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How To Avoid a Rocky Start to the Year

2021.02.26 Aggreko

How To Avoid a "Rocky" Start to the Year



As warmer temperatures sweep into the Rocky Mountains, how do oil & gas operators adapt? Does spring weather make everything easier? Or does the defrosting create its own set of challenges? To help answer these questions, we caught up with Benjamin Kerr, Technical Sales Specialist for Oil & Gas at Aggreko.

It’s no surprise that springtime in the Rockies comes as a huge relief for oil and gas producers. After all, they’ve spent months dealing with the havoc caused by extreme, erratic winter weather, in an area where temperatures regularly plummet to -40F. From high winds to ice storms to frozen ground to snowfall, conditions like these can set back projects at any stage of development and sharply reduce throughput. So, when the weather starts to warm up and calm down, they can finally bring their wells out of hibernation — switching from survival mode to growth mode.

“Things really ramp up as the weather gets warmer. Projects that’ve been in the works for months now start to really gain traction.” says Ben. “I have one customer here who, over winter, on a small bit of land, ran 96 trailer-mounted heaters. That takes a huge chunk out of their available footprint. Having these units come off in the spring will free up valuable space as well as capital.”

This year, the return to higher productivity is likely to be even more pronounced than usual. A combination of Covid-19 restrictions and sharp drops in demand for oil and gas put a lot of projects on hold that were planned in 2020. But as the market bounces back this year, Ben says he wouldn’t be surprised to see a “huge increase” in production.

…. All of which is great for producers. However, it brings along a whole new set of challenges.

Firstly, any upticks in operations will, of course, require more power, cooling and other utilities, all of which need to be planned for. Secondly, while they won’t need as much temporary heat, they still need to make a seamless transition to their spring utilities needs without getting caught out if the weather takes another cold turn.

Meanwhile, if they’ve been using specialized winter packages, this robust insulation might be too much for the new season, meaning they’ll need to switch to different heaters entirely. They may have been using a winter fuel mix, designed to prevent the diesel from changing consistency in very low temperatures, and now need to switch to standard diesel. Or perhaps they’ve stuck to using LNG all winter because they knew they could store it on site, in case impassable roads prevented them trucking in any alternatives from long distances or out of state — but now they’re ready to switch to another fuel type, like CNG, to keep their fuel use as cost-effective as possible.

Another equipment issue is that the freezing point of condensation can cause pipes and other liquid-carrying components to crack as it expands - something that may only become apparent after the ice melts. “There’s a lot of testing to make sure everything made it through the winter,” explains Ben. “We have to make sure it's all okay to keep running in the spring. There’s a lot of checks and balances involved in any change over.”

Following on from a harsh winter, most oil and gas sites will need to perform large-scale pressure tests to check the integrity of their pipes. This involves flooding the pipes to ensure that they can hold the required amount of pressure before running a pig, scraper or foam swab through them to clean them out. In turn, this creates “huge demand” for compressor and dryer packages to dry the pipelines out afterward, explains Ben.

Sometimes, though, the most dramatic springtime challenges are also the ones that are hardest to predict or prepare for.

The Rocky Mountain area is famous for its wildlife, including many endangered or protected species of birds and snakes. As the weather gets warmer, these creatures start returning to the area. “This can sometimes play havoc with the production of these wells as it is not uncommon to have to shut a site down should a protected bird’s nest be discovered,” Say’s Ben.

Plus, all that melting ice creates a major risk of slips, trips and falls for people working on oil and gas sites. In many areas, road conditions temporarily become extremely dangerous as they start to defrost. Slippery ladders, chunks of ice stuck in pipes, slush and sludge, pooling water and flash flooding…these are all common problems caused by changing spring weather. If you don’t take care to handle the risks properly, people can end up being seriously hurt.

As things begin to warm up, you really need a contingency plan and updated security protocols that cover all your bases. After a long, cold winter, It’s far too easy to get complacent when the sun comes out at last, but all too often, that’s precisely when dangerous mistakes are made.

These kinds of issues aren’t always obvious. It will make a huge difference to the way you plan for spring challenges if you collaborate with vendors and partners who have worked in precisely these kinds of situations and environments. People that know these conditions inside out and can preemptively advise on the solutions and technologies you need to tackle them.

This way, you’re not just renting top-end equipment; you’re also getting invaluable expertise and insights thrown in. That’s what will really help you spring into action this year.

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