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David Turner, Segment Manager Oil & Gas/Upstream/EPC, Asia Pacific, Rockwell Automation, explores how the oil and gas industry has much to learn from other sectors when it comes to incorporating technologies that create a connected infrastructure.

The oil and gas industry has much to learn from other sectors when it comes to incorporating technologies that create a connected infrastructure with the aim of improving nearly all aspects of oil and gas production – even as the industry landscape fluctuates and evolves.

In many oil and gas operations, data is still manually collected, confined to silos and with limited integration between separate systems. Other operators suffer data overload, creating a lack of clarity needed to make business decisions. The result is that data isn’t being, or can’t be, used to influence business decisions, create efficiencies and predict future performance.

However, advances in digital operations and processes and information solutions are giving companies the opportunity to take advantage of innovations to improve production and share information across the supply chain. The result? Reductions in cost savings, higher production rates, lower project costs and improved resource recovery as well as resolving unexpected downtime or the issues that could lead to it.

Data Advantage: Transitioning To The Digital Oilfield

The digital oilfield is a unified network architecture that improves safety and optimises operations by integrating data from smart devices and utilising analytics and visualisation technologies to present operators with actionable information. By using elements of the Internet of Things (IoT) embedded in wellheads, on compressors, pump stations and other production equipment, it provides data that helps to monitor operations and quickly detect any issues. By shifting towards the digital oilfield, smart, integrated systems can provide a wealth of well information.

Artificial lift systems in digital oilfields can collect and combine multiple data streams into a single data stream, making it easier to analyse. This means that flow data, well-test data, well-completion data and other surface-processing equipment data can be combined and presented in a more digestible manner, allowing operators to visualise and control all aspects of production.

The digital oilfield’s wellhead-monitoring systems also enable operators to view real-time data and be notified of any issues from remote locations. This gives them high quality data that is consolidated and contextualised and can be accessed using an intelligent notification system. This system allows operators to access data via desktop or mobile devices, and is cloud-based, meaning they can make decisions without having to physically visit the sites.

Finally, a digital oilfield’s virtual, multi-phase flowmeters calculate a well’s three-phase flow in real-time using existing instrumentation at the well. This provides production estimates against allocation targets, allowing operators to better understand changes in well production and make more informed decisions about resourcing, assigning skilled personnel only to areas that need attention or to issues with the greatest production impact which in turn increases employee productivity.

These different aspects work together to help address issues of the oilfield before they lead to downtime and reap cost benefits for companies as well. Within the first year of implementation, a digital oilfield has proven to deliver up to 25 percent in operating cost savings, eight percent higher production rates and six percent improved resource recovery. Additionally, they also reduce project costs by two to four percent.

Transforming Businesses With Digital

At Rockwell Automation, the digital oilfield has transformed our clients’ businesses. For example, ARC Resources Ltd needed a solution that would allow them to keep up production levels in their sites in the Montney region of British Columbia, Canada, despite their ageing assets. Their existing systems in place at these sites did not support artificial lift, which would be needed to meet production demand, and presented expansion and safety challenges. Furthermore, their infrastructure used multiple controllers, hardwired together, along with Remote Terminal Units (RTU). This made their system more susceptible to errors and limited the amount of information available to them.

ARC Resources worked with Rockwell Automation to begin discussions about artificial lift systems that would support operation optimisation, as well as simplify control and address safety concerns. The answer was the Rockwell Automation ConnectedProduction well manager solution, which allowed ARC Resources to monitor operations and retrieve contextualised information for up to 32 artificial lift wells through a single-platform control. This helped them lower hardware and software costs. The implemented solution also enhanced safety by reducing the risk of faults going undetected but instead, identifying them and running an emergency shutdown if necessary. By eliminating the use of a separate flow-measurement computer, the ConnectedProduction solution also saved the company tens of thousands of dollars from having to use a separate measurement computer.

Often companies are willing to transform their operations but are intimidated by the process of changing their infrastructure. However, implementing a ConnectedProduction solution does not require a complete infrastructure overhaul. Companies can still maintain the use of their existing automation systems and simply connect them with intelligent field equipment all the way from the wellhead and production facilities to the point of custody transfer. In the case of ARC Resources, the transition was seamless as the ConnectedProduction solution offers add-on instructions, saving them about two days of programming during the installation process. Additionally, the solution’s open architecture makes integration with other vendor hardware hassle-free.

The transformation kick-starts with an assessment of a company’s current systems to identify any technology gaps. This is then followed by implementing state-of-the-art engineering solutions to close these gaps. From there, the upgraded system begins to collect and aggregate the data to convert them into contextualised and actionable information using analytics and reasoning tools so that assets, production environment and workflows can be optimised.

As technologies evolve to make new ways to address the demand-side pressures of the industry, companies need to move with the changes or they risk losing out. However, companies must also ensure that their digital oilfield approach supports a secure pathway from production data to actionable information to protect their intellectual property at the same time.

The digital oilfield harnesses the collective power of people, technology and processes and provides complete connectivity and integration of data. At Rockwell Automation, we believe that the advantages offered by our ConnectedProduction solution can help optimise the digital oilfield.

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