Posts Tagged ‘fracking sand’

Vortex Tools discusses Denver Startup Week, how much sand is used in fracking operations, and how jobs in the oil and gas industry are changing.

Denver Startup Week was this month. We’ve participated before, but this year we attended their “oil and tech” presentation by RockPile Energy Services‘ VP Marketing and Sales, Howard Rough. Rough worked for Schlumberger for 30 years before starting RockPile—they provide services to the oil and gas industry.

Sounds pretty generic, yeah?

Okay, let’s chat specifics: In 2015, RockPile will provide a billion pounds of fracking sand to the Bakken formation in North Dakota. That’s the size of Santa Barbara beach.

Shove it down a well!

It sounds like a lot, but they’re maybe 5-6% of the frack sand market in North Dakota. One well uses about 10 million pounds of sand (along with a lot of water and a bit of gar gum [hydroxyethyl cellulose] to suspend the sand in the liquid). It’s not just any sand either. We’re talking white, clean sand from Minnesota that’s a specific size. You can use other sand, but in the opinion of many, it’s not as good.

And that’s where a current pain point of the oil and gas industry lies: It’s really difficult to logistically transport and store all that sand and water with minimal environmental impact.

Overall, there’s a push for greener fracking approaches. As a company that works with oil and gas operators to increase their energy efficiency (recovering more natural gas liquids and condensates) and to keep their wells in EPA air quality compliance, we know some of the struggles they face. Fracking is perceived as a huge water waste (when it’s less than 1% of Colorado’s water use). While I’m happy to see companies reusing fracking water, agriculture is still the water monster to slay in these drought years (using 69% of the state’s water).

On the sand side of things, they don’t have great logistics, and rail is an entirely separate issue. Finally, the massive silos required to store sand lead to storage issues, too.

Overall, there are many pain points with fracking logistics that Rough would like to see addressed. The second is addressing employee retention in oil and gas. There are two problems here:

  • In the oil and gas industry, you have Baby Boomers with 30+ years of experience getting ready to retire. The next rung down is those with 10 years of experience. Most of the oil and gas industry workers have 3-4 years’ worth of experience, so there’s a huge changing of the guard going on.
  • With most people having little experience, a huge chunk of the problem is employee retention.

Unless you’re working at the downtown corporate offices, you can get shoved off to some mighty obscure places. Oil and gas fields are often in the middle of nowhere, thus oil and gas jobs can be in the middle of nowhere, too. Plus, right when you get adjusted to your living arrangements, you get transferred to the next less-than-ideal place. After 3-4 years of repeating that cycle, you can get burned out and move on to a different line of work.

But wait, your brain says, don’t oil and gas people make six-figure salaries?

Some do, but it’s long hours and less-than-ideal work conditions. Parts of North Dakota freeze for four months and get 100 mph winds; you can work outside in Alaska when it’s 62 degrees below zero. Then after that, you return to the trailer with a dozen other dudes and sleep in the sweaty bed that the last guy just left. There’s no going home for days or weeks on end; the well site is in the middle of nowhere. One of our engineers worked a similar set up and kept getting his electric razor stolen… by someone else also making six figures.

You can understand why all this might get tiresome. With these issues, there’s not enough experience and huge companies have a big turnover rate (40% annually). That’s a lot of money wasted on training for people who don’t stick around that long.

So there’s also a need for oil and gas companies to connect with qualified, talented individuals. Rough thinks the future may be a LinkedIn for oil and gas professionals—maybe even something that helps give people a virtual tour of an oil and gas field. That way they know what to expect. What Rough has found is that military are often a great fit for the oil and gas industry. As one man put it: “It’s twice the pay and you don’t get shot at.”

If you think you can address the problems covered here, there’s demand, and if you’re military personnel looking for your next gig, come get more pay and less bullets (unless you work in Texas—no guarantee there).

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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