June 14, 2021 — Houston Chronicle, Shelby Webb, Staff writer
Market intelligence company Sourcewater this week unveils a new product that will offer near real-time tracking of fracking projects and movement in the Permian Basin.
The Houston company will use anonymized cell phone data, satellite imagery, government records and machine learning to track activity across West Texas and Southeast New Mexico. Josh Adler, founder and CEO of Sourcewater, said the technology would allow his company to provide oil and gas companies, energy investors and market analysts information about new wells and developments weeks before other firms and months before regulatory documents are filed.
“This is a totally new kind of thing,” Adler said. “Until now, no one has ever been able to track the frac crews and what they’re doing in real time.”
Sourcewater had been pushing out updates every three to five days using satellite images showing the construction of new well pads and frac ponds.
Its new product — FracScapeTM — uses anonymous location signals to track the number of cellphones in specific areas. Retailers and companies such Starbucks have used this technology for years to track foot traffic when deciding where to build a new store or cafe; researchers used it at the beginning of the pandemic to see how many people were staying at home during initial lockdown orders and how many were still going out.
Adler said Sourcewater will use it to pinpoint areas of activity, indicating that more workers may be at a specific well pad or rig in preparation to start extracting oil. Additionally, they’ll use that data to track traffic going to and leaving job sites.
For example, if a cell phone travels from a sand mine to a well pad, or from a well pad to a saltwater disposal site, Sourcewater, supplementing the cell phone data with public records and satellite images, will be able to tell clients which companies are delivering sand to which job sites.
“We’re able to estimate the amounts of commodity used and produced way ahead of anything that gets reported,” Adler said. “We’re able to see business relationships that are never reported — who is buying what from whom and how much,” Adler said.
In addition, the company will use its satellite images to create maps of the dirt roads that snake from job site to job site. Adler said the average oil field worker spends about 30 minutes a day lost because the roads don’t appear on Google or Apple maps, so mapping those out could save companies time.
Tracking developments of frac sites and well pads can help oil and gas companies avoid fracking too close to another company’s well, potentially damaging unprotected wells nearby, Sourcewater said. Subcontractors that provide water and sand could learn where companies are getting ready to develop well and when demand may soon peak, based on the activity at the well site.
Energy analysts could learn how quickly companies are drilling wells and how active are drilling sites before earnings calls, according to Sourcewater.
“Traditionally the energy intelligence industry just uses regulatory data, and then other industries out there just look at satellite imagery but don’t combine this other stuff,” Adler said. “That’s what makes us unique.”