Society of Petroleum Engineers ATCE 2007, Anaheim

The usual rich offering from the SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition included contrasting views on risk analysis and decision making, more and more down hole high tech ‘jewelry’ including the drillstring Ethernet, a call for standardized personal protection equipment, an iconoclastic view of the origin of global warming, Saudi Aramco’s ‘giga cell’ simulator, a session on drilling automation, and a new standard for upstream engineering design—CAPE-OPEN.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers 2007 Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) claimed an 8,000 plus attendance with 380 papers presented and 400 exhibitors. The numbers are impressive, but the exhibition floor seemed a bit thin on the ground. With ten parallel tracks to choose from, attendees were faced with some difficult choices—aside from the option of a quick visit to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland next door.

Decision making

For a couple of years now, the SPE requires attendees to ‘check in’ with an electronic card reader before a presentation. This must produce some fairly dubious numbers as, like in Hotel California, nobody ever ‘checks out.’ Notwithstanding this, and assuming that the number of people in attendance actually means anything at all, (after all folks may attend and be disappointed) the number one topic as far as we could observed was exemplified by SPE 109610, ‘Decision making in oil and gas,’ presented Eric Bickel (Texas A&M). Bickel reported a ‘dramatic’ increase in use of probabilistic methods in the last decade.


The authors conducted a survey earlier this year to find that 50% of large companies report ‘significant use’ of probabilistic uncertainty analysis. Unfortunately, lack of management understanding, inter alia, means that such analyses are not reflected in improved decision making. The bottom line is, quantifying uncertainty has no intrinsic value and more focus is needed on decision making. The goal is not to ‘reduce uncertainty’ but to make the right decision. The authors state categorically, ‘We often hear people in the industry speak of reducing uncertainty by building a model. Modeling uncertainty does not reduce it. [..] Uncertainty can only be reduced or altered by our choices [actions].

Value of information

The authors advocate more application of ‘value of information’ studies and a process that identifies the key uncertainties which are modeled for decision support. This process has to be ‘simple enough to keep it understandable.’ To which end, there is a need for ‘nimbler models’ from the software developers.

Personal Protection

Hopefully this does not reflect the level of interest in personnel safety in the industry, but Stephen Knight’s (Gardin-Haag) presentation (SPE 109177) was rather poorly attended. Knight introduced a joint industry project on personnel protective equipment (PPE) and ‘informatics integrity.’ The JIP kicked-off in 2006 to investigate and reduce oil and gas workforce exposure risks. The issue is that today’s PPE is not designed as a system. Gas masks may be kept in the wrong place and can prove hard to don. Improvements are made piecemeal, to hard hat, goggles or breathing equipment but there are ‘gaps and duplication.’ Emergency response and communications during a disaster are likewise problematical—and are addressed in the JIP with a ‘hazard identification’ (HAZID) approach and i-HAZ software. Situational awareness can be enhanced with real time data and high reliability PPE systems with data sensors and communications embedded in clothing. Knight invited interested parties to join the JIP’s next phase to kick off, under the auspices of the Oil and Gas Producers Association in London next February.

Carbon Session

Attendance at the Carbon Management special session was generally good—especially for the provocatively titled ‘Humans are not responsible for global warming’ paper (SPE 109292) from USC’s George Chilingar. Chilingar (a petroleum engineer by trade) began by complaining of the difficulty of ‘scientific debate’ in the current climate. His thesis is that variations in solar radiation are responsible for global warming. The increase in C02 is due to ‘mantle outgassing and possibly microbial activity.’ Anthropogenic CO2 is less than 0.00022% of total C02 naturally degassed from the mantle and so is negligible. Moreover, an increase in CO2 causes global cooling! For any remaining doubters, Chilingar offers a council of despair in so far as all attempts to change are doomed to failure because of the magnitude of natural processes. The ‘scientific debate’ tables were turned as one questioner had the temerity to ask about a possible anthropogenic cause of the huge increase in CO2 over the last 200 years—a ‘childish question’ for Chilingar. His thesis nonetheless got a strong endorsement from an EPA employee who believes that the sun’s activity (and C02) will rise through 2010 before declining.


The other (less well attended) papers in the Carbon session reflected the received views that global warming is both real, manmade and that something needs to be done about it quickly. Chakraborty (ONGC) reflected on how we might account for and assure sustainability of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Suggestions include increased insurance premiums and the implementation of ‘apparently infeasible’ projects with long term benefits. The strategy includes quantification, ISO 14064 certification and transparency. Subodh Gupta (Encana Corp.) proposed a novel biomass sequestration approach. To avoid the decay of natural biomass sequestration, Gupta suggests ‘capturing’ Carbon as charcoal. This is ‘stable for hundreds of years’ and the approach is both verifiable and a ‘ready source of energy stashed away for posterity.’ A possible downside is the fact that a land mass ‘about the size of Africa’ is required.


In our report from the 2003 SPE, we cited an operator who, referring to the increasing sophistication of downhole monitoring and control systems said, ‘I don’t want jewelry in my wells!’ Judging from the 2007 edition of the SPE’s ATCE, ‘jewelry’ is, if not everywhere, at least getting good traction. The obvious targets for sophisticated downhole control valves and real time monitoring are the high end offshore developments and the supergiants of the Middle East. But there are applications for high end technology in ‘cost sensitive’ brown fields too.


The first deployment of Baker Hughes’ ‘Intellipipe’ drill string ‘Ethernet’ was reported by StatoilHydro’s Henrik Wolter. Tests on the Troll supergiant gas field in a 2700m lateral proved very successful in high frequency geosteering around large calcite nodules in the reservoir. Today’s data rates are 9,600 bps compared with 20 bps for conventional mud pulse transmission. A video of Aker-Kvaerner’s ‘Stroker—Shifter’ illustrated the increasing sophistication of well intervention and Well Dynamics’ high end electro-hydraulic offering is seeing take up in Norway. Saudi Aramco’s Ali Al-Rabba described the multi lateral ‘maximum reservoir contact’ wells drilled in the Harahd III development as ‘game changing’ technology. Monitoring and smart completions with downhole control valves are used to increase production and minimize the risk of water breakthrough.

Gigacell simulator

Tom Dreiman presented Saudi Aramco’s in-house developed Powers ‘Gigacell’ simulator—designed to simulate supergiant reservoirs without sacrificing the accuracy of fine grain geological models. Massively parallel technology is used to model bypassed oil and fine grain water breakthrough that was masked in the coarse model. The Shaybah field was previously studied with 14 different models. Now one model simulates hundreds of millions of cells and 800 wells, some maximum reservoir contact (MRC) multi lateral ‘smart wells.’ Smart wells have reduced the new well count from 800 down to 600. A ‘mixed paradigm’ of MPI and OpenMP is deployed on Aramco’s Linux clusters. CPU counts vary for different jobs. As an example, a 258 million cell model with 60 years of history runs on a 400 CPUs.


StatoilHydro according to Lars Olav Grøvik strongly believes in integrated operations with real time data links enabling users to see the same data and geomodel on and offshore. Data transfers are enabled by WITSML but there have been ‘challenges,’ with infrastructure, with WITSML dialects, and in implementing the new work processes. Vendors do not always understand the problem. One told Grøvik recently, ‘Our software use depends on well behaved users.’ Grøvik ironized ‘Have you ever seen a well behaved user?’


Julian Pickering outlined BP’s standard real time information architecture for drilling and completions. The intent here is to develop WITSML to the point where it has the same kind of authority as OPC in process control. For Pickering, ‘openness delivers discipline health.’ BP’s real time architecture currently relies on data management by third parties in proprietary systems and formats. Ultimately this is to evolve with contractors managing data inside BP’s systems with wall to wall WITSML. This is considered key to the ‘field of the future’ initiative. According to Pickering, operator hosted data ‘gives a sense of ownership.’ A new skill base will be required with digital project managers, security consultants, network architects, automation engineers, application managers, remote visualization and data management consultants.

Drilling automation

An entertaining session on the automation of drilling began with a historical review from Bill Eustes (Colorado School of Mines). Over the years, the drilling industry has been an enthusiastic early adopter of new technology, although generally, these ‘bleeding edge’ experiments failed. The advent of computer controls in 1971 was a significant breakthrough. In the panel discussion, David Reid (National Oilwell Varco) reported ‘exponential’ growth of sales of its ‘Iron Roughneck’ automated pipe handling system, although the industry is still reluctant to adopt full automation. Safety, quality and speed are the prizes and reliability and affordability the challenges. Consultant John Thorogood stressed the need to ‘close loop’ with computer control. Unfortunately, we are ‘locked in the manual control paradigm.’ A step change is required. Ultimately there will be just ‘one man and a dog’ in the doghouse—the dog is there to see man doesn’t touch anything!


Martin Gainville from the French Petroluem Institute (IFP) presented the results of the ‘transient integrated network analysis’ (TINA) project—a joint venture with Total. TINA leverages technology and standards from the process control industry to perform flow assurance modeling from reservoir to facility—going beyond the traditional ‘black oil’ approach. A multiplicity of industry tools including ECLIPSE, PumaFlow, Reveal, Prosper, OLGA, TACITE and PIPESIM have been incorporated in a standards-based interoperability framework for transient and steady state analysis and optimization. Rules and interfaces were constructed using the computer aided process engineering interoperability CAPE-OPEN. A ‘simulation executive’ from the IFP’s RSI unit is used to orchestrate the overall process with individual software components plugging in like ‘Lego building blocks.’

Gas lift

One case study investigated gas lift optimization with some interesting results. Design optimization with ‘infeasible path analysis’ was used to identify pressure and other constraints. The plug and play framework showed that different solvers give different results! Gainville concluded that CAPE-OPEN proved efficient, modular and could be leveraged to integrate R&D developments into ‘a unique process model.’ A questioner noted the similar approach to optimization with PRODML—to which Gainville answered that the areas of operation differed but that Total was working on models that combined CAPE and ProdML interactions, ‘they are not incompatible.’ More on CAPE-OPEN from

Beyond money...

Amanda Sibille from Collarini Energy Staffing asked, ‘Beyond money, what’s important to professionals?’ Collarini surveyed some thousands of industry professionals to learn that, for women, the main issues were their boss, men and ‘challenging work.’ Work life balance was more important that generally recognized. Sibille believes that ‘companies are misreading what makes people happy—strong relationships and a supportive boss.’

And also ...

The meeting of the SPE IT Technical Section proved a sad affair. Progress since last year was minimal and momentum has been lost, judging by the very poor turn out. The SPE’s habit of withholding information on such meetings from the conference program hardly helps, causing us to miss what might have been an interesting meet of the SPE’s R&D Section—we will never know!

This article is based on a longer, illustrated report from The Data Room. More information on this subscription-based service from

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