ABC Wellsite Automation, Houston

The third American Business Conferences Wellsite Automation was an information-packed event. Devon, Exco, Windy Cove, Williams, New Horizon, Permian and Discovery shared experiences of multi-vendor scada/PLC deployments. Vendors including ABB, eLynx and Emerson provided insights into automation and communications. EDF presented on measuring and mitigating emissions.

Brandon Davis described Devon Energy’s eclectic, multi-vendor automation environment. scada data is hosted on Cygnet alongside Dover Exploration’s Xspoc smart lift optimizer. A standardized PI historian/Asset Framework structure is deployed across different Cygnet sites. Sites are equipped with high throughput 900MHz Ethernet radios and corporate WiFi connectivity on the pad. Data flows into a central production control room for remote operations, management by exception and role-based analytical decision making.

Automation is baked into Devon’s operations from design through to the field with attention to process hazard analysis safety and environmental reporting.

The Cygnet scada object-oriented model supports detailed metadata on all equipment and provides cross references for multiple source systems at all levels. A standard PLC program allows for template device creation and screen design. The system provides flexible access to data for updating set points automatically and provides high frequency data logging. Comprehensive data access also underpins real-time production optimization, using remote expertise and software-based tools for gas lift, rod pump performance monitoring and decline curve analysis.

In 2017 Devon will be introducing predictive analytics for route optimization, rotating equipment surveillance, leak detection and more. A part of this effort involves ‘new ways of gathering data.’ These will likely include PI System and the Microsoft Azure cloud. Two internet of things-style communications protocols are under evaluation, IBM’s MQTT and OSIsoft’s PI OMF. Rolling out the automation system has seen a 3% production hike across Devon’s assets.

Johnathan Hottell (Exco Resources) advocates deploying scada systems under a rapid application development environment comprising Schneider Electric’s Wonderware and Clearscada tools. Again the MQTT protocol got a plug for real time data and as a pathway to data science, machine learning and ‘virtual operations.’ The new tools are rejuvenating the scada ecosystem which, according to Hottell, is ‘never done!’

For Mark Peavy (Windy Cove Energy) the majors and some independents have had great success in data management and analytics and have achieved a ‘huge competitive advantage.’ But there is much to be done in terms of scada efficiency, security, safety and environmental concerns. On communications, although ‘wired is always better,’ this may not be cost effective. Users need to be familiar with the intricacies of telecoms and communications. Looking ahead, the (ubiquitous?) MQTT protocol was mentioned as a route to a secure automation/internet of things future. Companies need to adapt machine-to-machine intelligent communications and to ‘blend computer technology with oil and gas experience.’ Again, communications and data management are seen as foundational for analytics and for operators ‘creative competitive advantage.’

Renner Vaughn described ABB’s building blocks for the modern field network. These target, in particular, ‘data-driven’ younger workers with an architected end-to-end communications network. ABB advocates a shift from today’s field-wide 900MHz radio network to hybrid, upstream field network, with a local 2.5GHz TropOS broadband mesh connecting pads over a few miles and moving the narrowband to the edge of the field. ABB’s self-organizing TropOS and MicrOS radios provide communications solutions at different points in the field network. A single TropOS node can replace four legacy subsystems for PoE, WiFi, serial and Ethernet. ABB also offers professional consulting services to cost and optimize deployment.

For those getting started on oilfield communications and control, Rob Graham (Williams) offered some advice on selecting an entry-level system, weighing the merits of PLCs and RTU-based scada systems. The RTU beats PLC on communications options, ease of deployment and use. But the PLC is more scalable. In all events, the key to successful deployment and use is to ‘read and apply the manual,’ to use best practices for installation, respect environmental ratings and make sure everything is properly grounded! In reality, modern systems blur the RTI/PLC boundary leading to both confusion and the potential for smart hybrid deployment.

In a follow-up talk, Graham described how Williams assessed the cost benefits of various scada systems for use by smaller operators, in particular the use of scada as a service-style offerings. These have low up-front costs but require an ongoing subscription. Phased deployment allows for improvements and ongoing tweaks, as knowledge of systems increases and use cases are discovered. scada systems can also input data into production accounting systems. In the minefield of communications protocols and hardware standards, Graham recommends using as few protocols as possible. Data concentrators can be deployed to translate esoteric or legacy protocols as required.

Greg Boyles provided a detailed analysis of New Horizon Exploration’s switch from manual to automated monitoring of its remote Trinidadian operation. Here sand production was causing multiple issues that were frequently misdiagnosed by field personnel. Manual adjustments to pump rates based on unreliable data were often counterproductive and were jeopardizing field economics.

An automated controller and progressive cavity pumps now respond to real time sensor data and keep fluid levels where they should be. The automation system includes a ‘scada on steroids’ component that can be accessed through a web interface. The distributed production team can see, plan and react to the same data from any location. The ‘standard’ platform was assembled with an eclectic technology stack from ABB, Allen Bradley, Baldor, Fuji and others. Production has seen a significant hike (17-58%) and op costs are down 50%.

Rob Warren (Permian Resources) showed how ‘cutting-edge’ report-by-exception methods can deliver consistent production while reducing manpower per well. Choosing the right scada host and software system is key. For Permian, this meant choosing between an internal system and a third party hosted solution from eLynx. In a move to decouple applications from plethoric field communications protocols, Warren advocates a central MQTT-based server. MQTT, originally developed in 1999, provides report by exception and is used in Amazon’s internet of things and Facebook messenger. Warren extends the ‘by exception’ concept right up from the M2M protocol to an ‘operations by exception’ management culture.

Landon Schaule compared various field radio topologies and solutions to conclude that for Discovery Natural Resources, a cellular mesh topology, Rajant’s ‘breadcrumb’ network was the way to go. Cellular communications can be flexible but costly large bandwidth uses without the right agreements in place. Discovery has used cellular Raven modems in every phase of operations at one time or another. They can be used as temporary communication devices on plunger controllers or on tank battery scada systems.

In a joint presentation, Robert Vela (SM Energy) and Stephen Jackson (eLynx) showed how the latter’s technology underpins SM’s operations. eLynx’ scada functionality allows SM Energy to leverage its in-house expertise and data and focus on production. eLynx provides a set of tools for organizing and viewing production data in the central control room or on mobile devices.

Jody Overshiner compared traditional well-test based allocation of gas and oil production with that offered by Emerson’s Roxar in-line multi-phase meter (MPM). While the MPM does not replace the separator and periodic well tests, it does provide continuous real time monitoring of gas, oil and water production. Such continuous monitoring can identify transient issues that might be overlooked otherwise.

Alex Barclay (U Tulsa) and Papa Mauricio (elynx) presented on scada cyber security. Several well-documented incidents, the latest, a Russian hack of a Ukrainian electricity substation, have shown that control systems are vulnerable to attack. Modern scada systems use internet TCP/IP protocols for communications which make them vulnerable to a range of attacks. Moreover, they were, in general, designed for functionality over security. Solutions include the use of various standards and best practices from ISA (SP-99), NIST (SP 800-82) and the API (1164). The U Tulsa/NSA National center of academic excellence in cyber operations performs industrial cyber R&D and maintains ‘honeynets,’ cyber traps to catch hackers.

Aileen Nowlan from the Environmental Defense Fund described methane as a powerful greenhouse gas. Its unwanted, fugitive production is also a considerable waste, amounting to $2 billion per year in the US alone. The lion’s share of fugitive emissions come from hard to trace small leaks. What is needed is a low cost, ubiquitous monitoring technique. Statoil set up the methane detector challenge to find a solution. The winners were Acutect and Quanta3. The latter has new been deployed on Statoil’s Eagle Ford operations where smart detection algorithms are being developed to pinpoint leaks and develop optimal mitigation strategies.

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