Tech solutions for ‘tank wonderland’ - Remote sensing saves labor, promotes safety

By Kathleen J. Bryan Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. -- Two years ago, Basin Concrete Trucking and Rental decided to up the ante of productivity and safety for its customers in the central Plains from North Dakota to Texas.

The Williston-based, family-owned company provides oilfield trucking services and rental equipment, including 400-barrel tanks that can be fitted with a monitoring system to track such fluids as freshwater, saltwater and diesel, thanks to a product that’s slowly making an inroad to the Oil Patch.

Eden Prairie, Minn.-based TankScan offers wireless tank monitoring in above-ground bulk storage tanks for liquids, sending fluid level data to a central gateway, which can be viewed remotely using any Internet-connected device.

“The TankScan system allows our customers the ability to gauge fluid levels and use from the safety of their PC whether that be from their corporate office, the company shack on location, or even from home on days off, thus minimizing the need to visually check gauges or physically climb tanks to ‘stick’ or gauge tank levels,” Basin inventory manager Stephan Buckingham said.

TankScan is one of three product brands by ATEK Access Technologies. President Sherri McDaniel said ATEK made a conscious effort 18 months ago to focus its TankScan resources on waste oil collection and fuel and lube distribution.

However, the company soon learned of the “huge opportunity” in the oilfields, she said.

ATEK hired Billy Klein to focus solely on North Dakota, McDaniel said.

Klein said TankScan’s initial plan was discovery, as he didn’t know much about the oil business. After walking the floor at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck in May, he saw a “tremendous demand” for products offering safety solutions, efficiency and liquid management.

Klein calls the Bakken a “tank wonderland” and said the monitoring system can help companies achieve at least one safety goal.

“Our product can eliminate anyone getting on top of a tank,” he said.

The battery-operated TankScan TSM8000 monitor, mounted at the top of a tank, requires a worker to climb the tank just one time, eliminating the potential for accidents on subsequent climbs, Klein said.

"Micro-impulses travel down the monitor’s wire, hit the fluid and bounce back to the monitor, measuring the air space in the tank and calculating the fluid level," said product manager Aaron Wold.

The wireless sensor on the tank sends fluid level data to a central gateway, which transmits the data to a web-based platform that displays fluid levels, usage and alarms. The information can be viewed remotely using any Internet connected device, allowing companies to reduce costs, improve efficiency and expand its customer base.

“Graphic images that emulate a tank show percentage of liquid in each tank, and we can program alerts with our software,” Klein said. “If a tank is below 20 percent, (the software) sends a text message or email to let you know.”

Basin started out as a concrete business in 1979 that serviced the oilfield industry, Buckingham said. The company branched out into trucking and oilfield rental around 1998 and as those divisions grew, the concrete division was sold to focus on trucking and rental.

In October 2012, Buckingham said Basin decided to incorporate a fluid gauging product to its line of rental tanks to not only increase ease of use and productivity for its customers, but to decrease the possibility of safety issues arising in the field while monitoring or gauging fluids.

“TankScan offered most of what we wanted out of a fluid level monitoring system while keeping the overall cost lower than the majority of their competitors. TankScan, being new to the oil and gas industry, has had a very steep learning curve and though they have had the normal stumbling blocks and growing pains associated with changing focus to a new industry, they have diligently worked alongside us to make a better overall product for use in oil and gas applications,” Buckingham said.

TankScan director of sales Mike Murray said the cost of TankScan’s wireless tank monitoring is $1 a day or less.

Currently, 40,000 monitors are in the field with 80 percent in a five-state region — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas, Klein said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we deployed 5,000 tank monitors in western North Dakota by the end of 2015,” he said. “Finding decision-makers when it comes to oil production is timely and difficult, but when you find decision-makers and explain the features and benefits of the product, and tell them the price, it’s a no-brainer.”