Oil field workers see big savings in natural gas switch

The crowd was dead silent in a packed conference room as it heard about oil and gas drilling companies that were switching away from diesel power and seeing big savings.

Drilling rigs and high-powered oil field equipment consume thousands of dollars worth of diesel fuel each day, costs that could be slashed by switching to natural gas, speakers said.

Executives, who had overseen the natural gas switch by Encana Corp., Baker Hughes, EQT Corp. and Ensign Energy Services, spoke about there experimental and real use of developing technology that can also cut emissions dramatically.

And those in audience, packed with representatives from oil field businesses and others involved with heavy, diesel-powered equipment, stood against walls, sat on the floor and squeezed through the door to listen during a breakout session at the High Horsepower Summit in Houston’s Royal Sonesta Hotel.

One drilling rig running on diesel, for example, consumes about $4,653 worth of fuel a day, said Brian Murphy, an engineering manager for Ensign Energy Services. But a drilling rig that was able to use gas processed and fueled directly from the well site would spend only $1,322 a day on fuel, he said.

Ensign, which operates 15 drilling rigs exclusively on natural gas, is developing ways to increase the fuel efficiency of rig operations to further cut the cost of the fuel, he said.

The technology is new and is developing, with advances on the horizon that are likely to wipe out efficiency differences and result in an annual fuel savings of $1.25 million per rig by using field gas tapped and processed at the well site, Murphy said.

Others said they were working with bi-fuel pressure pumps, which are used for hydraulic fracturing and consume more fuel than drilling rigs.

With some of the focus at the conference, on natural gas for high-horsepower applications, focused on trains, trucking and boats, energy industry players said the biggest financial gains could be made in the oil fields.

“Drilling and fracking have a much bigger opportunity, even combined, than the ferries and the long-haul trucks and the locomotives,” said David Ross, director of business development for EQT Corp.

Pat Osachuk, an engineer for Encana, said the company’s fracking pumps that use natural gas in tandem with diesel have cut diesel use by up to 55 percent, while also reducing emissions.

The power and capability of the pumps are the same as full-diesel machines, he said.

And at diesel prices that have been as high as $5 to get to oil fields, with use at about 7,800 gallons for a job, the savings have been dramatic, Osachuk said.

“For us, fuel was huge,” he said.