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PCI Manufacturing MobilePond. Above ground reservoirs providing storage for the fresh water needed for the hydraulic fracturing process. (Photo courtesy PCI Mfg.)

A safer mobile pond, from factory to frack site

Zach Koppang | Shale Plays Media

From the factory floor to the on-site product assembly, PCI Manufacturing, a Texas based liquid storage and transport manufacturer, is leading an industry in a charge for increased safety requirements and the minimization of hydraulic fracturing’s residual footprint.

The fracking process requires millions of gallons of water to be pumped underground at high pressure. Before that process begins, however, there needs to be a place to store the large volumes of water needed. Commonly, open air fracking ponds are put into place adjacent to drilling sites. Recognizing that well sites already have a naturally large footprint, PCI has designed an above-ground pond that drastically reduces the impact these necessary reservoirs have on the affected land.

In an industry that is inherently hazardous, PCI Manufacturing has dedicated their operations and products to emphasize safety and ease of assembly above everything else. In the past, the construction of similar reservoirs involved maneuvering the massive steel pond walls with hydraulic cranes, secured by chains and straps, as the walls swayed in space (and with any luck, into place). In the most ideal weather conditions, controlling the placement of these panels is risky due to the lack of control. Adding even a modest wind to the construction process has potential to create a three-ton steel kite left to flail about in the breeze.

PCI Manufacturing's patented MobAssist system. (Photo courtesy PCI Mfg.)

PCI Manufacturing’s patented MobAssist system. (Photo courtesy PCI Mfg.)

PCI has addressed this issue with a patented device capable of maneuvering their 6,400 pound mobile frac pond walls into position utilizing accuracy within centimeters. “A customer asked us to build a mobile pond that was easy to erect, safe and portable. The results of this design were the MobAssistTM and the ability to handle the pond panels without chains or straps,” said Matthew Hanna, PCI Manufacturing CEO, in a recent interview.

The MobAssist (pronounced: mobe-assist) system attaches to a variety of telescoping-handlers (a cross between a crane and a forklift) with a 12” wide boom (offered on tele-handlers such as SkyTrak, JLG, and CAT). Using hydraulic controls, an operator is given precise control of the 12-foot tall and 27-foot wide steel panels. After a pond site has been prepared by leveling and packing the ground, the panels can be put into place easily, accurately and safely.

Structures are generally built stronger than needed to account for unexpected loads, misuse and degradation. The factor of safety (or safety factor, both industry terms) is determined by assessing material strength in respect to the load a structure was originally designed for. A safety factor of one, for example, will be able to support the design load and nothing more. A safety factor of two will hold twice the design load.

JW Burnett, project engineer, said “PCI asked me to design a tank with a safety factor in excess of 2:1 with a freshwater load. This is a monumental task when you consider the product must be safe, portable, strong and easy to assemble.” A detailed structural analysis performed by Burnett concluded that the factor of safety for the pond panels under the worst case loading scenario is rated at 2.73.

The high safety rating however, doesn’t mean sacrificing ease of assembly. The pond walls are held together using an 11-lug system on the attached connecting plates. When a panel is set into place and if it’s situated correctly, these pins can be simply dropped into place. “The Pond connections are not only strong and easily assembled but also possess a large number of safety features that other Ponds don’t have,” says Hanna. If the site has been prepared correctly, construction of a pond can be completed in as little as two hours.

The massive walls feature a curved design and stackable storage capability. Transporting the panels is possible using three flatbed truck trailers, further reducing the overall impact well pad sites have on communities and their local roads.

Unconventional shale plays are often found in unique locations, such as in the Rocky Mountains of the Niobrara or the rolling landscape of the Marcellus. When confronted by unforgiving landscapes, storing the massive volumes of water required to fracture these formations often needs to occur in a fraction of the space compared to what is offered by the plains found in Texas and the Bakken.

Working with equipment rental companies, PCI has their ponds in use across the nation in states such as New Mexico, Texas, North Dakota, Wyoming and Oklahoma. Also, their use has recently been approved for use in the state of Colorado, home to some of the most strict oil and gas regulations in the nation. Working with equipment rental companies, which purchase the mobile ponds and lease them to oil and gas operators, a pond may be set up in one location for a couple weeks, but only to find itself in another state a few days later.

In co-operation with PCI, Resource West, a Colorado-based water and wastewater evaporation service, began offering their line of above ground storage tanks to assist hydraulic fracturing operations in 2012.

In an effort to offer the best products to their customers, Derek Gingerich, operation and sales manager for Resource West, said that scouring the industry with a fine tooth comb and weighing various options is necessary before deciding which products to carry. He said there are about a dozen different pond manufacturers in the nation, and while many aren’t necessarily inferior products, PCI’s tanks are manufactured and are held to higher standards.

Derek from Resource West commented that not all storage units are built equal, and it was PCI’s quality manufacturing standards and use of third party officials validating these standards that made PCI’s ponds ideal for their second generation of fracking ponds. Pursuit of the best products available has also led Resource West to switch over to using the Safety Clamp to secure the pond liners.

Related: N.D. dairy farmer-turned-inventor outsmarts engineers with oilfield invention

Safety Clamps being used to secure a mobile pond liner. (Photo courtesy S&S Safety Clamp)

Safety Clamps being used to secure a mobile pond liner. (Photo courtesy S&S Safety Clamp)

Despite a quality pond wall construction, the pond liners are a crucial part of a reservoir’s holding capability. After comparing the construction of clamps from other manufacturers, it was determined that the S&S Frack Water Tank Safety Clamp covered a larger surface area than other liner clamps and that they were easier to operate. Recognizing that the cheapest route isn’t always the best, Resource West is beginning to employ the Safety Clamp with all upcoming mobile reservoir sales. Combining the novel designs of PCI’s simple but rigid designs with the increased holding abilities offered by the Safety Clamp, customers are ensured that they are receiving the best bang for their buck.

Although the fracking industry is subject to controversy across the globe, companies such as PCI, Resource West and Safety Clamp have dedicated their operations to minimizing any potential negative impacts the process might have. Commenting on PCI’s business model, Hanna said, “We want to keep our customers for life. To do that, we have to build the safest products with the highest quality possible.”

Check out the video below to see the MobAssist in action.


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