Canadian Manufacturing

Imagea Energy not your typical junior oil player

The company's 26th floor office—replete with skateboards, Lego and guitars—feels more Silicon Valley than Alberta oilpatch

CALGARY—Imaginea Energy Corp. looks and sounds like a typical junior oil and gas company: geological maps of Alberta on the walls and filing cabinets brimming with folders of well data.

But it also has floor cushions for weekly company-wide meditation sessions, a box of Lego in a meeting room, three skateboards leaning against a cubicle and an electric guitar suspended above the desk across the way.

There’s a cozy “spirit room” if any of Imaginea’s 29 office staff need a quiet place to think. Meeting rooms are named for the four elements: fire, water, earth and air.

By CEO Suzanne West’s desk—she’s not the type to seclude herself in a corner office—there’s a crystal fountain with a glowing, spinning orb. The speed of the sphere’s rotations indicates the mood of the office—fast, and people are feeling good; slow and there’s some bad energy that needs sorting out.

“Most people are surprised by the unusualness of it,” West, 50, says of the 26th floor office that feels more Silicon Valley than Alberta oilpatch. “Everyone usually sort of says ‘wow this is an unusual sort of oil and gas company,’ which I actually take as a compliment. We really love that.”

Imaginea, founded in 2013, produces about 2,300 barrels a day of conventional medium crude from a field east of Brooks, Alta. Last year, it lined up US$300 million in private equity financing from Lime Rock Partners. It has more than half of those funds left as “acquisition firepower” to grow the company.

West sees there being an initial public offering for Imaginea one day. But for now, small, nimble and privately held is the way to go.

The company’s mantra is centred around the “three Ps”: people, profits and planet. It’s not a matter of “or,” West says, but “and.” She dismisses the dichotomy that so often defines the debate over energy: either you’re a “crazy tree hugger” or a “greedy capitalist.”

For an executive in the oil business, West uses a minimal amount of the stuff herself. She bikes to work. And when she does drive, it’s in a Tesla charged by solar power from panels installed at her home.

Imaginea has regular “creativity meetings” where employees bounce ideas off each other.

One recent meeting coincided with U.S. crude dropping to a fresh six-year low of around US$38 a barrel. That kind of pricing puts Imaginea’s oil wells into negative cash flow territory.

But there are no “pity parties” at Imaginea. It’s a time to “up our creativity,” not to despair.

“For us, it’s just an opportunity to get better at doing business. And then, hey, if it goes back up, it’s just gravy.”

The inspiration to make an oil company a force for good came during a weeklong leaders retreat at British billionaire Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island in February 2013.

In practice, that means powering oil batteries with solar panels, for instance, or reinjecting natural gas that comes as a byproduct of oil development rather than burning it off, which West calls “atrocious” for the environment.

West says Imaginea is nimble enough to be an “early adaptor” for new technologies. Recently, she’s looked at anything from ultra-efficient boilers to newfangled reclamation methods.

“I’ve got some serious crazy moon shots in my head,” she said.

“I’ve determined that I need to live until I’m about 140 to execute all the ideas that are actually in my head.”

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