Montana’s G2G Solutions turns flare gas into captured NGLs to create a tidy new revenue stream for customers and solve an environmental challenge.
Fly over Williston, N.D., at night, and you’ll see hundreds of flares blazing like stars embedded in the earth. While interesting to see, the flares indicate wasted energy resources. Instead of burning up and lighting the landscape, much of the gas byproduct from newly drilled oil could be captured and utilized. In addition, the flares emit CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere.
Though energy companies work as fast as they can to hook up new wells to capture the gas, they can’t keep up with the pace of the Bakken oil boom, with as many as 200 wells drilled every month. About a third of the gases are flared, according to recent estimates, and oil companies face regulations and timelines regarding how long they can flare a site.
G2G Solutions offers an option to solve the regulation, waste, VOC and CO2 issues. Blending old technology with proprietary hardware, the Billings, Montana-based company sets up mobile units to capture a high percentage of gases that can be converted into NGLs (Natural Gas Liquids) and sold on the market.
The business’ units and storage tanks first appeared around Williston in May 2012. The partners and employees fine-tuned their equipment and routine to work efficiently with an oil company partner. In 2013, the plan is to add more G2G units and divert more gas away from flares.
G2G stands for “Gas to Green,” says Brian Cebull, a co-founder and partner of the company. He and his wife, Amy, own Nance Resources, an independent exploration and production company. They recognized an opportunity for a new service and teamed up with two other partners to create a viable way to collect the gases and add revenue.
“All of us are engineers,” says Cebull, who has 20 years of experience in petroleum, oil and gas production. One partner James Haider is a mechanical engineer who deals with manufacturing and quality control. The third partner is Mark Peterson, a chemical engineer whose company, Aspen Consulting & Engineering, specializes in environmental compliance and air permits.
Making an effort to capture the gas is worthwhile because the Bakken gas is recognized as containing some of the richest NGLs in the country, according to the Energy Information Administration.
“The challenge is that with production on wells, gas has variability in flow rate. Gas processing equipment likes a steady state,” Cebull says. “We designed a system that involves patent-pending flow hardware that allows us to take variability out of the equation and run efficiently. And we made it mobile.”
The gas processing unit, natural gas generator and portable LP storage tank are all on wheels, so they can be moved quickly when a gas pipeline is built to the well and G2G is no longer needed. A 3-inch pipe is tied into the line between the heater-treater and the flare, so gas can flow into the processing unit. G2G has developed a proprietary system of valves to ensure safety.
“It’s a super refrigeration system that cools gas to very low temperatures. The liquids condense out of the gas,” Cebull says. The system uses several heat exchangers, plus fan coolers and refrigeration units, and the liquified gas is piped into the storage tank.
Cebull points out that not all gas components can be captured.
“We can’t do much with methane. It’s very expensive to liquefy or transport,” he says, noting that the methane stream is piped to the generator, which powers the whole system and the remainder is either used in other processes or flared.
But other gases — propane, butane and pentane, for example — can be liquefied, stored, shipped as a blend and then sold as individual components.
“We still have a flare, but it has 25 to 35 percent less CO2 emissions by weight, eighty percent lower VOC’s, and we are saving BTUs for something productive,” Cebull says.
A single G2G system will prevent 4,000 to 5,000 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions from gas flares in a year and capture enough energy to heat nearly 1,300 homes.
Despite research and working closely with a Texas manufacturer to create the mobile gas-processing unit, gas flow variability proved to be a challenge when G2G hooked up its first system in May 2012. “But, we figured out how to make that work,” Cebull says. “It was a learning process with lots of sweat and tears to get to the point to understand how to make adjustments.”
By the end of 2012, there were three units in North Dakota. Some had been moved to as many as three or four sites. The moves helped make the setup procedure more efficient.
“We are capable of moving equipment in about half a day to a day,” Cebull says. “We require a place to tie into their gas. Once we set up our equipment, we hook it up and open the valves. We stay out of the way of the operator, but provide a person to monitor the equipment every day. We do our own maintenance.”
Technicians change oil, perform regular maintenance on the generator, and troubleshoot problems with the unit’s cooling system. Most of the time, their job is routine and documented with daily logs. They run through a checklist with temperature and pressure gauges. They keep track of the liquids in the storage tank to let the operator know when it should be pumped into transport tanks and shipped. Depending on the size of the system, it takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to fill a storage tank.
In its first year, G2G units handled summer’s extreme heat thanks to good air circulation in the units. Since it is a cooling system, it naturally works better in the winter when the weather is cold.
“We don’t compete with the gas pipeline. We offer an alternative to flaring during the period the gas pipeline is not available,” Cebull says. “There are always going to be wells that don’t have pipelines.” Generally the number is around one-third. Based on August 2012 production, for example, about 29 percent of the gas was being flared.
G2G can accommodate sites far from the expanding pipeline as well as sites located on rugged terrain along rivers and the Badlands that are less accessible. According to North Dakota regulations, wells can only be flared for up to a year. If oil companies prove that a pipeline is not economical, the allowable flare time can be extended. At times, some flaring continues even when the gas is going into a pipeline that doesn’t have enough capacity to accommodate all the gas.
When G2G sets up, the system liquefies and stores the heavy gas and uses some of the residue gas (methane) to power G2G’s natural gas generators. If an oilfield operator has a need for power, they can also use the residue gas.
Though the client is responsible for transporting and marketing the produced natural gas liquids, G2G will assist in locating a purchaser, and Cebull expects more gas markets will develop in the future.
“We want the operator to get the best price they can for those NGLs,” he says.
For their services, G2G charges a setup fee and receives a performance fee based on the volume of NGLs produced.
“We are a service company that pays for itself. It’s not a lot of income (to the client) compared to oil revenues, but it generates revenue for the oil company and royalty owners,” Cebull says. “It allows them to significantly reduce flare emissions and avoid future regulations, all while creating value from the NGL stream.”
Building the fleet
G2G’s field office is located on a former farm in Fairview, Mont., near the North Dakota border. With a well-equipped shop, employees test the systems before taking them into the field, and also work on other equipment in the fleet. A 2005 model T-800 Kenworth hauls the gas processing units and the 54-foot-long, 108-inch-wide storage tanks — the largest size tank legally allowed to be transported.
Workers drive a 2011 Ford F-250 XL pickup to the oilfields.
Other equipment includes 100kW Caterpillar Olympian natural gas generators, PJ flatbed trailers and Great Dane 28-foot pup trailers. The setup on each site includes about two semi trailer loads of equipment and costs $500,000 to $1 million, and G2G plans to add units as they add clients.
“The most valuable thing we have is our experience,” Cebull says. “It’s not an easy endeavor, but we figured out how to make this work. We want to make it as simple and effortless as possible (for clients).”
Because it’s such a new service, the challenge for G2G is to convince very busy oil company employees that it is worth their time to meet with Cebull or Peterson to learn how G2G can benefit them. Personal contacts from the partners’ experience in the oil industry help get them introduced to oil company decision makers. Coverage in local newspapers and magazines has also informed companies of the service.
The need is there. While gas line companies lay lines as fast as they can, oil companies have the G2G option to reduce flares until the line gets to the site. It’s estimated that about 10 percent of sites are considered “super stranded wells” that may never be economical to access with a gas line. More permanent G2G setups on skids might be appropriate in those locations, Cebull says.
Not only can G2G save NGLs that would go to waste, Cebull asserts they can do their part for the environment.
“G2G Solutions is dedicated to creating environmental and economic value for producers by providing complete solutions and services to safely reduce or eliminate flare gas,” Cebull concludes.