Energy Excellence Awards: Drilling through completions technologies look to the obvious to bring big gains in efficiency, cost reduction

The second annual Energy Excellence Awards (EEAs) program, presented by the Daily Oil Bulletin, uniquely recognizes energy excellence and focuses on the advancement of collaboration within Canada’s energy industry.

The country’s oil and gas industry is entering what could be the most challenging period it has ever experienced. While the current COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly touch each one of this year’s nominees, there may be no better time to celebrate the achievements of those developing the energy solutions for the future.

For 2020, the DOB received close to 90 nominations in four broad awards categories — Project Execution Excellence; Innovation & Technology Excellence; Exporting Excellence; and Environmental Excellence — recognizing work completed last year. The nominees were further broken down into 12 subcategories across the four groupings, before being judged by a committee of industry leaders.

From April 21 to May 6, we will be sharing the finalists in each of these subcategories. Today, we feature the best in Innovation and Technology Excellence in the subcategory of Drilling through Completions.

Special Note: Starting May 7, we’ll be hosting a series of special online webinar presentations to honour these companies and announce the champions in each category. Register here for these events.


Some of the most ingenious new technologies seem obvious in hindsight, such is their evident utility and value. Some of the latest advances in production and completions technologies fit this bill, creating efficiencies and reducing costs in ways that seem unsurprising in retrospect.

Such is the case when it comes to powering field operations. Why truck vast volumes of fuel, typically diesel, to remote drilling and completions operations that exist to produce the very hydrocarbons that, with a little processing, can fuel the activities? Tourmaline Oil Corp. and Frac Shack Inc. are among the leaders in the new wave of operators innovating to find new ways to put their own on-site fuels to use, dramatically improving worker safety and reducing emissions in the process.

Startup Interface Fluidics, meanwhile, has gone small to solve the big challenge of fracture fluid performance screening with a microfluidic chip technology that takes the process from months to hours to complete. The technique borrows from technology advances in the biomedical sector, the so-called lab-on-a-chip, to cut in half the costs associated with processes such as coreflooding to determine aspects like permeability and interactions between the fluids and the rock.

Interface Fluidics: Understanding the reservoir

As much as producers think they know their reservoirs, much remains unknown about their composition, how the rock will react with the chemicals pumped downhole, and how the mix of chemicals will react with each other in a given rock formation.

Lacking adequate knowledge, producers end up leaving large volumes of hydrocarbons behind — as much as 95 per cent in some cases, according to Interface.

In the current economic environment, this inability to access all the hydrocarbons in a reservoir is an uppermost concern, said the company, which is headquartered in Calgary and maintains a laboratory in Edmonton. “The industry is urgently looking for technologies that can increase the recovery rate and, in most cases, companies are being told to do more with less.

“There is a sea of chemicals available to operators that claim they will boost the recovery rate in a well,” Interface said. The problem is, there has been no way to validate these claims, and chemicals that work in one well could be damaging in another.

It was for this purpose that Interface developed a test to identify top fluid additives, and quantify their relative performance and compatibility with other fluids. The Interface Flowback Test assesses flowback fluid performance and compatibilities for its clients’ individual well as a successful chemistry will allow for the highest per cent of oil flowed back.

Interface creates physical analogues — silicon and glass analogues are modified to be representative of the reservoir material — with precision to sub-50 nanometre (nm, one-billionth of a metre) pore size that are representative of a client’s well. To capture the surface properties of the reservoir, the analogue wettability is modified to allow Interface to achieve oil-wet, mixed-wet, or water-wet systems.

“The test is run at the clients’ reservoir temperature, pressure and fluid flow rates, and the performance is measured both optically and using sensor data. By using machine vision software, the platform allows for visualization of performance mechanisms during the entire test run, unheard of in industry,” the company said.

Producers can quickly screen through several fracturing fluid additives, allowing them to make educated decisions as the testing is run under reservoir representative conditions, Interface said. The information provided by the flowback test helps clients make data-driven decisions on how to optimize field development, avoid potential reservoir damage, and select optimal chemical vendors and products.

The test also provides relative results comparing chemistries to one another, providing clients with the data required to make strategic, cost-savings decisions that help them to recover more product per well. Interface has a repeatability in testing that is unmatched in the market.

“Operators are making chemical decisions based on our test results and analysis. There has been a high return rate of customers who have found value in the information and insight our technology provides — though this data is highly proprietary to them.”

Interface works with numerous operators and chemical companies in Canada, the United States, Norway and the Middle East. It has worked, and continues to work, with the Alberta government, Economic Development and Trade in Norway, United Arab Emirates and the U.S. on various trade missions, accelerators and business development initiatives.

Interface’s Flowback Test technology has been the foundational piece of the company. “Operators, investors and partners in the industry truly believe in our technology,” it said.

The company is continuing to commercialize new testing product lines internally in partnership with operators in North America and globally.

Frac Shack Inc.: natural gas sidekick

The opportunity to use wellhead or field gas to power field operations wouldn’t be possible were it not for the technology that enables the gas to meet pipe or engine specifications, by removing water, natural gas liquids and oil.

Frac Shack’s NG SideKick is a mobile simplified gas separator that enables producers to use their own field or wellhead gas to power frac site operations, while reducing the need for diesel or compressed or liquefied natural gas.

The SideKick depressurizes, heats and removes liquids and hydrocarbons from field natural gas to ensure the gas is safe and available for use in any natural gas and bi-fuel engine on a hydraulic fracturing location.

The offset of diesel or off-site fuels has a significant impact on fuel costs for multiple applications on the frac pad, including powering the pumper fleet, generating electricity and water heating, notes the company.

“Producers are able to generate real value from the natural gas at the wellhead that would otherwise be flared, sold at a low price or at a loss, or simply vented,” stated Frac Shack. “It improves productivity by reducing the administrative and logistical costs and challenges of co-ordinating people and fuel deliveries.”

It also enhances safety by reducing traffic into and from, and on, the frac site. Environmental benefits extend through reducing diesel spillage risk and substituting diesel with natural gas, which has lower emissions from transportation, on-site combustion or venting.

Frac Shack and its partners — including manufacturers, vendors, pressure pumpers, other service companies and producers — have worked together to understand the benefits of a mobile gas conditioning facility, as well as the additional benefits of using field or wellhead gas, and the ultimate need and advantage of adding an NG Sidekick to their frac-spread to use their own gas for power.

Field studies and pilot projects in different gassy plays conducted with a trial and error type of approach have led to continuous innovation to move toward optimal design for efficiency, safety, environmental protection and utility, the company said.

“There is a lot of potential for this technology to optimize the supply chain, lower costs for producers and consumers, provide more royalty revenues for all stakeholders (including governments), and help Indigenous Peoples by enabling them to use their natural gas reserves for power in remote areas rather than relying on imported expensive diesel and fuel oil.”

The Acheson, Alberta-based company, which has offices in Canada, the U.S. and Argentina, launched the NG SideKick last July. The technology pairs seamlessly with Frac Shack’s Bi-Fuel FracFueler unit, the world’s first automated, mobile diesel and natural gas distribution unit.

The NG SideKick has transformed Frac Shack and positioned the company to be on the forefront of industry innovation and evolution. It has provided an additional revenue stream and allows it to offer more and diverse services to its customers.

It has also opened the door into the natural gas for power business which is in its infancy in the U.S. Ultimately, it has provided customers with technology needed to produce hydrocarbons in a way that is safer, cleaner, smarter and greener, the company added.

“Because of the tremendous value proposition it provides for customers, it has increased our margins, grown our marketshare in the frac-site power niche, and has played a significant role in our environmental, social and governance efforts in helping lower emissions by using and combusting natural gas rather than diesel.”

Tourmaline Oil Corp.: Diesel displacement initiative

Tourmaline took a systemic approach to displacing diesel fuel with its own natural gas from the spud of a well through to the end of completions. With its diesel displacement initiative, it used an integration of many novel technologies to greatly reduce diesel consumption, GHG emissions and costs.

The original objective was to reduce fuel costs on a few drilling rigs, the company said. By converting the small project to a company-wide environmental initiative, it has been able to drastically exceed its original expectations.

“With this initiative, we are now saving tens of millions of dollars per year, improving safety risks by removing trucks from the road (500-plus loads per year) and achieving huge environmental benefits through GHG emissions reductions,” Tourmaline said.

“The growth of this initiative has facilitated a significant future opportunity: we are now funding cleantech innovation such as natural gas hybrid drilling rigs, compressed natural gas mobile power generation, natural gas light/heavy haul transportation solutions and completions electrification.”

The company’s entire fleet of 11 drilling rigs now run bi-fuel natural gas, its boilers run natural gas and all its frac fleets are bi-fuel natural gas. It has two completions natural gas turbines, two natural gas portable generators, one highline powered drilling rig and is building a highline completions transformer skid.

With lower-emissions natural gas electrical generation on site, Tourmaline says it has been able to convert diesel-fired light towers, derrick lights, pumps, heaters and shacks to electric, and completely eliminated several diesel engines from some locations.

The gas is supplied to drilling and completions via wellhead or bi-directional pipeline infrastructure and 15 Tourmaline-owned fuel scrubbing/gas conditioning skids. With this system the company can displace more than 9.8 million litres of diesel fuel annually.

“The system has had a significant environment benefit through switching to lower carbon fuel and by removing a significant amount of fuel trucks off the roads. Diesel fuel is a significant contributor to operational cost and emissions — our integration of technologies is effectively tackling this issue.”

Tourmaline estimates fuel switching from diesel to natural gas has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by over 28 per cent. Replacing multiple underutilized diesel engines with one gas turbine contribute significantly to further CO2 reductions and drastically improves fuel efficiency.

Running bi-directional pipelines to location prior to drilling and licensing, and reversing the direction of flow to bring gas to location has allowed Tourmaline to bring large volumes of quality natural gas to every location for drilling and completions — without the need for trucking. After the wells are completed, the pipeline licence is revised and the gas is taken away from the lease to the nearest facility.

The company is currently calculating a cost savings of over $11 million per year and expects that to grow as it introduces the next phase of technology innovation in 2020.



The Innovation and Technology Excellence awards category is brought to you by our Industry partner, Fluor Canada.

Since 1949, Fluor Canada has been involved in the engineering, procurement and construction of a wide range of energy related projects that are spread across the Canadian landscape. Throughout its 70-year history in Canada, Fluor has provided local, regional and international clients with full-service capabilities, which include economic evaluations, conceptual engineering, feasibility studies, program management, detailed engineering, procurement, transportation and logistics, modularization, fabrication, direct-hire construction, construction management, commissioning, start-up, operations and maintenance.

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