Louisiana firm on the leading edge of 'fracking' technology

07 15, 2013 by The Town Talk

A Lafayette-based oil and gas services company, years ahead of its competitors in technology for hydraulic fracturing with natural gas, will try to expand its operations in a few select areas of the country before it tries to expand its geographic reach.

Gary Prehoda, senior vice president of sales for Green Field Energy Services, says that Green Field is talking with about a dozen companies that are interested in its services.

“We can’t grow that fast,” Prehoda said of Green Field, which has been concentrating its hydraulic fracturing efforts in the Permian Basin in western Texas, the Eagle Ford Shale in southern Texas and the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. “We don’t want to expand all over the U.S.”

Nonetheless, the company has grown quickly in two years, and is eyeing additional business in Oklahoma.

Green Field’s distinct advantage is its turbine hydraulic fracturing pumps, or TFPs, which can operate on a variety of fuels, including liquefied, compressed and field natural gas.

Working with partner Marine Turbine Technologies through their jointly owned company, Turbine Powered Technology Inc., near Franklin, as well as with other companies over the last eight years, Green Field and its partners have used turbine engines from retired military helicopters in developing "fracking" equipment that runs cheaper and more cleanly than the competition. The equipment has evolved in several stages.

Company officials say the technology is so advanced now that it already meets or exceeds the Tier IV standards for emissions that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will fully impose in 2015. All that, and the turbine engines also operate on a work space, or “pad,” that is 30 percent smaller, more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly than those used by competitors that use larger, heavier diesel engines.

It does so while burning natural gas that can significantly cut fuel costs and, if the gas is taken from the field, can cut fuel costs by some 80 percent. Those savings, passed along to the customer, give Green Field a competitive edge, the company says.

Last year, the company commissioned a multifuel fracking pump that can run on natural gas or diesel, increasing the flexibility of Green Field’s fracturing units in the field. Andrew Ward, Green Field’s marketing director in Lafayette, said that’s most useful when one source of fuel is interrupted, which happened during its work in south Texas. There, the company just switched back to diesel until natural gas was again available.

The company has most recently taken its cleaner, cheaper-to-use technology to Monessen, Pa., an hour south of Pittsburgh, where it has signed a five-year lease for facilities and may hire up to 200 local people as part of its hydraulic fracturing efforts.

Since 2011, Green Field has expanded from 75 to more than 500 employees companywide, with operating districts in Lafayette; San Antonio, Midland and Marshall, Texas; and a second corporate office in Houston. Now it has entered new operations in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

Ward said hydraulic fracturing has become the company’s leading competitive advantage, although it still offers services in areas such as cementing, coil tubing and complementary well services. The company was founded in Lafayette as Hub Cities Industries in 1969 and initially focused on pumping stimulation, according to Green Field’s website. In 1997, John Egle purchased the company, broadened its services, expanded to additional districts in Texas and, with investors, developed and implemented the turbine frac pump.

A group led by Michael Moreno purchased the company in 2011, named it Green Field, and, through its partnership with MTT, increased the manufacture and use of turbine equipment in the field. It also led to the recent surge in new business and the increase in workforce, as Green Field prepares for yet more growth.

The advantage Green Field holds, its trump card, is the turbine engine that pumps natural gas, company officials say.

“We are the only ones who can pump on 100 percent natural gas,” Prehoda said.

MTT, Green Field’s partner, holds agreements with the military to purchase decommissioned battlefield helicopter engines and Green Field, through its pacts with MTT, holds the licenses for the turbine-driven equipment, although Prehoda says Green Field is looking ahead to the distant day when there will be fewer military engines available.

Until then, he said the turbines are good for about 10,000 working hours before they need major overhauls.

“Ten thousand hours,” he said, “is a heckuva long time. We have so much horsepower sitting in the yard right now, it would last two or three years.”

Prehoda said other companies are using similar engines but they pump diesel, which is more expensive to buy and use and poses problems with imminent federal emissions standards.

“Most companies are going to a dual fuel — 50 percent gas, 50 percent diesel — but it does not meet the (Tier IV) standards,” Prehoda said. “If you want to meet the emission standards, the best way to do it is natural gas.”

Prehoda said current equipment used by competitors will be grandfathered in under the Tier IV standards, but in order for companies to grow, they will need to make dramatic changes, like Green Field already has. That’s why, he said, the company will set its own path for expansion, strengthening itself where it is operating now and adding additional fracking spreads where they are needed.

At Turbine Powered Technology Inc., located at the Port of West St. Mary, work continued last week on new fracking spreads that will be needed in Pennsylvania. Testing is done alongside waters from the Intracoastal Canal, a stone’s throw from a cane field.

It takes 16 units to make a fracking spread; the company has four, and wants to build four more this year. The investment is dear: It costs about $20 million to make a spread. Given the nature of fracking, the equipment is built to run around the clock.

The word is out, too, on the new technology. Green Field will be represented at a conference in Denver next month, at an industry summit in Chicago in September and at Shale Insight 2013 in Philadelphia in September.

“We are a small South Louisiana private company doing something in hydraulic fracturing and natural gas no one else in the country is doing,” Ward said. “Other companies, Goliaths, are looking at us like a little David.”