Shell Deepwater Taming Big Data Whale

June 19, 2013
Exception-based Surveillance Helps Manage Hundreds of Millions of Daily Data Points
About the Author
Jim Montague is the Executive Editor at Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as News Editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and lives in Skokie, Illinois.

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Handling the flood of operational data generated by today's smart instruments and reporting systems is hard enough on solid ground. Now move those production assets offshore in thousands of feet of water, and you can begin to appreciate the scope of Royal Dutch Shell's recent efforts to make better decisions and create genuine value in its offshore applications and businesses.

"We're just trying to fulfill our CEO Peter Voser's vision of making Shell the world's most competitive and innovative energy company," said Tom Moroney, Shell's manager of deepwater technology deployment and geosciences. "But, we need to process huge and growing amounts of data to make high-quality decisions."

Presenting at the Honeywell Users Group Americas 2013 today in Phoenix, Ariz., Moroney reported that Shell's upstream organization, facilities and staff have been innovating for 30 years, but a lot has changed since the 1970s when it ran mostly fixed platforms in a thousand feet of water. Now, it operates dozens of wells from floating oil rigs and floating, production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels in water that's 8,000 feet deep.

Presently, Shell's two most complex, deepwater platforms are the Perdido Spar in the Gulf of Mexico and the Espirito Santos FPSO off the coast of Brazil. However, Moroney reports that four more deepwater platforms, including Shell's Mars B/Olympus TLP, are being prepped for service and are set to be deployed in 2014. Mars B will operate in 3,000 feet of water, and is expected to produce about 100,000 barrels per day (bpd).

"We have six floating and four fixed structures in the Gulf of Mexico and two FPSOs in Brazil, and together they operate about 200 wells that produce 400,000 to 600,000 bpd," explained Moroney. "They also run abut 20,000 OSIsoft PI tags or sensing and measurement points, which generate about 410 million data points per day covering everything from complex well geometries to oil reservoir management and beyond." On its own, Perdido Spar's complex monitoring and control systems operate 38 wells via the platform's three Caisson ESP lift systems. Forget the fire hose—this is the data equivalent of the spillway at the Hoover Dam.

"Overall, we're seeing increasing technical and business complexity because asset portfolios are growing in size and complexity. The new systems require more support from experienced staff, more sensing and greater information processing," said Moroney. "Also, we have rapidly changing workforce demographics. In 10 years, a large percentage of the workforce will be nearing retirement. So, we also have a competency gap and underutilized staff resources, and we're seeking to hire and train more young talent. Consequently, many engineers are engaged in ‘firefighting' instead of proactive optimization; rigorous surveillance is not done consistently; there's insufficient use of technology; and often no structured way to preserve knowledge."

"Exception-based surveillance isn't sexy, but it's paid back fourfold on our initial investment." Shell's Tom Moroney on the company's efforts to find meaning in the millions of data points it gathers every day.Moroney added that Shell wants to evolve like the U.S. music industry. "We went from vinyl LPs and phonograph needles 20-30 years ago to now having our entire music collections in our smart phones," explained Moroney. "This is the mindset and capability we want to adopt for Shell's engineering and operations."

To achieve this level of sophisticated and hip asset management, Shell recently undertook its Well Reservoir Facility Management (WRFM) program, which is migrating the company from traditional, closed-loop decision making to an interrelated, four-part structure. These sections include: understanding the assets; knowing the risks and uncertainties of each; deciding how they need to be instrumented; and how to capture, store, analyze and consume date from them. Data generally take three forms: real-time operations, production system diagnostics, and asset performance analysis and optimization.

"We also have to be clear in our language," added Moroney. "So, alarms are operational notifications and require immediate action; alerts are engineering notifications that if completely manifested will cause equipment to go down and stop production; events are one or a combination of events that indicate a defined production anomaly; and services are steps we need to take to address alerts before they become issues. Services are built into standard operating procedures."     

This exception-based surveillance (EBS) method also uses the four pillars in Shell's Bridge program for handling alarms and alert situations. These pillars are advanced alarming, workflow orchestration, structural awareness and visibility, and knowledge management.

For example, Moroney reported that Shell recently secured early notifications of increased vibrations in a compressor with the help of analytical software from Honeywell Process Solutions. The compressor's vibrations triggered an event notification with visual aids in Shell's EBS alert console, so the alert could be verified and added to its SharePoint and SOP-based workflow system. Next, specialist personnel recommended performing a vibration analysis, and asset engineers also confirmed the nature of the vibration, determined it was due to insufficient post-lube cycling, planned a swap out, and captured the event so other compressors and their users could benefit in the future.

"Learning about this problem early enough enabled us to take the compressor offline before it seized, and save one third of the cost of replacing this compressor. We also put new surveillance practices in place for all our other compressors, including post-lube pressure, temperature and duration checking, and adding a pump switch for false fire-stops," added Moroney. "We've had several more cases since then of catching post-lube issue early, and there are many other successes like this. EBS is like changing the oil in your car. It isn't sexy, but it's also paid back fourfold on our initial investment. And, our partnership with Honeywell is the only way to make this kind of journey a success. We don't even think in terms of Shell the customer and Honeywell the vendor anymore. We are all one team." 

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.