Sunbelt Rentals Makes Wellhead Activities Safer and More Efficient

Modern drilling techniques used in oil and gas operations require rugged, reliable, and fuel-efficient equipment. But sometimes the tools used to do the job can cause major safety concerns.

During 2018 extraction, a company working in Colorado experienced a fire that burned down a rig due to a faulty diesel-powered generator. As a result, the Colorado legislature passed Senate Bill 181 in March 2019 overhauling oil and gas regulations in the state to better protect health and safety. Concerns that triggered the bill ranged from proximity of residences to air quality to worker safety. 

One new requirement is that equipment used in the hot zone—defined as 100 feet from the wellhead—now needs to be explosion-proof during fracking, milling out, or other operations when hydrocarbons might be present.

An alternative to the obvious choice

To meet new requirements, Greeley, Colorado-based 5280 Energy wanted an explosion-proof option to power pumps during wellhead operations. Explosion-proof pumps are designed to help protect workers and assets in hazardous environments. To make the pumps explosion-proof, manufacturers enclose the parts of the pumps that could ignite vapors and result in explosion of the fluid being pumped or the surrounding air. Pump heads aren’t generally explosion risks, but motors, switches, and plugs can be.

Instead of diesel-powered pumps, which can produce heavy black smoke and excessive noise, 5280 Energy wanted to shift to electric pumps. Although Sunbelt Rentals had electric pumps in the yard, completely rebuilding one to meet explosion-proof requirements would have taken several months. After analysis of the requirements, Sunbelt Rentals suggested an alternative solution that proved even more successful.

A safer and cleaner solution

Instead of a completely explosion-proof option, Sunbelt Rentals recommended swapping out the electric pump motor for a Class 1, Division 1 explosion-proof motor and the controller for an explosion-proof control box. Swapping out the motor required two weeks to identify a motor to fit the pump, bring it to the yard, replace the old motor, and mount and align it. 

The variable frequency drive (VFD) also needed to be moved. Previously the skid held the pump, motor, and controller, but the VFD was transferred to a new skid located outside the hot zone, where workers could remotely operate the pump. A power wire runs from the controller to the pump.

Once the solution was readied, 5280 Energy went through approvals to ensure it would fit their requirements and provide the performance needed. This also required training and fabrication to put the Sunbelt Rentals skid into the 5280 Energy package. The entire process took about eight weeks.

More business from a satisfied customer

Sunbelt Rentals provided all functions necessary for pumping operations, including remote start and stop, emergency override, and the capability to vary flow as needed. This last factor helped simplify and streamline the process of changing pump speeds, because it could be done by dialing in the speed instead of opening and closing valves to control the flow going through the pipes. 

The explosion-proof option was implemented on two sites in May 2019. The customer was so satisfied with this alternative solution that they have since ordered five more, which are permanently out on rent. Sunbelt Rentals went above and beyond to deliver a fast, economical, and effective solution that not only met the customer’s needs but improved operations and safety.