No more looking at paper maps or driving long distances to check wells. No longer does someone have to guess what is going on down the hole or manually determine what each phase of a well costs. In this advanced age of technology, energy companies cannot operate efficiently (or at all) without the latest advances in computer software.
From the barren plains of West Texas, dotted with thousands of pumping units, to posh corporate offices in Houston, companies large and small utilize software in their operations to stay on top of their business. From a single office they can monitor wells and see if anything has gone wrong, locate sites for drilling, determine the costs of each operation, and analyze incoming data from various wells. But make no mistake: computers and software don’t replace people.
Energy software is a business that doesn’t waste time and evolves daily. While numerous companies stay busy moving to the next stage in software development, companies must train their employees to effectively use it. That’s where the Midland College Petroleum Professional Development Center plays an important role. But the PPDC isn’t the only player.
In the case of some software companies, old-fashioned ingenuity and entrepreneurship came into play. Someone saw a need and decided to find an answer.
DDK Solutions in Snyder is one such software company. It was started by two brothers, Don and David Crane, and a friend, Kenneth Boehs. Explaining the company’s background from a wellsite where he was working, Don said OPTIS was created as a rod pump and well tracking software. “We started in 2002 and by 2004 we were well on our way to developing what we have today. We’ve made huge improvements over the past 10 years.
“People were looking for ways to solve problems. They needed service providers to be pro-active, not re-active. They wanted to be able to figure out what happened to a well,” Don said.
The result of many trials and errors was OPTIS, a rod pump and well tracking software that monitors wells where the pumps are located. Don also saw the companies needed someone to take the data and “crunch it down to something useful. If you don’t have someone available to read the report, then you need good service providers to take that data and use it effectively. This software is becoming a requirement for many major players in the oil and gas industry.”
“We’re in a niche market,” he continued. “In the rod pumping industry, they need to know the history of that well and be able to transfer that data from one owner to the next. The engineering department will have useful information to make decisions immediately without pulling the well.”
Data is generated on the scene and transferred in report form or a raw database to the owner. “It’s driven off raw data,” he said. “We do trend analysis and make predictions on what is about to happen.”
DDK Solutions “is not a typical software company. We don’t know how they do it in Silicon Valley. And we don’t farm out customer service to someone in a country with a foreign accent,” said Don, who is Mr. Customer Service.
On the opposite end of the software spectrum is Chevron, an international corporation involved in exploration and production, refineries, manufacturing, pipelines, and transportation. With a growing presence in the Permian Basin, and having just acquired 246,000 net leasehold acres in the Delaware Basin in New Mexico from Chesapeake Energy, Chevron is keeping track of drilling, wells, and production with some very sophisticated computer software.
Lee Conroy, a 22-year employee with Chevron, works as IT manager at Chevron Global Upstream, Mid-Continent Business Unit, headquartered in Houston. She manages the IT operations in all the unit’s offices, including Midland. She talked about the petro-technical portal, which brings information from numerous sources. A technical team leader can go to the portal and search for analytics, trending, and other information.
“We can monitor compression plunger lift in real time drilling activities. We rely on information coming off the processor controller out in the field. We can see more readily and quickly when something is operating out of bounds, Conroy said. “In other words, our folks spend less windshield time.”
Another person described the process this way: “We have the ability to make measurements on a well in the field and turn them on and off from the office. Radio transmitters send information directly to the software. New software allows us to view things in true 3-D.”
Conroy described one such monitoring procedure that shows everything going on with the equipment. “It looks like a tree with a lot of dots,” she said. “If the dots are green, it’s OK. If some dots are yellow, that means it is out of tolerance. And if the dots are red, it means the equipment has gone off line and we need to find out why quickly.”
By using the computers and software to monitor wells and equipment, “we’re utilizing our people more efficiently and effectively. The integrated operations center complements the expertise we have out in the field. They can get out to the field quickly when there is a problem and we have less lost production. Our people can look at a lot more information all at once than they could in the past.”
Chevron develops part of its software for specific uses within the company, but also purchases software packages, according to Conroy. “For example, managing daily production is done by purchased software. SAP Business Management Software is a large financial suite we buy. And we also use TietoEnator.
“We are creating a digital oilfield,” she said. “Anything we do has a digital outcome… except for the product in the tank.”
The IT division also handles information management, which includes digital files and scanned regulatory files.
However, security is growing in importance in the IT division. “The reliability of our software is critical,” she said. “And, thus, our security is critical. We’re always doing vulnerability assessments. You know, we are such nice people here and when we see someone with a load of boxes or files and trying to open the building’s front door, we say, ‘let me help you.’ This is one way people can gain access to our buildings and our networks. We’re constantly auditing against those situations.”
Enertia Software is headquartered in Midland at 125 W. Missouri Avenue in what used to be the Marathon Building. The software firm was founded in 1983 by Kevin Schmidt and his brother, Karl, who is listed as vice president and director of marketing. The company’s website notes the original mission was to “advance the development and sales of a completely integrated back-office solution specifically focused on upstream oil and gas exploration companies.”
Karl recalls they wanted to build “PC-based oil and gas software applications. We built the applications and implemented them 250 times. In 1996, we threw it out. The technology had changed. We now had Windows and a database. We didn’t want to continue our dad’s software.”
The Schmidts also noticed too many separate applications were on the market: one for land, one for production, and another for accounting. “We wanted to develop a software app that would work across the board. The company’s focus today is integrated oil and gas applications. We built a unique set of tools and we’re the only ones to rebuild from scratch.”
Enertia Software consists of 68 employees spread out in offices located in Houston, Dallas, and Denver, as well as in Calgary, Alberta. Plus Midland, of course. Enertia clients can be found in every oil and gas basin coast to coast, ranging from small private ones to larger companies such as Linn Energies, Cimarex, Chesapeake, Mack Energy, and Concho. Another client, EQT, or Equitable Production, is based in the Appalachians and operates 30,000 wells, according to Karl. “Vicariously, we have the largest oil and gas operation in the world through our customers,” he added.
Every software application is now PC-based, although the company is planning to design a .NET environment. “That would help us extend the application’s functionality and it is far more powerful. The user can help define how it works and the data requirements. It is a more appealing software,” Karl said.
Software needs vary according to the locations. Karl said West Texas has more oil wells and is pretty simple. “South Louisiana has gas issues and requires more data, such as pressures and plate sizes. There are complex issues in newer plays based on federal issues and royalty ownership. Every state has different regulatory issues and we deal with those.” Metering issues differ between oil and gas. “All gas flows through a measuring meter. Oil flows into a tank.”
The Enertia website notes the “interactive data-driven applications and technology will help your oil and gas business realize countless benefits, including improved ability to analyze data in making effective business decisions; improved data integrity through one-source entry and query; transformation of complex data into discernable information; and replacement of legacy systems with integrated applications.”
Enertia Software will continue to grow, noted the vice president, with 12 more employees to be added by mid-2013. “The challenge is to hire these people. We’re all hiring out of the same pool of graduates. We are looking for people with a knack for technology in addition to understanding oil and gas.”
With a flat management structure, the employees work in teams. “You let everyone excel to be the best they can be. We have team-oriented results and that’s why our company works. It takes a team working together—people who like technology.”
Software is changing the oil and gas industry, in the opinion of Bluetick’s president, Mike Mills of Houston. He and Mark Rodgers, manager of sales and marketing, set up an exhibit at the October Permian Basin International Oil Show. Bluetick, with offices in Houston, Denver, and Greensboro, N.C., offers two products. One is a land management software and the second is a remote monitor control system.
The first product is used while acquiring leases when land people are trying to obtain data and contracts. “It all ties back together with mapping and ESRI arcGIS, which is the industry standard. You can upload all your data and information and it is served to you as soon as you log in,” Mills explained.
The remote monitor control system is a post-drilling operation. “We monitor different points around the field, such as the pumpjack, and all pressures and temperature flows. We backhaul the data, either across cellular or satellite,” Mills said. “Your information is all there. You can graph it or trend it. And it has a historical analysis.”
Bluetick also manufactures a microprocessor-based system that operates like a mini field computer. “We can change things out and re-design things as our customers’ needs change,” Mills said.
The company inadvertently stumbled onto the path it is taking today. “We were working with a partner in the oilfield and they had a shut-in well. Our system was out there still ticking along,” Mills recalled. “One of their engineers came to us and said, ‘I just happened to pull up your site and I’ve got all this information.’ He had started doing real well analysis about the field during the shut-in time. We said, ‘That’s exactly where we wanted to go with this technology. We wanted to use it for analysis.’ The engineer was doing forward-looking analysis on his well, and that’s what really impressed me.”
None of these companies sits still. All are designing for future needs. Rodgers, with Bluetick, pointed out that in the past 18 to 24 months “every company has realized that land is business development. If you are not on top of business development, you are not growing, you are not getting new reserves, you are not getting new production. There has been a seismic shift in land, going from a back-office clerical-based system to a need today for real-time up-to-date information.
“If you look at a map drawn by someone two months ago, it’s already out of date,” Rodgers continued. “The software we provide allows you to have up-to-the-minute information, accessible 24/7. The employees are able to walk into a meeting where the vice president of land is now VP of Business Development and he’s talking with the CEO and board of directors. He can now say ‘this is exactly what we own.’ That used to be unheard of. It used to take weeks to prepare and plot those big maps. Now you can get them on your iPad, your tablet, and print them out. There are multi-million dollar and even billion-dollar decisions based on these maps. Everything now has to be online. No more paper records or paper maps. Our software ties the mapping and the data together. This land informational system provides easy-access screens for field landmen to update new information, new leasehold. Serving up maps on a website is extraordinarily hard to do and that is what this system does.”
To realize how expansive the field of energy industry software has become, a person only needs to look at the courses offered by the Midland College Petroleum Professional Development Center in downtown Midland. “Any software used in the oil and gas industry, we teach it,” said W. Hoxie Smith, director. The Center’s computer room is equipped with 12 dual-monitor setups, which allows for one-on-one instruction.
Software classes include computer plotting and legal description; DrillingInfo’s online program that accelerates workflows with easy access to oil and gas production data, leasing information, and more; Geographix; GIS for Petroleum Independents; Horizontal Wells in PETRA; IHS PowerTools; Landmark ARIES, which manages, organizes, and evaluates economic and production data; Landmark DSS database; Landsat topography; Oilfield Manager (OFM), which manages production and tracks and improves oil and gas field performance; PETRA; PHDWin; Pressure Transient F.A.S.T., well Test with Real Time Data Capture; Scada Systems; SMT 3-D PAK (now GeoPlus PETRA); SQL, database language; and TOPO Maps for landmen.
The most popular class is PETRA, which is used by geologists and engineers. It covers mapping, topographics, stratographic sections, and cross sections. “It can handle hundreds of wells and do large projects. This class always has a waiting list,” Smith said.
Another popular class is the one covering PHDWin, an economic evaluation software that offers solutions for evaluating, managing, and reporting reserves and performance data.
“We are the continuing education center for anyone in the industry,” Smith explained. Not only does the PPDC offer classes for the public, but also proprietary classes for numerous companies. “Concho and Unocal, for example, send their employees here for training on their particular software,” Smith said.
With 35 oil and gas companies represented on the PPDC advisory board, Smith hears suggestions of new classes to offer to meet the industry’s changing needs.
As software evolves and changes to keep up with the oil and gas industry it continues to save time, money, energy and resources, noted Mills with Bluetick. “You want to get information faster. You want to save time. And it makes everybody more efficient.”