May 14, 2014 Jason Ethier

The Bakken—Part 3: Existing Generators

After speaking to operators and service personnel in the field, we learned a few astounding facts about how essential the reliability of the power generator is to production yields.  Specifically, generator problems account for at least 90% of downtime in upstream operations.  Generators will go down at any time of day, but most operators only find out during their daily site visit—which is why most of the leasing companies we visited were on the phone starting with the first shift around 8am.  Most operators expect you to send out a service technician within two hours of that first call (mostly because that’s how long it takes to drive across the field), and they all want the generator back up in three hours.  We also learned that there is a huge surge of generator orders around the coldsnap of the year.  In an environment where temperatures routinely range
Diesel Fuel Gelled on a Fuel Filter

from -40°F to 80°F, weather is a killer for these generators.  Diesel freezes at -22°F, and if the generator shuts down, so does the lubricating oil.

Diesel generators also have another unique problem:  diesel theft.  One of the smaller operators we visited told us they had lost $350k worth in stolen diesel in the last 3 months (or an estimated $3M for the year).
E&P operators aspire to use flare gas to run their generators, but the natural gas generators adapted for this purpose have higher failure rates.  Most of these NG generators have propane available on site for backup, but the primary cause of failure is of course due to the fact that flare gas has inconsistent fuel quality, which beyond causing engine shutdowns also shortens their life.  One supplier told us he only expects his fleet of generators to last 12-18 months before he will have to overhaul or replace them.  The quality of flare gas is so poor, one major generator vendor won’t sell their generators without first evaluating a test sample for examination in the lab.  If the results come back as poor, they will not provide a generator.  If the results come back positive, they will sell the product without a warranty.  In addition, the availability of these generators is less than 90%.
Needless to say, the systems used by the industry are subpar.  Technologies do exist to bring improve the availability of flare gas burning generators, but the costs don’t currently justify their implementation, and the sub-par availability is the biggest barrier to the implementation of conventional reciprocating generators.  The technology we are developing here at Dynamo is built to solve the numerous problems here.