Local bentonite operations merge

Nathan Oster

Wyo-Ben buys out M-I, retains its employees

Wyoming is the nation’s leader in bentonite production, and for more than 70 years, Greybull has been home to two production facilities, with M-I SWACO’s base of operations just north of town and Wyo-Ben’s a few miles further up Road 26.
All that changed earlier this week when Wyo-Ben, Inc., announced the acquisition of M-I SWACO’s bentonite assets in the Greybull area. In a release, Wyo-Ben called it a move that “strengthens  our position as a leader in the industry and paves the way for exciting opportunities and growth.”
David Brown, the CEO of Wyo-Ben, and Jeri Lamerton, a communications specialist, said employees of the two companies were informed of the purchase during a meeting on Monday morning.  M-I SWACO’s Greybull plant had approximately 75 employees. All have been invited to stay on as employees of Wyo-Ben.
In the release, Wyo-Ben said the acquisition of M-I SWACO “represents a significant milestone for Wyo-Ben, as it brings together two industry powerhouses with complementary strengths and expertise. By combining resources, knowledge, and experience, the newly formed entity will offer an enhanced portfolio of products and services to customers worldwide.
“Wyo-Ben has built a strong reputation over the years for its commitment to delivering superior drilling fluids, sealants, and additives that meet the unique needs of its customers. This addition will further enhance Wyo-Ben’s ability to provide tailored solutions for drilling and completion challenges across a wide range of applications.
“M-I SWACO’s established global presence and extensive customer base will also contribute to the accelerated growth and market expansion of Wyo-Ben. The acquisition will bolster the company’s ability to serve its customers on a larger scale, tapping into new markets and providing a broader range of integrated solutions to address the evolving demands of the industry.”
Brown said, “This acquisition aligns perfectly with our long-term growth strategy and allows us to provide an even more comprehensive suite of products and services to our valued customers worldwide. By combining our strengths, we will enhance our capabilities and unlock new opportunities for innovation and success. We warmly welcome the employees at M-I SWACO into the Wyo-Ben family.”
He expounded on that in an interview Tuesday afternoon, saying the deal had been in the works for almost two years.  “My history with this goes back even further, but this time, SLB (Schlumberger) responded that this may be something for them to look at. I think perhaps it was a strategic shift as SLB is creating some plans that are less focused on oil and more focused on technology and the exploration side.  
“It was good timing in that you had two parties with a common interest in trying to complete a deal.”
It closed on Friday, setting the stage for Monday’s meeting with M-I SWACO and Wyo-Ben employees. Brown said that discussion went very well. “In small towns, rumors do go around, and most of the time, they aren’t very accurate,” he said. “For the M-I employees, I think there was some relief in finally hearing the true story, and the true story is, there are going to be no changes at the plant.
“Our plan is to increase production out of that plant and we need each and every one of the team members that are at the M-I plant and in the field to be part of this growth.”
Brown said the feedback he received at the meeting was positive. “I think a lot of them appreciated Wyo-Ben being the entity that was doing the acquisition.  They appreciated the fact that we are a family business that’s been around for 72 years in Greybull.  The values of our company are similar to the values of M-I.  Both started operations in 1950, plus or minus. Both have family roots, with M-I being started by two gentlemen, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brown, in Arkansas.
“In 1950, they ventured into bentonite and built the plant in Greybull to become more fully involved with the oilfield service side.  I pointed that out to folks at the meeting that it may not seem like our companies have similar roots, but they do, and that we were aware that they’ve had change of control numerous times. I said, ‘This will be your home, you’re back with family, we don’t intend to do another sale.’”
Brown said the M-I SWACO plant is being renamed the Magnet Cove plant.  He explained that Magnet Cove is the name of the rail sighting, which is how Wyo-Ben names its plants — Sage Creek, Stucco and Lucerne being examples. The new name also honors the plant’s legacy, as Magnet Cove Barium was the name of the company formed decades ago by Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brown.
In addition to Greybull, Wyo-Ben operates plants in Lovell and Thermopolis. In all, it employs about 170 people across the three locations. Wyo-Ben also has a plant in Billings, Mont., that packages private label cat litter mined in the Big Horn Basin. It can be found on the shelves of Target, Petsmart and Pet Depot nationwide, marketed under the Up & Up brand.