SLOWLY but surely the oil patch is showing signs of new life. Higher crude oil prices are spurring activity and boosting optimism.
Economy Transportation & Logistics LLC, Houston, Texas, is among the oilfield fleets seeing an increase in demand for products used in drilling and fracing. A majority of the carrier’s drivers and tractors are busy hauling loads of oilfield chemicals across Texas and Oklahoma and in Montana and North Dakota.
“We are guardedly optimistic about 2017, and we are seeing some positive signs of improvement,” says Paul Horton, fleet manager for Economy Transportation & Logistics. “With crude prices above $50 a barrel, drilling and fracing operations are ramping up. Our phones are ringing, and we are getting bids for loads. Demand is growing by the day. It’s all good news.
“We believe we will be able to continue diversifying our operation. We want to expand from primarily hauling oilfield chemicals into frac sand and other products. We also want to diversify beyond the oilfield. Ideally, we would like 70% oilfield hauling and 30% non-oilfield. We are confident diversification will enable us to double the size of our fleet over the course of this year.”
The optimism at Economy Transpor-tation & Logistics is noteworthy in large part because the oilfield hauler couldn’t have been established at a more inopportune time. The tank truck carrier commenced operations well after the most recent oil industry downturn was underway.
Launched in January 2015 with four chemical transports, the carrier still managed to grow to 40 tractors before the end of that year. Today, the carrier employs 46 drivers and runs 47 tractors and 58 trailers—36 of which are chemical tanks. The trailer fleet also includes pneumatic dry bulkers, flatbeds, and dry vans. In addition, carrier transports customer trailers.
Many customer trailers are operated by Economy Polymers & Chemicals, which is affiliated with Economy Transportation & Logistics. Economy Polymers & Chemicals is a subsidiary of Economy Mud Products—one of the leading companies in the drilling mud industry for more than 60 years.
Founded in 1951, Economy Polymers & Chemicals is a multinational company with headquarters in Houston and operations in the United States, Canada, Dubai, Russia, and Argentina. Specialties include the manufacturing of a wide variety of chemical additives for oilfield stimulation, such as guar gum slurries and complete systems for every major shale play in the United States.
Economy Polymers & Chemicals offers a team of experienced professionals dedicated to providing superior customer service. Products are available for delivery to any location—24 hours a day, seven days a week. The manufacturer ships in bulk, totes, drums, pails, bottles, jugs and 50-, 1,000-, and 2,000-lb bags.
In addition, Economy Liquid Inventory Management System (ELIMS) provides innovative inventory management technology for hydraulic fracturing and other industries. Benefits include a level of inventory accuracy that was never before possible in hydraulic fracturing. Among other benefits is a drastic decrease in personnel risk, the means to invoice immediately, plus the ability to effectively cut the service provider’s inventory to zero.
The focus of ELIMS is to eliminate the use of totes on hydraulic fracturing locations and in storage facilities. By doing so, ELIMS creates a smaller footprint and a greener oilfield.
ELIMS has been successfully utilized on hydraulic fracturing locations throughout south Texas, east Texas, Louisiana, and North Dakota’s Bakken. Further plans for expansion include west Texas and all major shale plays in North America—with almost limitless possibilities beyond these locations.
ELIMS incorporates technology derived from the aerospace industry to monitor fluid volumes in gallons with ≥99% accuracy. This is coupled with real-time data broadcasting on the hydraulic fracturing location and over the ELIMS website—allowing the data to be viewed anywhere in the world.
The accuracy of the ELIMS monitoring units allows Economy Polymers & Chemicals to charge for chemicals on a usage-only basis. This eliminates the customer’s need to keep inventory—thus freeing up capital, time and labor while reducing risk. ELIMS reduces customers’ billing lag considerably through the bill-by-usage strategy, while also providing the customer with hard and soft copies of the chemical usage receipt at the end of each stage and/or job. An electronic database archives all data from previous jobs and gives customers access to historical information at no additional charge.
Benefits to the end users—exploration and production companies—include assurance of accurate invoices that can be processed more quickly, higher quality hydraulic fracturing jobs, and readily available historical evidence to eliminate any debate over chemical usage volumes.
The combination of measurement technology and storage containers being implemented by ELIMS enables the system to handle and control a wide range of oilfield chemicals: surfactants, clay control agents, acid, acidizing chemicals, low pH buffer, high pH buffer, borate and zirconate cross-linkers, breakers, friction reducers, guar gel, gel stabilizer, lubricants, scale inhibitors, biocides, and water. ELIMS technology also can monitor solids including proppant in any type of storage container.
Economy Transportation plays a big role in moving the ELIMS equipment to the field and serves customers from two terminals—the main Houston location and a smaller facility in Midland, Texas. Some of the transports are stationed at other locations across the carrier’s operating area. All operations are dispatched out of Houston.
Forty-one of the carrier’s drivers currently live in the Houston area, with 5 drivers based in Midland Texas. The carrier plans to add more locally based drivers as the fleet grows in coming months. Drivers work a week in the field, followed by a week back home. In the field, drivers are staged at job sites, rest areas, hotels, and truck stops.
“We try to get our drivers and our equipment as close to our customers as we can,” Horton says. “We tailor our services to each specific customer, and we don’t try to make the customer fit into our operation.
“We have developed very solid relationships with many of our customers. One of the few benefits of the recent oil industry downturn was that it encouraged many of our customers to streamline operations and cut out inefficiencies. That has brought better communication today.”
During their week in the field, Economy Transportation drivers run hard. They may do multiple loads in a day or spend most of the week at a well site handling product transfer. Tractors run 80,000 to 120,000 miles a year.
“Our drivers deliver oilfield chemicals into storage trailers or storage tanks at the well sites,” Horton says. “Deliveries can range from a couple hundred gallons to a couple thousand gallons to an entire trailer load. Some shipments are delivered directly into the well.
“Since our drivers may be out for an extended period (as much as 60 hours on a drilling site), they carry food, work clothes, and extra equipment in the truck. Food generally includes soup, cereal, granola bars, and such. Drivers can equip the sleeper with a microwave oven and a power inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter.”
Despite the extended times at some well sites, Economy Transportation classifies all of its drivers as over-the-road truck drivers who do not qualify for the oilfield exemption. “We try to keep it as simple as possible by running under the regular Department of Transportation hours of service,” Horton says. “The only real challenge we face is finding an adequate safe haven for the driver’s rest break. Some well sites do let the driver stay in the sleeper when off duty.”
All of the Economy Transportation drivers are experienced professionals and wear uniforms with an identification badge. At a minimum, they have five years of over-the-road truck driving experience, and at least three years of that must include cargo tanks.
Hazardous materials and cargo tank endorsements are required. Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards are not mandatory, but all of the drivers have them. “Some well sites do require TWIC cards,” Horton says.
The carrier is running all Freightliner 122SD tractors with sleepers. The tractors are specified with 450-horsepower Cummins ISX15 engines and Eaton Fuller 10-speed manual transmissions.
“We wanted a beefy work truck, and the 122SD fit the bill,” Horton says. “Due to oilfield operating conditions, our goal is to replace tractors at 500,000 miles. Most of tractors have 48-inch mid-roof sleepers, but our fleet does include a few condo sleepers.”
Electronic logging devices (ELDs) for recording driver hours of service are coming in the near future, but the carrier has some concerns about ELDs in the oilfield. “We will move to ELDs over the course of this year, but we want to make sure there is a level playing field,” Horton says. “We think there are still too many avenues for fudging the driver log data, and those issues need to be addressed.
“When we make the shift to ELDs, we will be using PeopleNet’s tablet, which offers plenty of flexibility. “We’re looking at adding PeopleNet’s printer and scanner.”
Economy Transportation is also evaluating on-board video cameras. “Cost is a factor in this,” Horton says. “However, we see video cameras as protection for our drivers. “We’re looking at front, rear, and side coverage of the vehicle.”
Economy Transportation wants every tractor to be able to handle every type of load transported by the fleet. “This way we can dedicate a single tractor and driver to a job site,” Horton says. “Each tractor has a Paragon blower, a Roper pump, and a compressor. All of the equipment is powered directly off the transmission by Muncie PTOs. In the future, we plan to replace the dedicated compressor with a 35-psi tractor air compressor.”
All of the trailers in the fleet are leased from Dana. “Our parent company already had a good rapport with Dana,” Horton says. “They offer a reasonable lease rate, good equipment choice, and a willingness to work with us to meet specific. They are already working with us to ensure availability of dry bulkers for frac sand hauling that could commence any day.”
Economy Transportation hauls oilfield chemicals in a variety of MC307 and DOT407 stainless steel tank trailers. The carrier has a preference for Brenner trailers, which it believes, hold up better in the oilfield. The typical chemical trailer used by the fleet has a 7,000 gallon capacity.
Every effort is made to keep the fleet in top running order for safety and reliability. Vehicles are inspected regularly and routine service is performed in-house at the Houston terminal and at designated vendors in other areas.
Tractors are washed regularly. In addition to pressure washing at the Houston terminals, tractors are sent to Blue Beacon facilities. Tank trailer interior cleaning is performed at Dana and Quala locations. ♦