Micro-nuclear plants going into oilfield

Reducing environmental footprint one motivation

Pump jacks operate in an oilfield Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Penwell. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

The Permian Basin oilfield’s latest innovation is something called small modular reactors, which are so new that they are just now starting to happen.

Referred to as “SMRs,” they are micro-nuclear plants that will power oilfield operations and purify water.

Permian Basin Petroleum Association President Ben Shepperd said a lot of research has been done in preparation for the installation stage.

“In fact a number of oil and gas interests have made major investments in this research and development,” Shepperd said. “One reason the industry is interested is to try and increase the reliability of the electric service in their areas. “Another is that the industry is constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency and reduce any environmental footprints for our actions.

“While I don’t have any hard facts on the costs of these units, I understand that the installation and utilization is increasingly becoming more economically attractive. I think you will see more utilization of this and other technologies in the future.”

Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners President Ed Longanecker said there is growing concern with an overburdened power grid as more industries seek to electrify their operations.

“In order to meet strategic targets for the oil and natural gas industry in the Permian Basin, the projected load demand within the Basin would need to increase 309 percent by 2032 and 319 percent by 2040,” Longanecker said. “During the 88th Texas Legislature TIPRO supported passage of House Bill 5066, which allows utilities to build transmission in time to serve Texas’ growing needs and requires that a reliability plan for the Basin be developed.”

He said micro-reactors would also help to solve this challenge including powering operations far away from existing infrastructure.

“The recent announcement by Diamondback and Oklo is another example of how domestic producers are seeking to utilize new technologies in the Permian Basin in order to provide access to reliable and affordable energy to meet the growing demand for oil and gas here and abroad with a number of additional benefits associated with this innovation,” Longanecker said.