SEI Industries’ collapsible frack tank turns heads

Fluid storage emerges as a potentially lucrative niche

May 07, 2012

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Paul Reichard of SEI Industries Ltd.
Photograph Phillip Chin

Paul Reichard tends to get a baffled reaction when he introduces oil and gas firms to his company’s collapsible FRAC Tank. “We’re seeing a lot of people raising their eyebrows,” says Reichard, the division manager of remote sites and environmental at SEI Industries Ltd., an industrial manufacturing firm based in Delta, British Columbia.

It’s easy to see why. The 190 cubic meter tanks – used to hold fracking fluid during unconventional drilling operations – are a different animal from 500-barrel metal cylinders typically used by industry. SEI’s product is a fabric-based inflatable pouch, which resembles an enormous hot water bottle.

Companies are responding to a growing industry demand to store fracking fluids. This has made transportation a challenge for operators, especially as wells get deeper and greater volumes of sand and water are required to crack the tight rock formations.

Into this market comes SEI Industries. While it has only sold 200 FRAC Tanks, it is now marketing the product all around the globe. Schlumberger was one of the first firms to purchase the tank, using it for fracking operations in Poland. The tank is also being used closer to home – in B.C.’s Horn River shale gas play. Other potential markets include Australia, Colombia, Argentina and Texas’ Eagle Ford basin.

Unlike other tanks, SEI’s product can be deflated, rolled up and repositioned as the well locations change. It’s an advantage Reichard has stressed as he pitches the tanks as an alternative to its 500-barrel counterpart, the staple product in the industry.

Another selling point is cost savings. A single flatbed truck can hold 24 FRAC Tank units – about 4,560 cubic meters of storage capacity. SEI says it could take 57 trucks to transport the same storage capacity in 500-barrel steel tanks. That means a lot less truck traffic on these roads, which landowners like, and less trucking costs – something producers appreciate. But it’s still been a tough sell for SEI and Reichard. Conventional frack tanks are still the easiest units to install.

To resolve that issue, SEI is making the rolling and unrolling of its tanks less strenuous with a new deployment system. Moving the tanks will now require one worker using a Bobcat attachment to reposition or roll up the tanks when deflated.

The initial stages of manufacturing the FRAC Tank itself were also a challenge. It was the first product SEI made exclusively for the oil and gas market. The company based its model on the Terra Tank, an SEI water-storage vessel primarily used by the military. However, the FRAC Tank quickly ruptured when pressurized – it needed to withstand a flow rate of about 100 barrels a minute – and engineers didn’t initially realize that frack fluid is often heated.

The product was launched in 2011 and the tank now features a new abrasive-resistant fabric, a more durable seam and better temperature resilience. SEI says the tanks can now withstand a -50 C climate while containing 72 C frack fluids. They are also quite compact.

Nevertheless, the product has been dogged by worries of its dependability. Convincing prospective companies the tanks are safe from abrasions will take time, Reichard says.

“They’re afraid they’re going to be able to walk up and cut this thing and puncture it,” he says. But Reichard says holes can be patched up like any other water frack tank. He points to SEI’s military grade tanks as an example of how tough these things are. “I’ve got tanks in combat situations where they’ve got bullet holes all over them – they’ve got these plugs all over them – and that’s just the way they operate.”

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