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New technology reduces damage to fracking pumps

Finding a solution to reduce maintenance costs at hydraulic fracturing sites paid off for Energy Recovery Inc.

The California-based company developed a new hydraulic fracturing manifold system and recently entered into an exclusive 15-year, $125 million deal with Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services provider.

The VorTeq hydraulic pumping system is the first product engineered to increase runtime and reduce maintenance costs of high-pressure fracking pumps. The system works by capturing and recycling otherwise wasted pressure energy in fluid flows with a clean liquid-to-liquid energy exchange between high- and low-pressure fluids.

Pumps used in hydraulic fracturing are subjected to harsh environments. Fracking fluid is a viscous slurry of water, proppants and chemicals that damages pumps and prevents them from operating effectively.

With the VorTeq, pumps are only required to process clean water.

Exchanger

In a statement, Energy Recovery CEO Joel Gay said, “We believe this technology offers Schlumberger the immediate benefit of reducing wear and tear on its pumps, as well as reducing downtime. In the medium-term, we believe it provides Schlumberger additional savings associated with eliminating redundant equipment onsite. For a company in this market who wants to keep producing but needs to be mindful of costs, this technology tackles these challenges and delivers meaningful results.”

A pressure exchanger is at the core of the system. The technology has been used by Energy Recovery for 20 years in the desalination industry, where the company assumed a 90 percent market share.

Related: Schlumberger inks 15-year deal for exclusive use of new fracking tech

Energy Recovery looked for other ways to use the pressure exchange technology and engineered it to fit the needs of the fracking industry.

“We went from concept, which is to say a sketch on the back of a napkin, to a full-blown prototype that’s currently in the oil patch in about 13 months,” Gay said. “That speaks to one of our competitive advantages, which is the ability to move quickly.”

The pressure exchanger is made of tungsten carbide, which is 1000 times more abrasion-resistant than steel and handles flows up to 110 barrels per minute.

Gay says the VorTeq could act as a gateway to an entirely new pumping model. Most sites today have 15-20 pumps at a well head. The VorTeq allows pressure pumpers the option to reduce that down to 3-4 large centrifugal pumps.

“Ultimately, what matters is by how much you can reduce the cost per barrel to frack a well,” Gay said. “We believe that the VorTeq represents anywhere from $4-5 in that respect.”

In the agreement, Schlumberger will manufacture the manifold, or “missle,” while Energy Recovery will manufacture the pressure exchange cartridge.

“This agreement provides us with the ability to go after many other innovations in the oil and gas segment,” Energy Recovery CFO Chris Gannon said. “The fracking ecosystem is exceedingly abrasive and is the biggest challenge.”

Along with Schlumberger, Denver-based Liberty Oil Field Services will be using the VorTeq technology. Liberty Oil Field Services was the earliest adopter of the VorTeq technology and have been a field-trial partner of Energy Recovery.

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