Bifuel system uses natural gas to power drilling rigs

Kevin Skogen, regional sales and service representative for ECO AFS, checks the bifuel system at a drilling rig in Williston, N.D. The system uses natural gas to replace up to 60 percent of diesel needed to power the rig. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – A bifuel system that uses natural gas to power drilling rigs is catching on in the Williston Basin, reducing flaring and cutting down on truck traffic.

Williston company ECO AFS, which stands for alternative fuel systems, distributes and services a system that takes natural gas that would otherwise be flared and blends it with diesel to power rigs, generators and other diesel engines.

The system can replace up to 55 to 60 percent of diesel used to power a drilling rig, said ECO AFS regional manager Jeff Anderson. Boilers that operate during winter months can be converted to 100 percent natural gas.

The system reduces emissions and cuts down on the number of trucks needed to deliver diesel, Anderson said.

Companies can save more than $1 million per year per rig in diesel costs, he said.

The technology is not new, but oil companies didn’t begin using it in North Dakota until recently.

“It is new to North Dakota and they’ve been a little slow to be receptive,” Anderson said.

Statoil began using the bifuel system to minimize natural gas flaring, said Russ Rankin, a regional manager for Statoil.

On the edge of Williston’s city limits, Statoil piped natural gas from one of its producing wells to power a rig that was just down the road, saving 800 to 1,000 gallons of diesel per day.

Now that other companies have seen Statoil’s success with the technology, many have plans to implement the bifuel system, Anderson said.

“Now they know it works, so it’s starting to gain a lot of ground,” he said. “You’re really going to see this explode.”

Jeff Anderson, regional manager for ECO AFS, displays a bi-fuel system at the Bakken Oil Product and Service Show in Williston. The system takes natural gas that would otherwise be flared and blends it with diesel to power drilling rigs.

ECO AFS recently received an industry innovation award from the Williston Basin chapter of the American Petroleum Institute. The nomination noted that the bifuel system uses a resource that would otherwise be wasted.

North Dakota flares about 30 percent of natural gas produced because of a lack of gathering systems to capture the gas, according to the Department of Mineral Resources.

Kevin Skogen, sales and service representative for ECO AFS, said emissions standards are expected to get tougher, and companies that implement this technology will be ready.

“This greatly reduces the emissions footprint of each of these rigs,” Skogen said.

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