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Remote monitoring in oil fields

Remote monitoring in oil fields

Remote monitoring has been used in oil fields for decades already, but has nevertheless remained a hot talking point. Ideally monitoring should cover the entire oil field from the well all the way to the treatment facility. It should allow the operator to optimize production and minimize costs. The increasing remoteness of oil fields and ever stringent environmental regulations place increasing demands on monitoring systems. 

This article provides a brief overview of onshore remote monitoring in FSU (Former Soviet Union) areas and looks in more detail at how remote monitoring is used in oil production. 

The West and East have approached the development of remote monitoring use in oil fields differently. In Western countries oil and gas producers are mainly privately-owned and each company has its own strategy with regards operational environment development. In the East, most oil companies are government-owned and have long-term strategies and operating models, which means that the introduction of new technology is slower, but in a way more all-encompassing than in the West. 

It is not true that no modern technology is used in FSU oil fields today. In reality, most oil fields in the FSU areas already have several monitoring systems, but the problem is that these systems do not communicate with each other and work as individual units. For oil field monitoring service providers, FSU countries provide an attractive market as there is growing demand for comprehensive monitoring systems and production optimization. 

Oil field structure and monitoring points 

A working oil field has several points that require monitoring (See diagram 1). In order to get a better overall picture of the oil fields and their monitoring points it is useful to divide the fields into three parts as follows:

1. Wellhead 
Depending on the production method used the type of data measured varies a lot. Self-flowing wells require only minor monitoring, but as soon as the well is operated with artificial lift the equipment used needs to be monitored and maintained. The most commonly used artificial lift methods are Rod Lift, Gas lift, ESP, Jet Pump and Plunger Lift. In some cases the reservoir characteristics are also measured with downhole monitoring.

2. Pipeline network
Each well is connected to a collector with a pipeline. A remote well normally has several kilometers of pipeline that connects it to the crude oil treatment facility.

3. Crude oil treatment facility
Includes separation, heating, dehydration, stabilization, storage, metering and pumping. The collector gathers the production from the wells and separates the oil, gas and water. Each oil field normally has several crude oil treatment facilities. 

Monitoring the entire oil field 

From a monitoring service supplier perspective, the best approach is a simple one: the operator requires a system for remote monitoring of the entire oil field from the wellhead all the way up to the crude oil treatment facility. They also require assistance in developing their maintenance programs and in optimizing well production. 

With the help of a comprehensive overall picture of the entire field, the operator gains a clearer understanding of the many problems and challenges faced. This assists the operator to develop the oil fields in order to achieve higher and more stable production levels, as well as prolonging the wells’ production life cycles.

Overcoming challenges faced by producers

Oil and gas producers always want to produce more at lower operating cost levels. In order to achieve this goal they need to overcome many challenges. Nowadays oil is produced in more remotely located oil fields than before and environmental requirements are much more demanding than before. 

The challenges faced by producers include heavy oil that needs heating, paraffin problems that require chemical injection, solid production problems and extremely cold environments that limit maintenance. HSE requirements stemming from isolated locations and possible H₂S problems should also not be underestimated. 

A key factor in producing oil and gas in fields that face one or more of the aforementioned challenges is the selection of an optimal artificial lift system; with the correct supporting equipment that ensures that the produced liquids reach the crude oil treatment facility. In order to control this whole process cost effectively and safely, the producer needs a reliable remote monitoring system. See the diagram 2 for how Wellquip Holding Ltd has tackled these challenges. 

A well-designed monitoring system monitors the production process for the field operator, but also provides the management team with proper production reports in real time. It should maintain service records and follow up execution of planned maintenance plans. 

With an up-to-date service history available, management can do much more cost effective planning as the maintenance plan and chemical injection amounts are optimized for each well separately. Having better overall information available and understanding the process is to key to produce more with less downtime.

Remote monitoring outlook good

The outlook for remote monitoring systems looks bright. There is demand for centrally operated oil fields and the market is still developing. The technology and customers are ready for a field-wide approach to remote monitoring. As service suppliers we just need to ensure that we are a part of it. 

Author: Pekka Kaunisto

Increased remoteness and stringent environmental requirements place greater demands on the monitoring system.

Diagram 1. General diagram of all-encompassing oil field remote monitoring

Diagram 2. Detailed diagram for remote monitoring of FloWQ Jet Pump System