Generators Evolving With The Bakken

As the extreme demand for power supply continues, the equipment used is evolving. Tough operating conditions and increased power needs at the well site and other infrastructure sites has impacted the type of generator used in the Bakken.
By Emily Aasand | June 24, 2014

The evolution of generators in the Williston Basin is having a huge impact on the productivity of wells in the Bakken.  Most places in Western North Dakota don’t have the utility infrastructure to support oil and gas development, making portable power necessary to keep the wells running effectively and efficiently.

Companies across the country are taking note of the changing demand for generators in the Williston Basin. Companies ranging in size from the nationally known Caterpillar and National Oilwell Varco to smaller, local companies such as Bakken Generator, are offering unique equipment packages specifically designed to meet the customer demands and the changing landscape of the play.

National Companies Make Their Mark
Caterpillar first entered the Bakken with earth-moving equipment for developing drilling pads, and, after  recognizing the need, expanded its service to include providing power systems.
Cat also provides for gas compression at the well site, drilling applications, and well services.
At the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in May, Caterpillar introduced the new Cat CG137-8 Generator Set.

The Cat CG137-8 is a V12, 4-stroke-cycle generator set that runs on natural gas and offers fuel flexibility enabling operation on a wide range of gas quality—from wellhead gas to pipeline quality natural gas. The generator set features superior gas engine air and gas mixing ability as well as the trademarked ADEM A4 control system that provides integrated ignition, speed control and engine protection.

Cat’s concept was to build a generator capable of running on 100 percent associated gas sourced from the well site. Not only does this reduce the flaring, it also reduces the need and cost associated with diesel delivery and storage.

Bi-fuel generators use diesel as a pilot fuel to ignite the natural gas, whereas dual-fuel is a combination of natural gas that uses propane as a backup. Propane is needed when the pressure level of the associated gas sourced from the well head is not adequate. With the shift from using bi-fuel generators to dual-fuel generators, companies are launching new and improved power systems. This allows for a higher production rate at the well site and it cuts back on time and money budgeted for diesel refuels. 

 “I’ve seen machines last 30 years,” says Todd Krueckeberg, Cat’s North America sales and service manager for oil and gas. “With the proper maintenance and the proper service intervals, those machines can easily run for 20 to 30 years.”

A distinguishing feature of the generator is that Caterpillar uses the same engine in them as it uses in its earth-moving equipment.

“They’re built very robust, very heavy duty, and they’re built so they [the engines] can be overhauled two, three, or four times,” Krueckberg says.

NOV’s Impact
As with most providers, while NOV offers diesel generators but is heading toward the use of natural gas generators as their primary power supply.

“In our fleet, we have both,” says Guillermo Barreto, NOV Portable Power Northern sales manager. “We have the capability of diesel and the capability of natural gas.”

Although natural gas is the way to go, according to Barreto, it’s a more sophisticated operation.
“It requires more engineering, more of a higher degree of understanding of what you’re pulling up from the ground,” says Barreto. “But  operators are slowly but surely gearing up to natural gas.”
NOV has one of the largest generator services in the Bakken area.

“We have two shop locations, one in Ray, N.D., and one in Dickinson, N.D., that are sizeable in terms of footprint, where we actually man the shops with repair capabilities and major overhauling capabilities,” says Barreto. “With being located north and south of the Missouri river, we’re able to cover a pretty extensive footprint.”

Barreto has visited with operators regarding the electricity demand and while operators are planning for the long-term, they’re also investing in the electricity grid.

Local Companies Enter The Business
Bakken Generator, a division of Global Power Supply, is a smaller, local portable power supplier that formed in 2012. The company's goal is to provide worry-free, reliable power at well sites. It provides the generators, the fuel filtration, the maintenance and repairs.

“We thought the Bakken name showed that we weren’t just passing through,” says Ron Zamir, CEO of Bakken Generator. “It shows that we’re based there and that our core business is to provide local service.”

Bakken Generator sees the Williston Basin as a long-term opportunity to provide generator rentals as well as other direct services for its customers. Their generators are used to run pumps, pump jacks and other equipment in the off-grid locations of the Bakken. 

“We also provide complete services with our equipment,” says Zamir. “We do pick-up and delivery, we do all the preventive maintenance and on-site repairs, and we also maintain repairs if the unit has a problem.”

That aspect of service is unique to Bakken Generator. Full-service isn’t something all power supply companies provide.

For customers in the North Dakota area, time is money and timely service and reliability matters, according to Zamir. Bakken Generator has shifted its focus to build its business in accordance with these high demands.

“We’ve built our business up and now have upward of 100 units that are available to rent,” Zamir says. “We have full-time technicians who live in Williston who are able to meet with customers and to provide additional service.”

That service also helps customers to stay in compliance with the latest government regulations.
With the recent government mandates on the reduction of flaring in the Williston Basin, Bakken Generator expects that more customers will turn to natural gas (dual-fuel) because the natural gas that’s coming out of the ground is reusable and equipment providers are now offering a reliable, and proven, option.

“You can use that gas, instead of wasting it, by filtering it and running it through the generator,” says Zamir. “The gas actually comes out cleaner if you run it through a generator because EPA kits can be placed on generators to reduce emissions even further.”

According to Zamir, internal combustion engines are also well-suited to run on associated gas.

The Evolutions
The changes in generator service, besides supplying power to the Bakken, have also created more job opportunities in the Williston Basin.

“We’re [Cat] going to be in the Bakken for a long time and that’ll help provide jobs that are sustainable to help that area grow,” Krueckberg says.

The generator business has been around for years and will continue to be prevalent in the Bakken.  With oil wells not having access to the electrical grid, generators are going to continue to be in constant demand. Increases in the need for generator services create sustainable and long-term job opportunities.

 With North Dakota’s winter being merciless this year, Bakken Generator had to add people to its staff to stay on top of issues and to keep things running the best they could.

This winter, Dickinson, N.D., had the fourth coldest December on record and between the areas of Williston and Bismarck, the state recorded the ninth snowiest December since 1890. Only 60 wells were completed in January, roughly 30 wells fewer than the typical number required to continue the oil production increase from month-to-month, says Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources in his monthly director’s cut.

“That’s one of the things we’re doing to try to improve our customer’s uptime,” says Zamir. 
NOV ran across similar issues.

“North Dakota has challenging conditions 6 to 7 months out of the year, with subzero temps, so the equipment must be outfitted correctly,” says Barreto. “We need to make sure our equipment is more robust and weather worthy to endure the harsh winters.”
Author: Emily Aasand
Staff Writer, The Bakken magazine