Process Automation Integrated Systems: A Data-Driven Search for Oil

Integrated Systems Pump Data to Feed the Search for Oil in Alberta

By Russ Ritchie, Dan Lastiwka

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Getting the job done

This was a small project carried out by a compact team in a new facility with a relatively low I/O count (1200).  It was very important for the IT department to buy into the PlantWeb concept. Without its acceptance and support, the team could not have achieved its goals. At some facilities, IT groups have created many difficulties in the implementation of control systems, especially those that are Windows and E-net based. This plan and structure made the IT personnel feel that both their system and the operating system were secure. These huge issues were not taken lightly.

Laricina executed a supplier-of-choice agreement with Spartan Controls of Calgary, an Emerson local business partner, and one Spartan engineer served on the design and implementation team. This provided an efficient way of selecting and utilizing the right devices. The up-front agreements meant that Laricina, Spartan and Emerson were not on opposite sides of the table. With trust established, the relationship became technical, not commercial or adversarial.

Costly manual monitoring and reporting was nearly eliminated with the PlantWeb design. Automatic reporting provides the highest level of data integrity to the management system. Because this information is helping to define an "unproven" reservoir, it is valuable and highly marketable.

Troubleshooting process upsets is much easier with the data synchronization in place. It greatly reduces mistakes and saves time. For example, when steam generators trip, operators are able to see simultaneously what was happening in the boiler's dedicated burner management safety system. The synchronized database enabled engineering to look at all events and process conditions in one timeline, enabling a quick discovery of the root cause of steam generator upsets. Automatic data synchronization alone saved the $150,000 per year that it would have cost to hire a person (at this remote location) to perform this function.

Results achieved

The biggest benefits of this integrated, software-based system are

  • Availability of high-quality data through the corporate historian for efforts at the corporate level to optimize the carbonate bitumen extraction and processing technologies. That is by far the greatest value for Laricina's pilot plant.
  • Cost reductions through faster configuration, commissioning and start-up as well as meter health verification and reduced manpower.
  • Easier, error-free documentation based on accurate field-generated information and the synchronized databases.

While it may not be possible to demonstrate return on investment in the traditional sense, as this is not yet a revenue-generating facility, Laricina's automation investment of approximately $2.6 million was easily paid for in just six months. The savings in configuration and start-up plus ongoing savings in manpower and maintenance are well-documented. A number of innovative ideas have been brought together to produce better results than is the norm on pilot projects of this kind. As a result, the company has realized significant profits through the sale of process/reservoir data.

No matter how smart a DCS is, it can't overcome problems at the measurement level, so success often comes down to the management of solid instrumentation generating priceless information. In this case, the related data is more important than the number of barrels produced; Laricina just could not risk leaving data generation, acquisition, and management to chance.

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