Leonardo da Vinci once said that water is the driving force of all nature; and while he was not referring to oil and natural gas production in North Dakota, water has truly become the story of the Bakken in 2018. As fracking technologies and efficiencies improve, western North Dakota is seeing a tremendous increase in demand for water. Most fracs today average anywhere between 250,000 to 300,000 barrels (42 gallons/barrel) per frac/well, much higher than the 20,000 to 30,000 barrels required per frac/well in years past. Even greater, multi-well locations are now using well over 1-million barrels of water when fracturing.
But a simple polyurethane or PVC-based flexible water line - or lay-flat hose - may be the solution to best slake fracking's incessant thirst for water.
Lay-flat hose is not a new technology; firehoses are a type of lay-flat hose that have been used by fire departments across North Dakota for years. The mining industry has also made use of flat-line hose in the transport of water over otherwise impassable terrain, such as over the sheer walls of open pits. It is really only the application of this technology to water transfer service for the oil industry in the Bakken that is relatively new. But, the versatility and quality of lay-flat hoses has seen its popularity increase over the last four years to where virtually all water sourcing companies in the Bakken are making some use of them today.
Lay-flat hose is prized in the Bakken for its ability to traverse the rugged landscape directly from the water source to the frac site. The lay-flat hose remains flexible even under high-pressure and, as such, is able to be directed over obstacles that would stymie traditional pipe solutions that require additional set up. In doing so, lay-flat hose is able to provide Bakken operators a reliable and constant flow of water to frac sites where high water volumes are needed.
In addition, the use of lay-flat hose has also been shown to help fracs become more efficient and productive overall; the average frac time when using lay-flat hose to transport 1-million barrels of water is only two to four weeks as compared to when traditional water transfer methods are used, such as trucks.
"Think of it in the context of the water needs in your own yard," says Marya Skaare, Director of Communication at Belfield-based MBI Energy Services. MBI is a leading provider of temporary above-ground water pipeline transfer options in North Dakota. "We all understand the benefit of hooking up a water hose to the spigot - your water source - in order to water your lawn or garden, rather than filling and carrying buckets of water one at a time to do the exact same job."
Lay-flat hose is deployed to the site in large spools that carry 660 feet (1/8th of a mile) of 10-inch hose, each of which can contain approximately 63 barrels of water. High volume pumps are then used to move the water from the source to frac locations with rates up to 90 barrels per minute. These flexible water lines are also extremely resilient and - once flattened - are perfect for transport and out-of-the-way storage until the next time they are required.
There are only minor challenges to overcome when using these flexible water lines in North Dakota, primarily related to the climate. The long, cold winter months of the Peace Garden State can create problems but, so far, the flexible water lines have held up surprisingly well. There can also be issues finding high volumes of water for sourcing that are in the vicinity of the fracturing location. And because lay-flat hose use in this way is still fairly new to the Bakken, it is sometimes challenging for water transfer companies to find workers in the area who are experienced with the product and managing the lines across rough terrain.
Ultimately, however, lay-flat hose is a viable, cost-effective method of transferring water to the frac site that helps reduce the impact of industry traffic on municipal roadways. It is an effective and efficient option for operators in the parts of the Bakken where it is the best - and often only - choice.
"MBI has transferred millions of barrels of water utilizing lay-flat hose," says Jeff Kostelecky, VP of Water Transfer at MBI. "Our longest transfer to date is a distance of 28 miles and we can lay out approximately three or four miles of hose in a day. And the potential for use of these flexible water lines in the Bakken is endless due to the current availability and flexibility of lay-flat hose."