The New Energy Landscape: Meet D CEO’s 2021 Energy Awards Winners – D Magazine

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Its hard to overstate the impact the oil and gas industry has had on North Texas. Beyond global companies and game-changing innovations, it has created scores of millionaires—and a few billionaires—who have helped fund the region’s growth and arts and education infrastructure.

From the black gold of the gusher age to the natural gas boom and fracking in the Barnett Shale, the industry has seen big shifts during the last century or so. And now, another big evolution is underway: a movement away from strict reliance on fossil-based forms of energy and consumption to include renewable sources such as solar and wind.

What we’re seeing is a sector fueled by interdisciplinary camaraderie and disruptive innovation. In recognition of this shift, D CEO revamped its former Oil & Gas Awards to include renewables in our new Energy Awards. In this special report, read about some of the key players leading the way—and a profile of Legacy Award winner Scott Sheffield of Pioneer Natural Resources by industry journalist Jennifer Warren.

The Next Energy Mavericks

A different breed of risk-takers and innovators are propelling the sector into a new era. One thing is clear: This ain’t your daddy’s energy industry.

Wall Street and consumers are demanding that companies across the country own up to their impact by providing environmental, social, and governance transparency. Closer to home, winter storm Uri in February 2021 revealed surprising weaknesses in Texas’ energy grid, spotlighting the need for new and more reliable sources.

In response, fossil fuel players are stepping up to create the energy sector of the future—an industry marked by interdisciplinary camaraderie and disruptive innovation. North Texas’ leading role in the shift is underscored by the seven finalists in the Excellence in Innovation and Sustainability category in D CEO’s 2021 Energy Awards.

Highlighted in this feature, they’re focusing on everything from bacteria microbes and hemp crops to carbon capture and clean backup power generation.

A New Spin on Recycling

Engineer Mark Bouldin moved to the United States from Hamburg in 1988, beginning a more than 30-year career in the energy sector centered around lubricants and asphalt and winding through major players, including Shell, Sunoco, and Koch Industries.

At Safety Kleen, Bouldin led the largest collector and re-refiner of used motor oil as president of performance products. He then built liquid waste collection company GFL Environmental’s U.S. operations through acquisitions, eventually taking the company public. 

This past March, Bouldin took his expertise in the recycled motor oil niche to TopSail Energy as CEO. “I saw a nice opportunity to see how we could build something that was unique for Texas,” says Bouldin, who has since rebranded the company to Blue Tide Environmental.

“We don’t see ourselves as an energy company. We see ourselves as a recycler,” he says.

He also revamped a marine fuel refinery in the Cedar Bayou to work with used motor oil and created a vision of becoming the first major re-refinery in Texas to process used motor oil and turn it into high-quality engine oil.

“Our goal was to see if we could even further reduce the carbon intensity of what we were doing with this recycling,” Bouldin says.

When refinery construction is complete in Cedar Bayou, Blue Tide will purchase used motor oil from collection trucks, refine it, then sell it to distributors as a base for engine oil. When the plant is fully up and running, it will move 4,000 barrels per day—roughly 168,000 gallons. Within three years, Bouldin hopes to expand to the East Coast, and North Texas will play a big role in his company’s future.

“Dallas is right now, probably the No. 1 or No. 2 generator of used motor oil in the state, and will likely become the No. 1 generator,” Bouldin says.

Embracing Carbon Capture

In 2013, after nine years in the oil and gas industry, former attorney Jonathan Grammer began toying with carbon capture when a client approached him about using captured CO2 for tertiary recovery in a Texas Panhandle reservoir. Grammer spent two years amassing knowledge and data before oil prices dropped, and the project was shelved.

“But the science was all there,” Grammer says.

After winter storm Uri hit Texas in February 2021, legislative priorities shifted from harnessing clean energy to ensuring reliable power. Grammer knew the sector needed a way to make coal and natural gas viable—which meant capturing CO2.

“I knew carbon capture was going to be the next big thing,” he says.

“We can’t just put coal and oil and natural gas and fossil fuels up on the chopping block and make them the scapegoat.”

Jonathan Grammer, U.S. Carbon Capture Solutions

By the spring of 2021, Grammer had pulled together a team of five experts in oil and gas, law, technology, and reservoir engineering to form U.S. Carbon Capture Solutions, a consulting firm that works with emitters to capture CO2 and pipe it to oil reservoirs for tertiary recovery.

Where leaders such as Denbury Resources and Kinder Morgan had harnessed naturally occurring CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, Grammer is pivoting the process to industrial CO2.

“Previously, it was too expensive,” he says. “We now have incredible investment credits and tax credits that have changed the financial landscape.”

These credits have compelled some of Grammer’s clients from his original research to change their position, and new players to jump on board. 

With costs becoming less of a barrier, Grammer aims to use amine solvents to scrub the low-purity industrial CO2 produced by emitters such as power plants.

“In some instances, there’s almost going to be a CO2 impact process,” he says, “where we’re going to have to not only strip out the carbon dioxide, but almost re-enrich it—increase the purity level—before we can pipe it into a transmission pipeline.”

He hopes to have shovel-ready projects in the panhandle and the Midwest next year.

“We’re looking at four to five million metric tons of carbon dioxide probably in mid-2022 that we’re assisting with capturing,” he says.

The biggest challenge? Education.

“This is not just a myth or a theory; we can actually do this: You can actually keep using coal and natural gas as a fuel source, and you can bring down that climate change number,” Grammer says.

A 4-Billion-Year-Old Solution

Bill Lantz began his career as a mud engineer before joining his father’s small company, which applied naturally occurring microbes in several settings, including oil fields. When his dad passed away, Lantz formed Prosper-based JGL Solutions, focusing largely on using microbe bacteria in the energy sector as an alternative to chemical scale and corrosion inhibitors, emulsifiers, and biocides. It’s an ancient solution; research indicates that microbial organisms have been around for more than 3.7 billion years.

“Wherever the microbes are applied, even if you spill them accidentally, they do good for the environment, not harm— the complete opposite of chemicals,” Lantz says.

He assesses chemical levels in wells, waterfloods, and salt-water disposal systems, clearing out caustic compounds. Then, his team injects naturally occurring microbe bacteria into the system, creating unique colonies for each site.

“We blend [microbe strands] together, depending on what the situation calls for,” Lantz says.

Because microbes reproduce on their own, no pumps or drums are needed to control concentration, so maintenance costs are lower, and the risk of chemical leaks is eliminated. JGL is set to open a lab in DFW soon, hoping to reach new companies fracking near the Barnett Shale.

“It’s just big companies getting past this fear of trying [microbes] in a frac,” Lantz says.

He is also branching into soil remediation, using microbes to clean up chemical and oil spills in lieu of compounds such as hydrogen peroxide.

“We find that we are way better than anything else [oil companies] do speed-wise,” says Lantz, adding that, unlike chemicals, microbes will continue to clean soil until contaminants are completely gone—well beyond state-required levels.

He recently launched a soil remediation pilot program with a major oil industry player in West Texas and hopes that the program’s five sites will provide exposure and credibility, an effort Lantz also undertakes through his company…

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