One of the main challenges, from the beginning of the oil and gas industry and still valid today, is safety. The safety of your human crew, for the environment and of your assets is still the most important aspect to consider when designing and building a new plant.
The second most important aspect, is productivity, which is only gained by more advanced systems. As the complexity of any system increases, so does the number of things that can go wrong, creating risks, hazards or inefficiencies. If something operates incorrectly, it will slowly reduce your productivity, making it difficult to remain competitive over time.
Shut-downs, downtime and events that reduce efficiency are unavoidable, but with the right information, received and utilized in a timely manner, these events can be managed better.
Today, the complexity of developing a new field is still increasing. The main reason is that hydrocarbons today are more and more challenging to extract. Also, to increase efficiency, scale to the economy while keeping up the production, plants and assets need to be more advanced. This also affects procedures and processes applied during production.
More advanced materials, components and technologies are assembled into even more complex systems. These require continuous oversight and timely intervention and maintenance.
It becomes apparent that manual inspection and execution of tasks by human personnel does not scale sufficiently. Despite the importance of human experience and intuition, it is not possible to manually oversee every aspect of these systems. Hundreds, even thousands of “eyes” are constantly required across your plant, with just as many “hands” as actuators.
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Instrumentation and metering have reached a level of sophistication where they have “better eyesight” than any inspector and are able to communicate at very high speed with control systems.
In a modern operation, continuous monitoring and automation is the only way to assure that the right actions are made, at the right time. That could mean something as simple as turning a valve at the right interval, to know when a component faces end-of-life, or knowing which chemical to inject, in which quantity and for how long. The foundation of this is quality data.
Though beneficial, you do not need another layer of complexity in the form of an interconnected system to achieve good automation. Advanced metering can be implemented as stand-alone closed loop systems, where adjustments are continuously made based on sensor input and distributed control systems. This can later be tied together with a more centralized control system, but everything starts with digitalization and access to quality, high resolution data from modern instrumentation.
More than 100 years ago, when the industrial oil adventure began, the recovery factor of any field (defined in percentage as the recoverable amount of the total hydrocarbon initially in place), was quite low. In the range of 20% of the full reservoir’s potential. However, the production profile was similar to what we see today, with an initial start-up / ramp-up phase, followed by a production peak, before the declining phase in the tail-end of production.
As technology advanced and the industry's understanding of the sub-surface conditions grew, we were able gradually take more control over the peak production phase, changing its shape from a single rapid peak to a plateau. Since then, we have focused on extending this production plateau, and a direct consequence of this is a much higher recovery rate.
Today, in the new fields where the most advanced technologies are implemented, there is a planned recovery factor of up to 70% (e.g., the Johan Sverdrup field, offshore Norway, production start 2019).
Techniques like gas and water injection are now common methods to increase the recovery rate. However, not all approaches adopted at the beginning of the production phase will remain optimal through the field’s lifetime. The main reason is because oil and gas fields are like living, dynamic systems, always changing through the production phase.
Despite great advances in analysis of the sub-surface geological data, and modern reservoir 4D modeling, uncertainties of what’s down there persist, even after the extraction phase begin. Without a holistic approach to your extraction, production, and processing operations as a whole, applying a common solution is just like using brute force.
Historically, the uncertainties were managed just oversizing the production and processing plant. Today, this approach is no longer sustainable. The flexibility provided by bigger facilities is not justified by its higher CAPEX, and even more so by its higher OPEX and utilities consumption (energy, water, chemicals, etc.).
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By knowing exactly what’s in every pipe, manifold or vessel, using cutting-edge instrumentation, automation can be applied more effectively.
Advanced process instrumentation and metering are what makes automatic procedures effective:
Looking at water being the main bi-product of the production and processing phases, this is one element to pay extra close attention to. This becomes the underlying factor in what is just as central as safety in an operation, namely productivity and efficiency. For this reason, the utilization of the water cut meter instruments is becoming increasingly important.
Continuous monitoring and automation are only possible with access to quality data, made by advanced instrumentation. It is achievable as stand-alone, closed-loop systems requiring relatively minor interventions to be installed. It also integrates seamlessly with industrial software, for centralized analysis, control and operation forecasts.
This is key to staying competitive in today's industry and simply makes an operation safer and more efficient, in terms of reduced risks, reduced downtime and higher production.
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