A cloud of silica dust has been hanging over oilfield workers, and OSHA has new rules aimed at clearing it.
Crystalline silica is a common earth mineral used to make things like glass, pottery, ceramics and bricks. Very small silica particles, such as those common at hydraulic fracturing sites, are a source of respirable crystalline silica exposure, which can lead to incurable lung diseases, disability and even death.
That’s a problem that wants a solution in a number of shale plays, including the Bakken, and a group of vendors — who met for the first time on the floor of the Bakken Conference and Expo — may soon be able to offer a complete solution for oilfield sites seeking more protection for the health and safety of their workers.
Ben Haymaker is an independent consultant with NorthStar Demolition and Remediation out of Denver. Prior to the new OSHA rules going into effect, he had been tracking respirable silica levels, to develop processes to limit worker exposure, particularly at transfer points, where fine dust is generally more difficult to control.
OSHA has set 50 micrograms of silica as the permissible exposure limit, but Haymaker was seeing closer to 100 micrograms of exposure for workers engaged in customary work activities, particularly at points of direct transfer.
Zack Hood, manager of Conveyor Technology Solutions for BRUKS out of Atlanta, Georgia, meanwhile, had just made it to the Bakken Conference and Expo on its very last day with a brand new concept for air-supported conveyor belts.
The conveyor belts offer totally enclosed transfer of materials, supported by air.
These are not entirely new, but have traditionally been too expensive and bulky to find practical application in the oilfield. His company, however, has invented a way to not only provide such a system less expensively, but in a way that is modular, and therefore highly customizable.
“Every 10 feet, the system repeats itself, so we can build any support system to go with it,” Hood explained. “It’s very very simple. So simple, it took us two years to apply for 20 patents. But we waited, because this is so simple, someone could have built it in their garage.”
Hood happened to run into another vendor at the show who offers custom engineering services,Tony Holt, PE, with Machine Development Co. Hood believes could potentially help with installation of the conveyor systems in the Bakken.
He’d really come to the conference, however, hoping to connect with sand suppliers. He did connect with one in Wisconsin, Tim Barth of Sand Technologies, Inc.
But he also ran into Haymaker, as well as representatives of LTE, which offers air testing to help companies ensure compliance with the new OSHA standards.
“We had a good dialogue with them about incorporating that into our plans for dust control,” Hood said. “So while this is fully sealed, at transfer points, you can get more turbulence, and therefore dust. It’s more difficult to control there.”
Haymaker himself already had a partnership going with LTE, to provide baseline assessments of exposure levels, as well as quality control samples.
But he was looking for something more.
“And then these (BRUKS) guys, we found them last night,” Haymaker said, “and realized we might be able to do something here. That’s how this whole networking thing swirled around.”
Haymaker could see BRUKS providing some new technology to hydraulic fracturing sites.
“When they told me about this last night, I was like no way, how did I bounce into you guys?” Haymaker said. “I’ve been looking for someone whose type of technology would adhere to my technology, so we can come in with a total solution. I’m hoping for big things from this.”