The Permian Basin is facing another pressing issue, and it doesn't have anything to do with oil. There is a severe lack of quality construction materials available in the region. Caliche is the most commonly used construction material in the Permian Basin for two primary reasons: 1) it can typically be found within a few feet of the surface in nearly all parts of West Texas, and 2) it is essentially the only naturally occurring construction material available in the area. Although it is widely available, it does not necessarily perform well as a construction material for oilfield applications. Why does this matter? It's simple: poor quality construction materials cost more in the long run. Maintenance and repair costs for lease roads and well pads in the first year typically match the cost of initial construction, and user costs increase drastically with a decrease in road quality. Add up the maintenance and repair bill, and factor in the additional money spent due to slow moving trucks, and you will quickly realize that finding a solution is not simply a matter of a comfortable ride, but one of reducing costs.
Poor quality construction materials cost more in the long run.
Caliche is a sedimentary rock, generally formed by precipitation of calcium carbonate or other minerals within soil pores. Eventually, the interstitial spaces between soil and rock particles are filled with calcium carbonate, cementing those particles together and forming what we call caliche. The quality of caliche as a construction material varies depending on its engineering properties and intended use. Although TXDOT has developed specifications for the use of caliche as a roadbase, there are major differences between specifications for surface gravel, which is what caliche is used for in oilfield applications, and road base material, which will be covered with a pavement layer (asphalt or concrete) and will not be subjected to the elements or direct traffic loading. While some caliche in West Texas meets the TXDOT specification for road base if it is properly crushed and graded, that does not mean that it will make a good material for use on a gravel road. Good quality surface gravel needs an appropriate amount of coarse aggregate to support loads, fine aggregate to fill voids, and plastic materials to help bind it all together. Unfortunately, the caliche available in the Permian Basin does not have these ideal properties, especially "pit run" caliche (caliche that has not been screened or graded).
Fortunately, Scott Energy has a solution for this issue. We can engineer and construct high-quality access roads and well pads using native soils. We have decades of experience in road and pad construction, and specialize in soil stabilization. Prior to performing each project, we collect samples of the native material and perform bench-scale testing in our in-house lab. This data allows us to develop mix designs and construction specifications. During and after construction, we perform rigorous quality control testing to ensure that each project was completed successfully. All of this translates into reduced costs, and higher profits for our customers.
This article was written by Jeffrey Tyson, P.E.
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