By Timothy Puko
Within the next month, a new electric line will start bringing 23,000 volts of electricity into the headquarters of Keystone Drill Services LLC. It’ll supply the company with the juice it needs for on-site testing for its next generation of equipment — but the hope is really for much more. The hope is that it’s the next big step to a whole new era for the Somerset company.
The electric line is one of the final steps in a $1 million investment that Keystone is making to transform its equipment. Its 50 employees make the machines that help oil and gas drillers cut through the hardest rock they find — and that work is in the middle of an industry upheaval. Drillers want cleaner, cheaper power at their well sites, and Keystone’s leaders believe that to keep their company growing, they’ll have to innovate with electricity and help drillers shift away from diesel power. “That’s what our future is based on,” said Tom Walker, company president, predicting diesel-fueled power will be phased out from well sites within about five years. “If you want to remain in business and continue on, you’ve got to find the next wagon to hitch your horse to.”
The wagon Walker is trying to ride has been building up speed for at least two years because of the Marcellus shale drillers drawn to Appalachia. At least six of the biggest Marcellus drillers — including Pittsburgh-area companies Consol Energy and EQT — have started replacing some diesel power with cleaner fuels, according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition. They’re often using the very Marcellus gas coming from other wells and pipelines in the same neighborhoods.