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Consol Debuts Clean Diesel Fracking at Pittsburgh Airport

Consol Energy Inc. has begun completion operations on six wells at its flagship project at the Pittsburgh International Airport, where it has contracted with Halliburton Co. to use state-of-the-art emissions technology to power hydraulic fracturing (fracking) pumps.

Known as Tier 4F equipment under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, the companies said it was the first time anywhere in the United States that the emissions-reducing engines would be used to power an entire frack fleet.

The EPA has adopted multiple tiers of emission standards. Tier 4F equipment is part of a national program to reduce emissions from off-road diesel engines -- such as those used in construction equipment -- to utilize emission control technologies similar to those currently being used in buses and trucks.

Consol and Halliburton said 16 frack pumps will be powered by the new 2,500 hp diesel engines at the six-well pad. They are expected to reduce emissions by 36% overall during those completion operations.

The Tier 4F standards became effective this year for all off-road engines using more than 751 hp. They were the first significant emission standards to be rolled out since 2006. They’re aimed at reducing particulate matter by 80% and oxides of nitrogen by 45%

Compared to engines produced in 2000, the Tier 4F-compliant engines reduce particulate matter by 93% and oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbon by 63%, according to manufacturer Cummins Inc.

Cummins spokeswoman Sarah Sullivan said the company began development work on the engines around 2007, trying to figure out how to outfit large 50 liter, high-horsepower engines used in the industry with the most effective emissions-reducing technology yet.

The airport project calls for drilling 47 Marcellus Shale wells on six different pads and it also outlines the potential to drill Upper Devonian wells. Consol said the equipment would be used to complete all six pads. “Green” completion equipment, which is different, also is to be used at the site.

The shift to the new engines comes at time when oil and gas companies face increasing scrutiny and tighter state and federal regulations. Some exploration and production companies are using more equipment that helps reduce the space needed to operate in addition to cleaner-burning natural gas for drilling and completion operations, for example (see Shale Daily, Sept. 29, 2014). Consol had already committed to using electric engines to power both its vertical and horizontal drilling rigs at the airport to comply with federal environmental regulations (see Shale Daily, Dec. 18, 2013).

In addition to the six wells currently drilled and awaiting completion at the airport, Consol said three of eight horizontal wells have been drilled on another pad, while four of 12 wells on a third pad have been vertically drilled. Three of the six pads have been constructed.

The airport project, the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, was approved last year (see Shale Daily, April 25, 2014). As a result, Consol agreed to more stringent development conditions and is holding the project to higher operational standards, COO Tim Dugan said. The company selected Halliburton to deliver the lowest-emitting frack fleet.

The oilfield services company partnered with Cummins to maximize the Tier 4F engines for use in the oil and gas industry. Richard Gonzalez, vice president of Halliburton’s production enhancement business, said “extensive testing of prototype engines” took more than a year to complete. The company invested millions of dollars on the project as well.

Halliburton had already been using the newer engines in some of its blending equipment, but not for an entire frack fleet. The technology reduces some emissions within the exhaust rather than during in-cylinder combustion, which helps increase fuel efficiency and reduce operational costs by 3-8%. 

Sullivan said the engines would likely be adopted gradually by the industry over the next two to three years.

“The market’s down; there’s not a lot of demand for new product,” she said. “You’ll start to see more and more, though. Municipalities will also likely require companies to meet these new emission standards and projects will begin to pop up across the country that will drive demand for these new engines.

“That’s what makes this airport project so interesting. It’s going to get a lot of attention because it is the first to use this technology.”

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