including Triple S Trucking Co., Totah Rental and Equipment, Double M & Filter Services and Road Runner Fuels. Aztec Well also does business as Aztec Drilling.

"We're a vertically integrated oilfield service company," said Jason Sandel, the firm's executive vice president. "What that means is we have the rigs to both do drilling and well servicing and the trucks to be able to haul them and haul out the equipment, and the rental and supply stores to keep them supplied.

"All of the companies we have work to deliver their service as cost-(efficiently) as possible," he added.

Aztec Well was founded on June 19, 1963, by Jason's father, Jerry, and Jerry's parents, Sally and Wayne. The family purchased the territory from J.P. "Bum" Gibbons, a West Texas oilfield services tycoon who was retiring. Jerry Sandel had been a regional manager for the company. Gibbons cosigned a loan to help the Sandels complete the purchase.

Aztec Well now has some 750 employees. The company will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a party on Aug. 24 at Aztec Well's facility at 300 Legion Road in Aztec. Customers and former employees are welcome to come out, Sandel said.

A concert featuring Blues Traveler will follow that night at Aztec Speedway.

Aztec Well has grown and cut back along with the vagaries of the natural gas industry. The company suffered through a bust in natural gas exploration in the 1980s. Salaried employees had to do manual labor, and welders made cattle guards to stay busy.

"My dad still harkens back to the bust of the '80s as the most difficult time the company has been through," Sandel said.

Aztec Well boomed again in the early 2000s. Now the company is again suffering from an industry downturn that began in 2008 as natural gas prices dropped.

"We've looked outside of the (San Juan) basin for the first time to be able to survive," Sandel said.

The company now has operations in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, Ohio's Utica Shale, the Mississippian Lime near Hugoton in southwest Kansas, the Uintah Basin near Vernal, Utah, the Permian Basin near Hobbs and the Piceance Basin near Grand Junction, Colo.

"We're moving rigs all over the nation in order to find work," Sandel said. "There have definitely been some challenges associated with the San Juan Basin this year."

Natural gas production in the San Juan Basin is on track to decline for the seventh consecutive year, according to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division.

Aztec Well's local operations are highlighted by drilling for Encana Corp., a Canada-based company that has been aggressive in exploring the potential of the Mancos Shale.

Aztec Well has moved its newest rig to the Piceance, where it is working for WPX Energy after the larger company put on hold a plan to drill on Middle Mesa near Navajo Lake. The technically advanced rig is fully powered by natural gas and can "walk" from well pad to well pad.

"At the end of the day it's the most technically advanced project that we've embarked upon," he said. "It's really a revolutionary rig design."

Sandel said Aztec Well will continue to provide for its employees. When asked about the company's legacy in the basin, Sandel spoke of what Aztec Well stands for.

"I hope that it means that we've provided opportunities for thousands of men and women, which has allowed them to put food on the table for their families in that time, over that 50 years," he said.


Chuck Slothower covers business for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4638 and Follow him @DTChuck on Twitter.