SPE Intelligent Energy 2014, Utrecht

Intelligent Energy faces sustainability issues and is at a crossroads of automation and change management. Shell’s gas breakthrough toolkit. Statoil’s robotic driller. The ‘guess the product’ game! NASA and automating Mars exploration. Merrick—‘shale is unique.’ Yokogawa and the upstream. Baker Hughes visits NOLA. BP on digital maturity and how ‘jewelry’ in wells is now OK!

Last November we reported from the SPE digital energy technical section that digital had achieved its goal and now sees full acceptance. The message from a slightly downbeat Intelligent Energy (IE), held this month in Utrecht, might almost be that digital/intelligent energy has gone beyond acceptance and is now menaced with decline. Sustainability of digital projects is now the watchword and here, two diverging solutions are proposed. Either work on the people side of the equation with management of change and other ‘soft’ stuff, or automate and get people out of the picture.

Klaus Mueller (Shell) enumerated some IE successes, the well and reservoir management (WRM) toolkit (OITJ Nov 2013) and gas breakthrough control (GBC). The latter has ‘made people’s lives easier’ by stopping flaring and night time driving for tests and maintenance. The GBC units (130 installed to date) include an audio video headset, RFID sensors, heart beat monitors and ‘man down’ alerts. Elsewhere IE initiatives have suffered from challenges to their ownership and sustainability. Some have fallen into disrepair. One IE poster child, the collaborative work environment is only realizing 50% of its potential. Challenges include finding people who want to use the technology. One GBC controller went down for a year resulting in 55k bbl of deferred production. There is a need to do more to inspire people.

Statoil ’s Halvor Kjørholt came out in favor of automation. So far IE has impacted drilling safety and capability but not efficiency. There is a need for a revolution in offshore drilling with real time well diagnostics and accurate information of what is happening downhole. This will be enabled by drilling sequence automation—moving drilling in the direction of process control. Such technology is being installed on a North Sea field. Managed pressure drilling in particular needs more integration with drilling control systems to detect small in and outflows to avoid ‘well control situations.’ Robots are to replace today’s drilling systems. Kjørholt backed up this claim showing a video of Norwegian Robotic Drilling System’s drill floor robot putting nails into a bottle. Robots will ‘talk to each other’ and organize efficient ways of working. Liner and casing drilling and MWD will mean that wells can be made in a single run including cementing.

Mike Ryan described ExxonMobil Canada’s aspirations of lower cost, safer, less complex operations—again enabled by automation and unmanned operations. In another session, Klaus Mueller stated that we need to get humans out of loop. Inter alia to address the old chestnut of data management and get the most out of our facilities. Mueller bemoaned the fact that people don’t show up for meetings, and that budgets for change management have been cut.

At the last IE in 2012 we took some speakers to task for not reporting the software tools of the trade they used in their work. The situation has not changed, in fact this year, several talks were little more than sales pitches for specific products. These curiously stuck by the unwritten ‘no product names’ rule that meant that some investigation was required to understand what was actually on offer. Of course the situation is different for speakers from the majors who unabashedly plug their own products and projects. For instance Shell’s GeoSigns interpretation package is ‘unique in the industry.’ BP even has its own to ‘Realtime.’

NASA’s Brian Muirhead provided an entertaining account of Mars (the planet not the oilfield) exploration and showed a spectacular video, ‘Seven minutes of terror’ showing the entirely automated landing of the Curiosity rover. The automation theme was duly picked up on by several subsequent speakers. Muirhead praised the work of the all female team that did the wiring on Curiosity. But calling them the ‘seven dwarfs’ showed that NASA is as macho a business as oil and gas.

Of course Mars exploration was not all rosy, witness the Mars climate orbiter that smacked into the planet back in 1998. This was only partly down to the widely reported units of measure bust, which NASA’s engineers had actually spotted, but failed to communicate to the operators. This ‘people side’ failing was not picked up on although it could have been. Muirhead’s entreaty to ‘take risk but do not fail’ was adroitly questioned and found wanting.

Merrick System’s Kemal Farid emphasized the uniqueness of shale operations which face data management challenges from the large number of wells, fewer engineers per well and an environment where ‘things move quickly.’ In shale operations, not everything is automated. Pumpers work on laptops sitting in their trucks. While HSE and compliance can’t be automated, elsewhere the aim is to automate as much as possible. Production data goes into the hydrocarbon allocation system for aggregation where it may be subject to complex production sharing agreements and reporting needs. Farid moved on to a case study of JW Operating, a ‘fast paced, lean shale operator.’ The unnamed solution to JW’s needs we believe was Merrick’s own production software for unconventionals.

We were excited to see newcomer Yokogawa at the show and chatted with their representative who spoke of the company’s new push into several verticals with a software offering tuned to oil and gas. We were handed a USB stick which was supposed to have some ‘teasers’ for the initiative. A tease indeed. The stick was blank—at least as far as I could tell although I think that stuxnet may be running on my dishwasher now.

Sunil Jose revealed that Baker Hughes’s operational security was inspired from airport security—from a visit with security experts from New Orleans airport. Baker’s risk management leverages a similar real time common view of operations that is standardized across silos. On the impressive triple monitors showing video feeds, production numbers and GIS you could just make out the unmentionable product name—WellLink, now a threat detection device with the capability of precursor detection—going back in time and re-creating events for forensic analysis.

BP’s David Feineman stated that digital oilfield maturity is ‘highly variable.’ Organizational politics has a significant imprint on digital oilfield maturity and its adoption and improvement. The problem set is many dimensioned and can be described as a ‘wicked problem.’ The term comes from systems thinking of the 1980s where a class of intractable, poorly specified problems were identified. These typically have unique solutions i.e. one solution is not applicable to a similar problem elsewhere (in other words, your mileage may vary). Enter Feineman’s digital oilfield maturity matrix with ‘dimensions’ of people, process, technology, strategy and governance and maturity levels from 1 to 5. Requiring people to change is the curse of the wicked problem. Another issue is rapidly evolving technology in IT and a slowly changing process/automation community. Digital may trigger emotional responses and is threatening to organizational structures, upsetting power, status, resource allocation and decision making. Progressing digital oilfield maturity will require improvements in all dimensions and the use of ‘storytelling’ to transfer learnings.

One of the earlier reactions to things ‘smart’ from the drilling community was, ‘I don’t want jewelry in my well.’ In other words, no fancy completions with downhole control to go wrong. A sign of how things have changed was given by Martyn Morris, introducing BP’s latest ‘field of the future,’ the Angolan PSVM FPSO. This, the biggest deepwater development in world, is going to have ‘all the jewelry in from the start.’ Such as, the advanced collaboration environment, downhole flow control, subsea sand detectors and BP’s Isis integrated subsurface information system. Thanks to acoustic monitoring and multi phase flow meters ‘we know exactly what’s coming out of every well.’ 4D seismic has replaced testing to track water movement and changes in the overburden. Slug control has been problematical in riser from the distant Saturno field. Here a software driven slug controller has proved successful, despite initial skepticism from operators.

Gerald Schotman’s (Shell) plenary covered familiar ground for Oil IT Journal readers in PowerPoint spectacular. IE is on a crusade to satisfy future world energy demand, fuelled by population growth and more energy consuming middle classes. Energy needs a ‘man on the moon’ project. Shell’s contributions include work with PGS fiber optic seismics and ‘GeoSigns,’ Shell’s ‘unique’ proprietary interpretation package. Those wishing to share their intellectual property with Shell can log on to the Shell TechWorks site. More from IE in next month’s Journal and from the conference home page.

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