Digital answers


The world of energy just got more complicated, and that certainly applies to operational excellence in oil and gas operations. The industry is finding itself in a challenging position while operating oil and gas fields with all but the most essential workers remote and key systems not being well set up to support operational excellence imperatives remotely.

For that reason, upstream organizations are going from seeing digitalization as a ‘nice-to-have,’ with some runway to plan the future, to instead an essential initiative, a helter-skelter race, to find new ways to apply technology for maintaining and improving operational excellence in the oil patch.

The market says organizations must operate its oilfields at a lower break-even cost per barrel. This is most likely going to include taking people out of the oilfield (for their health and safety) and reducing operating and capital expenditures. But at the same time, safe operating conditions must be maintained to achieve increased reliability.

Even when operating at lower production rates, trimming OPEX and with reduced staff on site in the field; there is still the same, maybe even an elevated need to improve safety reliability and productivity.

Companies today are looking to digital enables; here is example of how these are working:
Prescriptive maintenance using machine learning
An insight of the past five months in the upstream world, is that artificial intelligence (AI and machine learning) which has started to impact other industries in meaningful ways, must be adopted on an accelerated basis in upstream. What AI will do is provide prescriptive and actionable insights, based on operating data, to provide a ‘feed forward’ planning ahead to take actions which will preserve production uptime and avoid infrastructure degradation. The result: Improved safety, reduced risk and uptime. This also saves capital. Today, ten per cent of capital investment in capacity is tied up handling unplanned downtime.

Industrial AI
Petroleum and chemical engineering principles are too complex for data algorithms to move forward without domain knowledge. This is where industrial AI comes into play, putting domain expertise guardrails around advanced data analytics, and achieving what we call a democratization of AI for the energy industry. Applications usable and valuable in the oilfield, which capitalize on machine learning but don’t require a data scientist. It is the confluence of data plus multivariate machine learning analytics plus expertise.

A major FPSO operator in Southeast Asia has implemented this technology to monitor production equipment health from a central onshore location. Production pumps, injection pumps, produced water filtration and handling, are all monitored through data streams and prescriptive maintenance.

Optimize well production
Advanced process control, a staple of downstream oil and gas operational excellence, has finally moved into the upstream world. Forced by the need for increased agility and increased well productivity, a global top-five upstream operator has implemented the most advanced form of process control, Adaptive Process Control, on multiple production platforms. This solution takes the minute-by-minute decisions of an operator to adjust well chokes, compressors, and separators, out of the hands of an on-platform operator and into the hands of an automated system that can exactly translate the operating strategy set by the reservoir engineers into real time optimized production settings, which are now monitored by an operator, who can be onshore.

Also, the adaptive control technology, is constantly monitoring the effectiveness of its settings in the context of changing hydrocarbon compositions and pressure. The result, multi million dollars in benefits per platform per year from running production closer to the optimum, coupled with increased uptime of equipment and safer operations.

Safety focused digital twin
Safe operations are another crucial area that digital technology can fundamentally help with. Process safety in complex operations, such as gas processing and offshore gathering systems, requires modelling and constant revalidation of safety envelopes. These models exist, and now that advanced techniques can be applied, can be put online to establish things such as ability of production expansion to be safely operated, impact of reconfiguration, impact of deferred maintenance and the like. Medco Energi developed a digital twin model of their offshore gas production infrastructure, to evaluate field development against HIPPS safe operating envelopes. This enabled a brownfield operating company to maximize production while increasing production, achieving over 20 million dollars in value, in reduced cost per well, from the digital twin in one year.

Sustainable digital twin
Asset models are invaluable strategic tools in reducing carbon footprint in production. A digital twin model can calculate what is known as a ‘virtual sensor’, that is a calculation in place of a physical sampling device. In one example in the Middle East Region, ADNOC put in place a digital twin model that measured, across the giant Shah gas field, energy use, utility costs, water use, and fugitive emissions. By making this information actionable to all field workers, the system provided actionable advice to improve these sustainability metrics, for instance eliminating one per cent of hydrocarbon losses, which then were turned from an emissions problem into a contribution to revenue.

In brief, there are a number of digital technologies that oil and gas companies can be looking to employ to help them navigate the complexity that is the energy universe in 2020. All while addressing their most urgent operational excellence needs and most importantly, keeping workers safer and making operations more reliable and better performing.

Ron Beck is Director at Aspen Technology Inc, a global leader in asset optimisation software. Its solutions address complex, industrial environments where it is critical to optimise the asset design, operation and maintenance lifecycle. AspenTech uniquely combines decades of process modelling expertise with artificial intelligence. Its purpose-built software platform automates knowledge work and builds sustainable competitive advantage by delivering high returns over the entire asset lifecycle. As a result, companies in capital-intensive industries can maximise uptime and push the limits of performance, running their assets safer, greener, longer and faster.

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