Monitoring Gross Oil Product Flow with Wireless Field Devices

I had a chance to meet Emerson’s Philip Schwarz a few years back in a multi-divisional marketing meeting. He had a slot on the agenda to discuss the trends in the oil & gas industry. He leads these efforts for Emerson Process Management’s Rosemount measurement products. He was one, dynamic presenter, if you ever have a chance to hear one of his talks. Maybe I’ll capture some video and post it in YouTube the next time I catch him presenting.

I saw an email from Philip where he mentioned that the oil & gas producers have been big adopters of wireless field device communications technologies. Philip noted around 9 in 10 of these oil and gas wireless applications were in onshore oil & gas fields. A big driver of this technology adoption has been for gross oil production flow monitoring applications.

The traditional way to measure gross oil production has been to use portable meter skids. These skids measure the oil, gas, and water content for each producing well on a site–when hooked up one by one. Since many fields are geographically dispersed, these measurements may be done one per month up to twice per year. After a well is tested, its production rate is assumed to be the last-tested measurement. It’s important to note that these measurements are not to control the wellhead, but to monitor the production rates for each well.

Now, if five months have passed, this last-tested measurement might not be very accurate. And problems may have occurred in the subsurface well formation causing a production drop.

The main reason these wells have not been fully instrumented and been communicating continuously is the labor and installation costs of measurement devices, cabling, remote terminal units (RTUs), batteries, radios, etc. In many areas, these wells typically don’t have the high production rates of offshore production wells. Hence, the traditional solution of a portable skid and schedule to conduct the flow measurements has been employed.

Wireless measurement devices and self-organizing WirelessHART networks have changed the economics by significantly reducing the infrastructure costs. To do the gross oil production measurements, these onshore sites install Rosemount 3051S wireless pressure transmitters and 648 wireless temperature transmitters. Instead of once per month or twice per year, each well can be measured on the order of seconds.

Communications between wireless devices can extend up to half a mile as the transmitters from surrounding wellheads self-organize to form a network with the wireless gateway devices. None of the cabling, cable trays, etc. is required, which significantly reduces the installation cost barrier.

Philip shared a 2005 Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) paper with me written by engineers with one of the major U.S. oil producers. It shared a vision of the digital oil field that provides real-time monitoring, analysis, and control for optimum field management. This vision included making the oil field more like a factory where there is a higher level of measurement and control to improve efficiency.

Technologies like WirelessHART self-organizing network communications and wireless-enabled field devices here in 2008 make possible many of the visions that were not economically justifiable when this paper was written.

Next time, a nice video of Philip talking about this will save around 550 words!

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