By Matt Halker, PE – Owner and Consultant
As demand for domestic oil and gas has grown in recent years, the market has developed to such a point as to support even small production facilities in far-flung areas. As a result, operators are now partnering with innovative engineering firms to develop their new and existing assets, bringing once-unsustainable revenue streams back online.
Sometimes this doesn’t even need to involve petroleum products.
Case in point: Halker was recently called in to help retrofit a dormant facility in western Colorado. Built in 2001, the plant came with a nameplate processing capacity of 24 million cubic feet per day and was designed primarily to remove carbon dioxide and nitrogen from natural gas streams. But, at the time of conversion, the plant was grossly oversized for the amount of production that was available in the area. The client needed to “turn down” the processing level to fit with this new reality.
That wasn’t all. If the client had simply retrofitted the existing system to remove nitrogen via a different method, but at lower levels, it would still have been uneconomic. They needed a new revenue stream to make the whole project work.
The answer? Helium.
Why? Because helium is an extremely scarce element, especially in the U.S. There are only three places in the country that currently produce it — Amarillo, Texas; the Hugoton gas field in Kansas and Oklahoma; and Southwest Wyoming. It has long been known that Western Colorado also has helium in its gas, but the way that helium is traditionally removed from natural gas streams – a cryogenic process that takes the gas temperature below -300 degrees – is highly capital and energy intensive. It rarely has made sense for operators in Colorado to process it via this method.
But the helium processing system we implemented at this particular plant is more efficient and cost-effective than most. It can also be easily scaled as processing loads increase. As a result, the client now has a new, in-demand product to take to market at a minimal capital outlay.
Now that’s what I call smart growth.