Select Energy Services, a leading provider of water and chemical solutions, has a fleet of roughly 2,000 trucks nationwide. These trucks make deliveries to, and pick-ups at, oil and gas wells engaged in hydraulic fracturing in every US oil and gas basin. This involves more dangerous driving conditions than other trucking jobs, which led the company to invest in a fleet safety solution.
Water is essential to the process of hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing is frequently used in conjunction with horizontal drilling. The hydraulic fracturing process involves the injection of large volumes of water and a proppant-typically sand-combined with chemicals, under high pressure, thousands of feet below ground to fracture the surrounding rock and allow oil or gas to flow upwards into the well. The amount of water used during the lifecycle of a well has grown significantly over the years. According to Select’s annual report, in excess of 500,000 barrels of water for the lifecycle of a single well may be necessary. Oil and gas companies increasingly place multiple wells on a pad. This “can require in excess of 5 million barrels to complete all of the wells on the pad.” To supply 5 million barrels of water to a pad requires more than 38,000 tank truck load shipments if temporary above ground pipelines are not feasible.
The annual report goes on to explain, “up to fifty percent of the water pumped into the well during the hydraulic fracturing process returns as “flowback” during the first several weeks following the well completion process, and a large percentage of the remainder, plus pre-existing water in the formation, is recovered as produced water over the life of the well. This flowback and produced water must be captured, contained, and then either treated with chemicals and recycled for reuse in subsequent fracturing jobs or disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.” The flowback volumes can also lead to the need for tanker truck moves.
Increasingly, the transportation of water has shifted away from tank truck operations to pipelines for disposal or reuse.” But Michael Fontaine – the vice president of procurement, fleet, and facilities at Select – explained that toting water by truck is still big business for Select.
Transporting these volumes of water is more dangerous than just driving a semi-truck on an Interstate. The water trucks start on open 2 lane roads, but the boom in activity around horizontal drilling basins often leads to extreme congestion and traffic to get from origin to destination and back. These 2 lane roads are difficult to maintain because of the weight of the trucks and the additional traffic, though the industry does help to support local governments in this area. At some point, these trucks have turn off the main road and onto gravel and dirt roads that lead to the pads, adding rough terrain to the trip. Water deliveries to the wells are made 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More accidents occur at night when visibility is low, and because the human body was just not designed to operate efficiently at night.
Because Horizontal drilling often occurs in remote locations that are not conducive to family life, many of the drivers are young, single men; this demographic does not have the same safety profile as older drivers. Mr. Fontaine also points out that while there are many fine logistics firms in the industry, there are small fly by night operations that do not seem to care as much about safety. Select though, makes safety a priority, The Select annual report explains the various safety programs the company employs. One particularly praiseworthy practice is that the company empowers operational personnel with stop work authority (“SWA”). “Our SWA policy empowers our employees to stop work whenever they identify unsafe work conditions. When SWA is employed, operations cease until the risk is addressed and both the employee and management agree that it is safe to resume work.”
Not surprisingly for a company that touts itself as having a safety culture, the company invested in technology to make driving safer. Starting in 2018, they began installing Nauto forward looking and driver facing cameras in the trucks. By the end of this year, the great majority of the fleet will have these devices on board.
Nauto bills itself as “the only AI-powered, driver and fleet safety platform that predicts, prevents, and ends distracted driving. 26 algorithms are examining the video data in real-time. If a collision is imminent, an alarm sounds. The alarm might go off if the truck is approaching a pedestrian crossing the road at too high a speed, if the truck is zooming up on a car that is braking, or if the driver is falling asleep. The inward facing camera is also searching for signs the driver is distracted – eating food, playing with their cell phone, or fiddling with the radio for too long.
Stefan Heck – the CEO at Nauto – explained to me that traditional telematics devices used in trucks use sensors to detect things like hard braking, acceleration, or speeding. In contrast, their devices use computer vision to “look 5 or 6 seconds into the future and predict” a potential collision. If something is risky, an alarm to alert the driver sounds. If a collision is not imminent, but the driving is not safe enough, the device will tell the driver to slow down, watch out for a pedestrian, or follow at a greater distance.
The devices are surprisingly inexpensive, costing $350-500 per vehicle per year depending upon the volume of devices purchased.
I asked Mr. Fontaine of Select about the driver facing cameras, as some drivers could see this as an intrusion on their privacy. He explained that the driver facing cameras only provide video to fleet managers in the event of an incident. If the driver is performing safely, their privacy is respected.
Nauto is claiming 50-85% reductions in crashes from their devices. That did not sound unreasonable to Mr. Fontaine. Select’s incident rate per mile has gone down. Their legal expenses are estimated to be down about 50% on the trucks using Nauto, which probably means roughly the same amount will be saved on insurance. “The majority of people respond to the camera alerts.”
But Mr. Fontaine points out that this is about more than just ROI. “We had a guy driving down a road in an 18-wheeler water truck late at night. He was drowsy. He should not have been on the road. He started to fall asleep. Nauto notified a manager. He called the guy within 30 seconds and had him pull over. I believe he would have fallen asleep and caused an accident. Instead, it was a nonevent. We had someone drive out there and take over the vehicle and made sure he got a few days off. I fully believe we saved his life!”