'Landman' isn't a term many people outside of the energy industry know. But the job is a crucial first step in drilling an oil well or building a pipeline – or, increasingly, constructing a solar or wind farm, or putting up a telecommunications tower. Gregg Scott, 60, founded Scott Land & Lease Ltd. in 1991, and says the role of a landman has changed over the decades, Kelly Cryderman reports.
For those who don't know, tell us what a landman does.
At a land services firm such as ours, a landman's role is to act as an agent for clients in providing a number of land-related services, including negotiating various kinds of agreements for our clients. Such agreements could be surface leases, freehold mineral leases, pipeline right-of-ways, access agreements and a variety of others. We deal with a number of different stakeholders in this regard – including landowners, First Nations and regulatory bodies. One service we offer is name-use, so that our clients can secure interests in lands in our name to keep their name confidential, for competitive reasons. In the oil and gas sector, it is common to use a land company's name to bid on lands at public Crown land sales.
As of this month, you are the top land buyer (bid-winner on Crown leases) in Western Canada, and have been for 25 years. What's the significance of the milestone?
We've been the top land broker for 100 consecutive quarters. It's huge. According to the Daily Oil Bulletin [a key trade publication], it's never been done where one firm, each and every quarter, has been the top. There are 40 or 50 land companies that any of the oil companies could choose to represent them. The clients trust us.
While oil and gas is your bread and butter, you're diversified, too – with work in telecommunications, potash, power transmission, renewable energy, mining and highway and road infrastructure. But has the energy downturn of nearly three years affected your business?
We were fortunate to have a number of long-term projects under way when the downturn hit in late 2014, and that carried us through nicely into last year. But we definitely noticed clients dialling back their activities, and some stopping their activity. Our clients are very cost-conscious. What we did in the downturn is we focused on some non-oil and gas projects – mainly renewables. Fortunately, wind and solar picked up for us. It's very land-intensive. There's a big requirement for land to be acquired and assembled – not unlike how we assemble land for an oil and gas play. And we shifted some other folks to some telecoms projects we had, and some other infrastructure projects. And that allowed us to keep people.
The climate for building pipelines has changed in the last decade or so. There's now a lot of environmental and political scrutiny on pipelines. Has that changed how you go about securing right-of-way agreements for projects?
The process to acquire land has certainly changed over the years. Nowadays, on the big projects – the four or five that are in the news – there's a lot of scrutiny of those projects. There's just a lot of importance in doing everything correctly: documenting every meeting, making sure you're treating everyone fairly – as you normally would – there's just no room for mistakes because of the scrutiny. But also you just want to do the right thing. These projects are good for Canada, good for the industry – it's good for everyone, in our view. And there's a lot more time spent in the office planning the project, so you have the right messaging when you hit the field, and you have the alternatives for routes, and you have an understanding of what the local issues are. And we also have, over the past 15 years, developed a separate group in our company that does First Nation consultation.
Stampede will be here next month and, with it, your famous Land Stomp party. How has that Stampede-eve party – held the day before the rodeo and most festivities officially begin – changed over its 20-year existence?
It's a client-appreciation event. It started 20 years ago quite small at Rodeo Royal over at the Stampede grounds. The past three years, we have cut back on our invitation list to reflect the times, and so we will have about 700 guests this year. We get clients from across Canada – mostly from Calgary and the Prairies, but we get people coming in from Vancouver and Toronto. Because of the date – it's the night before the parade – it's well attended. People are looking forward to finally getting out and celebrating Stampede. We didn't want to get caught up in the clutter of the "first Monday" or the "second Friday." So we thought: "Let's do it before Stampede actually starts, while everything's fresh." And we've always, for those 20 years – or maybe 19 years – collected money at the door for prostate cancer.
This interview has been edited and condensed.