Safety First

Profire Energy Inc.

The oil and gas industry is booming, but comes with high injury and fatality rates. Profire is in the business of ensuring the safety of all workers in this industry despite the dangers inherent in this line of work. Business in Focus spoke with Nathan McBride, Profire’s finance and communications manager, to discuss the company’s technological advancements and the state of the industry.

Improper monitoring of burner systems is unfortunately common in oil and gas operations. Necessary precautions are often neglected, leading to injury and fatalities. Profire is on a mission to mitigate these risks through its Burner Management Systems (BMS).

Profire was established in 2002 by Brent Hatch and Harold Albert. The team had previously worked with an oil field service company called “Titan Logix.” Mr Albert dealt with the oil field and sales, developing refined knowledge about the equipment and the ins and outs of fixing burners, while Mr Hatch specialized in the details of running the business.

Profire got its start by selling parts for the oil industry, and when the company established its presence, it then looked to refining technological expertise in its own products. There was considerable opportunity in burner management. It is common practice to light burners with rags attached to long wires, hangers, or sticks. The company first developed a simple sparker – the Profire 1100. According to Mr McBride, the sparker “was put on an oil field vessel to reignite the flame. This was the real beginning of Profire.” In 2004-2005, the company expanded its business dramatically, and began focusing heavily on burner management, rather than service. Profire has achieved such success that no external financing has been necessary; the company has fully financed itself.

The original Profire 1100 prototype was developed even further to the Burner Management System (BMS). The BMS provides safety, compliance, and economic value for customers. These factors are of utmost importance to Profire clients.

Safety is key in reigniting burner flames if they have gone out. The flames may be out for days before they are reignited, and if there is improper ventilation, explosions or flashbacks can take place. The labourer responsible for re-ignition is in a dangerous position. “It’s not unlike walking into a house with a leaky gas stove, and trying to reignite it,” Mr McBride explains. Profire’s BMS, however, will re-ignite the flame immediately after it goes out. The system alleviates the safety issues associated with manual reigniting.

In Canada, codes require a BMS on fire tube vessels. In the United States, different regulations exist so that a BMS is not mandatory in all situations, but the system is still very important for safety and assurance that operations will run smoothly. But more than the safety and operations incentives, companies often buy based on the appealing economics of the system.

Profire’s BMS ensures economic value for industry operations. Because the BMS reignites the flame immediately, the temperature inside the vessel is maintained. This avoids delays in oil and gas production. If the flame is out for a period of time, the oilfield processes of producing, storing, and transporting the oil and gas can be jeopardized. Time is lost, and therefore money is lost.

Mr McBride adds that, “An additional economic driver is that production continues with minimal interruption… The BMS also provides you with the capability to monitor the system remotely from an office as opposed to right at the vessel.”

Certainly, rapid technological advancements have been taking place within the oil and gas industry. Mr McBride refers to these developments as a “technological revolution.” He indicates that older generations of workers in the field have maintained standard practices, but new, younger workers are looking to use innovative technologies. Younger workers are excited about new technologies as a way to improve safety and reduce fatalities, as well as improving overall success in their businesses. “As the workforce gets younger, the discrepancy between what should be and what is, is drawn more sharply,” Mr McBride reflects.

New environmental regulations are leading to new technological developments as well. The industry uses a series of combustors and incinerators to burn off released chemicals. Presently these combustors burn constantly, but new regulations may require adapted burning schedules to minimize emissions. These regulations will require smarter technology to maintain or improve efficiency.

The BMS manages the fuel flow, but additional technology is needed to control air flow. This is where Profire’s patent-pending Airplate comes in. Hot air is used to heat the oil at the bottom of a tank.

“At the beginning of the tube is a burner which needs to be adjusted,” Mr McBride explains. “The air plate is a metal plate that sits inside the hot-air tube. Presently, in order to get more air in, what they will do is drill more holes in it. If there is a seasonal change or the plate has to be moved to another vessel, then optimal airflow isn’t likely to occur.”

The Air Plate maximizes efficiency in this important process. “We have created a plate that can turn and shutter the openings,” Mr McBride says. “You want more air, you just unscrew the bolt a little, turn it and tighten it back down which promotes a new airflow.”

To spread the word about its innovative products and services, Profire could potentially look to insurance companies. “There is an opportunity for insurance companies to give discounts to those that are using our BMS,” says Mr McBride. “Such an arrangement could be beneficial to customers who would have lower premiums, and the insurance companies would potentially pay out less in claims.” There are many opportunities for Profire in the industry – with 1.3 million wells and only about 16,000 systems installed by Profire.

Oil field managers run their own shows field by field, sometimes unaware that Profire BMS are being used on the field nearby. It requires a lot of communication to demonstrate to these managers that BMS installments are important. “Safety managers sometimes do not even know that fumes are being lit in the aforementioned way,” Mr McBride explains, referring to the dangerous methods of manual reigniting. “We have been at meetings with safety managers and they don’t believe that the burners are being reignited in such an archaic way. But, then they ask the field worker who confirms it, and the safety manager is shocked.”

The team at Profire works tirelessly to ensure that industry workers and management learn about the dangers in the field, as well as solutions. With approximately 40-50,000 new wells being drilled each year in North America, the industry is certainly growing; Profire will be there to help make it safer and more efficient.

September 23, 2017, 3:51 PM EDT

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