General Electric (GE) and Norway’s Statoil have announced a strategic collaboration to advance more environmentally friendly and economically sustainable technologies for oil and gas production. GE and Statoil have a long history of working together and both share a commitment to improving their environmental footprints.
The program is focused on technology innovation that will allow the entire industry to reduce emissions and the impacts on local communities while improving productivity and the social license to operate. A group of critical technologies are being developed in response to challenges in the industry including gas flaring, CO2 and methane emissions, truck traffic, and water usage.
One element of the program is an Open Innovation Challenge where the public is invited to present ideas to help reduce truck traffic associated with the transport of sand used for hydrofracking oil and gas wells. Participants in the Challenge can earn prizes from a $500,000 fund for presenting ideas that can lead to the reduced use of sand in hydrofracking.
Eric Gebhardt, CTO of GE says, “Open innovation is about being humble enough to ask the question externally and then looking at all the answers that come back to see what the best answers are, refining them and collaborating to come up with the best solutions. Pulling technologies together that may already exist in other areas and using them in novel configurations is a key form of innovation.”
Local communities near oil and gas fields have long identified truck traffic as a major concern and disruption, it is also one of the biggest costs and logistical challenges that drillers face. Transportation of sand is the biggest source of truck traffic, followed by the transport of water. But water can be moved through pipes and the use of temporary water lines is common which saves money. There is no alternative to moving sand except by truck, and depending on the site the number of sand trucks per well can range from 125 up to 275. So the challenge is to try and find ways to reduce the amount of sand needed on each well.
An experimental oil well in the Bakken field in North Dakota will be fractured this year using liquefied CO2 in combination with water. This cutting edge technique has only had limited application in the field before now. Modeling suggests that there could be advantages to using CO2 because it should create cleaner and more complex fractures than water does and allow for better flow of hydrocarbons. This should not be confused with using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, though the fact that CO2 reacts with oil to make it more miscible and flow better does factor into both techniques.
It is thought that aside from making better fractures, CO2 will flow out of the well more readily than water making it easier to collect and resuse. The challenge in using CO2 is that it does not carry the sand proppants needed to hold the fractures open and so some water is still needed for that process. The experiments are focused on improving the techniques to see if this pathway is viable and desirable, both economically and environmentally. Using CO2 could also be beneficial in areas where access to water is constrained.
CNG-in-a-Box and Last Mile Fueling
GE and Statoil have already seen success in their use of field gas to operate drilling rigs and pressure pumps. There has been a great deal of pressure from regulators, environmentalists and lease holders to reduce the excessive gas flaring going on in North Dakota. The Bakken oil field is very remote and expansive, making the construction of gas pipelines prohibitively expensive in some areas and this has led to a lot of natural gas being flared from oil wells.
GE has developed technology that is now being deployed to capture and clean up the gas on site and load it onto trailers as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The CNG can then be used to replace diesel fuel for drilling operations. This CNG-in-a-Box technology is being greeted as a real winner that both saves significant costs for drillers since the CNG is half the cost of diesel even at today’s low prices, and is also good for the environment because CNG is so much cleaner than diesel. Statoil has plans to expand on the use of natural gas fueling everywhere they can, from their trucks to their drill rigs, pressure pumps, generators and elsewhere.
Other areas GE and Statoil are collaborating include improving gas compressor optimization. Gas compressors are used thoughout the gas industry both onshore and offshore. GE is a major manufacturer of compressors and Statoil is a large buyer, by working together they seek to increase the performance and extend maintenance intervals by optimizing components. Performance targets include lowering NOx and CO2 emissions while improving cost per operating hour and reliability.
Gas turbines are getting an overhaul through the use online water wash technology that allows turbines to be cleaned of dust and contamination without taking them offline, this will reduce downtime and improve performance.
Both GE and Statoil are committed to continuous innovation that enables solutions that reduce costs, improve productivity and are better for the environment.