Fortress Environmental trailer

Fortress Environmental supercenter offers one-stop disposal, cleaning for water, mud haulers

Feb. 6, 2016
DESPITE the continued drop in oil and gas prices, oilfield services operators in the South Texas Eagle Ford shale play still see opportunities. Optimists include the founders of Fortress Environmental Services.

DESPITE the continued drop in oil and gas prices, oilfield services operators in the South Texas Eagle Ford shale play still see opportunities. Optimists include the founders of Fortress Environmental Services.

The company opened its first one-stop oilfield services supercenter in Waelder in July 2014, and a second location is under development near Carrizo Springs. The 15-acre supercenter includes an 8,000-ft-deep salt water disposal well, six-bay trailer and frac tank wash rack, $2.5 million drilling mud processing facility, and a 50,000-gallon fresh water pit.

“We believe we have built something that is very different and very distinctive in this industry,” says David York, Fortress Environmental director of field operations. “We offer a full range of services at our one-stop supercenter. By turning to a one-stop, turn-key oilfield disposal service supercenter, an oilfield operator can increase his revenue by operating more efficiently. For instance, a salt water trucking company can earn more money per truck because that truck spends less time being unloaded and cleaned out. The operator can haul more loads per day.

“We designed and built this state-of-the-art facility with truck drivers in mind. It allows drivers to complete an eight-minute produced saltwater dump, a 20-minute truck trailer tank washout, a 20-minute exterior truck wash, and if needed a 12-minute fresh water fill-up and be back on the road in a little over an hour’s time.”

Savings calculator

To demonstrate the financial advantage the Fortress Environmental oilfield service supercenter in Waelder, the company developed its own Eagle Ford Shale Trucking Cost Savings Calculator, a free spreadsheet product that helps customers analyze the cost factors.

“Why drive all the way to San Antonio (100 miles west) or Houston (120 miles east) running up extra mileage on your trucks when you can get all of your vacuum tanker/frac tank washouts, salt water disposal, and drilling mud processing handled in one place near where your equipment is operating?” York asks. “The operator not only has the opportunity to haul more loads, he can reduce daily fuel costs, road traffic, truck maintenance, and driver costs. It’s a win-win arrangement.”

​Waelder was chosen for the company’s first oilfield service supercenter because it is the right location. “We selected the Waelder due to its close proximity to I-10, a major east/west artery for national trucking companies, and its close proximity to one of the most promising areas of the Eagle Ford Shale in Gonzales County,” said Mike Parsons, Fortress Services Holdings’ president and chief executive officer. “Approximately 50+ drilling operators have drilled more than 4,100 wells on 1,680 stage-one, 640-acre oil leases and large scale plans were in the process to begin drilling stage-two 80-acre proven undeveloped wells when the price of oil dropped under $50 per barrel.”

York adds that the oilfield service supercenter was a busy place when the price of oil was still relatively high. “At our busiest, we were handling around 150 trucks a day,” he says. “We’ll be running hard again when drilling comes back, which we believe will happen when the price of oil increases to $60 to $65 a barrel. We’re also optimistic that US crude oil exports will stimulate more activity.”

Fortress Environmental continues to expand and enhance the capabilities of the facility. The company opened its new $2.5 million state-of-the-art drilling mud processing center in October 2015.

The operation occupies a large concrete-lined containment pit, where 15-yard dump trucks can offload the drilling mud (both water- and oil-based) collected from drilling sites. During treatment, the mud is pumped out the containment pit and moved through several different high-technology filtering, centrifuging, and cleaning of the cuttings and drilling mud to remove the oil and other chemicals and return it back an environmentally friendly form of soil that can be used for different industrial purposes such as paving roads or be sent to an approved landfill.

Another critical service for oilfield service companies is the four-lane high-speed water unloading station and salt water treatment and disposal system. Fortress Environmental’s disposal well is triple cased and cemented all the way down to a depth of 8,000 feet and back up the outside edges of the drill bore, a serious financial commitment to protect the environment, according to Tim Burroughs, Fortress Environmental Services’ founder and executive vice-president of business development.

“The well can accept 25,000 barrels of produced saltwater (more than 190 transport tanker truckloads) per day,” he says. “Our gun barrel tanks, oil skimmer tanks and clear water tanks are all enclosed within a concrete barrier to protect against any leaks or potential ruptures.”

Wash operation

The facility also includes a vehicle wash operation with diversified capabilities. The high-end three-bay exterior truck wash rack was engineered to handle the toughest, oil-based mud, dirt, grit and grime from oilfield service trucks serving the Eagle Ford Shale, but it can handle all types of large and small commercial vehicles including vans, reefers, and livestock haulers.

Another three bays are dedicated to tank trailer and frac tank washouts. Fortress Environmental provides washouts of produced saltwater tankers, as well as other types of vacuum trucks, tank trailers, and pump trucks.

Oil and mud are fine, according to York. The only products not cleaned are hazardous chemicals or loads such as manure, egg shells, or other solids that will clog up the water recycling filter system.

All six cleaning bays are long enough to accommodate a full tractor-trailer rig. Frac tanks can be doubled up in the washout bays for greater efficiency. All of the wash bays were engineered with sloped concrete floors to capture all of the water from the cleaning process. As a result, thousands of gallons of water per day are sent through a three-stage filtration system, which allows 85% of all wash wastewater to be recycled.

Separating the exterior wash and tank washout bays is an area that includes an equipment room that houses six Hotsy pressure washers (one for each wash bay) and waste water treatment and filtration machines. Driver restrooms and showers also are in this part of the wash facility.

Eight of the 18 employees who operate the oilfield services supercenter work in the truck and frac tank wash operation. All of the workers are trained and permitted for confined space entry and are compliant with applicable health, safety, and environmental requirements. Split between two shifts, they keep the wash operation running 24/7.

To help keep freshly washed trucks and trailers as clean as possible after they leave the wash rack, the company paved the parking area and driveway in front of the wash bays. “The road that drivers exit onto also is paved,” York says. “When truckers leave the Fortress Environmental facility, they and their vehicles are squeaky clean, fully charged and ready for the next haul.”

Customer diversity

Customer service is important at Fortress Environmental, and they make sure drivers are treated well. The company provides and air conditioned/heated drivers’ lounge where they can charge cell phones and laptops, access free high-speed internet service, take a nap, or spend some downtime under an outdoor shade tent complete with barbeque grill.

Fortress Environmental provides a buffet of hot meals, cold drinks, and hot coffee to their driver customers. Meals include breakfast burritos, brats, BBQ chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs on regular days and chicken fried steak, rib eyes, shrimp, and crab legs on special occasions when the facility exceeds daily salt-water download, washout, and truck wash goals.

“We have found that it is not uncommon for drivers to get on the CB radio or their cell phones to pool truckloads to hit a daily threshold so they will all be able to enjoy a steak dinner,” York says. “Once oilfield drivers began spreading the word about the free meals, it didn’t take long for drivers outside the oil and gas industry to join the party.”

Although the facility was built primarily to support the operators serving producing wells and the hydraulic fracing industry, close proximity to I-10 and the driver amenities attracted business from other trucking operations, including agriculture, food, and poultry hauling.

“These are all business segments that benefit from professional truck washes and trailer washouts,” York says. “Even after the oilfield comes back, we’ll continue to serve our very diversified customer base.”   ♦