Making It Work: Fort St. John Service Provider Proves You Can Successfully Bring Innovation To The Field In Tough Times

How do you take an idea to solve a pressing challenge in the oil and gas industry and turn it into a viable product?

It’s a question urgently being asked at conferences and in boardrooms throughout Canada’s oil and gas industry as it struggles to compete in an increasingly low-cost, low-carbon energy future.

Chris La Porte, president of EnviroFrac Dual Fuel Solutions Ltd., provides one answer to the innovation challenge. EnviroFrac treats raw field gas used to replace diesel or propane in fracking and drilling operations, frac water heaters, and remote power generation. Using field gas cuts drilling and completions costs, while also cutting emissions compared to using diesel or propane.

Since getting its first piece of equipment in the field in 2018, EnviroFrac has grown to service drilling and completions operations of major producers in the Montney play straddling the Alberta and British Columbia border. 

The secret to its success has been a deep understanding of the challenges facing the industry, a willingness to collaborate with operators and other service providers, a commitment to gather the data needed to prove the value of the technology, and a willingness to share risk.

La Porte developed his deep understanding of the industry through a lifetime working in the Peace Country oilpatch.

“I grew up in it. My father was a process operator at the Taylor gas plant for many years. I was always around the industry,” he explains.

Following in his father’s footsteps, La Porte got his first job in the patch as a teenager during summer break from high school working for Boyson Oilfield Services. After school, he started working as a roughneck on service rigs in the Grande Prairie region. Then, it was off to SAIT to get his power engineering ticket. From there, he went to Nowsco Well Servicing working as a frac horsepower operator. He then spent 12 years as a production operator for a variety of companies, with a one-year break working as a helicopter pilot. In 2011, he went out on his launching Force Energy Management, a well testing company, based out of Fort St. John. Since then, La Porte has tested over 700 wells in the Montney, giving him a unique understanding of the composition of the gas in the field.

La Porte came up with his idea for treating raw field gas in 2013 after being approached by an associate looking for alternative to burning propane to heat frac water.

“Propane costs were killing him,” he recalls. “He wanted to burn gas. He said if he could run on gas it would save him hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Leveraging his long and varied experience in oilfield services, La Porte went to the drawing board, creating a diagram of how such a system would work. Later, in 2013, an operator approached him interested in switching over to field gas.

“They liked the idea so much they tried to do it on their own,” he says. “From there, I recognized it as a great opportunity. The idea was well received by both service companies and operators.”

La Porte continued to refine his technology, ultimately receiving two patents for its design. He also continued looking for opportunities to implement it while running his existing well testing business and working as a construction consultant for Canadian Natural Resources Limited. However, the industry wasn’t quite ready to change, he says.

“There weren’t very many multi-well pads being developed at the time in northern B.C.,” he explains. “Companies were drilling two wells here and two wells there. The industry wasn’t ready for it. The industry was too busy to introduce a new idea.”

In March 2017, La Porte had a working piece of equipment ready. He reached out to a client with a multi-well pad being developed and asked if they were interested.

“He responded that if you have two units I will take them right now,” he recalls. “That’s the best insight into a new service offering you can get.”

But there were other challenges to overcome. The first was a lack of dual-fuel equipment in the field.

“You have a producer that wants to try it and when you go back to the service providers they only have the odd dual fuel unit in their fleet and they’re spread out across the region,” he explains. “You need to get a fleet of dual fuel pumpers together.”

EnviroFrac had to collaborate with other service providers to co-ordinate this effort.

“We needed to marry to entities and get on the same page,” he explains. 

In September 2018 the company got its first job. It then had to prove its technology could work reliably and provide the promised cost savings of fuel switching.

“We did a lot of forecasting of displacement and savings but it was all theory,” he explains. “We had the opportunity to make it work. We needed field data to support our numbers. Around 90 per cent of what we forecast in theory proved true. It worked. We took that data to other clients and started building a strong database of results.”

But there remained a challenge convincing many of the large Montney operators to adopt the technology, La Porte adds, with operators wanting EnviroFrac to share the risk of implementing its technology.

“Major clients were very skeptical,” he notes. “We had to put our equipment on location with zero invoicing. We had to get it out there and running for two or three days to prove we were saving them money and then reference the rate sheet.”

Having the right technology is only one part of the equation for success, says La Porte.

“Equally as important as good technology and equipment is the quality of your people,” he says. “We have experienced team members with a high level of professionalism that represent us well.”

EnviroFrac has grown its fleet to seven field gas treatment units servicing major operators throughout the Montney. It took seven years to turn its raw field gas treatment technology from an idea to well accepted commercial technology.

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