Faces of the Boom: FRACN8R’s name says it all

WILLISTON, N.D. — Monte Besler’s job can be summed up in his license plate: FRACN8R.

The Williston engineer who specializes in hydraulic fracturing once earned that nickname from a co-worker in the oilfield.

“I had a knack for being able to design good frac jobs,” said Besler, 56.

The name stuck, and it became Besler’s license plate and eventually his business name when he decided to become independent and start FRACN8R Consulting.

Besler, whose business card says he’s been cracking rock in North Dakota since 1981, is hired by oil companies to optimize the results from hydraulic fracturing, therefore getting a better producing well.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of extracting oil and gas from underground formations using pressurized fluids.

Besler said he enjoys being able to use his experience, knowledge and instincts to look at all of the information about a well and design the best frac job. Factors such as the geology and how the company completed the well make a difference, he said.

“It’s still not a perfectly defined process,” said Besler, whose industry experience included working for Halliburton and Hess Corp.

Many companies use sand in hydraulic fracturing, but Besler recommends they use man-made beads known as ceramic proppant. Sand or proppant is used to “prop open” the fractures in the rock created by the fracking process to allow the oil to flow from the rock formation into the wellbore.

Ceramic is stronger and holds the fractures open better, while sand can get crushed in the hot, deep layers of the Bakken and Three Forks formations, Besler said.

Sand typically costs 20 cents to 30 cents a pound, while the most expensive ceramic proppant can cost $2 to $3 per pound, Besler said.

But the higher quality proppant can allow wells to be productive for 20 to 30 years, Besler said.

People often think fracking fluid has dangerous or specialized chemicals, but many ingredients are common household items such as the same ingredients used in chapstick or potting soil, Besler said. He said one of his quirks is looking at the ingredient list of products he buys to see how many of the ingredients he’s used in fracking.

Fracking has slowed this winter in North Dakota, in part because it can be 20 percent to 30 percent more expensive during winter months because fluids need to be heated and travel is often delayed, Besler said.

Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, estimates that about 410 wells were waiting for frac crews at the end of January.

Besler said he expects that increased competition among companies will start bringing the cost of fracking down in the state. He believes activity will pick up after spring road restrictions are lifted.

“When it finally does pick up, it’s probably going to get really busy,” Besler said.

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