Automation and remote monitoring are redefining the industry.
As David Savells remarked, there is a saying in the oil and gas industry that “there is no way to recover lost production.”
“If you lose two or three days of production, there is no way to make it up,” he observed. “That is why it is important to monitor wells and production facilities. On the flip side, you have to be responsible. You don’t want spills. So it is a big deal to have as much production as possible in a safe manner.”
Savells is a sales representative for Arlington-based Pan-Tech Controls, which serves as the manufacturing and distribution representative in North Texas and West Texas for Schneider Electric.
Schneider Electric makes the claim in its promotions that it offers “a sensor-to-enterprise solution for upstream oil and gas application,” according to Savells.
Wellkeeper, which has been providing remote monitoring for the oil and gas industry since 2001, offers basic services such as oil and water tank level monitoring and alarms to more sophisticated services such as pump-off control monitoring.
Pump jacks have traditionally been controlled by timers, which shut off periodically to keep fluid in the pump as well as allowing pressure to build up in the wellbore, according to Stuart Royal, regional sales manager for Wellkeeper in Midland. But he called that timer a “very ineffective” method of operating the pump jack. With the sophisticated technology of pump-off control monitoring, Royal said one can now “maximize the amount of fluids pumped out of the well without pumping it dry. It is transformational technology.”
He said Wellkeeper, which is a Web-based system to monitor wellhead and process equipment, is suited for smaller to mid-size companies with two to 2,000 wells.
“Remote SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems are no longer only for the big boys, who have their own IT folks,” he stated. “That’s the biggest difference, the people who are using this new technology. Some guys are coming to us, saying they want to use remote monitoring before they have even drilled their first well.”
An oil well sitting in the middle of nowhere in Upton County or Loving County is no longer an isolated operation, observed only when the pumper makes his “milk run” to check on the well’s operations.
Today, a variety of companies, such as Wellkeeper, Pan-Tech Controls, and Schneider Electric, are offering Permian Basin operators a number of integrated solutions, including remote telemetry and SCADA systems as well as 24/7 field measurements
That isolated well in Upton or Loving County can now be fully automated and remotely monitored by an operator, whether he is sitting in Midland, Houston, or Oklahoma City.
Value of remote monitoring
Royal claimed that there are four values derived from using remote monitoring systems such as Wellkeeper. The first value is increased production.
For example, if the pumper arrives at the well site at 9 a.m., greases the fittings and does his maintenance work, and then leaves at 9:15 a.m., Royal said that if the well goes down at 9:20 a.m., it will be 24 hours before anyone does anything about it.
“Whether it is two barrels or 2,000 barrels, that 24-hour production is gone forever,” he added. “That lost production has to come at the end of the life of the well, which could come 15 to 20 years down the road. We have documented that our system reduces down time by four percent. That may not sound like a lot, but how much value can be placed on four percent of lost production?”
The second value to the Wellkeeper system, according to Royal, is environmental liability.
“I had a customer call me recently to say his company hadn’t put a drop of water on the ground in two years since using our system,” he emphasized
Wellkeeper can prevent spills with tank level monitoring and alarms.
He stated the third value is a reduction of cost. A pumper typically spends his days driving around to 25 or 30 wells.
“If that person looks at the software before he starts his day, he can prioritize his route,” Royal explained. “He may say that instead of going to Well No. 1, he will go to Well No. 6 first today because he thinks he has a problem there.”
There is also a safety concern. The pumper can use the software to determine whether he might be exposed to deadly hydrogen sulfide (H2S) before he ever goes on site. All of the measurements, including the H2S monitor, are available on the pumper’s laptop in his pickup or anywhere there is an internet connection.
The fourth and final value from remote monitoring, according to Royal, is accurate measurement. Instead of the pumper reading the tank gauge and then writing the measurement in a notebook, where it has to be transcribed back in the office, those steps, which include opportunities for mistakes, have been eliminated by Wellkeeper’s “near time” system, which takes measurements every five minutes.
Royal added that “near time” measurements allow companies to see historical trends for better planning in addition to letting everybody know that someone is watching with the ability to screen capture measurements every five minutes.
Remote monitoring, which began as a simple alarming function, is now used for a wide variety of applications by engineers, according to Royal. For example, he said Wellkeeper has a customer operating a waterflood in eastern New Mexico that is using it to monitor flow rates and well pressure.
“If they increase water flow, what does that mean to the production flow?” Royal related. “It has all sorts of applications. We have customers who tell us that the first thing they do in the morning when they get up is to sign on to Wellkeeper. It tells them how they will spend their day. A lot of pumpers, who didn’t even have a computer five years ago, now start their day by checking Wellkeeper.”
Savells said Pan-Tech Controls can provide devices to measure fluid levels and gas flows on everything “from the wellhead to the refinery gate.”
“You want to monitor your assets,” he explained, “for safety and environmental reasons. You don’t want to be pumping into a tank when the tank is already full. Our systems can detect leaks and shut the well off.”
Schneider’s SCADAPack controller can interface with measuring devices on the pumps, tanks, and valves, according to Savells.
“On the telemetry side, our SCADAPack controller can interface with cellular service, a private radio network, or satellite to send the automation and remote monitoring data back to a control facility,” he added.
Savells explained that a typical oil producer in the Permian Basin has a number of oil wells feeding into a satellite facility or tank battery.
“Our equipment can monitor the wellhead with equipment to optimize production and start and stop the pump,” he continued. “With a number of wells feeding into the battery, we monitor the separation of the oil from the water and the gas from the liquids. We can measure gas production. Oil is hauled off by truck or via a pipeline, and the water is hauled off to a disposal well or re-injected into the well to help with production.”
Savells said his company’s equipment can monitor all facets of the operation. In fact, handling water is major issue in the Permian Basin.
“For every 10 barrels of fluid we produce, nine barrels may be water,” he said. “I talked to one customer who was disposing of 50,000 barrels of water per day. Automation to manage produced water is really important. You have to lift the water and then you either inject it back into the zone or dispose of it in a public or private disposal well. In public disposal wells, we keep track of who dropped off the salt water, the quality of the water, pumps, tank levels, etc. It can all be monitored remotely.”
He added that production at gas wells, such as gas flow and liquids produced, is measured at the wellhead, while production from oil wells is normally measured at the tank battery, which serves a number of wells.
The biggest advantage, however, to the remote monitoring and automation systems is the ability to measure levels and protect against spills.
Savells said the SCADA host software continually monitors the well site and can immediately notify the company of a problem such as a leak or high tank level with an alarm, e-mail, or text message.
Many companies, according to Savells, still use a third-party alarm company that monitors the SCADA data and then calls the operator with a voice message to alert him of the potential problem.
Production in the booming Permian Basin is increasing exponentially, he continued, with the new wells that are commingling multiple zones or providing increased production because of horizontal drilling, thus increasing the need for companies to automate and remotely monitor their wells.
“With infill drilling in older fields, much of the equipment was designed for smaller volumes,” Savells offered. “These new wells are astronomical, producing hundreds to thousands of barrels per day. Volumes are so much higher. Facilities that used to handle a few thousand barrels a day now handle more than 10,000 barrels. Capacity is running higher than ever before.”
He added that Schneider Electric has also developed rod pump controllers and variable speed frequency drives that provide better ways to maximize production and reduce wear and tear on the rod pump.
Reducing electricity costs
It is estimated that (AC) electric motors consume greater than 70 percent of the total energy used in industries, including the oil and industry.
Kevin Hart and Randy Carroll work in marketing, development, and outside sales for EW Distributors, a new Lubbock-based company that represents Motorwise products, an intelligent energy savings motor controller that Hart said can not only lower energy costs but also reduce wear and tear of equipment.
“It has proven field performance,” Carroll said. “It has been in use in the field by the oil and gas industry for three years.”
Motorwise is a world-wide company based in Boca Raton, Fla. Its motor controller is used to manage and optimize the power delivered to electric motors by identifying partial and intermittent loading conditions and reducing the motor’s voltage to an optimal level, thus eliminating waste in the form of heat, noise, and vibration while maintaining proper operation.
“It reads the loaded and unloaded condition, and reduces the voltage in the unloaded condition,” Hart explained.
“It uses the weight of the pumping unit to finish the stroke, only applying electricity when needed,” Carroll added.
Hart said it has been documented that the Motorwise motor controllers can reduce electricity costs by 15 to 25 percent in a field of five pumpjacks. He is quick to note that results can vary quickly from well to well. For example, a 6,000-foot well might require five strokes per minute, while nine strokes a minute are necessary for an 8,000-foot well.
“No downhole condition is the same, either,” offered Carroll.
“The control board reads the well and pump conditions every two minutes,” said Hart, “all digital, all instantaneously, recalibrating the controller and the profile to the electricity required.”
Carroll said it is similar to the General Motors active fuel management program that drops out four cylinders when going down the highway, using all of the cylinders only when needed by the engine.
In addition to reducing electricity costs, Motorwise units also include a soft-start feature that allows a motor to go from rest to full speed in a controlled and managed fashion rather than a jerking start, thus reducing mechanical stresses on the motor and any attached equipment. Hart noted that the soft-start feature reduces wear and tear on belts, wrist points, great boxes, and pumps and rods in the hole.
“By managing our controller, we also reduce the operating temperature of the motor by as much as 10 degrees,” he continued. “That can double the motor life expectancy.”
Carroll said there are approximately 2,000 Motorwise AC motor controllers in operation today in the Permian Basin. He predicted that electricity rates are going to triple in the next three years, thus increasing the importance of finding ways to reduce electricity cost.
“Our motor controllers are currently approved for green credits in New Mexico, and we are working on that in Texas,” added Hart. “We are currently doing a test for a company in New Mexico to determine the amount of green credits they should qualify for in reducing electricity requirements in their operations in Lea County.”