February 01, 2018

2018 SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference

By Jon Gates
The 2018 SPE kickoff conference for the North American shale industry had a very upbeat tone, featuring a growing number of large and small sand mine operators, plus highly technical presentations and the latest in technology and efficiency from frac spreads to pad well designs.

2018 SPE Conference Mood Upbeat
A strong turnout marked this year’s SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference as the industry ramps up for what is expected to be a strong start to 2018. One difference this year compared with last -- besides higher crude prices -- is the number of new West Texas mines joining the major frac sand mine groups (U.S. Silica Holdings Inc., Fairmount Santrol Holdings Inc., Hi-Crush Partners LP) on the expo floor, like Black Mountain Sand, High Roller Wells LLC and Alpine Silica LLC. Both Black Mountain and High Roller said they’d already begun production and would be shipping their first sands to wellhead this week. Black Mountain’s mesh mix was estimated at about half 100 mesh and half 40/70 mesh (see OTR Global's Jan. 25 Frac Sand Supply Chain report).

Schlumberger Ltd. also publicly touted its mine expansions in West Texas and Wisconsin, noting they were doubling the Wisconsin facility capacity to around 4 million tons but gave no tonnage data on their West Texas resource expansion yet.

Big Stage Year Anticipated
A ball drop technology supplier in the completion sector said 800,000 stages are projected for 2018 in North America. He described demand as divided between magnesium-based dissolvable balls and longer-lasting, lower-cost composite balls. They did not have a yy comparison on stages but said it was up.

Larger-Spec Frac Fleets
A frac fleet supplier at the event talked about the new generation of frac equipment coming into the market, with a notable spec difference from older pre-existing equipment in fleets. He noted current specs are boosting capacity of the frac spread from one end to the other, to better handle larger wells, greater fluid volumes and 24/7 operations. Current equipment more often has 2,500-2,600 hp engines, 3,000-hp transmissions, larger clutches, larger-volume power ends, stainless fluid ends and greater cooling and oil-filtering capacities (See OTR Global's Jan. 30 Pressure Pumping and Completions note).

The whole design is set up to allow machines to scale up larger projects but run well below their capacity thresholds, improving efficiency and maintenance cycles. Some of the older frac spreads will struggle to keep up with new well geometries, pads and zipper environments. Key suppliers are Caterpillar Inc. and Cummins Inc. engines, Allison Transmission Holdings Inc. and Twin Disc Inc. transmissions and a number of fluid-end and power-end suppliers, like The Weir Group PLC, TechnipFMC PLC and others. OTR Global will start querying about what percentage these higher-spec rigs represent in the industry and if they are expected to affect contract terms.

E-Frac On Display
A new generation electric frac pump units dominated the outside entrance to this year’s SPE event, a shift from previous years, when conventional frac pumps were exhibited. Evolution Well Services LLC’s electric frac system showcased the company’s unique 5,000-hp electric WEG S.A. motor, powering dual FMC power and fluid ends. Evolution already has one electric fleet in Eagle Ford, Texas, and the newest version is headed for the MidCon in Oklahoma when completed. One of the company reps said they price the system competitively compared with conventional systems by passing on fuel savings since no diesel is consumed or transported. The system is powered by onsite well flare off natural gas and propane.

Evolving Pad Systems
Weir -- big in fluid, power ends and other energy areas -- showed its latest wellsite product line, designed to extend the company’s reach more effectively onto pads designed for multiple wells. The Weir product introductions were not at last year’s SPE, but focus on larger, more direct pipe geometries for zipper fracs and more efficient valve systems. The products mentioned include Weir’s Seaboard Vertical Zipper Manifold, Seaboard Frac Stack and One Straight Line (OSL) Frac Connection.