Since Edwin Drake drilled the first oil well in Pennsylvania, oilfields have operated on data. The reason is easy: economics. In any case, each oil or gas well is connected to a cash register. An assortment of involved parties, from the land owner and mineral rights owner to the Production Company and taxman, are all paid based on production. Expenses are also assigned to each well and a variety of interests.
Until recently, oilfield operating parameters were normally monitored manually on a daily (at best) basis. A worker, called a pumper, would travel from well to well on a daily route, writing down information for each well on metrics for instance; tank levels, flow, and pressures as well as making essential maintenance and improvements. Picture a skilled worker, driving a $50,000 pickup truck with $25,000 value of tools and parts, bouncing along bad roads, examining 20 to 30 wells daily. Even nowadays, this scenario remains quite familiar.
Yet over the last 20 years, a silent technological revolution has occupied the oilfield. Primarily, as oil and gas prices rose, the financial incentives to make the most of production led to innovations in observation. As the old saying goes, “Production that is vanished can never be made up.” The key motivation at this time was to distinguish a failure in a well’s operation so it could be corrected as promptly as possible to preserve production.
More recently, as oil and gas value have fallen, a focus on dropping total operating costs has driven the use of remote oilfield monitoring system as an alternative for labour. Layered on the drive for greater productivity is the need to decrease the risk of spills and other environmental harm.
Limits Of Remote Oilfield Monitoring
Usually, almost every remote oilfield monitoring and control activities consisted of wired systems that linked sensors and actuators to several form of local control device – a flow computer, RTU or SCADA device. Whilst wired systems have been around for a long time, a number of the unique attributes of oil and gas operations have confirmed challenging for conventional wiring.
Communications distance can be huge. The distance connecting monitored resources can range from a modest 20 to 50 yards to daunting 1,000-plus yards.
Travel time for installers can be important. It is not extraordinary for an electrician to have to travel two or more hours to arrive at a work site and for an installation to take some days at best to weeks at worst.
The local environment can present problems. Conduit may have to be buried, though wells are frequently subjected to “workovers,” during which the well and its related sensors and wiring are torn apart to.
Some wires just can’t be run on property not owned by the manufacture company, for instance roads, cemeteries, streams, or other structures.
Wired solutions can be costly to implement and preserve. Installed costs can run $5 to $20 per foot or more if trenching is necessary. These installation costs can depress the use of wire even if the measurement is a pleasing one to make.
Advent of Remote Oilfield Monitoring and Control
Remote oilfield monitoring systems can help oilfield workers overcome the limits of wired systems. Yet, to be truly efficient, wireless systems must have sufficient range in addition to being wireless in the accurate sense, i.e., involving low enough power that no power lines have to be run.
Such systems as well must be able to deliver monitoring and control functionality in effect in an aggressive and unsafe environment. They have to operate unattended for years in the Texas sun and Alberta winters, in snow, rain, dust storms, and ice. And they need to be intended to operate safely in caustic and explosive settings.
Operators have tried off-the-shelf result but have had little success with them. A few traders have developed wireless sensor networks that help out workers overcome these challenges, and such systems have now been adopted in an assortment of field applications.
Remote oilfield monitoring systems are proving helpful for a wide range of other upstream oil and gas applications, together with a valve control, temperature monitoring, and flow calculations. Certainly, wireless systems are in addition being used to control systems to perimeter hydrogen sulfide and methane emissions in addition to prevent spills.
The big dispute in the age of the Internet of Things is not finding things to observe; it is finding things that are worth the cost of observation. definitely, upstream oil and gas facilities suggest significant hurdles for wireless sensor networks, as well as the need to adhere to difficult safety standards.
However, the benefits—together with lower operating costs, improved production, and better human and environmental safety—make the business case convincing. Next time you gas up your car, turn up the heat in your residence, or cook your dinner, odds are that you are the beneficiary of a wireless sensor network silently doing its part to make these actions possible.