Versatile hot-oil trucks go the extra yard to protect employees and deliver customer satisfaction.
At first glance, the hot-oil trucks owned by Adler Hot Oil Service look like most other standard units seen in gas and oil fields across North America. But thanks to a design makeover, the 18 trucks — custom built by Rush-Overland Manufacturing — are anything but standard.
Prompted by a truck explosion in 2010, officials at the Vernal, Utah-based company worked with Rush-Overland to design a super-safe and ultra-productive hot-oil truck, says Paul Briggs, the firm’s vice president of sales and technology. Briggs also directs employee safety efforts at the company, which employs about 110 employees and serves oil and gas field and mining customers nationwide, with an emphasis on the western United States. The safety position is a fitting job for Briggs, who was injured in that mishap five years ago.
“I started thinking about ways to make a safer hot-oil unit while I was in a hospital bed,” says Briggs, who counts himself lucky to have escaped with just facial and hand burns; fire-retardant clothing prevented more extensive injuries. “The good part is we learned how to build better trucks. …
We haven’t had a serious incident since then caused by a hot-oil unit failure.
“The most important reason we redesigned our trucks is to ensure safety for our team members,” he continues. “We spare no expense when it comes to the safety of our team. A hot-oil truck is the most dangerous piece of equipment in the oilfields, bar none, because there’s an open flame in the burner that is heating highly pressurized, highly flammable fluids. If there’s a breach in the heating coil, the truck will likely catch fire or explode. We must keep our operators safe. They’re family to us, not just employees.”
The extra features come with a cost. Each truck carries about a $750,000 price tag, compared to $350,000 to $400,000 for a standard unit. But they also last about 30 percent longer than an average truck, thanks to some performance enhancements that reduce vehicular stress and wear and tear.
A good example is the trucks’ 18-speed Eaton Fuller transmission, used instead of a more standard 13-speed transmission, Briggs says. “Our trucks are extremely heavy. They weigh 68,000 pounds empty, so you’re constantly shifting gears,” Briggs says. “We want to avoid over-torquing the engine and stressing the axles … and with 18 speeds, the trucks run better with a less-jarring ride.”
But Briggs says cost is no object when employee safety is involved. As he puts it: “There’s no reason to not make sure your guys go home to their families every night.”
Built atop a T800 chassis made by Kenworth Truck (owned by PACCAR), the unit features a 465 hp diesel engine made by Cummins; an 8 million Btu burner; an 80-barrel-capacity (3,360 gallons) steel tank; a 6,000 psi triplex pump made by Gardner Denver; four steel propane tanks with a total capacity of 1,000 gallons; and a Spicer 784 transfer case (a brand owned by Dana Holding Corporation), which converts engine power to the pumps.
“We like the Gardner Denver triplex pumps because they handle solids very well,” Briggs explains. “In the oilfields, there’s no such thing as clean water — there’s always sand and other things in the water that can cause pumps to fail. But triplex pumps keep on running, even with sand inside.”
Compared to more standard units, the 8 million Btu burner is super-sized, too, to improve productivity. It heats the oil quicker, which enables crews to finish jobs faster, Briggs says. (The super-heated oil gets pumped into well bores to melt away paraffin buildup that inhibits efficient pumping for the artificial lift systems.)
The safety features start with the unit’s internal plumbing, which utilizes thicker-than-normal iron pipes that are pressure-tested to 10,000 psi, compared to a more typical 5,000 psi. Other safety features include:
A special high-pressure relief system. If there’s a sudden spike in pressure during hot-oil cleaning, the system relieves the pressure in a controlled fashion.
A high-pressure shut-off system. If the high-pressure relief system fails, this system shuts down the entire truck, including the engine and all fuel systems.
A thermostat control. If the temperature of fluids reaches a dangerous level, this device brings it back down to a reasonable level. If that fails, a shutdown system kicks in.
Emergency gas sensor. To prevent the truck’s engine from catching fire if a gas leak occurs while it’s operating on a natural gas drilling pad, a sensor automatically shuts off all air-intake valves on the engine if it detects the presence of any gases.
An automated fire-suppression system that extinguishes any uncontrolled fires in the unit.
“We tout our trucks’ safety features a little bit, but we didn’t design them for marketing purposes,” Briggs emphasizes. “We do it to keep our team members safe.
We’ve had customers tell us that our trucks are the safest trucks they’ve ever seen in the field.”
Adler owns nearly two dozen hot-oil trucks, including units built by Chandler Equipment, Fusion and Keyway. Along with cleaning built-up paraffin in well bores, the company offers a wide range of services that include pressure testing, frac-water heating, steam cleaning, pressure washing and tank washing. “We also treat oil tanks,” Briggs notes. “Oil settles in tanks and hardens at around 80 degrees, so it sometimes needs to be melted in order for drilling companies to sell it.
“Our hot-oil trucks are like big service trucks,” he adds. “They can do all sorts of things out in the field.”
But nothing more important than keeping Adler team members safe.