Fracking boom fuels petroleum show optimism

[Source: Calgary Herald – Dan Healing | June 13th, 2012]

Unconventional drilling contractors and suppliers connect with clients

CALGARY — A booming well completion industry shone like the warm spring sun as the Global Petroleum Show opened Tuesday, the heat interrupted only occasionally by a passing cloud of uncertainty about oil prices.

“If you’re in the industry and you’re not here, I’m not sure where you’d be,” proclaimed Jon Clark, president of Raymac Environmental Services Inc. of Nanaimo, B.C.

He squinted into the sun as a tanker truck filled a bright orange fluid containment bladder called a FracTank with 44,000 litres of water — a “show tank,” he said. The ones used in the field more commonly hold 190,000 litres.

The tanks have been made in Delta, B.C., for two decades but sales have jumped since fracking became more common over the past few years, he said.

It’s hard to find anyone among the 2,000 exhibitors at the every-second-year show that hasn’t been affected by the rise of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic “fracking” to break open tight oil and gas formations in Canada and the United States.

And all are hoping to land fresh customers from the 60,000 attendees from 95 countries invited to the show, one of the biggest in the world. The show runs until Thursday.

Ken Berg, vice-president of privately owned Calgary pressure pumping company Sanjel Corp., said hydraulic fracturing has been the growth driver in taking the company to an activity level not seen since the Western Canadian drilling boom of 2006.

“We’ve increased our Canadian business over the past two years from about 800 people to 1,600 people,” he said at his company’s booth inside the BMO Centre, adding the recession of 2008 led to many layoffs.

“The well count is back up but it’s really the nature of fracturing and the number of intervals and the length of the horizontals that has grown that business beyond what anyone could have done with verticals.”

Sanjel bought a downhole tools company called Surtech last year to enhance its service offerings.

“This year we’ve chosen to showcase technology, specifically around getting the job done quicker,” he added.

How big can it get? That depends on the oil and gas price, Berg said.

Jereh Energy Services Corp. of Yantai, China, a first-time exhibitor at the show, is betting that the Canadian market for its heavy fracturing equipment will last.

“We want first to understand the market here, then to be understood by the Canadian people,” said Mike Deng, general manager assistant, manning an outdoor booth crowded with orange cementing, pressure pumping and coiled tubing units brought from Houston to Calgary for the show.

He said the Chinese company, with 2,000 employees and about $300 million US a year in revenue, wants to expand in Canada, serving the country from its North American research and manufacturing base in Houston.

“This is the oil capital here,” said Deng. “We have a lot of friends here in Calgary and they told us, ‘Come up, you will find good opportunities here.’”

A tiny four-rotor helicopter hovering motionless 15 metres above the Stampede grounds attracted aviation buffs to a booth for ING Engineering, another first-time exhibitor at the show.

Sales director Aaron Stiles said the Ottawa-based robotic aviation company has been operating in Alberta for just a few months, branching out into the oil and gas business from its origins in military service, including scouting tours of duty in Afghanistan.

The company hopes to appeal to clients needing to do environmental surveys, inspect flare stacks and patrol pipelines in remote ares of Western Canada. Its camera-equipped drones are light, easy to transport and unaffected by road bans, Stiles pointed out.

Fracking requires pressure and pressure pumping units need fuel, so that’s why Environmental Refuelling Systems Inc. set up an outdoor booth at the show to promote a new idea called the “Frac Shack.”

“We didn’t like having our guys drag fuel hoses out to these pumper units when they were operating, seems like a dangerous thing to do,” explained Scott Van Vliet, co-president of the family-owned Edmonton company.

His brochure includes a picture of fire-ravaged pumping trucks at a wellsite.

“It’s not unusual to have 20-plus pumper trucks on a completions pad, each of them burning up to 400 litres per hour,” he said. “This is basically a glorified fuel distribution system.”

Sensors inserted into the fuel tanks of the pumper trucks wirelessly tell the Frac Shack when to deliver more fuel.

The company has 16 of the systems, protected by several patents pending, in the field in Canada and the U.S., Van Vliet said.

And it would love to add more, he added.