A Full Spectrum of Downhole Tool Solutions for Shale

Whether it’s a large international company with a long history or small company born during the U.S. shale revolution, oilfield service companies have a wide variety of options from which to choose.
By Patrick C. Miller | May 08, 2018

When it comes to downhole tools for North America’s shale oil and gas industry, what matters most is having the right tool for the job at the right time. From international corporations with decades of history to homegrown companies created to fill a specific niche, if an operator has a problem, chances are there’s someone with a solution or proposed solution to solve it.

For example, DynaEnergetics is a company with global reach headquartered in Troisdorf, Germany, with offices in Houston. It specializes in advanced perforating systems for the North American shale market. Innovative Completion Systems in Tyler, Texas, has been making downhole tools for wireline service companies since 2005. D&L Oil Tools has been in business for 27 years, designing and manufacturing downhole packers, bridge plugs, anchors and accessories at its plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Headquartered in Millsap, Texas, GEODynamics Inc. earlier this year became a subsidiary of Oil States International Inc. It provides oil and gas perforation systems and downhole tools in support of completion, intervention, wireline and well abandonment operations, serving markets in seven states from Alaska to Texas.

High Performance Tool Makers
DynaEnergetics—a DMC Global Inc. business—has manufacturing facilities in Blum, Texas, Troisdorf, Germany, and Tyumen, Russia. It can trace its roots back to 1867 when Alfred Nobel—the scientist for whom the Nobel Prize is named—invented dynamite. The company operates in all shale basins. Its main customer base is wireline service companies, but also includes Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes.

Edwin Reek, vice president of product management and marketing, stresses that DynaEnergetics isn’t a service company. “We're really focused on the equipment itself—the development of the technology and the manufacturing of equipment.” This includes hardware for the company’s DynaStage perforating system, which is comprised of gun barrels, detonators, detonation cords, shaped charges and the electronic panels to fire the guns downhole.

All components for DynaStage—except the detonators—are assembled in-house and shipped to the field where the detonators are installed. “It’s a system growing rapidly in the unconventional market at the moment,” Reek notes. “The benefit our customers see is the ease of use, the efficiency and assembly. The string is shorter, which makes it lighter and easier to handle.” He adds that DynaStage is bringing an end to the days service companies bought different components from different vendors and then assembled them in the field.

Reek notes that safety is another advantage of DynaStage, which uses DynaEnergetics’ DynaSelect detonators manufactured at its plant in Germany. He says the detonators are immune to stray currents, stray voltages and radio frequencies, which means other wellsite operations can continue while fracking is occurring. “We’ve really taken the lead in providing a safe approach to the detonator and a safe approach to the gun system,” he adds.

As a result of the shale industry trend toward longer laterals, DynaStage uses closer gun spacing to deliver more shots per foot with a tighter shot density. “In today's environment where everybody's pushing for efficiency and trying to do things cheaper, the industry is now focusing on how we can be more efficient with what it does and make a living at the $60 oil.”

Reek says DynaEnergetics has developed shaped charges specifically for shale reservoirs—HaloFrac and FracTune—that define the result of fracking. “To do a proper frack job, you want to have equal hole diameters,” he notes. “With a normal charge, you get different hole diameters. Different hole diameters mean different results in the frack job. We’ve developed FracTune to provide equal hole diameters.

“We shoot through casing, we shoot through cement and into the reservoir,” Reek continues. “We create the perforating tunnel and the size of the diameter of the tunnel—the entry hole diameter and the shape and the depth and the cleanness of the tunnel.”
Perforation results ultimately impact the well’s productivity, Reek says. With equal hole diameters, the fluid flow rate and pressure drop through each hole will be very similar, leading to a more consistent frack job.

“The last few years has really been developing into what we call performance charges,” he explains. “We’re moving away from regular charges that just shoot a hole in the casing and into the reservoir. We're trying to learn what's going on there and trying to match the performance of the charge to the requirement of the frack job or what rock we’re penetrating.”

The demand for DynaStage was evident last year when DynaEnergetics announced plans to triple the capacity of its plant in Blum, south of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Later this year, the company plans to add a second automated shaped-charge manufacturing line at Blum and a second automated DynaSelect detonator line at its plant in Germany. A second phase of the Blum expansion—scheduled for 2019-2020—will include a 30,000-square-foot hardware manufacturing facility.

Experience Meets A Need
While the price downturn that began in 2014 was a curse to the oil and gas industry, Charlie Bishop, owner of Innovative Completion Systems (ICS), says it proved a blessing to his company, which provides a variety of downhole tools primarily to wireline and electric service operators not only in the U.S., but also internationally.

“We’ve been busy since about 2013 when a lot of people weren’t,” Bishop notes. “We were very blessed to have equipment that people needed, even in slow times. A lot of our equipment was equipment they could save money with on their completions. When you can save money and times are slow times, it really doesn’t matter. If you can save the customer money, then you’ve got a demand there.”

The tool ICS produced that wireline companies discovered they needed is called the addressable disconnect tool. As shale operators drilled deeper wells with longer laterals, having to fish tools out of horizontal wells became increasingly expensive. With 40 years of experience in the wireline business, Bishop recognized the need for a device to quickly and efficiently do the job.

“You simply send a digital code down your wireline—the conductor and your cable going to your tool string—and it switches a circuit in the top of the tool and routes current to a ballistic device,” he explains. “I’ve got a lot of other tools that did the same thing, but this has been the most successful.”

Operational experience in the field led Bishop to refine and improve the addressable disconnect tool, which is currently available in various models. ICS plans to soon release a non-ballistic version of it, and he has ideas for other downhole tools as well. Bishop says the cable head and wire testing equipment made by ICS has also proven popular with wireline service companies

Bringing New Tools To Market
D&L Oil Tools is generating industry interest with its Trilobite Anchors. The hydro and quarter-turn anchors introduced late last year feature a patent-pending cone/slip shape that’s engineered to customer needs. Heath Bringham, a senior sales engineer at D&L, says the anchor was designed in response to a customer’s need for a slim-hole anchor.

“It’s got a lot of room around the outside of the anchor to allow for gas or debris bypass or even injection lines or monitoring cables—anything you want to put around it,” he says. “It’s got the room to do it where a conventional tubing anchor pretty much uses up all that space.”

The anchor’s design is advantageous for oil extraction pumping when a buildup of gas, paraffin or scale can greatly reduce a pump’s efficiency. “The downhole pump is one of the last steps in the life of the well where the downhole pressures are so low that some of the other artificial lift methods or gas lifts are just no longer viable,” Bringham says. “As they’re pushing these pumps further and further down into the curve, they’re having some extra challenges beyond the simple vertical wells of old. If a pump gets filled or partially filled with gas, you’re literally getting less oil per stroke.”

In the shale plays of south and west Texas, Brignham says problems with paraffin buildup and scaling are so severe that chemical injection is needed to prevent pumps from becoming plugged. D&L’s Trilobite Anchors provide the space to locate the injection point at the precise location it’s needed—at the pump intake just below the anchor.

“By injecting that chemical—as long as they have the right chemical and the proper dose—they can keep the pump running indefinitely,” Bringham notes. “You can run a quarter-inch or three-eighths-inch stainless steel injection line right alongside your tubing, all the way down and run it right along the outside of this anchor right to the pump intake. You don’t have to use as much chemical and the injector puts it right where it’s most needed.”

Bringham says D&L has been working with Weatherford on designing a customized anchor to work with their pump technology. In addition, although D&L sells its products to oilfield services companies, E&P operators have heard about the Trilobite Anchors and directly contacted the company about them.

“That’s a different way of doing business for us, but we’re excited to help them out,” Bringham says. “We don’t sell directly to them, but we’re excited that they recognize the advantages and we’re willing to go out and request it from their customers so that they can get their hands on it and put it in their wells.

“We’re still on a trial basis,” he continues, “but there’s been some early adopters who know what they’re looking at and know the benefits; they’re very excited about it. They’re doing some trials in different areas. All the feedback so far is that they’re very happy with it.”

Bringham notes the D&L’s “bread and butter” is its AS1-X production packer, manufactured at its Tulsa plant to API and ISO specifications. “They’ll run an AS1-X packer in on a wireline with a plug on the bottom,” he says. “Once that packer is set in the well, they can connect tubing with on/off tools at the surface and then pump out that plug and start producing.”

Since being acquired by Oil States, GEODynamics continues to find expanding markets for its perforating systems and unconventional oil and gas completions in North American shale plays. David Ambler, product line manager for engineered perforating solutions, says GEODynamics is very active in the Permian, but is seeing greater demand for its products and services in the Marcellus and Utica plays in the northeast and the Haynesville play in south Texas.

“We’ve seen a lot more interest and we’re improving our output of composite plugs and our FrackTrap Plus technology,” he says. “One of the best parts of the Oil States acquisition is that their manufacturing footprint is quite large, and the resources they bring helps us, as well as their ability for capex opportunities.”

Ambler says GEODynamics has plans to introduce new technologies into the unconventional space this year and next year, although the company will also remain active in conventional well applications and the plug and abandonment market where its ISOLOC system for remedial cementing and circulation is gaining interest.

“We all like new technology,” Ambler says, “but from a manufacturing standpoint, it takes time to ramp into them. It’s all based on the operator’s individual science project or review of technology and product availability.”
What’s clear in the world of downhole tools is the need for efficiency and cost reduction continues—even in tough times—and that innovation and technological advances are continuing—even as oil prices rebound.
Author: Patrick C. Miller
Staff Writer, North American Shale magazine