To fully capitalize on the massive opportunities in the U.S. shale boom, producers need to make major improvements in their extraction efficiencies. Below-ground innovations like zipper fracking and stacked laterals can release more oil and gas from shale wells, but production costs are soaring faster than profits. Suppliers need to take advantage of above-ground advances like multi-well facilities and automation to improve profits. This article offers four ways for producers to accelerate their automation deployments and boost their bottom lines.
While new automation technologies can enable quantum gains in upstream productivity, the industry has historically been conservative, preferring deployments that use time-tested production methods and technologies. It’s time to change that thinking.
Below-ground innovations like zipper fracking and stacked laterals, along with the drilling of longer laterals, are increasing the use of multi-well pads above ground. This approach increases drilling efficiencies and provides greater economies of scale and asset utilization. For example: trucking people, equipment and supplies to one multi-well drilling operation is more efficient than when wells are miles apart.
Historically, automation in upstream oil and gas production comprised custom mechanical and relay-based solutions. Today, communications-based automation using smart instrumentation and field-bus technologies is replacing copper wire and extracting multiple data points.
We’re at the dawn of so-called integrated operations enabled by advances in information and communication technologies. Integrated operations refers to the real-time gathering, consolidation and analysis of data spanning the entire oil and gas value chain, from upstream production to midstream transport and downstream refining.
Upstream, integrated operations can connect the data spawned by an oilfield’s entire operations, from the tip of a drill bit at the bottom of a bore hole to oil and gas flowing through a pipeline to a refiner or consolidator. Producers can use these capabilities to make better, more informed decisions at all management levels, from field office to boardroom, to optimize asset utilization, while gaining more operational visibility and information-sharing across their enterprises.
Ultimately, the entire production process will be fully optimized via intelligent sensors monitoring all points of mechanical operations and flows, as well as the sensing fabric itself. All of this will feed programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that manage it all in the field. In turn, the PLCs will communicate operational data in real-time over industrial Ethernet and highly secure wireless networks, whether WiMAX, cellular or satellite, to an enterprise cloud that’s accessible from anywhere using any smartphone, tablet or laptop.
Field hands won’t have to spend time driving remote production facilities. Instead, self-diagnostics and predictive maintenance will enable self-healing systems. If human intervention is needed, alarms will provide precise information about necessary parts and tools. Hardware will remain important, but software is centerpiece of this vision.
As service intensity rises on multi-well pads, the need for applications of industrial process automation technologies will rise. That requires a shift in mindset from extractive to manufacturing, with perhaps a blend of the two making oil and gas facilities more like manufacturing sites.
The technologies enabling this transformation involve the automation and control of equipment and complex services during drilling stages and the post-completion well-heads, pipelines and storage tanks that make up a multi-well facility. For example, one key step is to automate the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids, monitoring their storage tank levels and scheduling material transportation.
Here are four key automation design concepts that will let upstream producers accelerate their progress toward greater automation:
- Standardize. Design and implement using open standards and uniform interfaces that span many facet of industrial automation and use lower-cost commodity hardware. Standardized solutions can interoperate with legacy systems as well as those from other vendors, making installations and reconfigurations much easier and more scalable.
- Eliminate. Map processes in detail, then trim all unnecessary steps. Advancements in process automation technologies can render many process steps superfluous. Cut any step that doesn’t add value.
- Simplify. After eliminating as many steps as possible, combine those that remain. Also, simplify the context of a process. That is, identify and eliminate (or minimize) external physical, data or schedule I/O dependencies. Reduce or eliminate custom engineering.
- Virtualize. Move hardware-based functions like relays, switches and terminals to software, which can be reprogrammed as needs change. Code can be stored in libraries and re-used across many different deployments. Wireless and cloud technologies can offer further cost savings because expensive infrastructure can be eliminated or greatly reduced, sometimes by leasing shared cloud-based facilities instead operating your own. Efficient automation starts with efficient engineering.
With a comprehensive engineering framework like the Siemens TIA Portal, producers can reduce their design and engineering costs by as much as 30 percent while dramatically accelerating their development timeframes. Dragging and dropping code from trusted software libraries reduces the need for writing, compiling, testing and debugging custom code.
An integrated software development platform lets geographically dispersed engineering teams access shared development databases and collaborate easily. They can even pursue round-the-clock global development schedules to cut cycle times dramatically while gaining the flexibility to try new approaches with only marginal costs.
The days of fully automated oil and gas “factories” with integrated operations across the entire production enterprise are not far off. Producers’ situations today relative to this vision aren’t a question of “if” but “when.” The sooner they can deploy advanced industrial automation in their upstream facilities, the greater the edge they’ll enjoy over their competition and the bigger the payoff they’ll realize in increased profitability from new efficiencies and reduced costs.Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>