July 13, 2022

Italmatch Oil and Gas Solutions ESG and Innovation - US Onshore O&G Market: interview with Rocky Higgins

In this new episode of Italmatch Wednesday Talks, we interview Rocky Higgins (Sales Area Manager Oil and Gas) regarding Italmatch ESG approach and innovation in the Oil and Gas Solutions Business Unit

Italmatch Wednesday Talks_Oil and Gas ESG and SUstainability US Onshore_website

Italmatch Wednesday Talks_Oil and Gas ESG and SUstainability US Onshore_website

Rocky, what does ESG mean to you and to the industry?

ESG is currently making a big push in the oil and gas industry, mostly addressed by reducing carbon emissions and emphasis on the Environmental protection portion of ESG.  However, there are ways we can take the ESG initiative further to increase awareness of all aspects of the social and governance portions and expand the sense of global and human positive impact.

How do you feel that ESG has evolved over the last 40 years in the US oil and gas market?

Over the past 40 years there has always been some portion of ESG emphasized in the O&G industry. In the 70s and 80s we focused more on chemical impacts to aquatic/mammalian toxicity and spill containment/soil remediation. This transitioned to emphasize human contact portion of handling with skin/eye/inhalation risks and remedies. Today we see expanded emphasis of chemicals and operational excellence measured by impacts relative to net zero carbon footprint on our community and society, with linkage to sustainable technology development and environmental governance. This provides for better metrics to quantify our industry’s contribution to global ESG and the investment community.

Does innovation drive ESG or ESG drive innovation?

I don’t really look at ESG in either “this or that” context. Rather along the lines or paradoxical synergies of “this and that”. It’s more of a circular synergy of both technology innovation creating ESG progress and that progress in turn driving sustainable innovation.

Italmatch Chemicals has recently introduced its new ESG approach, moving towards improvement of the existing portfolio, innovation for new solutions and commitment to environment and people. How in particular Italmatch Oil & Gas Solutions business unit addresses the new ESG-related challenges in the O&G market?

I think, in summary, Italmatch has focused on four key areas with its manufacturing, product, and solutions portfolio:

  • Stewardship of eco-friendly products developed for better compatibility and sustainability towards net zero air, water, and soil impact.
  • Innovation around improving the safety and toxicity of products related to transporting and handling by personnel and our communities.
  • Striving toward product innovation that results in lowering carbon emission at the manufacturing, transport, and application sites.
  • Innovation of new raw materials and manufacturing practices that reduce the impact on our natural resources while emphasizing renewable and sustainable resources.

Speaking about innovation, what are the new products recently launched by the division?

Bellacide 364 series of EPA registered biocides are one of the more recent additions to the Italmatch portfolio and have entered the market with great field proven success. Specifically, where we see adverse conditions with brines and temperatures and other additives.

What are Bellacide 364 key features? What are its benefits in terms of safety for employees?

Bellacide 364 series biocides are effective, long-term active biocides used for continued bacterial control.  These biocide formulations were worked on for many years in order to deliver biocidal efficacy at low concentration, therefore requiring less chemical in field, less trucking, reduced carbon footprint, and less chemical on roads. Bellacide 364 series biocides are also substantially safer for employees to handle on location with many of the lowest EPA classification warnings. In fact, the chemistries used in the blends have a long history of use in medical and municipal water treatment applications with direct human contact.

What drove the development of Bellacide 364?

We started out with technology innovation designed to increase performance and product sustainability and efficacy within the diverse conditions encountered within US basin O&G production and stimulation environments. These environments included the complete range of conditions with brines, reservoirs, systems, and other chemicals.  We also wanted to focus on the control of sessile surface, attached bacteria with a bifunctional chemistry that can penetrate biofilm where most bacteria are found in both production and reservoir environments. The redeeming characteristic to attack bacteria on the surface of frac sand or shale in tight permeability reservoirs, is an essential element of a successful program to optimize production, protect assets and prevent souring.

Speaking of biocide use across the US and in different conditions, how has biocide addition/application/thought process changed in your time in the oilfield?

Based on my 40+ years in the O&G US production and completions business, I’m confident in stating that our industry with regards to biocide applications, has not adjusted optimally to the changes in innovation and process design. For example, unconventional HZ drilling and completion fluids and designs have changed significantly, while our biocide chemistry and selection technology has not kept pace. Primarily we see the D&C industry over time transitioning from low volume, high proppant laden structured fluid systems to high volume, high-rate slick water and linear gel systems. The old technology requirement of controlling fluid biodegradation that impacts rheology of structured fluids and proppant support, does not have the same role in slick water and pump rates which minimize fluid biodegradation as a concern.  During this time, our industry has not transition to biocide selection and performance criteria that focuses on these new conditions.  These new conditions have essentially moved the critical need from surface bacteria control to reservoir production and asset integrity preservation. For innovation and ESG optimization with respect to proper chemical application, we must develop products designed to meet these new challenges and more extreme conditions.

What do you feel is the most representative test method/s for biocide evaluation?

As we continue with new fluid designs and high-water pump rates, we must shift the focus to biocidal efficacy with other frac additives, at elevated well reservoir temperatures, high TDS brines under prolonged well shut-in periods. This requires innovation and selection of biocides that maintain long term efficacy in the presence of these conditions. To evaluate true biocide efficacy, we must duplicate these downhole conditions more closely in our testing procedures.

There are three key features we need to include in biocide elevation testing which have typically been excluded from “standard” bacterial efficacy evaluation testing. Instead of testing biocides at surface conditions and contact times, we need to include downhole reservoir conditions and contact times. In most shale reservoirs (maybe excluding the Permian) we see temperatures ranging from 200°F – 350°F. Additionally, wells are often shut-in post frac for many days, weeks, or even months at a time with the fluid still in the well. To really determine which biocide is best for use in these conditions, I put forth some food for thought about bacterial testing that I have felt would better showcase bacterial performance since the frac evolution over the past few decades.

We know lab-grown bacteria is grown at ambient temperature, making it near impossible to cultivate and enumerate thermophilic bacteria (bacteria which grows at higher temperatures) found in reservoir conditions for use at the benchtop. To overcome this issue and still evaluate biocidal performance, we should focus on the chemical and its biocidal efficacy at reservoir temperatures and after long shut-in times.  Here I have a general protocol to better explain what I think would more accurately depict biocide testing for the needs of today.

  • Isolate and grow the inherent field bacteria or obtain known concentrations of SRBs and APBs used for testing.
  • Dose various biocides and concentrations in duplicate sterile frac brine and heat challenge the samples in autoclave at reservoir temperatures for minimum of 72 hours to one week, or more.
  • Cool the samples back to room temperature, leaving the thermally impacted biocide hydrolyzed in the brine samples
  • Dose each brine samples along with the blank with known and equivalent loadings of bacterial cell strains.
  • Allow the bacteria to remain in solution for increased biocide contact times.  These times should be more analogous to well shut-in times, that is, starting at minimum with 24 hours and then up to 14 days or longer if desired.
  • Use incubation temperature optimal for bacterial growth (this will depend on the strain).
  • Extract samples after the set contact times and evaluate with proper ATP methods and SRB/APB culture bottle procedures for bacterial enumeration and comparative review of biocidal efficacy.

Are there other chemistries that you feel are leading the ESG charge along with Bellacide 364?

Italmatch chemicals continues to grow our ESG initiative and that includes not only the development of safer to handle chemistries but also reduced carbon footprints in manufacturing and transportation. During the past few years, Italmatch has brought several new EPA registered organic biocide portfolios into the Oil and Gas market that has helped revive an aging technology.   With multiple manufacturing plants and warehouses around the world, we can maximize efficiencies with our logistical processes to continue to reduce our impact on the planet.  We also have a great technical team that continues to work to find chemical solutions that sustain ESG needs and evolve at the pace of our industry.

Rocky Higgins graduated with a BS degree in Chemistry and Physics from the University of Emporia Kansas in 1979. He started out of college with the global O&G production chemical leader Petrolite Corporation at their St. louis Missouri R&D department. Over the next 35 years, his career path transitioned from R&D to finished product and application development specialist for O&G upstream, midstream and hydraulic fracturing market segments. During this time, Rocky has managed multiple group disciplines for the Northern and Western US regions for Baker Hughes and BJ Services including sales, business development, engineering and operations at the retail field levels. Over the past 8 years, he has worked with Italmatch as a US business and innovation manager to help grow their global leadership position in O&G product and water treatment technology. Rocky has contributed to many innovation technologies as well authored and co-authored national SPE publications and patents.

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