Digital Energy, Houston

The Society of Petroleum Engineering’s ‘Digital Oilfield’ conference heard Don Paul (Chevron) defend oil country IT as outpacing other verticals. Shell, BP report on groundbreaking production surveillance and gas lift support. Panel sessions debate data, standards and living with $130 oil.

Previous SPE-supported events have often touted the idea that the oil industry is a technology ‘laggard.’ Not so according to keynote speaker Don Paul (Chevron) who cited a recent study by the US Council on Competitiveness that found that Tier 1 US energy companies outpaced other sectors. Oil and gas has embedded IT ‘all the way to the front line of the business.’ Chevron had 5,000 terabytes of storage 2007—growing at an annual rate of 80% for technical and 60% for business data. Paul also analyzed the current supply and demand situation to conclude that demand growth is likely to continue apace—and that for the industry, ‘this is as good as it gets.’


Tom Moroney described Shell’s ‘next generation’ production surveillance deployed in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Key to the new Production Operations Management Center (POMC) is that it is ‘exception based,’ providing operating limits, drawdowns, performance curves for topsides and subsea equipment. The idea is to understand conditions as they occur. A virtual asset team can be constituted from POMC staff, operations and process engineers. Technology in the POMC includes a portal, advanced alarm tool, workflow automation, dynamic reporting and the knowledge repository. Alarm notifications pop up PI Historian trends and well test data for analysis and ‘situational awareness’—all managed in the workflow engine. After an intervention, the system captures new parameters and performs short cycle optimization before issuing recommendations to operations.


Sergi Sama (AspenTech) outlined model based optimization on BP’s Azeri Field. This uses a Hysys model and facility simulator coupled with well models (Invent/Prosper), a well test database and the IP21 Historian. The optimizer has simplified validation and reconfiguring the plant as wells come on and off stream. The asset-wide model/optimizer calculates wells, separation trains, compression and pumping trains for onshore and offshore facilities. Business workflows have been ‘canned’ e.g. first optimize oil volumes then commercial gas etc. Slight tweaks increased production by 3% (15,000 bbl/day). The optimizer supports condition monitoring, ‘what if’ and engineering studies.

Panel sessions

A couple of interesting panel sessions debated the state of the art. Katya Casey (BHP Billiton) said that interoperability is not the problem it used to be—for instance ArcSDE works well with Oracle Spatial. But there are too many ‘standards’ like SOA where everyone does their own thing! ‘We need coordination down to operating systems, middleware etc.’ The engineering community has huge amounts of data, but is only now thinking about databases rather than Excel! Tony Edwards (BG) saw ‘confusion’ as to what should be standardized, outsourced and automated. Edwards believes standards should be limited to HSSE, integrity, procurement etc., but that well placement and other ‘creative’ processes should be approached differently. If you put too much in a standardized box you can inhibit creativity. Steve Fortune (BP) ventured that information management was more important than the digital oilfield. This was an interesting observation in so far as others, Don Paul included, considered the data management problem as more or less intractable. Fortune also noted that the digital oilfield was moving from pilots into ‘full scale, value generating deployments.’ Don Moore (Oxy) said that oil and gas industry doesn’t get as much credit as it should for getting to where it is today. A decade ago, these young folks from the technology side were telling us ‘you oil and gas guys just don’t get it!’ Then the tech bubble burst—‘Today you should be encouraged how fast the gap closed. And this with far less people.’ Paul noted that high oil prices have a direct impact on operations, ‘For Chevron, every barrel not produced must be bought. At $130/barrel, this means direct financial consequence for every shortfall. Environmental liabilities are no small deal. We are constantly observed by the government and NGOs. Hence the need to predict and prevent.’ Steve Fortune (BP) thinks information management is more important than digital oilfield technology. BP has a parallel IM track in its field of the future program. IM is ‘a massive problem that requires a level of engineering input that is not there.’ BP has re-introduced document controllers and data managers—roles that went out in the low oil price days. This was a big piece missing from the organization that has been brought back in. Washington Salles explained the Petrobras’ approach is to blend in house solutions and service providers with an integrated database for geology and production data—this is being extended to include real time digital oilfield data.

Shell Brunei

Ron Cramer (Shell Global Solutions) described gas lift optimization on Shell Brunei’s Champion field. Gas lift involves injecting gas into the casing so that it lightens the oil on its way back up the production string. The technique is amenable to optimization and is now considered a classic brown field operation. Gas lift optimization (GLO) the old way involved awkward setting of downhole valves in the well. In 2003, fluid control valves and smart multi variable flow transmitters with onboard diagnostics were installed. These are now linked to twin FieldWare/Production Universe systems, one for monitoring and one for optimization. For Cramer, the key thing is ‘get your instrumentation good and keep it good.’ Shell could not afford multi phase flow meters in each well at around $500,000 each! Multi rate well tests were used to build a ‘data driven’ model—deemed ‘more sustainable’ than a physical model. These real time estimates were then used to optimize gas lift. A configurable objective function sits on top of Production Universe (PU)—which can be set to maximize production or OPEX or other KPIs. PU is not a control system—it provides ‘advisory’ set points when something changes. Today the loop is not closed because of lack of confidence and the fact that operators are there anyhow. Even though the system is not automated, it is ‘miles better than the old system’ when it might take weeks before optimization after a compressor went down. Gas injected now exceeds the historical figure by 20-30%. There is still potential for improvement—especially in saving gas (less gas equals less compression.) Gas injection is now controlled frequently from the surface with much less wireline operations. The business benefits include reduced gas lift fees (40% down on one platform) and a sustained 20% production hike.


Many exhibitors turned out to be Chevron’s suppliers. Coreworx was showing its engineering document management workflow management and collaboration toolset. Chevron has 100,000 documents and 5,000 active workflows stored in a single Coreworx project covering worldwide projects. EPSIS’ Realtime Assistant (ERA) is a component of Chevron’s Master Schedule View which plugs in to Chevron’s Minerva data infrastructure, pulling together work order data from real time sources. The ERA Visual component provides visualization of key information from the field including terrain model, sea surface, sea bottom, geological horizons and well trajectories. 3D icons show objects of interest such as buildings, constructions, equipment, vehicles etc. These are connected to data sources to track vehicles and vessels and sensors/alarms. IOCOM ( formerly InSors) supplies Chevron with collaboration room software. The IOCOM Grid runs Windows across conference rooms, command centers, laptops and tablet PCs. A single server supports up to 20 simultaneous connections in multiple meetings for collaboration via VoIP/SIP and traditional video conferencing. Other exhibitors included Credant Technologies whose Mobile Guardian provides centrally managed, policy-based mobile data security and management solutions for data on laptops, desktops, and mobile devices. Infonic’s Geo-Replicator plugs a gap in Microsoft’s offering with replication of content in SharePoint across remote sites, mobile workers and low bandwith networks. Optelligent Solutions’ OSViz provides data visualization and analysis of production, injection, reserves and decline trends. The software or service solution can be coupled with IHS or proprietary data sets which are presented spatially and with time series animation. The tool was originally developed for Canadian oil company Esprit Energy Trust where it was used to optimize fluid flood. P2 Energy Solutions has re-designed its Tobin LandSuite, now called Enterprise Land. A land ‘DataMart’ decision support tool uses technology from Informatica and Hyperion to provide reporting and analysis tools for drill down. A shiny truck in the parking lot turned out to be Cisco’s Network Emergency Response Vehicle (NERV), a mobile communications and command center for disaster management. The system provides instant voice, video and data communications. Cisco’s IPICS technology allows disparate radio systems to communicate with each other TelePresence, video surveillance, Wi-Fi, satellite communications, and IP telephony on-board. The NERV was used during last year’s San Diego fires to patch fire and Sheriff’s radio systems. The DSS Satellite dish brought in television news which was then encoded to Windows media player for the Sheriff’s PCs.

Click here to comment on this article

Click here to view this article in context on a desktop

© Oil IT Journal - all rights reserved.