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Developments with digital monitoring - ITF

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A technical conference session at the ITF Technical Showcase covered developments with robotics at Total, industrial internet at GE, and the digital oilfield from Stepchange Global.

Oil major Total is very keen to develop surface robotics tools, which can operate on offshore platforms, said Kris Kydd, head of robotics research for Total in PAU.

It already uses remote operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) underwater, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). 'It seems logical that surface robotics will come to oil and gas,' he said.

The surface robotics tools aim to reduce human exposure to risk, improve reliability, help optimise the operation of installations and make it easier to operate in harsh conditions, he said.

For example, it could be used to reduce human exposure if there is a risk of toxic gas, or after a platform has been evacuated after a leak. It could be used to improve operations or large onshore fields (for example in Uganda). It could help reduce personnel risk on complex facilities with many personnel involved, and automate repetitive tasks.

'After the Elgin incident it took us 11 days before we could get personnel back to the platform,' he said.

They could maybe also operate on installations which are normally unmanned.

They could detect problems which could lead to High Potential Incidents (HIPOs) and could also be more reliable than humans (since human errors are a main source of HIPOs he said).

Typical 'human' operators work for 12 hours a day, with 6-7 of those hours doing visual inspections, he said.

TOTAL set up a competition for teams to build a robot which could be able to do this. It needed to be ATEX certifiable (explosion proof), able to do inspections, travel around the offshore platform, and do reporting, be able to do interventions in an emergency, and alert a human operator if operations look fairly different to usual, or in the jargon an 'anomaly situation'.

The competition will test different designs.

Total is also moving ahead with collaboration environments, he said.

Total installed a 'smart room' for its UK offshore operations in 2014, where team members can collaborate, and share the same physical awareness. They can access software and visualisations, videoconferencing tools, advanced condition based maintenance data, and the 'Return 2 Scene' software to be able to view a picture of assets from any direction.

In Norway, for the Martin Linge project (expected to start production in 2016), it is developing a single web platform for access to many different data sources, including SAP software, plant and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs), and 3D visualisations. It is designed as '1 stop shop portal for all the digital information,' he said.

In Indonesia, Total developed a well head alarm and system covering 21 wells and 4 separators, with an individual alarm for each well.

The company is also gradually installing a 'Smart Signal' predictive analytics tool around the company, with a plan to monitor 950 pieces of equipment with over 35000 sensors by the end of 2018, analysing if a data signal is going out of its usual range.

David Hicks, GE Oil and Gas

David Hicks, senior product manager for the industrial internet at GE Oil and Gas, talked about how the 'industrial internet' can work.

The rough picture is that all of the data (from sensors, machines, historians, software) goes into a 'data lake', where it can be analysed and managed, and then the appropriate data is sent out to company staff, including analysts, operations staff and data scientists.

The idea of the industrial internet was originally developed for the aviation and health sector, he said, where there is large amounts of knowledge generated over the years, and a need to help people work with it better.

In the oil and gas industry, systems like this could be used to monitor flow, or monitor asset integrity.

'Virtual flowmeters' could crunch data about flow conditions and analyse if you have conditions likely to lead to formation of hydrates and wax.

'Asset integrity' systems could monitor how much hydraulic fluid is being used, condition of actuators and chokes, flowlines, electrical, sensors, communications systems and power supply.

The company developed a 'virtual flow meter' for a five well, dry gas field in Africa. The idea is that you use standard field data (such as pressure and temperature, and separator data) and use that together with an equipment model for the facility to make an estimation about the flow from each well.

There is a correlation between the flow rate, and the amount that temperature and pressure drop as the gas flows through a pipeline, he said. Pressure drop due to friction depends on the mass flow rate; hydrostatic pressure drop (gravity) depends on density, and the mass flow rate in the system is continuous.

'You can get a total field visibility how each well is providing allocation to the total flow,' he said.

You can use the tool to get a better understanding of the oilfield and how flow is going through different equipment.

A single physical flowmeter can cost $500,000, and a multiphase flowmeter can cost over $1m. But a 'virtual flowmeter' can give you data for an entire oilfield 'at a comparable accuracy' for $500,000, he said.

Also, physical flowmeters can have a tendency to 'drift' (lose calibration) which means you 'lose everything', he said. By comparison, sensors for virtual flowmeters undergo a more 'graceful degradation' - as sensors fail, you still get a measurement, just with a slightly different accuracy.

Unfortunately 'virtual flowmeter' data is not yet accepted as an alternative to flowmeters for fiscal metering (when you use the meter reading to calculate who pays what), he said.

Tony Edwards, StepChange Global

The digital oilfield 'gives you the ability to change the way you work,' said Tony Edwards, CEO of oil and gas consultancy StepChange Global.

You can work in 'near real time', responding to events as they occur, and work in a more multidisciplinary way.

Actually, changing the way you work is essential in getting value out of digital oilfield systems. 'If you don't change the way you work, you gain very little,' he said.

'We now have the instrumentation, bandwidth and storage, and analytics is beginning to give us the ability to manage [the data generated],' he said.

But if no action is taken on a result of the data, no-one gains anything from it, he said.

It is 'extraordinarily common' to find that there isn't a trusting relationship between onshore and offshore, which is required to make it work, he said.

Too much emphasis is still given to technology and process, and not enough to people and organisation, he said.

To illustrate some successful examples of digital oilfield, Santos Australia is controlling an upstream LNG gas development in central Australia, from a building in a Brisbane a 2 hour flight away.

Also in Australia, Woodside's Angel Platform is 'the most complex unmanned platform to date,' he said. Replacing a platform with 50 people on board and 30,000 hours of maintenance a year, it now has no people permanently on-board and 4,500 hours of maintenance a year.

'It is the use of the technology that's the issue' (not the technology itself), he said. 'There are radical new projects emerging based on minimum manning.'

'The UK Oil and Gas Sector has a lot to learn from other regions and industries.'

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