Completion tools company Gryphon sets up in Estevan

Soon to be testing a frac system that could eventually handle hundreds of stages

Estevan – Gryphon Oilfield Solutions is one of the newest entrants to the southeast Saskatchewan oilpatch, setting up shop in Estevan in the fall of 2017.

“We’re fairly new. We secured property two months ago,” said Nick Boyle, vice president with Gryphon, by phone on Nov. 7. “We just started hiring people in the last month.”

Gryphon is born out of another company that was acquired by a private equity firm, he noted, and that’s when they became Gryphon Oilfield Solutions. They have a presence in Calgary and Kindersley.

“We decided to open a shop in Estevan because we saw a need there, based on the activity and into Manitoba as well, actually,” he said.

Boyle said their products are basically downhole frac tools. “We have tools that run with coil tubing, ones that run with pipe, and tools that are rented. We have a full range of open hole and cased hole tools.

They also carry tools for well servicing – plugs and cement retainers, and the like. “In Estevan, we expect that to be a fairly steady business, because a lot of the wells are worked over and maintained, so we think that’s going to be a core business – remedial completion tools,” He said.

New technology coming

A new technology Gryphon is soon going to employ involves dissolvable cartridges that work similar to a ball drop system.

“This is the next big thing,” Boyle said. It’s a cased hole interventionless system where you run sleeves in the ground, but instead of running coil tubing to shift those sleeves, you drop dissolvable cartridges to open the sleeve and then the cartridges dissolve and disappear.

“There’s no intervention required, and you end up with full-bore, which is the benefit of a coil tubing system, but you don’t have to use coil tubing,” he said.

“We’re going to be field-testing that in January, or maybe sooner,” he said.

The cartridge is keyed to match the sleeve it is meant to engage, and is launched similar to a ball. Once it catches in the appropriate sleeve, you pressure up, and it moves the sleeve open. “Depending on the well conditions, it will dissolve in 24 hours to a few days,” Boyle said.

They’re looking at around 40 stages. But he spoke of some areas like the Permian, where there are asking for significantly higher stage counts. Thus, he said they are eventually aiming for hundreds of stages in future generations, because that’s what the clients want; moreso in the U.S. than in Canada.

“Don’t get me wrong, that’s not coming to Estevan. Forty stages is probably adequate for Estevan. But one client (elsewhere) has mentioned 700 stages.

“It’s certainly been mentioned, more than once, hundreds of stages.”

Other systems

They have a ball-drop system for the open-hole market, and a shiftable sleeve system used with coil tubing. They also have an abrasive jet system to actually cut the pipe where there are no sleeves. “We go pump down through a jetting nozzle to cut through the pipe itself to do the frac path.”

Coil tubing shiftable sleeve systems are the most popular in Saskatchewan, he noted. That covers western and eastern Saskatchewan, as well as Manitoba.

“We design and build all our own tools. Our engineering team designs, tests, qualifies and patents the tools. We outsource the manufacturing. We don’t have production machining capability. We use machine shops in Calgary, Edmonton and even Lloydminster. Then we bring all the parts back to Calgary for 100 per cent quality control assembly and test, and then we dispatch the tools out from Calgary to the districts,” Boyle said. “Calgary’s our main distribution warehouse, if you will.”

Gryphon expects to hire four to five people for Estevan, and then see where they go from there after breakup. In Kindersley they found success with a base of remedial and abandonment work, with additional frac work.

Asked about setting up shop while the industry is still in a downturn, Boyle replied, “The business we’re in is highly competitive, obviously. Everybody’s looking for differentiation in the products. But you have to go where the activity is. And quite frankly, when you look at the rig count, there’s a significant portion in Saskatchewan.

“So I think what has happened in this downturn is the number of rigs has been cut by more than half, but the number of service companies hasn’t been cut in half. Maybe we lost 10, 15 per cent of those companies, because everybody’s hunkered down in size. Now you’ve got essentially the same volume of companies, fighting for a much smaller market. So people are being forced to go out to places they may have turned their back on in the past. They may have said Estevan was too expensive to work there, or it’s too far away. No, if you look at the rig count, and look at companies like Tundra and Crescent Point, I think companies are following those with the biggest rig count.”

There’s been an evolution of fracking systems in southeast Saskatchewan over time, from open hole, ball-drop systems to cemented liners with abrasive jets to sliding sleeves systems now. Boyle said, “I think that’s the general shift in the market. When multi-stage stimulation became popular, open hole appeared to be the most efficient way to crack the rock. Now I would say it’s shifted over to cased hole being more prevalent. Part of that is, in this downturn, the cost of coil, the cost of cementing, has tumbled, right? The cost of cementing a well now, relative to seven years ago, is an order of magnitude cheaper. With open hole, you don’t have that cost, but you have packers, etc., that add up. Now, with the cost of those services coming down, cemented liner (with sliding sleeve) looks like a much more effective proposition.”

“I think that’s a big part of it. This downturn forced everyone to be more competitive. For the customer, it sort of normalized open hole versus cased hole, from a cost perspective, so now they’ll pick a method that they believe that’s best for the rock they have, rather than one that’s cheaper or more expensive,” Boyle said.

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