New Technology Has Potential to Save Big Bucks in the Oil Field Disintegrating Frac Balls, Nanoparticles, Refracking and more

THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS – Try your hand at this oil field engineering problem.

You have to get a massive amount of gritty, grimy sand into an oil well – it’s one of the ingredients in the powerful slurry of water and chemicals used to crack open shale rocks two miles underground, a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Can you do it without letting the sand erode the steel in the high-horsepower pumps that blast the mixture into the well?

Give up? The question had bugged Ron Gusek for a decade.

In the Bakken Shale, it takes $6 million a year in maintenance and repair costs to keep a frac fleet of trucks and pumps up and running, leaving North Dakotan oil field workers no choice but to replace broken valves and other pump components every four days.

Gusek says his company, Liberty Oilfield Services, is a month or two away from bringing a new technology to market that could fix that problem. It is planning to deploy a trailer carrying a heavy tungsten carbide-built pumping system that will allow sand to bypass the high-horsepower charge pumps and only mix with water and chemicals in an outside blender before shooting through tungsten carbide tubes — many times stronger than steel — and into the well.

That may cut down on oil field maintenance costs at a time when U.S. shale oil producers are scraping for every pennyafter crude’s seven-month plunge to around $50 a barrel. At a booth in the Society of Petroleum Engineer’s seventh annual Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference in the Woodlands on Wednesday, Gusek said the new pumping system won’t be the only new, more efficient technology oil companies need, but it’s another tool that could save them time and money.

“We’ve got to learn how to be able to work with lower and lower oil prices,” Gusek said. It has been done before, Gusek noted: Natural gas prices had sunk to record lows in 2011 and 2o12, but natural gas producers have slowly returned to gas fields as new technologies have crept in to make gas production more profitable at lower prices.

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