In 2010 oil prices were elevated and business models were centered on high-cost, high-production fields. Since then hydraulic fracturing, one of the most prevalent unconventional completion techniques, has achieved significant growth in the oil and gas industry. Production, particularly in the U.S., has experienced expansion so significant that hydraulic fracturing has rapidly become the largest source of growth in global oil production. Despite this growth in production, the industry downturn and oil price collapse that began in late 2014 has driven a fundamental shift in North American drilling dynamics. As prices declined, many worried that operators would be fearful of investing in new wells and that the hydraulic fracturing boom would be over before it really began. However, the outcome was anything but dire.
Recognizing the need to be profitable despite oil prices falling more than 50% over several years, North American shale projects with breakeven prices hovering around or below current equilibrium pricing became a dominant force in shaping an industry on the rebound. Advanced technologies and continuous operational improvements created new efficiencies in cost and productivity. This sparked a major increase in both the quantity and intensity of hydraulic fracturing projects in North America, particularly in the most productive plays like the Permian Basin. Although fewer wells are being drilled, production has largely continued to rise as prices have slowly stabilized.
To address the increase in demand for fracturing activities and establish a foothold in the changing land drilling market, Legend Energy Services purchased three full fleets of fracturing equipment from National Oilwell Varco (NOV). This initiated Legend Energy Services’ transition from a coiled tubing (CT) focused supplier to a complete hydraulic fracturing service provider for the North American shale market.
In late 2016 Legend Energy Services saw that demand for quality hydraulic fracturing equipment would soon outstrip supply and quickly seized this opportunity to enter the hydraulic fracturing market. The company turned to NOV to build three complete fleets of fracturing equipment, which consisted of equipment from the Mission, Anson, APPCO and Rolligon product lines, broken down into the following categories:
• Pumping equipment such as fracturing pump units with high-pressure and high-flow-rate capabilities for use in demanding projects;
• Process equipment including blenders, liquid additive systems, hydration units, dry additive mix units and data vans;
• Proppant handling equipment including fracturing sanders, multisanders and silo systems, and
• High-pressure systems such as fracturing manifolds, irons and wellheads.
As a single supplier NOV built and delivered a tailor-made turnkey solution that met Legend Energy Services’ exact specifications. The benefit of receiving fracturing fleets from one equipment provider vs. piecing together fleets from various vendors was the minimized risk of pieces of equipment failing to operate together as a coherent and efficient system.
In addition to having a common operations software across all of its fleets, NOV’s software platform was leveraged by Legend Energy Services to achieve reductions in complexity and training requirements, reductions in data errors and safety risk and reductions in rigup times. These benefits result in robust system reliability and easy access to data to optimize fleet performance.
The companies partnered on fracturing sites in Central/East Texas and South Texas from the Eagle Ford to the Austin Chalk, highlighting the versatility of the fleet for use in varying environmental and geological conditions. Furthermore, having both hydraulic fracturing fleets and CT services enabled hydraulic fracturing and CT services on the same site, reducing downtime associated with equipment change-outs and the difficulty of dealing with several service providers who have different job site processes and procedures.
Future improvements to fracturing fleets and Rolligon control systems will be dependent on the rate of adoption of Big Data as an industry solution. Single-source control systems when integrated with such a solution have the ability to track data about all assets equipped with the proper sensor arrays. Integration with the data solution allows basic data manipulation and data trending to be identified across all assets outfitted with the sensor arrays. If a Big Data solution is combined with an integrated asset maintenance system, predictive- and condition-based maintenance also becomes available, enabling incremental cost savings. To this end NOV is developing a method of collecting data from pressure pumping equipment to transmit to its Max industrial data platform. This platform enables large-scale aggregation and analytics of real-time equipment data to improve performance while decreasing maintenance costs across products and systems.
Demand continues to drive market
Hydraulic fracturing and shale drilling will continue to dominate the North American land market as long as innovative equipment and technologies drive breakeven prices down and efficiency up. Current industry trends show that more sand and water are being pumped per shale well than before. Furthermore, multipad wells are being drilled, necessitating more fracturing services vs. other solutions in the well intervention market. In the past, there was generally one fracturing fleet for every three drilling rigs. Now there is one fleet for every two rigs. Market dynamics will continue to drive this level of demand, particularly as fleets become more available, companies consolidate larger portfolios into integrated offerings and efficiency increases make more drilling possible.
Challenges remain, including finding the perfect price point for shale profitability and addressing the negative perception of hydraulic fracturing outside of the oil and gas industry. Despite this, companies like Legend Energy Services and NOV are poised to achieve success as a market in transition drives interest in modern fracturing fleets with high-quality and reliable equipment.