Mobile glycol heating units pitched as alternative to steam
Oilpatch operators have long relied on boilers and steam to combat the frigid conditions they often work in. Larry Cunningham hopes to change that.
The Red Deer man recently started Larcom Heating Systems Inc. with his son Scott. It uses mobile glycol heating units to generate the heat needed for oil and gas well completions.
“I think the industry could change to this,” said Cunningham, a petroleum engineering technician with a third-class steam engineer ticket who is currently working as a completions consultant.
He explained that boiler systems need a certified operator on site. The steel pipes that carry the high-pressure steam lose much of their heat before they reach the wellhead, and there are safety issues associated with the use of steam.
The units are also cumbersome to move, and must be serviced by a separate water truck and fuel truck.
By contrast, Larcom’s mobile glycol heating units are not subject to Alberta Boilers Safety Association guidelines.
“You’ve got to train the person how to run the equipment, but there’s no certification needed to run it,” said Cunningham.
That means rig personnel or other workers on site can be taught to operate it, and it can even function through the night without constant monitoring.
Glycol is also a more efficient carrier of heat, with insulated hoses carrying the liquid.
“We’ve minimized our heat loss, which means you can get by with less energy to do the same work.”
He added that it’s less physically demanding to deploy a Larcom system, which is transported aboard a 20-foot trailer. Inside is a million-BTU glycol heater, 100 gallons of glycol storage, a generator, hoses and insulation, and enough diesel fuel to operate for 1 1/2 days. The unit also includes a portable steamer with a 400-gallon water tank, allowing the operator to quickly thaw frozen equipment like valves.
Cunningham sold two of the mobile glycol heating units to an oilfield rental company before deciding this spring to set up a company with Scott. They now have three units and are gearing up for the busy winter season.
A 40-year veteran of the upstream energy sector, Cunningham began developing glycol heating systems a decade ago through his predecessor company, Cham Services Ltd. It grew into Canada’s largest frac heating company before Cunningham sold the business in 2008.
He left the energy sector briefly to build giant snow melting systems. But despite the effectiveness of the systems in ridding municipalities and airports of white piles of frozen water, the price tag proved too steep, said Cunningham.
“Politically, it was a capital expenditure and hard to justify. It’s easier in an emergency to spend a half million dollars hiring dump trucks to haul it away, because it’s viewed as an emergency.”
Now that he’s returned to the oilpatch, Cunningham is optimistic about the potential of his new venture. He acknowledged that the units Larcom currently has are too small to provide the heat needed for drilling rigs.
“Boilers will probably always be there,” he said.
But glycol heating systems could be used to heat some drilling fluids. Cunningham also sees an application when it comes to warming or maintaining the temperature of frac fluid.
He’s also looking at non-oilpatch uses, such as warming idle machinery in cold climates.
Larcom’s website is attracting interest, he said, and once its units are out in the field they should turn a few heads. The challenge will be convincing service companies to mothball their boilers and adopt a new approach.
“Oilfield is probably like any other industry, the old way or the old school of doing things — it’s hard to change.”
Additional information about Larcom Heating Systems can be found online at www.larcomheating.ca