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.
For 2020, the DOB received close to 90 nominations in four broad awards categories — Project Execution Excellence; Innovation & Technology Excellence; Environmental Excellence; and Exporting 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.
In the following days we will present the champions in each subcategory. Today, we feature the champion in Exporting Excellence in the subcategory of Cleantech.
Champion Announcement Podcast: Listen to our podcast announcing the champion of this subcategory and a panel discussion on what makes the organizations within this category and their approaches to new market expansions true demonstrations of excellence. The panel also speaks to what businesses need to continue to do, or perhaps start to do, to ensure exporting excellence tomorrow.
Leading the discussion is Wendy Ell, director of strategic partnerships and industry development for Glacier Resource Innovation Group, which publishes the DOB. Joining her is Tim Hazlett, a global energy solutions leader; Bemal Mehta, senior vice-president of energy and mining intelligence with Glacier Resource Innovation Group; as well as David Nygaard, global trade director, energy at Export Development Canada (EDC).
In hindsight, it may appear downright paradoxical that tight oil and gas producers initially flared off enormous volumes of associated gas while just kilometres away they trucked in more expensive, and emissions-intensive, diesel fuel to power drilling and fracturing operations.
But in the rush to develop resources in some newly opened up oil shale plays — like the Bakken play in North Dakota — burning off excess gas had reached a level where the glare from flares was visible from orbiting satellites, creating a problem too big to ignore.
It wasn’t long before a Calgary-based company with its eye on the Bakken saw a win-win opportunity — one that could both extinguish the flaring problem and provide cheaper, and greener, fuel to the energy hungry drilling and fracking operators nearby.
Valence Natural Gas Solutions’ turnkey mobile natural gas fuel supply technology developed to connect undervalued or stranded natural gas sources with higher-valued end use consumers was judged best in Exporting Excellence in the subcategory of Cleantech.
Through deployment of the unique technology, significant volumes of flaring have been abated and economic value has been captured for the customer as well as the royalty owner. While its initial focus was North Dakota, Valence now provides end-to-end flare gas capture solutions, natural gas fueling for oil and gas and industrial consumers, and compressed natural gas (CNG) virtual pipeline systems throughout Western Canada and as far south as Texas.
The concept originated with the Ferus Group of Companies, from which Valence was spun out a few years ago. Initially Ferus, a cryogenics business that supplies liquid nitrogen and CO2 to oilfield operators, examined switching its hauling fleet to run on natural gas. But it subsequently determined that the bigger benefit lay in supplying natural gas to power generation equipment closer to the wellhead, where there was greater demand for fuel.
“The on-road market was emerging, but was not the low hanging fruit,” said Valence president Stewart Wilson. “We realized the best way to attack [fuel switching] was the high horsepower engines — the drilling rigs, the frac pumpers — at a lot of the same locations we were going out to for cryogenics deliveries. There’s a pretty standard, cost-effective kit that you can bolt on to diesel engines to enable them to run on natural gas.
“So we built out infrastructure to move natural gas around [at the time in the form of LNG] and supply it to high horsepower engines, as a cleaner and cheaper fuel…. That was when the North Dakota Bakken [shale oil play] was just getting into that full commercial production mode and the flaring was starting to become headline news.”
Gas pipeline construction could not keep up with drilling new wells, necessitating the flaring off of gas until takeaway capacity could be built.
“We saw this big problem where there was gas being flared, just down the road from the drilling rig, so [we asked] how do we connect the two? How could we go right out to the wellhead where it’s otherwise flaring, capture and refine it, and move it just down the road to fuel customers in the field.”
Valence advanced the technology to capture and process the gas at the wellhead, recover the natural gas liquids, and compress and load the gas into CNG tube trailers for transport to oilfield customers. It also created an in-house logistics team and custom telemetry systems to manage onsite fuel inventory and maintain a constant supply of natural gas to any gas consumer. The company can also supply CNG from pipelines where flare gas is not available.
Progressive iterations of the technology have dramatically improved its efficiency, said Wilson. “We really realized we needed to solve for making the solution extremely mobile, and it’s got to be able to handle a wide variety of gas qualities and gas volumes,” he said. “We learned along the way that we couldn’t properly integrate the necessary components of gas processing unless we did it all ourselves.
“We’re really excited about where we’re at now,” he added, noting the latest units currently under construction in Calgary can process up to four million cubic feet of natural gas per day. “If there is a flaring problem, we can roll up to the wellsite, be set up and running in the matter of five or six days, start processing gas, compressing it, moving that gas away, and completely silencing the flare. We can get it into the engine with the same customer who was flaring, allowing the customer to basically use their own otherwise-flared gas as fuel.”
After the associated gas at the wellhead is exhausted or can be put in a pipeline, “we pack up our plant [and] move it down to the next location and keep following the flaring problem as it pops up throughout a basin — like whack-a-mole, we have a mobile solution to do that.”
By 2019 the company had realized more than two billion cubic feet of CNG sales with over 10,000 CNG loads delivered. By powering rigs, pressure pumps and other equipment in the field off of gas that would have otherwise been flared, the environmental footprint has been dramatically reduced. “With just one of our Mobile Flare Gas Capture plants at a wellpad, we save customers somewhere between 65,000 and 80,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, which is a staggering number,” said Wilson.
The Champion Series is brought to you by Fluor Canada, our Gold Sponsor, and Spartan Controls, our Silver Sponsor.
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. Fluor provides 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.
Spartan Controls: Spartan Controls was founded in 1963 and is an employee-owned company with people and infrastructure in 14 towns and cities across Western Canada. Spartan Controls provides a very broad range of industrial automation products & solutions to all the process industries.