As the industry shakes off the downturn, many U.S. operators are planning major drilling boosts in their 2017 programs. More specifically, drilling in the U.S. is expected to jump about 25% and in Canada 21%, respectively, according to industry surveys.

The economic downturn of the last few years has been challenging for the oil and gas industry. Faced with low-priced oil, operators, upstream equipment contractors and everyone in between had to determine how to make more or do more with less. As E&P companies took measures to reduce costs and delay capex to remain competitive in the market throughout 2015 and 2016, tightened budgets have had a significant impact on the equipment in the industry. Many companies were forced to shift from preventative to reactive or run-to-failure programs to survive.

As reactive maintenance programs were adopted across the industry, managers and field personnel also began to mix and match components to make quick repairs and push equipment further. These strategies only complicated the industry’s aging equipment issue, which led to more serious problems down the road in most instances.

Now, as companies look to rejuvenate aging equipment— a move that is long overdue—they are also taking steps to implement more effective maintenance programs. This is especially important in the case of pumps and power ends, which are vital components to well servicing.

 

Defining maintenance strategies

There are two conventional approaches to maintaining oil and gas equipment, and both carry significant advantages and disadvantages. Companies apply different strategies to producing energy, and the same goes for developing and executing maintenance programs. The most common approaches to equipment maintenance are a reactive (run-to-failure) or a preventative (scheduled) program. Ultimately, energy producers will make maintenance decisions that best align with their operational tempo and budget. However, those organizations that have maintained a preventative maintenance program these last few years have the good fortune of “reaping what they sowed.” Just like a car that’s taken in for routine oil changes and tune-ups runs longer, so does the life of well servicing equipment that’s been properly maintained.

Unfortunately, over the past few years limited budgets required many operators to adopt a reactive approach to maintenance. Operators have been under pressure to produce energy and increase cash flow with fewer resources.

Run-to-failure programs have allowed companies to continue operations at the lowest possible cost. This meant neglecting, or at least delaying, the maintenance requirements of equipment in need, which is very risky and often can lead to equipment failure on the job and ultimately unplanned downtime. Service interruptions can negatively affect a company’s reputation and impair their ability to maintain contracts with clients. When operators consider the potential collateral damage presented by run-to-failure maintenance programs, the disadvantages outweigh the cost savings.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the preventative or schedule-based maintenance approach. Each asset is placed on a routine maintenance schedule so that operators know precisely when it will be taken out of rotation and serviced. Scheduled maintenance has many advantages. Namely, it allows operators to schedule downtime and avoid unexpected service disruptions. Regularly servicing equipment allows operators to run equipment longer and more efficiently, greatly reducing the cost of powering each unit and enhancing the value of a company’s assets.

Mobilizing instruction

Due to the cyclical nature of upstream oil and gas, labor must be expanded and contracted to levels appropriate for market demand. This presents major challenges in both the downcycles and the upcycles. In downcycles companies often lose highly skilled and experienced labor. Unfortunately, those folks often find work in other industry sectors. When the market begins to recover, skilled labor can be scarce, and many companies are competing for these limited resources. As a result, operators must hire less experienced labor. The need for these “greenhorns” to receive proper training is very high, and time is short. Operators will struggle to deploy an effective maintenance program without providing their new workforce with the education required to do the job right, thus further exacerbating the equipment reliability issue.

Gardner Denver’s approach to assisting with this effort is a mobile classroom that travels to a customer’s facilities and trains employees how to properly maintain pumping equipment.

Graduates of the program have found that their newly improved maintenance skills have extended the life of the fluid ends on their site, improved equipment reliability and lowered nonproductive time on the job. Beyond increasing the lifespan of their fluid ends, customers have also seen benefits in the form of lower repair costs, decreased production costs and a reduction in workplace hazards.

Pump University’s instructors teach customers valuable maintenance tips through workbooks, visual presentations and hands-on training. The classes are designed for frack hands, but engineers and other employees have found value in the courses. Many participants find that these courses teach them about expendables as well as fluid ends.

Since 2013 Gardner Denver’s Pump University has trained more than 3,000 students throughout the U.S. and has seen tremendous results.

Looking ahead

With market demand increasing, the time for equipment inspection is now, and the first step is an initial assessment of equipment. This seems easy, but the task is quite difficult. Many operators lack the resources required to inspect the condition of their large fleets and build an effective rejuvenation plan in short order. Field inspections are conducted by both factory-trained service technicians and field engineers often free of charge.

Gardner Denver also has rebuild facilities in Fort Worth, Texas; Altoona, Pa.; Odessa, Texas; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; and San Antonio that are designed for rapid response and are strategically located close to its customers in the shale basins. If there is simply not enough time for a complete rebuild (which can take about 21 days), certified remanufactured equipment is in stock and available.

Ultimately, maintenance strategy decisions are market- driven. With an expected rise in drilling and completion activity this year, operators are busy trying to win new business and, in many cases, are spreading people and horsepower thin across locations to pump more with fewer resources.

With a proactive approach to maintenance and proper training, operators can ensure long, economical and trouble-free pumping operations. Perhaps the most important benefit to well-maintained equipment is safer operations. There is no cost-saving measure that is more important than protecting the safety of the men and women who work to unlock vital energy resources.