How a five-year-old Calgary well-stimulation firm is boosting barrel counts at the wellhead, cranking up cash flows for producers and growing in the downturn
TO HEAR TODD PARKER TELL IT, USING HIS COMPANY’S
potentially revolutionary well-stimulation technology is as easy as finding an outlet for an extension cord. It’s a characteristic understatement from the Blue Spark Energy president and CEO, who started the company in January 2011 based, he says, on “whispers” he heard coming out of a French research laboratory. But there’s good reason for the ambiguity. When you catch lightning in a bottle, many will try to steal your thunder. And putting lightning in a bottle is a pretty near description of what Blue Spark does. “We roll up to a wellsite, we unplug the coffee pot and we plug our technology in,” Parker says. “Downhole we convert that power into an extremely brief electrical power output – in the order of microseconds – [that’s] very powerful.” That sudden jolt of electrical current and the resulting shockwave is often all that a blocked well needs to start producing at peak volumes again, whether
by dislodging a blockage or otherwise stimulating the reservoir, Parker says. “Yet, the amount of electricity is very modest. To go and treat a 15-meter section of well, we’d use about the same amount of electricity as if you left a lightbulb on for three hours.”
The ability to send high-pressure impulses down the well – and get more barrels of oil back up – using relatively little energy is the secret to the Blue Spark formula, one that’s evidently finding customers far afield from the company’s Calgary home. “We’ve gone worldwide with this now,” Parker says. “We started in Alberta because I’m a proud Canadian. But also the significance of having success in Canada is quite large; we are recognized internationally as a place where we have extremely efficient, economic and safe applications. When something is working and effective here, other countries take notice.” And what nearly half the producers that hire Blue Spark are noticing, according to Parker, is doubled production volumes in the three months after one of the company’s small-scale well interventions. “Instead of having large tanker trucks of acid or other fluids rolling through the countryside and out to the well, we have a pickup truck with some instrumentation we lower into the wellbore – it’s a really small footprint.”
The company’s corporate footprint, on the other hand, is growing. After Parker, Marci Hamilton is employee number two at Blue Spark, where she manages the company’s corporate services. “We’ve got employees now in Canada, employees in the U.S., employees in France and we’re currently hiring in Scotland,” Hamilton says. With fewer oil wells being drilled recently, due to the oil price collapse, one might think that the market for Blue Spark would be shrinking too. But with many oil producers, especially in North America, instead trying to maximize production from fields already drilled, business for Blue Spark is booming. The company’s technology doesn’t just make gains by helping companies get more oil out of the ground, either. It can deliver savings on the environmental and safety sides, too, by limiting worksite exposure to heavy equipment and potentially harmful chemicals. “Obviously during this time companies aren’t focused solely on efficiency but also on managing risk,” Hamilton says. “And our technology is really one that, from an environmental and also from a safety perspective, has done a lot of work around limiting that risk for some of those producers and that’s one of the other things that makes this technology interesting.”
It’s not just oil producers that are interested. Blue Spark has used the same system it uses to stimulate production wells to also clear debris from wastewater disposal wells. Recently, a natural gas producer had Parker and his team test Blue Spark’s effectiveness in its gas wells. “We’re still analyzing the results and it looks encouraging,” he says. “But I don’t want to tell you it was a success out of the gate just yet until we understand from a customer perspective that we did change the economics. But because of the opportunity to do something fast and simple and safe, people are coming to us with applications we had never envisioned before.” It seems that maximizing a well’s economics – and doing it quickly and affordably – is just good business, regardless of which well business you’re in.
TODD PARKER AND MARCI HAMILTON SHOW OFF BLUE SPARK ENERGY’S DOWNWELL STIMULATION TECHNOLOGY