The spewing of flash gases from wells is one of the biggest environmental concerns sparked by the oil and gas shale drilling boom — and Lakewood-based Pioneer Energy says it has a solution.
The startup, which opened its factory Tuesday, plans to compress that gas, dry it, chill it and spin it until it turns into a stream of usable gases and liquids.
And it is going to do that with a portable gizmo mounted on a 40-foot flatbed trailer.
“As drilling expands, there is going to be a growing need to manage these gases,” said Robert Zubrin, 62, Pioneer’s founder and president.
The use of hydrofracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling has opened oil and gas shale plays across the country, Zubrin said.
“In many of these places, there is no infrastructure to deal with flash gases,” Zubrin said. “That’s why we developed a mobile technology.”
Gas flaring in the U.S. has more than tripled in a five-year span to 251 billion cubic feet in 2011, according to the World Bank.
“It is a huge waste of resources” said Dan Grossman, the Rocky Mountain director for the Environmental Defense Fund.
No place has the problem been greater than in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota — the scene of a third of the flaring.
Pioneer’s first Mobile Alkane Gas Separator, or MAGS, is headed to an unidentified customer in the Bakken this month.
The unit will take the gases from wells and process them into three streams: methane, ethane, and natural gas liquids such as propane and butane.
Methane can be used to power on-site generators and ethane to power the MAGS. The liquids can be trucked away and sold.
“The methane and the liquids provide the customer with two revenue streams,” Zubrin said.
In July, the North Dakota Industrial Commission moved to clamp down on flaring.
“A lot of companies are looking for solutions now,” Grossman said.
The Norwegian oil company Statoil, a big Bakken operator, is trying to use General Electric Co. technology to compress and use the flash gases.
Pioneer’s Lakewood factory employs 45 people and will be able turn out one unit a month.
“If our system works in the field and operators see it,” Zubrin said, “I believe we are going to have orders.”
Pioneer’s first investor and now board chairman is California software millionaire Eyal Aronoff.
“We are facing an energy transformation,” Aronoff said. “For an investor, this is the World Series. You want to be in it.”