Instrumentation for oil and water separators: Just a cost or a great investment?

Knowing what is going on within your oil and water separator is important to ensure successful separation and efficient oil production. To achieve this, you will need to apply some sort of instrumentation.

What instrumentation can be justified, in terms of being a great investment throughout the separator’s lifetime?

Being able to monitor the different levels within the separator in real time and in any operating conditions, is a great way to create a dynamic digital twin and optimize the separator performance. It all comes down to increasing the oil production output, while reducing inefficiencies and ultimately the processing costs.

Of course, the required instrumentation of the oil and water separator comes with a cost. But what cost? Is it worth the investment? Or is the gained production output not worth the expenditures?

In this article we will discuss the cost vs. added value of instrumentation in oil and water separators. Hopefully, the insights herein will give you valuable knowledge of when (or if) you should consider investing in instrumentation technology – both for newbuilds and existing installations.

 

What role does instrumentation play in an oil and water separator?

Instrumentation is applied to an oil and water separator to monitor the different aspects of the separation process and to ensure that the production of oil and gas goes according to plan.


Read about how an oil and water separator works in oil and gas production here

 
There are several types of instrumentation available on the market today. The ‘job to be done’ for instrumentation is to measure three different factors inside the separator:


1. Temperature
2. Pressure
3. Level

 

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What does instrumentation cost?!

Let’s dive into the three factors:

We can categorize temperature (1) and pressure (2) instrumentation as simple, cheaper and standardized technology. Therefore, these instruments are commonly used in separators today. Discussing the cost vs. added value on these assets therefore makes little sense.


Instrumentation for monitoring levels (3), however, is a much more complex type of instrumentation. Therefore, there are many different technologies available on the market, and they range from less complex to highly complex technologies. This range of complexity naturally also affects the cost of the technology, hence advanced level instrumentation is expensive compared to simpler technology.

In other words:

  • You buy temperature (1) and pressure (2) instrumentation
  • You invest in advanced level (3) instrumentation


But, it might be too basic to claim that level instrumentation is an investment, just for the sake of its technical complexity. That is not the same as being a great investment.


So let’s dig a bit further into the question of Return On Investment (ROI):

 

The benefits of investing in advanced level instrumentation

There are several reasons why you should install advanced level instrumentation in your oil and water separator:

  • Visibility - Separators are built “blind”. You cannot see what is going on within the separator at any given time. Installing level instrumentation allows the operators to know the different levels of fluids within the separator (water, oil, emulsions, foam and gas) at any given time, and apply this knowledge in the production process.

  • Process control - In particular, by gaining access to valuable information about the liquid levels of oil, water, and emulsions within the separator, the operator can optimize the operating conditions and for instance reduce water layer without spilling oil when discharging the water, and reduce the emulsions layer to increase the oil volume. Also, a little layer of water and emulsion allows for an increase of the fluid flow into the separator, accelerating the separation process and thus increase oil production.

  • Safety and conditioning monitoring – Controlling the production process in real time allows the operator to quickly adjust and adapt to upset conditions, keeping the production at the maximum levels while making sure that the safety is never compromised.

  • Utilizing the separator capacity at 100%. - Separators are built with a buffer to allow for upset conditions. Removing uncertainties from the production process, will let you utilize the remaining 20-30% capacity of your separator, as you no longer need this as a buffer

Recommended reading: How to increase oil production by utilizing your oil and water separator better.

Put together, these benefits all contribute to a better utilization of your oil and water separator and will undeniably increase the daily oil production.

 

The cost of advanced level instrumentation vs added value

We have already mentioned that advanced level instrumentation should considered being an investment, and that it is not cheap. The most advanced measuring technology needs to be engineered to fit the individual separator installation.


Therefore, the exact price of the instrumentation solution will vary depending on the size of the separator, the technology you choose, the design basis and conditions of your separators, and the delivery time amongst others.

 

Consider Instrumentation is an investment

Buying advanced measuring instrumentation will undeniably affect the capital expenditure (capex) of your project, and the big questions here are:

  • How you justify such an investment?
  • What is the longevity of the investment?
  • When does it pay off if it pays off at all?

The short answer here is: Yes, it is worth the investment. And yes, it will pay off

As discussed above, instrumentation is a great way to gain more data / information about the production process, which means higher efficiency, lower downtime and operational cost (OPEX) and ultimately increasing your daily oil production. In fact, investing in instrumentation technology allows you to optimize your separator so it can be utilized 100%. In turn, this allows for a rapid payback on your investment, sometimes just within days or weeks, as you can optimize the production process, maximize the use of the equipment, reduce the operational cost (OPEX) while at the same time increasing the oil production.


In other words: Investing in level instrumentation technology will allow you to reduce the overall production and processing costs your overall operational costs (OPEX) , while you will be able to increase the production from day one.


So, if you choose to invest in advanced level instrumentation for your oil and water separator, you are not in any way buying a new technology that is cheap, but you are investing in a new technology that increases your earnings, thus making it a good investment

 

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