An oilfield veteran and a retired schoolteacher believe they have found a method of removing deadly hydrogen sulfide gas from crude oil at wellsites without using chemicals in the process.
Dan Johnson and Tom Wilson, brothers-in-law from Buffalo, S.D., and cofounders of Blue Bull Lamont, gave a short presentation April 15 at the Bakken Oil and Product Show in Dickinson about their machinery and methods they say have been proven to eliminate the gas commonly known as H2S.
The new company — which is funded by and shares a name with Aberdeen, S.D.-based venture capital and private equity firm Lamont Enterprises — has patented a 40-feet-by-8-feet mobile processing unit that was fabricated in Johnson’s Dickinson shop and has been proven by independent oil-testing laboratories to work at wellsites in the Bakken.
“We dreamed it up, we proved it, we patented it,” Wilson said.
While the processing unit is operational, Blue Bull is still in the early stages of marketing. Johnson and Wilson came to the Dickinson’s expo to gauge interest and had a booth at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference this week in Regina, Saskatchewan. They’re starting to deal with oil producers in the Bakken and Texas, and are having initial conversations about taking the processing unit to offshore platforms and power plants.
“This will remove (H2S) not only from oil, but low-grade fuel that has H2S in it,” Wilson said, adding the unit can remove the gas from water, molten sulfur and molten asphalts in refineries.
The processing units were built “on a small scale,” Johnson said.
Along with his sons, Clint and Garth, Johnson is also the co-owner of Mobile Data Production Services in Dickinson. He has been in the oil industry since 1977 and spent 15 years in a management position with Continental Resources.
Wilson, meanwhile, wears many hats. He has a ranch, spent several years teaching and coaching, and has worked on and off in the oil industry since the 1980s, doing everything from roustabouting to working with chemicals and fracking fluids.
While Johnson and Wilson knew they had a solid idea, it didn’t truly take off until they met Lamont General Manager Gary DeVries during the Black Hills Bakken & Investor Conference in Spearfish, S.D., last October.
“They were just looking for a partner — a Midwestern partner — to help them,” DeVries said. “It worked out really well.”
DeVries said Lamont invested in Blue Bull because it believes the small company had a promising idea that could easily take hold in the oil industry.
“It’s a good, eco-friendly, safe tool that’s going to be available for the oil industry moving forward,” DeVries said.
The machine, which cleans 120 barrels of oil an hour, is designed to be set up between the heater/treater unit and the clean oil tanks at a wellsite.
“It goes through fairly fast,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, a little tougher oil may be a little slower.”
Johnson said the real test came last year when they took their test processing unit to a well near Williston that produced thick, sour crude with “a lot of paraffin in it.”
“It was hard to treat, but we got it treated and we knew it worked then,” he said, adding the oil was tested by an independent lab and showed no traces of H2S.
“Then we started building a bigger machine.”
The exhaust expelled from the machine following the H2S elimination process has a specific gravity near clean air, Wilson said.
The byproduct created is classified as a “weak sulfuric acid” that can be put into disposal wells. The acid byproduct “cleans the junk out of their pipe,” Wilson said in reference to disposal sites. “They have to put an acid down there every so often anyway.”
Using a process that excludes chemicals from the H2S removal process is not only safer for the environment, they said. It also eliminates corrosiveness in oil tanks.
“You can’t put a hard-and-fast cost on it,” Johnson said. “The safety factor. The liability factor. There’s so many hidden costs, how do you put a number on that?”
Above all, Blue Bull’s owners said they believe their machine can make Bakken wells a safer place to work and live around.
“That had a lot to do with it,” Johnson said.
Terry O’Clair, director of the North Dakota Department of Health’s Air Quality Division, said while H2S is not as prevalent in the state’s latest oil boom as it was in the 1980s, it’s still a real threat.
“If it’s extremely high concentrations, it’s deadly,” he said.
Wilson said he also has concerns for people who live near wellsites — and the rancher in him also worries about the source of their livelihoods.
“There’s people killed from that all the time and livestock killed,” he said. “It eliminates the danger of that.”