The world’s strongest metal that dissolves in brine and a new tough polymer that degrades in low-temperature water are coming to OTC 2015 and can be seen in Booth #729. The term “downhole degradables” is new, but the concept should be familiar with folks involved in well completions. Degradable balls used to divert fluid flow or activate downhole tools have been popular in the industry since 2013. The concept of using a degradable tool that doesn’t need to be retrieved or machined out needs not stop with diverter and activation balls. Bubbletight, LLC (Needville, Texas) will be exhibiting an industry first at OTC 2015 — a frac plug manufactured completely from the industry’s strongest brine-degradable composite metal. Another industry first will be shown in Booth #729 — balls made from a polymer that is tougher than nylon and degrades in ambient-temperature fresh water.
We hear a lot about hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to revive our energy industry by using pressurized liquid to aid in the extraction of natural gas and petroleum that is difficult to obtain by other means. You might be wondering what that has to do with the plastics industry. C. Andrew Rosenholm might be a familiar name to those who’ve been in the industry for many years. His family’s company, OAR Tool & Die, was a well-known mold manufacturer for 45 years, and as Rosenholm noted was a “toolmaker to the stars.”
OAR’s fortunes took a turn for the worst when the company began losing business to the lure of “inexpensive Chinese molds and cheap container shipping killed our customer base,” Rosenholm explained. In October 2009, OAR entered receivership. Luckily for Rosenholm, he had good connections in manufacturing, and he’d heard about something called “frac balls” through a vendor of a company he’d begun working for. “I was introduced to the oil and gas market in 2010 and the rest, as they say, is history,” he said.
Rosenholm went to OTC 2010, the premier trade show for the industry. While at the show he was struck by two thoughts—the first was oil and gas was a very vibrant industry, and second, there was a dearth of plastics engineers in oil and gas compared to other fields such as medical and automotive. “I enrolled in a plastics certificate program with UMass-Lowell to boost my understanding of plastics processing and my credibility in the industry,” Rosenholm said.
Today, Rosenholm has successfully combined his knowledge of plastics and moldmaking, and has developed a whole new business around making frac balls – balls that range in size from Ø 7/8″ to about Ø 5″. Frac balls are used to activate downhole tools and divert or stop the flow of fluid during the hydraulic fracturing process.