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A North Dakota family has come up with the latest invention for the Bakken, one that prevents toxic spills in oil fields.
The family of David Allen, who operate the business Elite Energy Services, has patented a scanner that can detect when a mechanism called the fire tube has become corroded and needs to be replaced. A fire tube is part of the heater treater which separates saltwater, oil and gas deep within the well.
The Internal Fire Tube Scanner goes into the fire tube and can graphically depict the thickness of the tube and provide warning when it has become too thin. Immersed in corrosive salt water, the carbon steel tube is doomed to eventually fail, but being able to predict when that will happen has always been difficult, and a misstep in replacing it leads to a saltwater spill.
It has been the business of Elite Energy Services to clean up those spills, since the company’s founding in 2012.
The federal government then imposed a new regulation that actually made the problem worse. In an effort to reduce the volatility of the crude oil, the federal government imposed mandates that required that heater treaters function at higher temperatures to drive off some of the volatile compounds, which increased the rate of corrosion, and hence the rate of failures.
The Allen family came to believe that there had to be a better way. They launched a worldwide research effort to see if there was any technology that could provide advance warning regarding a potential failure. Finding none, they worked with consultants in Germany and Great Britain and invested $250,000 in developing a prototype scanner that would address the problem.