Why You Need to Select Instrumentation for Your Oil and Water Separators During Early Phase Design

Applying instrumentation to a project is an important decision. Not only because you need to choose the right type of technology for the specific application, but also because the type of instrumentation you choose for different assets will affect more than just the budget.

In fact, for an Upstream Oil and Gas production plant the instrumentation selected can affect the entire performance of the oil production. Instrumentation for your 3-phase separator is an example of such a decision. A decision you should make as early in the process as possible – preferably during the early phase design.

Here are 4 reasons why.

Why consider instrumentation in the first place?

There are several reasons why you should choose to apply instrumentation when designing a 3-phase separator for a plant.

The main reason, and the most persuasive one is the access to real time data and knowledge the instrumentation will provide you with.

This data is the key to optimizing the processing operation, the utilization of your separator and therefore also key to increasing the oil production output.

Read about how to increase oil production by utilizing your oil and water separator better here.

Other reasons worth mentioning are:
  • Addressing uncertainty in production.
  • Dealing with upset conditions more efficiently.
  • Reduce unplanned shutdowns.
  • A more environmentally friendly production process.

    Free Checklist: How to design your oil and water separator


The field development process.

Field development planning is when the plans for the future exploitation of an oilfield is developed. Here, the best strategy to exploit the asset is identified by finding the concepts that are technically feasible and provide the best economic performance during the lifetime of the oilfield.

We typically divide a field development process into three macro phases:
  1. Identification of business case: pre-exploration (seismic data analysis), exploration and appraisal.
  2. Early phase design: feasibility and concept studies, high level planning and pre-engineering.
  3. Project execution: detailed engineering and construction.

Based on these three phases, it would seem logical to wait with selecting the type of instrumentation until the third phase of a project, where the detailed engineering takes place. At this stage, you will know if the project is feasible, the overall concept will be planned for, and thus you know how much space and budget is left for the “details” like instrumentation.

However, this is not the case.

During this phase, the engineers must stick with the definition of the scope. There is no room to consider how new solutions or technologies can benefit the production. In addition, the budget is set. Budget restrictions can easily become a potential roadblock for choosing the most advanced, and the more costly, instrumentation at a late stage in the process.

To avoid these issues, you should select the instrumentation for your 3-phase separator and process system during early phase design.


Why you need to select instrumentation for your oil and water separators during early phase design

In addition to the limitations mentioned above there are several reasons why you should include instrumentation selection in the early phase design.

The 4 most important ones to consider are:
  1. Understand the value generated during early-stage engineering.
  2. Identify possible solutions to the separation process challenges at an early stage.
  3. Understand the role instrumentation play in reducing the separator size, dependance of auxiliaries, downtime and OPEX.
  4. Understand the complexity of advanced instrumentation.

Understand the value generated during early-stage engineering.

The purpose of early phase design is to evaluate the feasibility of a project and select the best concept for the project execution. The evaluation of new technologies at this stage becomes an important tool to explore more efficient solutions that could have a positive impact on the productivity and efficiency of the asset developed.

For an Upstream Oil and Gas production and processing plant in particular, the selection of the right instrumentation technology will have a relevant impact on the plant productivity and efficiency.

Also, worth noting is the fact that early phase design (feasibility study, concept study) of any project development, is the only phase where the project team can influence the cost of the project development substantially (both CAPEX and OPEX). As the project develops over time, making changes to design, scope or even adding new technology becomes difficult, as this will lead to increased costs and risk the project running late.

Therefore, it is important to choose the instrumentation during this phase to include the increased value the instrumentation can contribute to the production process, and at the same time make the decision early enough to avoid budget cracks and timeframe issues.

Identify possible solutions to the separation process challenges at an early stage.

During the preliminary phase of any project, the reservoir engineers will identify the fluid and hydrocarbon characteristics expected from the field. Based on these measurements the process engineers will start working on, and evaluate which technologies are best suited to solve the processing challenges to meet the production targets.

One of these important challenges is the separation process.

Once you have identified what to expect from the fluids found in the ground, you will also know which challenges the separator process needs to deal with throughout the production process. This provides the opportunity to evaluate if, or how technology can meet these challenges, and if you have a solution to deal with these types of fluids at all.

Instrumentation for the 3-phase separator is an important aspect of this evaluation and a possible solution, as advanced instrumentation and software will provide you with the real time data necessary to optimize the separation process, based on the characteristics of the fluid flowing into the separator at any time during the life of the field.

Understand the role instrumentation play in reducing the separator size, dependance of auxiliaries, downtime and OPEX.

Reducing separator size
The fluids pumped from the ground of any oilfield comes with a degree of uncertainty, and variability throughout the production process. The composition of the fluid stream will typically vary depending on factors such as season and the lifecycle of the oilfield. (Early or late stage of production).

The separator is a “blind” piece of equipment, designed to receive a multiphase fluid stream, separate its elements and dispose of the unwanted products (e.g. water). Due to this, the separator is not flexible to handle possible uncertainties and unforeseen circumstances. Consequently, most 3-phase separators are built with spare capacity (20-30%) to accommodate for potential uncertainties and prevent the production from slowing down.

This means that the 3-phase separator is built 20-30% larger than necessary to maintain the wanted level of oil production. An oil processing plant is expensive to build and the space available is limited, in particular offshore. Therefore, reducing the size of the 3-phase separator will have a great economic impact on the project, and affect the concept planning and the entire design of the project.

Advanced level instrumentation is a common way to reduce the separator size. It provides visibility and data, which makes it possible to utilize the 3-phase separator at 100% during the entire production process. If the separator can operate at 100% capacity, there will be no need to build for spare capacity; thus, the separator can be designed smaller- saving both space and cost.

Reducing dependance on auxiliaries
Another important aspect, is that the visibility provided by the advanced instrumentation, enables the operator to adjust the throughput better, control emulsion layers, and discharge water at a better rate – thus increasing the separation process without chemicals, simply by adjusting the production at the right time. Again, this means that by selecting instrumentation during an early design phase, you can reduce the space needed for storing and injecting chemicals at the plant, and reduce the cost related to buying chemicals in the long run.

Reducing downtime and OPEX
Advanced instrumentation can provide visibility of what is happening “in real time” within a processing system like the 3-phase separator. Instrumentation can generate more reliable and accurate data that together with a robust software gives the Operator a dynamic digital twin tool. Utilizing this dynamic tool gives the advantage of increasing productivity, reducing downtime and the need of maintenance activities.

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


Understand the complexity of advanced instrumentation.

When selecting instrumentation for your separator you have several options ranging from simple instrumentation devices to highly advanced technology. If you select advanced instrumentation for your separator, you need to consider that this type of technology is a long lead item, that must be produced specifically to fit into the separator. If this decision is made too late in the process the consequences are often shortfalls in both budget and schedule

In short, choosing instrumentation technology for your 3-phase separator is an important decision that should be made during early phase design. It is all about getting in front of the challenge you are facing and identifying the best possible solution available to you. This allows you to implement the advantages of the chosen solution throughout the entire project planning and during operations.

Not sure about what instrumentation is the best solution to your project? Here is a guide that can help you make the right decision: How to choose the right instrumentation for your 3-phase separator 


Guide: How to choose the right instrumentation for your 3-phase oil and water separator




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