This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features first-time guest Keegan Blake of Adelant Energy discussing his role in supporting pipeline personnel with a noise suppression tool for pipeline blowdown.
In this episode, you will learn about the importance of noise suppression to protect the health of field personnel, the development of his product that is gaining traction with operators, and other key elements of noise suppression during pipeline blowdown.
Pipeline Blowdown Noise Suppression: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Keegan Blake is the owner of Adelant Energy and developer of the Pipeline Silencer product. Connect with Keegan on LinkedIn.
- Adelant Energy is focused on protecting operators from noise-induced hearing loss, helping production and midstream companies comply with noise ordinances, and reduce the impact of oil and gas operations on the surrounding public and natural environment.
- Pipeline blowdown is generally the process of de-pressurizing a pipe by releasing gas into the atmosphere. This allows for operators to perform testing, maintenance, or other necessary field activities.
- Uinta Basin is a geologic structural basin in eastern Utah, south of the Uinta Mountains. Oil and gas fields in the Uinta Basin produce about 24 million barrels of oil and 280 billion cubic feet of gas each year. [Find out more about oil and gas activity in the Uinta Basin.]
- DJ Basin (a/k/a the Denver Basin or Denver-Julesburg Basin) is a geologic structural basin centered in eastern Colorado that underlies the Denver-Aurora Metropolitan Area on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. [Find out more about oil and gas activity in the DJ Basin.]
- Read this study on hearing loss on the rise among Canadian oil and gas workers.
- NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) is the U.S. federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.
Pipeline Blowdown Noise Suppression: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 172, sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, driving safety, environmental protection, and sustainability across the natural gas and oil industry through world-class standards and safety programs. Since its formation as a standards-setting organization in 1919, API has developed more than 700 standards to enhance industry operations worldwide. Find out more about API at api.org.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time and, to show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week our winner is Tammy Pimley with Shell Pipeline. Congratulations, Tammy, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around to the end of the episode.
This week Keegan Blake with Adelant Energy joins us to talk about a new device that he created for noise suppression for field techs that have to do pipeline blowdowns. I’ve found this one really interesting and it’s close to my heart because it’s close to the folks doing the work.
Without further adieu, let’s welcome Keegan. Keegan, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Keegan Blake: Hey, thanks, Russel. I’m super excited to be here. Appreciate the time you’re giving me and looking forward to our conversation.
Russel: I want to tell the listeners a little bit. I don’t normally bring people on to talk about products, per say, but after running into you and getting introduced and finding out what you’re doing, I really found your story fascinating. I thought the listeners would as well.
Before we dive in, if you would, tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into pipelining.
Keegan: Absolutely. I’ve been in the industry for close to 10 years now. I started out in the Uinta Basin. I started out as what they called a pigger, which is now that I’m a few more years in, I like to refer to myself as a pipeline technician. It sounds a little more sophisticated. That’s where I started. I had the chance to move out here to the DJ [Denver-Julesburg Basin]. I’ve done operations, construction, helped with some design, dabbled in a lot of stuff, but I made the claim my career to pipeline operations.
Russel: Your boots on the grounds is where you started your career, basically?
Keegan: Yes, sir.
Russel: I asked you to come on to talk about this blowdown device that you have. Interesting. Why don’t you tell us, how did you get the idea? Why did you even think there was a need for a new blowdown device?
Keegan: Russel, when I moved out here to the DJ, it’s a little different than I was accustomed to. They’ve got pipelines over here, gathering lines going all through the cities, downtown cities. I mean, they’ve got pipe launchers and valve sets right next to roads.
I was operating on one of these types of lines. Cars driving by everywhere. Civilians walking on the sidewalk. I had to blow this pigging barrel down to de-pressurize it, and it was so loud.
I noticed, as I put my hand over the valve, as it was blowing down, I could almost cut the noise away from me. I could almost make it quieter just by putting my gloved hand over the valve. For whatever reason, I just had a lightbulb moment. It clicked. I thought there has got to be a device that an operator can carry around and put on the pipe in these types of instances.
Russel: I think that’s really interesting. I’m familiar with the DJ in the Barnett, which is in the Fort Worth — west of the Fort Worth area — where it’s not uncommon to see a site and have that site be relatively near a residential area or school or something like that. A blowdown is a normal part of pipeline operations, but it’s not normal if you’ve never heard one before. You know what I mean?
Keegan: Yep, exactly.
Russel: I would think that if you’re doing that every day and you’re around that noise because you can’t walk away if you’re doing that right, you know — particularly if you’re doing it in a neighborhood or something because they want to see somebody there, people are going to look. They’re going to be curious, is that something that should be happening or shouldn’t be happening?
If there’s somebody standing there and they’re calm, it makes a difference. I would imagine that that can get pretty hard on your ears, particularly if you’re doing it all day long.
Keegan: Correct. Operators are required to wear ear protection because the noise is so loud. The decibels that are emitted are just crazy loud.
Russel: Yeah, [laughs] I remember the first time I blew down a 750 pound line. I had worked around pressurized fluids before, but it still is different. It’s just different. You get this idea. What did you do next?
Keegan: When I got the idea, I immediately texted my wife and said, “Hey, just start researching noise and silencers. How can we silence the noise?” I dug into it a little more. I’m not an engineer myself, but I am really good at using resources that are available to me.
I took the idea up to a university up in Idaho and I had actually a class full of future engineers work on it as part of their capstone project that I sponsored. I found it a cost-effective way of achieving the first step.
Russel: Keegan, tell us, what is a capstone project? I don’t think everybody will know what that is.
Keegan: A capstone project in the university is the final project that senior students can work on to actually graduate and become an engineer. It’s the last step for a college student to achieve an engineer status.
Russel: How did you even find out about capstone projects?
Keegan: It was actually an idea that was mentioned to me once a long time ago by my dad. He’s not alive anymore, but I remembered it. He had told me on another idea I was working on and he had mentioned that. I’m so glad that I actually took his advice on that one.
Russel: I think that’s just fascinating because we’ve actually done some capstone projects with some student teams, some just to support the university and some which we’ve actually taken the products and commercialized.
It’s really fascinating because you’re not just working with a student, you’re working with a team. You’re not just working with a student team, you’re also working with the professor. You’re getting a lot of expertise and a lot of man-hours for not a lot of money.
Keegan: Yup, exactly.
Russel: What was the outcome of the capstone project? What did you get at the end of the day?
Keegan: They were able to provide me with a functional prototype that worked and was portable. It was exactly the basis of what I needed to start with. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. That was my first step to continue the evolution of the design.
Russel: Where did you go from there? How did you get it from a functioning prototype to something that was more viable in the field?
Keegan: Basically, the way they had it designed was not cost-effective to manufacture and I had to simplify it. I reached out to my best buddy. We’ve worked on so many different projects together through the years. He actually at the time owned an engineering and design firm.
I told him and I realized it was time for me to actually engineer this device to a code. That was the step I had reached in the development.
Russel: I want to pause you a little bit, Keegan, because to me this conversation is fascinating. You’re actually laying out the product development process.
The first thing you had was an idea. Then you had to get to a prototype and the engineers that built you the prototype built you something that was too costly to manufacture, which is pretty common.
A lot of people wouldn’t know that if they’re not involved in product development, but that’s pretty common. You get something that works but it’s not really commercially viable. There’s a whole other engineering effort that takes hold from there. How did you get through all of that?
Keegan: Honestly, it was a lot of testing and trial by error. Testing out a design, seeing what worked, seeing what material worked. Seeing which design worked. Then just continuing to perfect it. It’s still not perfected, but continuing to improve the design time and time and time again.
Russel: How many rounds did you go through of incremental change before you felt like you had something that looked like it was going to meet your vision?
Keegan: I had a base vision shortly after, but actually getting it to be functional in the way that it needed to be, I couldn’t really tell you how many times. My wife is about to kill me because I’ve got about four boxes full of prototypes taking up space in our garage.
Russel: [laughs] You’re my kind of geek, I’m just telling you, Keegan. You’re my kind of geek.
Keegan: Which, of course, I’m not going to get rid of any of them.
Russel: You might. I could actually get into a whole side conversation about that for myself because I used to keep different kinds of measurement equipment. I actually had almost a tractor-trailer full of old measurement equipment.
I finally got to a point where I just said, “This is ridiculous,” and I got rid of it. But I very much get the sentiment of you see this progression of all these things you’ve been doing. I guess it’s fair to say more than a couple of dozen iterations.
Keegan: Yeah, that’s fair to say.
Russel: Where are you with this now? What’s the opportunity for this device?
Keegan: We are officially launched to market as of last year with the device. The opportunity really…
Russel: I’m sorry, let me tell you what. Before we go there, if you don’t mind, tell me a little bit about exactly what it is and what it does and what makes it unique.
Keegan: What the device actually is is a handheld portable device that acts as an engineering control to reduce hazardous noise. I know that was a lengthy description, but that’s basically what it looked like.
Russel: You’ve been hanging around engineers, I can tell.
Keegan: [laughs] Yeah. A little more these days. Let me expand on a little bit about how it’s unique. If people were to look up silencers right now, they could find industrial-sized silencers for blowdowns, but they’re massive. They are not portable. They’re fixed in place. They’re about 20 times the size and weight and they’re about 10 times the cost.
Also my device, what’s unique is it’s rotational and it’s one-directional. An operator can actually divert the flow of gas and any hazardous liquids or hazardous gas that might be coming out with it is blowing away from his face. That’s not true without the device, it’s just blowing up and liquids come flying up maybe.
Russel: Raining down.
Keegan: Yeah, it can happen. Then, also, it’s unique because it helps operators. Here in Colorado, we’re regulated pretty heavily. It helps operators attain compliance to some of the noise levels that have been set.
Russel: How big is this device? Give me an idea.
Keegan: The device is 12 to 14 inches long. It’s about the size of a typical pipe wrench that an operator carries in his truck.
Russel: That’s really small versus what else is out there as silencers in this domain. I would suspect being a guy who was running around in your truck doing this kind of work that that was one of the key design criteria. “I’ve got to be able to carry it in my truck and I’ve got to be able to lift it and move it easy.”
Keegan: Yeah, it weighs maybe 10 pounds. It’s something an operator can slap on wherever he needs to use it. Obviously we encourage companies to install them permanently to act as an engineering control, but if cost is an issue, they can just give them to each operator and each operator can use it as he needs.
Russel: What do you think the opportunity is? Here’s the other thing I think I want to unpack for people, too. You’ve talked about the original idea. You talked about the prototype. You talked about polishing the prototype to get it ready for market.
Now, what have you begun to learn about what you thought people would need versus what they really need? Because I think that’s also universal with this kind of stuff. You think you know what the problem is, but you don’t really know until you actually try to get people to solve the problem.
Keegan: That’s a great lead into this, Russel. What people think the problem is noise that is annoying to the public, noise that’s a nuisance to the environment. But what the problem is is operators are going deaf and I want to stop it.
That’s really what the device is intended for is to protect the operator on the ground level working out there every day that’s being exposed to this noise. As recent as 2014, Canada has done studies on noise in the oil and gas industry. They found that 27 percent of young workers report they don’t even wear hearing protection. They’ve also found that over one-third of all employees in the oil and gas sector have suffered noise-induced hearing loss.
Russel: I’m certainly no expert in hearing loss, but I know a bit about it. Having worked in environments around rotating equipment, the way you lose hearing sometimes, particularly in this if the noise is in a particular frequency, you end up losing hearing in that frequency. You might have fine hearing outside of that frequency, but in that frequency, you could be completely deaf.
The other thing that people don’t realize is the ears are kind of like the nose in that anybody who’s been around a bad smell knows if you’re around it long enough you quit smelling it. Same thing is true with your ears.
If you’re around that loud noise long enough, you quit recognizing it because the brain is pretty creative in how it manages disruption. All those things contribute to the hearing loss.
Keegan: Yup. Just more on the health note. NIOSH actually just this last year came out with a study linking hazardous noise or loud noise to heart disease and heart problems. There’s other studies that have been done linking hazardous noise to tinnitus, sleep loss, stress, anxiety. The list goes on and on.
Russel: Gosh, tinnitus is really, really a nuisance if you get it and get it bad. In your experience with the operators themselves, people who are doing the work in the field that would be using a device like this, do you think that they feel there’s a need for it?
Or is it something that you have to convince them they needed? I’m not asking so much about the management. I’m asking more about the operators themselves.
Keegan: I’m glad you clarified because I’ve gotten different reactions both from each side. Any guy on the field that I’ve talked to and shown this to, he just can’t believe it hasn’t existed before.
The level of need that they tell me there is for it, it makes me feel good every time I show somebody because they’re like, “Holy cow! This is awesome.” They love it. I feel really good that there’s a huge market to benefit operators in the field. I’ve got nothing but great feedback from the field-level guys.
Russel: What about from other parts of the company? What’s the struggle? Because again that’s the other thing that always happens when you’re doing what you’re doing. There’s always a struggle. There’s always some obstacle that’s hard to get over.
Keegan: Every, we’ll say, executive level or management level person that I’ve shown it to has absolutely loved it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve shown it to a single person that hasn’t just thought it was a great idea.
The problem is getting those types of people to put the money where their mouth is. There’s been multiple companies that have, but it’s just getting those other ones who only see dollar signs and value that more than their employees’ hearing.
Russel: I’ll give you a different frame. Again, I’m a guy who spent most of my career commercializing different kinds of products. This conversation is always a conversation that comes up.
The thing you have to realize is these operators…The nature of pipeline operations in particular is that lots of money is spent on the assets. You really have to control costs to make money. You don’t control costs, you don’t make money.
Everything you’re going to buy, you have to look at pretty hard and everything you’re going to buy competes against everything else that you’re going to buy. When you start getting to that point, that’s the only obstacle you have is the money and you know the price is reasonable, I think you’re getting really close to breaking through.
I mean, that’s what I would offer to you as an encouragement because the hardest part really is getting to the point where you get the first handful of customers. Then, the hardest part is getting to a customer base that you have to support. After that, you’re just dealing with scaling. What’s your biggest challenge with this?
Keegan: First of all, Russel, thank you for that advice. I wrote all of that down. Honestly, my biggest challenge I think I’m to that point that you just described, where my biggest challenge is just getting it out there, just getting exposure, letting people see it, see that, hear it, hear the difference, see the difference and just getting FaceTime with more people. That’s to the stage I’m at which is really exciting.
Russel: You could not have picked a tougher environment than what’s existing right now in terms of getting in front of people and having FaceTime. This is one of those things you actually got to go out in the field and blow a line down to actually see it.
Keegan: It definitely helps to demonstrate it.
Russel: It’s fascinating. Is there anything else you want to add to what we’ve talked about because that’s what I would like to do? If you don’t have other things you want to talk about, I’d like to just give you an opportunity to ask me some questions about…see if I could give you some advice, and we’ll just let the listeners listen to that as well.
Keegan: Oh, that sounds awesome. I guess, Russel, my first question would be getting a product out to market. Do you have any general advice for that? I know that’s vague.
Russel: Actually, I do. I’ll relate a little story to you. We are seeing, I think, a very radical change in the way people find and select new products. 15 years ago, if you wanted to bring a new product to market, you went to people who had the problem and you showed it to them.
The whole trick was how do you get time with them? The other thing you did 15 years ago was you went to trade shows where that product would make sense, where the people that would be interested in that would be at that trade show. Something like the AGA Operations Conference would be the kind of place you’d go with this product.
We got two things that have happened. One of the things that’s happened is fewer and fewer people are going to trade shows and more and more people are going to the Internet.
The other thing that’s happening is because of COVID, nobody is going to a trade show. They’re going to online webinars posing as trade shows. For all the folks who are doing that, I apologize, but that’s the reality.
What I would tell you is probably the most effective thing you can do is get yourself some videos, particularly if you can get some things in the field, and pick up the sound with some good quality sound equipment and get some actual decibel measurements. Here I am blowing down before I put this device on. Here I am blowing down once I put the device on. Build something that’s a little two-minute thing.
The other thing is the story matters. There’s a great book called “StoryBrand.” That’s way off-subject for the Pipeliners Podcast normally, but I think it applies. It’s a great little read and it talks really well, I think, about how to put together a pitch. Because really what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to replace that first meeting face-to-face with something you’re doing through the Internet that’s as close as possible to a personal interaction.
I think a video here would be extremely powerful. You don’t have to be fancy about making the video. It’s the kind of thing you can probably shoot it with your smartphone. It doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be good enough to illustrate.
Then figure out how to get that out on your social media and make sure it’s on your website in a prominent way. I would say that’s the biggest thing.
Keegan: That is awesome.
Russel: Again, Keegan, just sharing my personal story. We created a new set of software starting in 2012 for control rooms, a set of tools for control room management. We started taking that to market the way we would classically take it to market, which is to go talk to all the people in control rooms.
Just couldn’t get traction and really didn’t get traction until we started figuring out how to use the so-called new media effectively. It’s one of the reasons I started the podcast. Not so much to market products. That wasn’t the motivation. But what I realized is people need to know you. People need to know you.
In our business, even though we’re moving particularly because of COVID, we’re less connected than we’ve probably ever been, it’s still a people business. People still do things based on relationship and trust, so you’ve got to figure out a way to build relationship and trust other than going and seeing people. That’s really the core advice.
If you do that well, then people will start reaching out to you and saying, “Hey, I want to know more about that.” You’ve just got to bang the drum. Bang the drum, bang the drum, bang the drum. You’ll say it so many times that you’ll get sick of yourself saying it. When you get to that point, you’re just getting started.
Keegan: [laughs] It sounds like I’m just getting started, then.
Russel: Listen, I really appreciate what you’re doing. I admire it. I think the best ideas always come from somebody who has the problem. I think to get something from just an idea all the way through prototyping, product engineering, all the way to the point you’ve got a handful of customers is really notable.
It says you’ve got persistence and you’ve got some skills. It also says you’ve got a real problem you’re getting ready to solve. Anything you want to leave with the listeners? Like how to get in touch with you or anything like that?
Keegan: Yeah, absolutely. You can find me at www.adelantenergyservices.com. You can find all of our contact info there, so much information on the product.
Also, Russel, I just wanted to again thank you for the time on here. You’re a rockstar, man. All of the advice you’ve given me. I’m super appreciative of the opportunity and everything that you have helped me out with here.
Russel: You’re very kind, Keegan. I’m glad to do it and I wish you all the best. We’ll link up in the show notes the link to your company website. For the listeners who haven’t been to the Pipeliners Podcast website, you should know that the guests always have a profile page so you can go find Keegan and reach out to him if you’d like to talk to him.
I would recommend that anybody working in pipelining needing to blowdown gas take a look at this, because it’s really pretty cool. Hopefully that helps you get some traction, Keegan. When you get really wealthy and you’ve got your big hunting spread, I hope I get an invitation.
Keegan: [laughs] You know you will, man.
Russel: Thank you, sir.
Keegan: Yup, thanks.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Keegan. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords