Systems Integration / Automation Fair

Oil & Gas Producers Innovate to Tap Hard-to-Reach Resources

Stories of Enhanced Recovery from China, Ecuador and Texas

By Jim Montague

Automation Fair 2012

Despite sustainability advances, the world is ever thirstier for oil and natural gas, especially in developing regions with a growing middle class. To supply this ravenous and accelerating demand, producers are forced to explore more widely and deeply than ever before and cope with far higher capital operating costs, yawning skill and experience gaps, and increasing regulations.

"Operators are overwhelmed with data, and enterprise-level managers are also struggling with all the 'big data' in their organizations," said Elizabeth Parkinson, market development manager for Rockwell Automation's oil and gas division, at this morning's Oil & Gas Industry Forum at the Automation Fair in Philadelphia.

"At the same time, subject-matter expert pools are shrinking, so resources need to be shared," Parkinson continued. "However, remote visibility empowered with live data is challenging, so decision-makers aren't equipped to do it and often focus on incorrect priorities. The actions that drive better capabilities include applied automation via improved network and controller loading, avoiding bottlenecks, designing systems with process sub-system dynamics in mind and optimizing system performance. It's also vital to present data on dashboards and use better reporting and data strategies, but also maintain firewalls and leverage other services, such as cloud computing."

Rockwell Automation, its system integrators and end users are coming up with some stunning innovations to help increase the efficiency and productivity of their production applications. For example, the Oil & Gas Industry Forum showcased three creative process control and automation projects. Perhaps alerted to these innovations, about 250 visitors to the fair stopped by and turned the forum into a standing-room-only event.

"Rocket Engine" Extraction

First up, Mei Lixin, CEO of Jiangsu Great River Petroleum Technology in Jiangyin, China, reported that his eight-year-old company has developed a new method—Composite Heat Carrier Generator (CHCG)—to greatly increase oil and gas yields, and has even designed an explosion-proof version for offshore platforms. The firm provides technical and support services to increase production yields for China's largest oil and gas companies, including CNPC, CNOOC and SinoPec.

"There have been three traditional ways of enhanced oil recovery—thermal recovery, gas injection and chemical injection. We think there is a fourth way by combining the original three," said Lixin. "It's based on the working principle of combining fuel, air and water in a sealing room, and then injecting them at extremely high temperature and pressure—almost like a rocket engine—into the target reservoirs, which are mostly in light oilfields, heavy oilfields and low-permeability."

Hot, pressurized gases—including CO2, nitrogen, steam and chemicals—are injected into wells that are typically 300 to 3000 meters deep. "The three main ingredients in our CHC greatly thins the crude in the reservoirs, makes it much easier to extract, and has zero carbon emissions to the environment," explained Lixin. "And our process has less than 2% residual oxygen, which makes it safer to operate."

To reliably control and maintain its innovative CHCG system, Lixin added that Jiangsu Great River chose to employ a variety of Rockwell Automation's ControlLogix controllers, software and other components, and even implemented them in an explosion-proof cabinet for use on offshore oil rigs. "CHCG requires a highly reliable control system, good maintenance, remote access and global support, and Rockwell Automation was able to provide us with a turnkey system that solved our previous issues."

So far, Lixin reported that CHCG is allowing the oil companies that Jiangsu Great River serves to extract significantly more oil and gas. "In heavy oilfields, compared to regular steam injection, the oil recovery ratio has increased 10% to 15% after CHC injection," said Lixin. "As a result, the production rate of oil from each well is 6.6 times that of original production rates. Also, the Nanbao heavy oilfield was the first application of CHCG offshore, and it met the explosion-proof requirements, ran stably and increased daily production rates by a factor of six."

Fracking Trucks in the Cloud

To continue improving control engineers' access to production data via tablet PCs and smart phones, Ted Hill, director of global business development for Rockwell Automation, reported that it's helping move many process monitoring and other capabilities onto cloud-based computing services. "Everyone expects to have all-access, wireless Internet these days, so we're helping our customers and industries do the same thing," said Hill.

For example, M.G. Bryan Equipment Co. in Grand Prairie, Texas, is leveraging Microsoft's Azure platform with its fracking trucks. The platform provides generic Internet connections for tablet PCs and smart phones, so users can secure production data from the trucks and their drill sites. Azure will serve up Rockwell Automation's own cloud platform and JSON web service extensions for security via a Sierra 3G wireless GX400 radio. For instance, the trucks will be able to alert operators when their air filters need to be changed, which can be as often as every eight hours.

"These $1.1 million trucks work in harsh environments from -30 °F to 120 °F, so it's important to know when each of their four $40 air filters are sucking sand and dirt," says Matthew Bryan, M.G. Bryan's president. "It's a priority for us to be notified ahead of time, and Azure is allowing us to collect this data, other KPIs and fleet management information on our smart phones. All this data is stored in the cloud, and lets us manage our equipment and serve our own customers better."

Beyond monitoring the trucks' operating and maintenance conditions, Josh Rabadeux, M.G. Bryan's controls engineer, added that the company may soon be using Azure to collect and access process control data from its wells too.    

Jungle Heavy-Oil Optimization

Similarly, to improve operations and uptime at two of the seven blocks in central Ecuador from which it extracts about 148,000 barrels per day (BPD) of heavy oil, Petroamazonas in Quito, Ecuador, recently upgraded from Rockwell Automation's RSView32 to its FactoryTalk platform, and also upgraded from PLC5 controllers to its ControlLogix platform. The first block, Eden Yuturi field, produces 53,000 BPD, and the second block, Indillana field, produces about 39,000 BPD.

"The former RSView32 infrastructure was transferred to our IT and automation teams as black boxes, which was a potential risk for operations of both fields," explained Gonzalo Maldonado, IT infrastructure supervisor at Petroamazonas. "Some of the issues we had were that the physical servers were out of warranty; operating systems were no longer supported; and there were missing licenses and/or duplicate serial keys."

Besides upgrading to FactoryTalk and ControlLogix, Maldonado reported that Petroamazonasinas also implemented Rockwell Automation's redundant and reliable HMI system and installed the same solution at both fields. "We implemented an audit tool to keep track of changes at the PLC programming level and applied active directory authentication into the HMI log-in process to increase security levels in the application," he said. "We also made sure our system is compatible with new PAM EP standards for coordinating Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft components. And we've virtualized out servers using VMWare, migrated to a Cisco Metro Ethernet infrastructure and moved from a Microsoft SQL database to a FactoryTalk Historian.

"We now have very reliable applications at both sites, and VMWare means we can add a new server in 10 to 15 minutes, instead of the 30 to 45 days it used to take to order a physical box. In addition, real-time and historical trending connectivity to FactoryTalk Historian improves global performance trending, which is now faster and avoids overload of the HMI application and network delays with SQL configuration. Overall, using Contrologix is easier and has been very successful for us. Also, our data management tools, such as online controller tags and data server distribution, work better with FactoryTalk Studio."