Drilling mud hauling driving oilfield operations for Steve Kent Trucking
Oct 1, 2011 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
Oilfield service providers like Steve Kent Trucking Inc in Lottie, Louisiana, are scrambling to keep up with demand. With its more than 270 tractors (company and owner-operator vehicles) and 350 trailers, the oilfield hauler is supporting drilling operations in Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota.
“The oilfield is as busy today as you would want it, and more,” says Donnie Childers, Kent Services & Trucking general manager. “All of our operations are growing by the day, and we believe we will have grown by about 47% overall for the year. Next year also looks like it will be very good.”
Steve Kent Trucking is being swept along by a new drilling bonanza in oil and gas shale formations stretching across North America. Some of the biggest US shale plays include the Marcellus (underlying much of the US northeast), Barnett and Eagle Ford formations (Texas), Haynesville/Bossier (Louisiana and Texas), Fayetteville (Arkansas and Oklahoma), Green River (Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming), and Bakken (North Dakota and Montana).
Based on recent projections, these shale formations contain enough new oil that they could add as much as two million barrels a day to US oil production by around 2020. The shale formations also account for most of the US natural gas reserves that are now estimated at around 2,000 trillion cubic feet, an astronomical number that should equate to at least a century of secure American natural gas supply.
Many of the shale formation wells are deep, averaging more than 7,000 feet in most cases. Production companies use a combination of horizontal drilling and fracturing to release the gas and oil from the formations. Water, sand, and clay slurries are among the materials used in the fracking process.
Steve Kent Trucking has been serving the oilfield sector since 1992, hauling a variety of liquids in vacuum trailers. “We support fast-paced drilling operations with product hauling, waste hauling, and pumping and handling of just about any liquid in the oil and gas business,” says Steve Kent, owner. “We give the customer what he needs, when he needs it, and we make it cost effective for him.”
The truck fleet is a division of Kent Services & Trucking, a diversified oilfield service operation. In addition to trucking, the parent company provides frac tanks and manifolds, construction services, tank cleaning and pressure washing, pumps and hoses, and light plants.
“We have well over 350 frac tanks, and we were up to 1,100 at one point,” Childers says. “Our construction group builds roads and prepares rig sites. We supply our customers with field materials like sand and limestone. We provide drilling services from start to finish. We can do everything but start up the rig.”
Kent's SKT Drilling Fluids division operates a new drilling mud plant in Logansport, Louisiana. The state-of-the-art plant took eight months to build and commenced operations in October 2010. The plant is managed by Todd Sloane.
“Our drilling mud operations run 24/7. We can produce up to 3,000 barrels (126,000 gallons) of mud a day, and Steve Kent Trucking will haul the mud to a customer's drilling site. It's a busy operation with all of the oilfield activity today.”
Drilling operations in the oilfield never stop. There is no end of the day and no holidays. It is critical for drilling and fracking operators to get the mud or other materials and equipment on time, and that takes a great team of drivers.
Most of the work is local, usually within a 60-mile radius of the fleet facility. Disposal shipments travel the farthest, up to about 100 miles. Drivers usually work an 11-hour day, and much of it can be spent waiting to be offloaded at a rig site. On some rig sites, trucks aren't allowed to move at night.
“We've tried to build the best team of drivers in this business, and that is no easy task,” Childers says. “Despite the slow economy, finding people is a challenge today. There is plenty of work in this business and simply no reason for the high unemployment we hear about in this country. We pay very well, and some of our best drivers are earning six-figure paychecks.”
One reason the company sometimes has trouble finding enough drivers is that it sets strict requirements with few exceptions. A candidate must have at least five years of truck-driving experience and a commercial driver license with tank and hazardous materials endorsements. Vacuum truck experience is preferred.
“We find drivers in a number of ways, but we probably put the most credence in recommendations from our employees,” Childers says. “With those recommendations, we sometimes will take candidates with less experience.”
Regardless of experience, all newly hired drivers are put through some rigorous training. Along with instruction on company and trucking regulations, new hires get plenty of hands-on orientation with the equipment. They spend at least 40 hours with a trainer, and Steve Kent Trucking has at least four trainers at each fleet location.
“We spend $1,500 to $2,000 to train each newly hired truck driver,” says Art Lucarino, Logansport operations manager. “That's just to cover the basic job requirements.”
Most importantly, new hires must complete the SafeLandUSA training for oilfield operations. An exploration-and-production-sector-driven program, the training costs at least $1,000 per driver and includes 37 different tests. After successfully completing the course requirements, drivers are issued an ID card that is required anytime they are on a rig site.
Key topics covered in the SafeLandUSA program include confined spaces, rigging, hydrogen sulfide, lockout/tagout, fall protection, hazmat, hazard communication, personal protective equipment, hearing conservation, emergency response, defensive driving, Hazwoper, fire protection, respiratory protection, electrical safety, Terrorism Response Awareness Program (TRAP), and back safety.
“We call this “The New Oilfield” today, and the safety culture is an important part of it,” Lucarino says. “We're also very dedicated to protecting the environment at the rig sites. We genuinely care because many of us are outdoorsmen and our families live near these areas.”
While it can be difficult to find new drivers, it can also be tough to hold onto those already working for the company. “Sometimes they will leave you for ten cents a mile,” Childers says. “Our turnover rate for drivers ranges from 30% to 35%. We always try to keep a few candidates in reserve.”
Driver satisfaction is one reason Steve Kent Trucking runs primarily Kenworth tractors. “My whole deal is keeping my drivers happy, and that includes providing them with the most comfortable, durable, and reliable trucks that we can afford. We work 24/7 on these drilling rigs. We might go out to a rig and get hung out there for two or three days. It's a challenging business.”
Durability and reliability are especially important. Downtime can have a big impact on drivers, who are assigned a specific truck and work on a percentage of the gross. When the equipment fails, revenues stop flowing.
“That's one reason our drivers really appreciate the Kenworth trucks,” Kent says. “These are tough trucks, and our drivers often will purchase the company truck they have been driving when we get ready to trade it in. Our trade cycle is three to five years, and we sell used trucks to our drivers who want to become oil operators. I'll finance the purchase myself. Many of our drivers are self-made business people, and we set it up so they can make plenty of money.”
The long-nosed Kenworth W900 is a big driver favorite at Steve Kent Trucking. The newest units were specified with 500-horsepower Cummins ISX engines and 13-speed transmissions. Fifty-inch flat-top sleepers are standard for the fleet.
“We spec the top-of-the-line interior in our company trucks,” Childers says. “We put a lot of chrome and lights on the trucks, virtually anything we can get. Essentially, we buy an owner-operator type of tractor.”
Due to the varied equipment handled by the fleet, tractors have sliding fifthwheels. Product handling equipment includes wet kits and Fruitland, National Vacuum Equipment, and Challenger vacuum pumps. Gardner Denver blowers are mounted on tractors that handle dry bulk loads.
Steve Kent Trucking also bought 24 T800s this year for its operations in South Texas. Kent chose the Paccar MX engine rated at 485 horsepower for the T800s. It should be noted that the MX engine is not available in the W900.
The hostile environment of oilfield work has been a formidable proving ground for the MX engine, and Kent says he is convinced that it can handle the challenges. His company ran prototypes of the MX engine during a three-year test.
“Downtime will kill you in this business,” he says. “What has hurt me in the past has been the serviceability of other engines. Trucks would sit for two, four, even eight weeks waiting on the manufacturer to address an issue.
“I prefer the MX engine because the Kenworth dealer can diagnose a problem right away and get me back on the road quickly. The prototype testing showed that these engines perform flawlessly.”
The tractors handle a diverse range of equipment, including vacuum trailers, dry bulkers, and frac tanks. Vacuum trailers predominate in the Steve Kent Trucking fleet, and the frac tanks are part of the Kent Services & Trucking operation.
Galyean LP and Dragon Products Ltd are the primary suppliers of the non-code carbon-steel vacuum trailers. Typically, the trailers have a 130-barrel (5,460-gallon) capacity, which is plenty for drilling mud movements. The trailers are spec'd with side-mounted catwalks with
fall-protection rails and four- and six-inch unloading outlets at the rear. Ten of the vacuum trailers in the fleet have full-opening rear heads and are used for rig cleanings.
Dry bulk trailers are used to handle barite clay for the mud plant operations. Capacities range from 1,000 cubic feet to 1,250 cubic feet.
The fleet gives Steve Kent Trucking the ability to deliver timely, cost-effective transportation services to oilfield operations wherever they may be in the United States. Dedication to the customer has brought the company steady success and growth for nearly 20 years.
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