State of the Art Innovation in the Energy Sector
Frac sand or formation sand produced in gas wells can damage production equipment. Headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Specialized Desanders has two field offices in the province, as well as one in British Columbia and one in Pennsylvania. It is the only service provider in Canada to offer multiphase Desanding as its sole service.
Innovation involves exploring novel means of thinking and considering what can be rather than what is. It’s the ability to question, ‘Is there a better way?’
The oil and gas industry is a prime example. Innovative technology has, and will continue to, shape the future of this ever-changing sector. Specialized Desanders Incorporated is part of this transformation.
Formerly known as Specialized Tech Incorporated (STI), Specialized Desanders Incorporated (SDI) was founded in 2001 by three energy sector veterans who saw a need for horizontal well Desanding technology.
The co-founders realized that sand is a particular concern for oil and gas producers because it can cause extensive damage to production equipment in wells that produce formation or fracture (frac) sand. If sand is carried up the tubing, it may become trapped in various components or in the production pipeline itself, slowing or stopping production. Cleaning shuts down production, resulting in lost production volumes and increased maintenance costs.
They designed a portable patented Desander that is installed upstream of surface equipment. The innovative design allows gas wells to flow under sand-producing conditions. Solid particulate matter that would otherwise damage downstream equipment can then be collected and removed.
The company currently protects more than 450 operational wells throughout western Canada. What differentiates this Desander from the rest is its, “simple but effective engineered solution to the problem of sand erosion on flow back,” says Rick Wasfy, the company’s US Operations Manager.
“With the competition, they can’t handle the volumes of sand that we can handle. The efficiency of our vessels is in the high 90s – 98 to 99 percent, where the efficiency of their vessels is 40 to 50 percent. So we’re stopping twice as much sand as they are.”
Specialized Desanders vessels rely on gravity separation rather than hydrocyclonic or filter principles meaning that its engineered solution, “is an application of Stokes’ Law that allows the sand to fall to the bottom,” explains Rick. “Because it’s the only thing we do, we’ve become experts in the subject. We’ve been able to go really in depth and figure out why sand is produced in wells and the most efficient way to stop it at surface.”
Although Specialized Desanders Incorporated is not engaged in the process of drilling wells – shale shaking and cleaning, for example, it is involved in the initial period of production. All vessels are rental and remain onsite for typically one to nine months of a well’s life.
Considering that Tester’s equipment charges can vary from $5000 per day and up, “We take the testing pricing and charge that per month,” adds Rick, adding a value proposition for clients. “If that’s going to be $10,000 per day for a well test vessel, we’ll do that at $10,000 per month. It’s a much smaller vessel. It’s not manned, but what it does, is allow you to still produce your well while doing the clean-up instead of having to engage in a prolonged well test simply to remove all the sand from the well.”
Specialized Desanders vessels prove to be more efficient by reducing maintenance costs. Rick notes that the competition’s Desanders have a number of parts that can erode or fail, requiring replacement. But Specialized Desanders’ equipment has, “no internal moving parts, no bags, screens or filters. So there’s nothing at all to be replaced,” he explains.
All Specialized Desanders pressurized vessels are certified and registered with Alberta Boilers Safety Association (Alberta’s pressure vessel safety authority) to maintain safe operation. All well operators receive specialized training and orientation in the safe operation and servicing of the desanders. The company proudly claims that, since its founding, it’s never experienced pressure equipment failure.
“Safety is absolutely paramount to us,” emphasizes Rick. “It’s the first thing we think about in every job and every application. We’ve designed our equipment with safety in mind.” He goes on to explain that each desander meets or exceeds minimum levels and has to pass rigorous testing to ensure it adheres to code requirements. “We want to avoid washouts and sand erosion. We know that we have a piece of equipment that can do it.”
Specialized Desanders’ range of vessel sizes ensures that every well has the appropriately sized vessel on the well site. “In that way, we know that it’s going to work,” says Rick. “We’re not just guessing when we go to the well sites. We’re sure that we have a vessel that’s large enough to handle the specific well.”
Specialized Desanders weight-based Sand Sentry enables monitoring of sand production at well sites or online to schedule Desander clean outs. SDI’s solid steel vessels can’t be seen through, but the Sand Sentry will indicate how much sand is in the vessel.
“To increase the operational efficiencies, you only have to clean the vessel out when it’s full,” says Rick. “You’re not guessing as to whether it’s full, half full or whether it’s empty.”
Checking an empty desander wastes valuable time and manpower. “It’s one of the things that really set us apart in the market,” Rick explains. “We’re the only people that can determine how much sand a well is producing and when it stops producing so you know when to release the equipment.”
Once sand production has ceased in a well, the Desander can be removed by the operator and returned or relocated to another site the operator may have.
Whenever a Desander is relocated, it receives a full inspection including UT (Ultrasonic thickness). “The vessel is as new when it moves on to the new site,” Rick confirms. “If it remains on site for more than a year, we’ll do the same thing.”
Rick notes that the three sector veterans who started Specialized Desanders strive to bring on new talent with innovative ideas. The company now consists of seven engineers. Four of whom are under thirty-five while the rest have years of oil and gas experience. “It’s a really good combination and allows us to develop new technology and improve on the technology that we have,” he says.
In 2013, the company was recapitalized by Hammond, Kennedy, Whitney & Co. Inc. (HKW), a U.S. private equity firm, as part of its expansion plans. Specialized Desanders will open a new site near the Marcellus Formation in Pennsylvania, an area rich in shale gas play with substantial fracking. HKW has, “a belief in us that we can grow,” shares Rick.
Specialized Desanders ultimately hopes to expand into Texas and North Dakota. “We want to make sure that when we move into a market we can service it as efficiently and as well as we’re currently servicing the Alberta and British Columbia market. It’s small steps – organic growth – and we want to do it properly.”
“We allow the producers to produce their oil and gas wells safer than they currently are and cheaper than they currently are. That’s our biggest driver. For us to be successful, our solution has to be perfect every time, and it really is. We’ve taken an engineering mindset to the problem and figured out an engineered solution to it.”