Equipment Needs and Challenges in Shale Production
By Shane Sirmons
In May, Standard & Poor’s managing director David Wood said that the United States’ anticipated energy self-sufficiency by the end of this decade would directly result from the oil and gas produced from shale plays. As a leading manufacturer of heavy equipment used every day in this booming industry, Hyundai wanted to get a closer look at the outlook for shale gas, the specialized equipment needs that shale development requires and the maintenance and service challenges that happen out in the field. The company turned to two of its dealers that specialize in equipping customers working in the shale gas industry — Four Seasons Equipment of North Dakota and Highway Equipment Co. in Pittsburgh.
While 2012 saw a shale slowdown on the East Coast, all you have to do is check in with the equipment rental industry to see that 2013 is anything but slow.
“The equipment rental business in the Marcellus and Utica gas shale plays in western Pennsylvania and Ohio is incredible,” says Al Springer, sales and marketing director with Highway Equipment Co. “In 2012, there was a slowdown in the gas drilling and related construction work until the midstream sector could catch up with the supply of natural gas and liquid natural gas. Nineteen new natural gas and natural gas liquids processing plants have been or are currently being built in Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
Brad Brousseau, vice president of operations for Four Seasons Equipment, serves the oil and gas industry in the Bakken region and says new leases are being opened up every day, with a backlog of wells waiting for completion.
“We are seeing strong demand for equipment,” Brousseau adds. “Our customers in the shale production industry are coming to us for Hyundai excavators in the 20- to 30-ton category, such as the R210LC-9 and the R250LC-9, and 4-cubic yard wheel loaders, like the Hyundai HL760-9A.”
In the Marcellus and Utica shale plays, Springer says that the three most popular models and sizes of Hyundai excavators used by the contractors are the Hyundai R380LC-9 (84,220 lbs), R290LC-9 (64,600 lbs) and R210LC-9 (48,460 lbs).
“When they need a wheel loader they select a Hyundai HL740TM-9 with bucket, standard forks and pipe and pole forks,” he says.
The attachments required for gas drilling and related work can be just as important as the machines themselves. Four Seasons is equipping most of its excavators with a hydraulic quick coupler that allows the operator to quickly change buckets and other attachments such as compaction plates, compaction wheels, cleanout buckets and hammers. Wheel loaders are being equipped with hydraulic quick couplers, 96-in. pipe forks, buckets and extenda-booms.
“The increased focus on safety in this region has seen the demand increase for multiple, specialized products,” Brousseau says.
Specialization and customization are also important in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays.
“Due to the rugged terrain that these excavators are working in throughout western Pennsylvania and Ohio, excavators require single grouser bar track pads,” Springer says. His dealership also equips Hyundai excavators and wheel loaders with several special attachments, investing in keeping them in stock to equip his large rental fleet so his customers don’t have to wait for an attachment to come in.
Getting the Best Service
Shale industry contractors should notice a more competitive market for the heavy equipment sales and rental market. The Bakken area, for instance, is seeing existing heavy equipment dealers start serving this industry as well as new rental and sales companies entering the market. However, contractors may want to do their research and choose a heavy equipment dealer that understands this industry.
“The equipment that is required by the shale gas contractors is unique and not often used by other construction contractors,” Springer says. ”Therefore, the typical construction equipment rental dealer or national equipment rental chain company chooses not to be committed to this market. I recommend that the contractors working in the shale gas industry search for the equipment that they need and will do their job. Don’t settle for just any piece of equipment that might work. It’s ok to pay a little higher rental rate to get what you know will work.”
Another challenge that shale gas contractors and equipment dealers face is maintaining and servicing their heavy equipment in the field. To start with, it can be difficult to locate the piece of equipment that needs work.
“Just finding the project where the equipment is being used is a challenge,” says Springer. “These projects are in the middle of nowhere. Hyundai’s Hi-Mate System with GPS helps us tremendously. We not only know where the machine is working and how to get there, but we also know when it is time for all the service intervals.”
The Hi-Mate Remote Management System allows operators and dealer service personnel to access a machine’s vital service and diagnostic information from anywhere with Internet access. Hi-Mate users can remotely monitor daily reports outlining a machine’s location, working hours, fuel consumption and any periodical maintenance needed, drastically reducing downtime and saving the owner time and money.
Brousseau recommends that wheel loader and excavator operators make general maintenance a priority.
“That includes twice daily greasing and cleaning,” he says. “When a loader is on location it is subject to a multitude of chemicals and abrasives that can shorten the life of pins and bushings. I recommend and remind all our customers of the importance of preventative maintenance. A tub of grease and a grease gun is a lot less expensive than a complete set of new pins and bushings.”
Fortunately for operators of Hyundai’s 9 and 9A-series machines, bushings are designed for extended lube intervals of 250 hours — and polymer shims to resist wear and reduce noise. You also get extended-life hydraulic filters (1,000 hours), long-life hydraulic oil (5,000 hours) and more efficient cooling systems and integrated preheating systems. These help extend service intervals thus reducing operating costs and machine down time.
Highway Equipment Co. serves the Marcellus and Utica shale gas industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York. In business since 1933, the company has established itself as one of the region’s leading rentals, sales and service providers.
Four Seasons Equipment of North Dakota is owned by Four Seasons Equipment Inc. (FSEI), established in 2001. FSEI also has locations in Texas and Louisiana. The company is a full-service heavy construction equipment dealer providing sales and rentals.
Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas Inc. offers a variety of earthmoving and materials-handling equipment for the pipeline industry, including hydraulic excavators, wheel loaders, skid steer loaders and electric and diesel forklifts. They also manufacture internal combustion cushion and internal combustion pneumatic forklifts.
Shane Sirmons is marketing manager for Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas.