Why do parents, babysitters and teachers have to grow eyes in back of their heads? Because they have to stay aware of all the mischief and mishaps their kids get into, so they can try to keep them out of trouble.
The same is true for operators and managers of oil and gas production wells, which have been multiplying in North America, even as they require more sophisticated monitoring and maintenance to improve production from longer-lifecycle and increasingly tricky deposits. Luckily, several new tools, such as data-delivery systems and interface software, are giving these users the extra eyeballs they need.
Developing the underdeveloped
For instance, family-owned Pantera Energy Co. in Amarillo, Texas, has been drilling and producing oil and gas for 33 years with initial projects concentrated in the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma. Beyond basic production, it's also grown, expanded operations and maintained steady drilling operations thanks to an aggressive acquisition program, which has completed more than 200 major transactions since Pantera was founded in 1982.
Because it targets deposits that many oil producers can't execute efficiently, Pantera reports that most of its assets reside in areas that require significant knowledge of facility management, water handling, wellhead compression, control and monitoring. Pantera staff and contractors presently manage more than 1,300 wells (Figure 1). Each day, they handle pumping operations, roustabout teams, well servicing and regulatory compliance, as well as maintaining a consistent drilling program that handles everything from well design to rig selection.
Aided by SCADA
"We understand that delivering value doesn't end with the drill bit," says Jerrod Kee, operations specialist at Pantera.
To fulfill this mission, Pantera has always concentrated on optimizing drilling and production. However, to accomplish it more thoroughly, the company recently sought to implement a more powerful supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that could automate more manual tasks, provide mobile access to geographically remote sites, reduce downtime, and scale up in the future.
Pantera historically relied on human pumpers for daily monitoring and management at its wells and produced-water disposal sites. However, with such a widely dispersed and expanding collection of assets spanning much of Texas and Oklahoma, the company faced a growing challenge to get contractors to its many sites quickly and consistently, and saw a chance to improve operations with real-time, remote data acquisition and control. It planned to analyze site-specific processes daily, adjust them regularly, and centrally compile and access key data for a more holistic view of all its operations.
Enlisting an integrator
To help carry out its plan, Pantera sought help from system integrator Champion Automation in Perryton, Texas, and its evaluation determined that Pantera would need a customized SCADA system with a server providing real-time communications across many sites and devices. Champion recommended and Pantera selected Ignition HMI development and SCADA software from Inductive Automation and KepServerEX communication platform from Kepware Technologies, which was just acquired by PTC. They began building the new SCADA system in November 2014, and finished in February and March 2015.
"These are typically aging wells with lifecycles that start out free-flowing, but now need artificial lift from pump jacks," says Lee Reeves, co-founder and owner of Champion. "These wells traditionally get inexpensive control units, such as Weatherford 8500s, which have basic pump-off functions, but no previous centralized SCADA system—just periodic testing and monitoring. Champion was initially brought in to integrate about 30 oil/gas/water wells, and lift gas for compression from 30-40 gas-only wells. Each compressor is already automated with 20 I/O, while each pump has five I/O, which can add up to a lot of data points."
Because of its large acquisitions and many small lease purchases over the years, Reeves reports that Pantera's managers and operators had many different kinds of controllers to integrate, but they wanted just one interface windowpane on which they could see the whole infrastructure of an entire field, perhaps 300-400 wells in a 50-mile radius in the Texas panhandle.
Integrating HMI and enterprise
To design and install their new interface and SCADA system, Pantera and Champion began by using Ignition HMI software to build a hosted, turnkey solution for Panera's internal systems. However, because Pantera's wells and equipment had no prior communications infrastructure, they first implemented a secure Ethernet network and servers, which included 15 Dell single-server platforms running Microsoft Windows Server 2012 software and a series of Ubiquiti RF 3.6 GHz radios. This network is protected by SSID passwords and encryption, while its wireless portions use the IEEE 802.11 standard's native security.
This hardware and physical network would allow Ignition to expand Pantera's new SCADA system to encompass its entire enterprise, and unify its primary HMI, SCADA and manufacturing execution system (MES) software layers into one, cross-platform solution. Ignition uses Java and Python software to achieve device, browser and platform independence, which allows its interface screens to be viewed on tablet PCs and smartphones. Next, KepServerEX would use its 150-protocol library to communicate with all of Pantera's different applications and devices. KepServerEX uses OPC and IT-based interfaces, such as SNMP, ODBC and web services, to give users one source for their industrial data.
"KepServerEX's ability to communicate with field devices such as Weatherford, Fisher ROC and ABB Totalflow, and support communication protocols like Modbus, proved to be invaluable for Pantera," says Jeff Klumpp, project manager at Champion. "When we coupled Ignition with KepServerEX, it allowed us to achieve our goal of building a system that would allow Pantera to be self-sufficient."
Steve Sponseller, business director for oil and gas at Kepware, adds that, "In this case, KepServerEX acts as a polling engine that checks all of Pantera's equipment on a schedule, talks to them in their own proprietary protocol languages, and reaches the appropriate devices at the appropriate time. Because its 1,300 wells are remote and use wireless telemetry, bandwidth can quickly become limited as thousands of components seek to run on it. In the past, users had to employ different servers for each type or brand of device, such as PLCs and RTUs, and they couldn't have them all use the same network because they couldn't have one be the traffic cop. These days, Kepware can handle all these tasks in one, all-knowing server that prioritizes items like alarm data over regular data."
Sponseller adds that KepServerEX saves time and money because all of Pantera's components can be installed, configured, licensed and managed on its unified server. "Pantera is going to drill and buy more wells in the future, and so it helps that KepServerEX can easily add more devices, and communicate with them using any protocol," says Sponseller. "This also helps the pumper guys because they can now get emails about alarms, look them up on Pantera's new SCADA system, and make adjustments remotely."
In the wake of deploying its new SCADA system, Pantera reports it also deployed Kepware's Modbus and Weatherford drivers to communicate with compressors, rod-pump controllers and other production components at its wellsites, which provide data to local monitors and centralized SCADA repositories (Figure 2). The new system also uses Kepware's ABB Totalflow and Fisher ROC drivers to communicate with Pantera's new flow computers to secure more accurate electronic flow measurement (EFM) data.
"Because Pantera's people were managing a field with a 50-mile radius that didn't have centralized monitoring and control, they previously had to drive to every well, often daily, and see if they were running or shut off," explains Reeves. "This could be especially crucial for its gas feeds, which sometimes have to be quickly shut down to avoid possible equipment damage when the transfer system to processing and midstream pipelines can't handle more flow. In the past, they had to drive out and manually shut off the flow. Now, they can do it in a minute from their central office in Dumas, Texas; achieve access from the road; and send back pump-off and other control commands. This not only saves time, but also reduces vehicle maintenance and other costs."
Klumpp adds that Pantera's staff also can configure the tuning on their pump-off controllers to further maximize production at each well. "If a controller is out of tune, it's got to be turned off to avoid damaging the rod downhole," says Klumpp. "Now, Pantera can do this tuning remotely. This enables the wells to be more productive and make more money. We estimate this part of the project paid for itself in four or five months—which was even before we got finished with it. Another benefit is that Pantera can upload EFM data from RTUs at the wells to create historical records, output them to an SQL database, and then Ignition can do calculations to show trends. In the past, a lot of this information might be lost at the wellsites. Even if a connection to an RTU is lost for awhile, KepServerEX can automatically backfill it to the SCADA system later."
In general, building a SCADA system, including telemetry and controls with Ignition and HMI software and KepServerEX, costs $150,000 to $200,000, but Klumpp estimates that integrating it onto about 50 wells with artificial lifts can pay for itself in just six to eight months thanks to reduced downtime and costs, and improved production.
So far, about 150 of the field's 300 wells have been integrated into the new SCADA system, and Pantera plans to get the rest and more on the network soon.
"It was important for us to implement an intuitive, single-pane SCADA solution to encourage adoption and use, and that's exactly what we accomplished with Ignition and KepServerEX," adds Pantera's Kee. "We couldn't find another SCADA system that was cable of supporting applications for metering, compressors, salt water disposal, and pump-off controllers. Not only are we seeing substantial ROI in terms of revenue, but the quality of life at Pantera has significantly improved as a result of this new system."